PWC: Shea Racing, Honda forge ahead for bigger 2017

Photo: Shea Racing

Seven years in racing terms is an eternity. In 2010, seven years ago, a then-unheralded young female driver named Shea Holbrook and her family-run Shea Racing team showed up for the first time in the Pirelli World Challenge paddock.

A year later, Holbrook scored a surprise but well-earned victory in the Touring Car class at Long Beach, arguably one of PWC’s biggest races on the calendar. This was in a time when the series’ GT, GTS and TC classes all raced in one race, at one time, before all classes and the series itself have expanded.

The Shea Racing team is no different, but throughout its run has maintained a strong and sincere relationship with Honda. First one of Honda’s top customer teams, Shea Racing and Honda Racing/HPD confirmed a formal partnership at the Performance Racing Industry Trade Show in Indianapolis in December.

This sees Holbrook’s still family-run team, although now having grown in size, stature and formal appearance thanks to its partners, now officially aligned with a manufacturer for the first time. Holbrook, who’s not just a driver of her No. 67 Honda Accord but teammate to Jason Fichter in another Accord and Tom O’Gorman in a TCA-class Honda Civic Si, attempted to recap the whirlwind of her and her team’s rise that’s brought them to this point.

Photo: Shea Racing
New Civic Si at Thunderhill. Photo: Shea Racing

“The announcement with Honda Racing/HPD and Shea Racing and the addition of Tom coming on board is the second-worst kept secret in motorsports. The first one was RealTime and the NSX!” Holbrook told NBC Sports at PRI.

“I’m incredibly excited. I think back to when Shea Racing started as a true mom and pop effort. We didn’t know what we were doing. We had zero background and experience. We started (when I was) 15 years old. This is amazing how far we’ve come. With seven consecutive years in PWC, in TCB in Honda Fit to TCA in Honda Civic Si, to TC in Honda Accord, it’s been the power of dreams, pun completely intended.

“It took us a while. But after everything we’ve been through, with hard work, being patient, playing your cards right, and delivering on your word, those things really mean something to people and I’m glad it does to Honda. I’m glad we’ve accomplished this.”

Holbrook’s TC class win in 2011 was her first until winning multiple races in 2014 and only narrowly missing the TCA class title in another Civic Si. A one-year detour followed with her briefly sampling IHRA jet racing before regaining a foothold in the PWC paddock full-time in 2016.

The other, perhaps insane, racing highlight of 2016 was Holbrook’s quest to assist Denise Mueller, a 43-year-old, who was attempting to set the land speed record on a bicycle. The Wall Street Journal chronicled the run, one of several media pieces that followed that journey.

Lest those be the only things Holbrook accomplished last year, she also got engaged to longtime boyfriend Nick Chorley, who is team manager.

Fichter and Holbrook at CTMP. Photo: Shea Racing
Fichter and Holbrook at CTMP. Photo: Shea Racing

Holbrook’s business savvy – partners such as BUBBA burger, Lucas Oil, KONI Shock Absorbers, Eibach Springs and StopTech Brakes are among those she can reel off off the top of her head at an instant – has helped her and her team get into this position. She’s found the business side of motorsports as intriguing and fascinating as the racing itself. She’s also become a tireless advocate for Duchenne, working to raise awareness and funds to combat the genetic disorder.

“In the jet racing scene, I met a lot of new people, and I was into a different form of motorsports I’d never been in. But I was missing wheeling a car,” she said. “I missed the PWC paddock as a driver, but that year was huge and a growing year for us as a business.

“Being trackside as a team owner, I’ll wear a lot of hats at the track. When you focus on just one piece at a time, you start to see things differently. At SEMA two years ago, I’d received a message from KONI Shock Absorbers and they said we’d like to have a meeting. They blossomed into a partner, and along with our other partners that helped put the pieces of the program together. I’d love to say 2016 was our best year yet, but 2017 should be even better.”

Holbrook, having seen PWC’s class and race structure evolution, hailed the TC competition. TC has fallen off of IndyCar weekends and instead run largely at PWC headline weekends; that being said, the caliber, depth and car count across the board in the three TC classes (TC, TCA, TCB) has gone up.

“I hadn’t raced door-to-door with Johnny O’Connell, per se, but it was the same race,” she explained. “Theres pluses and minuses, and the pluses massively outweigh the negatives. It’s our home. I like the competition there. The BoP is always something everyone works hard at and I think PWC does a great job with it. The racing is clean, and the people are professional.”

Holbrook is also quick to extoll the positives of the people around her, from parents Erin and Jeff, to her teammates and crew.

“Jason and Tom are amazing teammates. Tom, it’s funny, has become a ‘racing bestie’ of mine! He’s developed into such a great driver very quickly and become a fantastic brand ambassador for Shea Racing, Honda Racing/HPD and Pirelli World Challenge,” she said.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my two supportive parents. It’s no secret it takes money to do this. My family didn’t have a lot of it. I’m an only child. We came from very humble beginnings; blue-collar type workers. They did everything what they could to get me best position and seat time. But eventually the more you rub pennies together, the more they disappear.

