ANAHEIM, California – A lot goes into the naming of things and in four words, Team Next Level Racing reveals who they are.
It is a tenet of many religions, both ancient and modern, that to give something a name if part of its creation and the order of words is important. Made up of 10 riders spread across all rungs in the Monster Energy Supercross Series, this organization is a team with all that word implies. Team Next Level Racing provides logistical support and coaching, but most importantly, it is a team in the collegial sense of the word.
Teams provide surrogate families for athletes who are often forced to spend months away from those who bore and reared them.
SUPERCROSS 2023 OPENER: How to watch Anaheim I on USA, Peacock
“[Next Level Racing] is a team, but more than a team,” Chris Fagala, Team Principal for Next Level Racing, told NBC Sports. “It’s a mentoring program for young people. Mentorship has many different facets. We were all young once, and I know at least I had older people in my life that poured into me and helped me along my path. I still remember it to this day, the commitment that they made.
“Sometimes it was just that they brought me into their family and let me see how adults do life and how families are real. It’s not awesome all the time. Sometimes they just invited me into their lives. And sometimes they actually taught me a skill or a trade or a financial concept or a spiritual concept.”
Over the course of the discussion about what Team Next Level Racing is, Fagala described his team in multiple ways: in part a race organization, a mentorship program and an on-ramp.
It might be most accurately described as an incubator for life.
Next level refers to not only the next step on the ladder, whether it is moving from Supercross Futures into the 250 class and then 450s – but Fagala is much more interested in making certain his riders take the next step in their lives. This faith-based, family-oriented team is dedicated to making young men into men of substance.
“It’s definitely a race team,” Fagala said. “We like racing, but we love the racers. We named our team Next Level Racing because we want to help these kids get to the next level in many different areas of their life, including their riding.”
Racing is equally important. It is the core of motorsports, but success in a sport that has only one winner among many dozens of competitors is not always judged by who stands at the top of the podium.
In 2022 one of their most productive riders, Kevin Moranz, made nine Main events of the 17 that made up the Supercross schedule – no small feat for a privateer.
A Product of Love
There is a line in one of Jason Isbell’s songs, “If it Takes a Lifetime”, that goes: “Man is a product of all the people that he ever loved.”
Without mentorship at an early age, Fagala would be a different man and Team Next Level Racing might not exist.
Fagala identified the need for mentorship at an early age. Several mentors he connected with through the church he attended in college impressed the importance of a few words of encouragement here and there. Fagala credits the principals they taught for much of his success in business, that includes a successful mechanical engineering company and real estate holdings.
“Every Saturday morning before the races get started, we gather up as a group and I pray for all the guys – and I just pray that they would be confident, have a good day of racing, and that they would have safety and speed on the track,” said Fagala. “And then in the afternoon I usually try to give them about a 10- to 15-minute talk of just encouragement to help build some confidence. I usually will weave a spiritual principle into that.
“But if they have no interest [in the spiritual aspect of the team], that is totally fine. It doesn’t offend me, bother me. And we don’t look for kids to be on our team that are spiritual or that are Christians or anything like that. We’re a faith-based team, but there is absolutely no requirements for the kids to, to have any part of that if they’re not interested.”
A strong message does not need a strong orator, but it does need a voice and that is reflected at the track and in their social media presence.
“It’s a buffet; they can take from that what they want,” Fagala said. “They can listen to the coaching side of it and totally ignore the other side if they want. If a kid wants to know how to start a business or how to become wealthy, but could care less about how to have a successful relationship with a partner, that’s fine. They’re free to take what they want from what I have to share and leave what they don’t. There’s no requirements on them whatsoever.”
MORE: Adam Cianciarulo and the Power of Positivity
Team Next Level Racing is unique in the paddock in multiple ways.
It is setup as a licensed non-profit ministry. The team provides coaching and logistical support to get the bikes to all 17 rounds of Supercross. Team Next Level Racing has sponsorship that helps defray the cost, but the privateer riders also bring their own and that is primarily how they earn. To be successful, they have to treat their career as a business.
“No one on our team gets paid,” Fagala said. “No one makes any money. My wife and I are definitely not in this to make money. In fact, it loses money every year. But that’s our contribution to what we’re doing. So I think we’re probably the only team in the paddock that is not there to break even or turn a profit.
“We are also way more concerned about the growth and development of these young men than their results. So we are not a results-oriented team at all. … If they have a bad day, I just give them a hug and go, ‘Man, sorry you had a bad day, let’s learn something from it and have a better day tomorrow or next weekend.’ But none of our sponsors or the people that donate to our team have any requirements about how well the guys did.
“And I think the third way that we’re very different is the next level part of the name of our team. I want to see the kids go to the next level in lots of different areas, but one is in their racing and part of going to the next level is doing better. And when they do better, they’re going to get picked up, hopefully by a team that can pay them, because we’re not paying them, and hopefully they can go to a bigger team than we are.
The Journey is not the Destination
Team Next Level Racing is not results-oriented, but the results are there.
In addition to the nine Mains earned by Moranz, two of Fagala’s 2022 riders, Freddie Noren and John Short, made it directly into the Main through their heats last year.
“Last year we had a couple of guys on our team that were top 12 with Freddie Noren, John Short and Kevin Moranz. Those kids are good. They’re making the 450 Mains and they’re in the top 15. Some of our kids are doing really well. Two of those guys, Freddie and John, got the opportunity to go to a team that could pay them this year.
And we’ve got a couple of kids this year I think will start making their first 250 Mains.”
Noren scored three results in the low teens in the 450 class in 2022. Short had one top-10 and four other results in the low teens in 250s.
Moranz is still with the team, and his marketing prowess and the infrastructure provided the Team Next Level Racing may well keep him in the fold for quite some time.
But this team is about developing talent and Fagala has his eye on two new additions to the roster.
“The kids that I really have my eye on are Colby Copp in the 250s – I think he is ready to start making main events; he hasn’t made one yet,” Fagala said. “And then Hunter Schlosser. He is ready to start making 250 Main events. He’s made a couple in the past, but he hasn’t been consistent. I, I expect him to be more consistent this season.”
These two riders, along with their eight teammates, will get their first opportunity to get to the next level on Saturday, January 7 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California when the first round of the 2023 SuperMotocross season gets underway.