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By: Robert Janis

It's a Day Job and a Sport for Mike Cafro

Mike Cafro
Mike Cafro

For Mike Cafro, ATVs are both a sport and a day job. He has been riding ATVs for 20 years. and he's been working for a company involved in the ATV industry for seven years.

His early involvement in riding ATVs was ushered in by his older brother Carmen. The two used to ride trails together, and it was Carmen who kind of nudged Mike into racing. "Carmen raced ATVs and motorcycles, and that kind of drove me into ATV racing," said Mike.

Originally from New Jersey, Mike's first ATV race was a local hare scramble in New Jersey. The ATV he rode was a Honda 250X. He was 17 years-old. "ATV racing was all new to me," he said. "It was more for fun than anything else. I really didn't get serious about it until 1990. I got more serious because I was doing better at the local events, and it became more of a passion. About that time I started to participate in GNCC events, and I did well in those, and things snowballed."

The family moved to Carlsbad, California in 1992 and Mike continued ATV racing in Grand Prix events in the Carlsbad area. Soon he was involved in desert racing through local District 38 events. In about 1993 or '94 he raced in his first SCORE International desert event--the Baja 500. He was part of a team that included his brother and Doug Roll. He rode his brother's Honda 250R. Actually, the bike was a conglomeration of all sorts of machines and included a motor from a CR500 placed on a 250R chassis. "The bike was totally custom," said Mike. "It was fully modified from a frame to fit the motor to swing-arms and a-arms and shocks. Pretty much everything was modified." The bike's modifications were thanks to the sponsors he and his brother were able to attain during those early years. The Cafros' biggest sponsor at the time was Roll Design and the list also included some smaller companies like Work Shocks and even the AutoTrader, the re-cycle newspaper that carried automobile classified ads. Carmen worked for them at the time.

Mike enjoyed desert racing and by 1996 and '97 he was also involved in desert races produced by Best in the Desert. He raced in both Best in the Desert and SCORE International events until 2006 when he dropped his involvement in the Best in the Desert. "I dropped the Best in the Desert because it can be up to a seven race series. Racing in the desert is not cheap. I did those races and got no benefit out of them. There was no publicity. I figured I could get a lot more publicity out of the SCORE events. So I dropped my participation in the Best in the Desert after the 2006 racing season."

Mike Cafro
Mike Cafro

Currently, Mike has become involved in the WORCS series of races and continues his participation in SCORE events. He has decided to get involved in WORCS because they are now receiving heavy television coverage. He has been involved with WORCS off and on for about four years and has been more heavily involved during the last two years. He explained that WORCS is more of a grand prix style of racing series. The races are about one and one half hours long and are half motocross and half off-road depending on the location of the event. For example, he competes in a WORCS event in Washington State. That race is half motocross and half a race similar to a GNCC event. It doesn't only include a track, it also includes racing in wooded areas. Other events in WORCS can include half motocross and half a desert course.

His roots are in independent or individual racing. So WORCS is more fun for him than the SCORE events in which he is part of a team. In fact, he races for the Temecula Motorsports team. He also is the team's coordinator and manager and has held that position for about five to six years. This is the day job referred to earlier. He had been working for Temecula Motorsports for a year or two before taking on the responsibility of managing the team. He also does promotion for the company. That requires him to go to events representing the company's racing team. These events can include trade shows, special events, and local events. He brings the team's racing bikes along with him.

He helps organize the Temecula racing team which includes five pro riders: Danny Prather, Levi Marana, Marc Spaeth and John Shafe, plus one woman rider, Julie Russell, and a handful of amateur and up and coming pro riders. The five pros are the main racers. Mike is one of the five pros. He turned pro in 1990. The team and Mike participate in most of the Baja series races--the Baja 250, 500 and 1000--and will be contestants in the WORCS series races that call for team participation. Mike also races independently in other WORCS events that require individual contestants, not teams.

He currently races a Honda TRX 450R which includes a plethora of modifications. "CT Racing modifies the motor depending on the race," said Mike. "We don't do as much on the motor for long distance races as we do for shorter races. However, when we want the ATV to do more horsepower for the shorter races, CT Racing puts in pistons, a cam, a pipe and porting, and does some valve work. Suspension is a big thing too, when it comes to desert racing. Elka is big here. They are one of my biggest sponsors. I work with them as far as testing is concerned, and the owner is a good friend of mine. Roll Design owned by Doug Roll is another important suspension sponsor who has been with me for about 15 years. Doug has been a huge help in getting me where I am today.