“Still, I had to go to work; I had to figure out how to make a career at this. (Fellow Honda driver) Ryan Eversley is a really cool story, from sweeping shop floors, to working on cars, to becoming a GT driver. I wasn’t working on cars. But when I became more business savvy and started to understanding how hard you have to sell and market your program, that helped. We sell Shea Racing beyond just the performance and results; it’s also a chance for drivers to work on brand development and partnership growth.

“I think that’s the sick, twisted mind I have! If I didn’t enjoy this part of the business as much as I do, I would have been gone six years ago.”

SuperMotocross: Ken Roczen urgently needed change

Roczen change
Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Change can be frightening, but it is often exhilarating and Ken Roczen, a rider in his ninth season on a 450 bike, it was urgently needed.

Roczen ended the 2022 Supercross season with his worst performance in five years. After finishing outside of the top five in seven of his last eight rounds in the stadium series, well down the points’ standings in ninth, he decided to put that season on hold.

How it ended was in stark contrast to how it began. Roczen’s 2022 season got off to the best possible start. He won the Supercross opener at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California by more than seven seconds over the 2021 champion Cooper Webb.

That would be his last podium and he scored only one more top-five in the Glendale, Arizona Triple Crown.

MORE: Ken Roczen sweeps top five in Anaheim 2 Triple Crown

Before 2022, Roczen was a regular challenger for the championship despite being plagued by major accidents that required surgery in 2017 and 2018. On his return, he was diagnosed with the Epstein-Barr virus, which presents with symptoms of heavy fatigue, muscle weakness and loss of appetite and last year he tested positive for COVID-19.

Against those odds, he finished second in the outdoor season in 2019 and third in 2020. In the Supercross series, he finished third in 2020 and second in 2021.

But the abbreviated season of 2022 signaled a need for change for Roczen.

“I needed the change urgently,” Roczen said in last week’s post-race press conference at Angel Stadium. “I did a pretty big change in general.”

Those comments came three races into the 2023 with him sitting among the top three finishers for the first time in 10 Supercross rounds. It was the 57th podium of his career, only six behind 10th-place Ryan Villopoto. It was also the first for Suzuki since 2019 when Chad Reed gave them one in Detroit 63 rounds ago.

Taking time off at the end of the Supercross season had the needed effect. He rejoined SuperMotocross in the outdoor season and immediately stood on the podium at Fox Raceway in Pala, California. Two rounds later, he won at Thunder Valley in Lakewood, Colorado. The relief was short lived and he would not stand on the podium again until this year.

Roczen Motocross Round 3
Ken Roczen won Round 3 of the outdoor season in 2022 at Thunder Valley after finished second in Moto 1 and first in Moto 2. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

Winds of Change

Roczen’s offseason was dramatic. Citing differences over his announcement to compete in the World Supercross Championship, he split with Honda HRC and declared himself a free agent. It wasn’t a difficult decision; Roczen was signed only for the Supercross season.

That change had the desired effect. Roczen won the WSX championship in their two-race, pilot season. More importantly, he proved to himself that he could compete for wins.

Late in the offseason, Roczen announced he would also change manufacturers with a move to HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki. He won the 2016 Pro Motocross title for Suzuki with nine wins in 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second. He easily outran the competition with an advantage of 86 points over second-place Eli Tomac.

“I just think change overall made it happen – and these overseas races – it’s really just a snowball,” Roczen said. “You start somewhere and you feel like something works out and I got better and had more fun doing it. Working with the team as well and working on the motorcycle to get better and actually see it paying off. It’s just, it’s just a big boost in general.”

The return to Suzuki at this stage of his career, after nearly a decade of competing on 450 motorcycles, recharged Roczen. He is one of three riders, (along with Cooper Webb and his former Honda teammate Chase Sexton), with a sweep of the top five in the first three rounds of the 2023 Supercross season.

But last week’s podium really drove home how strong he’s been.

“I think we’re all trying to take it all in,” Roczen said. “I wouldn’t say it came out of nowhere really, but before the season starts you think about – or I thought of how my whole last season went – and it’s been a long time since I’ve been on the podium.”

Roczen’s most recent podium prior to Anaheim 2 came at Budds Creek Motocross Park in Mechanicsville, Maryland last August in Round 10 of the outdoor season. His last podium in Supercross was the 2022 season opener that raised expectations so high.

Supercross Round 1 results
Ken Roczen raised expectations with his season opening win at Anaheim but did not stand on the box again in the Supercross series. Feld Motor Sports/MX Sports Pro Racing/Align Media

The change Roczen needed was not just a different team and bike. More importantly, he needed the freedom to set his own schedule and control his training schedule.

“It’s long days, but I’m really into it at the moment,” Roczen said. “Overall, I felt [that] throughout this off season and now my health has been really well, really good, so that helps. It’s needed to get to the top. I’m pretty confident that we’re, we’re doing the right thing – that I’m doing the right thing.

“I’m doing all my training on my own and I’m planning out my entire week. And I feel like I have a really good system going right now with recovery and putting in some hard days. Right now, I don’t really have anybody telling me what to do. I’m the best judge of that.

“It’s really hard to talk about how much work we’ve put in, but we’ve been doing some big changes and riding a lot throughout the week, some really, really late days. And they’re paying off right now; we’re heading in the right direction. We’re all pulling on the same string, and that helps me out big time.”