"Suspension is most important," continued Mike. "Then comes the motor. The motor has to be reliable in such races as the WORCS Series and desert racing. I've never had one failure. CT Racing has been great. The rest of the modifications include basic bolt on stuff--bars, pegs, heel guard. Maier Plastics is one of my sponsors so I use their plastics. They are a little bit stronger than the stock stuff. When I need more miles an hour, I will trim the fenders up a little and for the Baja I may modify the frame a little bit just to gusset up. Also, I'll run with thicker skid plates when I race in the desert. I use a 1/4-inch thick skid plate made by AC Racing or another sponsor, and I also modify the rear skid plate.

Mike Cafro
Mike Cafro

"Tires are important, too," continued Mike. "So I use Maxxis tires in combination with Tire Balls and Douglas Wheels all but eliminating any possibility of a complete flat or rim failure. I think this is the best combination in racing as far as tires and wheels are concerned."

Mike's complete list of sponsors include Temecula Motorsports, Maxxis Tires, CT Racing, Elka Suspension, Roll Design, IMS, Douglas Wheels, IMS-Roll, Streamline Brakes, RPM, PWR Radiators, Works Connection, Universal, Hardkor, K&N Air Filters, Tire Balls, and Tsubaki, AC Racing, and Ricky Stator Lighting.

Since he is a team manager and coordinator, he knows exactly what sponsors are looking for. He has some advice for those of you who are racers and who are seeking sponsors. "A lot of people don't realize that they can do a lot better with sponsors," he said. "A lot of people have more of the racer mentality, or they just put things on a bike and call it a day and think that they are doing their job as far as a sponsor goes. But I think with my age and experience, it benefits me to take it a lot farther than that. I do interviews with the media to get my sponsors publicity. That's a big part of promoting the sponsors and helping the team. I have a relationship with all the magazine editors as well as those who work for the ATV related internet sites. That helps out in getting publicity for sponsors, and that's what sponsors want. Then I concentrate on participating in series that gets me publicity. For example, I'm involved in WORCS because next year they will be fully televised and that's something sponsors want to see. I also do promotion of products out in the field and educate people about products. That and promoting the image of the sponsor is a big part of serving the sponsor.

"I suggest to people who are looking for sponsors that it is not all about how fast you are and winning all the races you enter, although that definitely helps. It's keeping your bike clean and well maintained. When you do a resume, include visual stimulus--a video if you can make one or photos showing you in action. You need to understand that a sponsor is there to help you, but you also have an obligation to help the sponsor to promote their products.

"When you first start out and you are seeking sponsors, put out a lot of feelers. I did. Then when I got more experience, and I became more knowledgeable about products I run and why I run them, I began to target the companies that I knew were tops in the manufacturing of products. Every sponsor I have now I consider to be the best in the industry in their particular product category. Most of the sponsors I now have I've been with for 8 to 10 years. I try to keep a really good relationship with each and every one of them. I help them with product development and publicity. Now I can be picky about the sponsors I seek. When you are first starting out the hobby of racing ATVs, it can be pretty expensive. So you get as much help as you can get. But as you gain more experience and knowledge, you can weed out some sponsors and just concentrate on the better companies."

When asked what he thought was the worst part of racing, Mike replied, "Having issues you know you could have avoided. A lot of the time if I'm thinking about something that can go wrong with my bike, or I am tightening a bolt, and I think it felt funny, and I let it go. About 9 times out of 10 that is the issue that comes up and fails. And when something like that happens, and I lose a race because of it, it is really frustrating. Especially when it is something I know I could have prevented."

Mike Cafro
Mike Cafro

Mike's favorite race is the Baja 500. "It's my personal favorite because it has all sorts of terrain and all sorts of environment changes from the desert to the coast. The coast is a completely different environment than the desert. It's cooler and wetter and more challenging with rockier terrain in some areas. You get a little bit of everything in that race. It's not too short and it's not too long."

Perhaps one of the worst parts of racing for Mike is getting into crashes. He has experienced some during his long racing career. The one that sticks in his mind involved his ATV and a trophy truck in the Baja 500 in 1996 or '97. "A trophy truck hit me at 100 miles per hour, and I walked away from the accident," he laughed. "I eventually got back on the bike. But the bike was tattered. I was doing about 70 and the truck was doing 100. I had a lot of adrenaline right after I was hit and a medivac helicopter landed to pick me up. Doctors were airlifted in and all sorts of things were going on. They were taking me to the helicopter when I heard someone say that the bike was still rideable. I realized that I wasn't broken so I got off the stretcher, got on the bike, and rode it out. That was a stupid mistake. About 10 miles down the road the bike was falling apart and my body was getting pains. I got to the next pit and called it a day. We were in second place and I had 130 miles to go and my brother was leading. I was pushing to catch him. But by the time I got back on the bike, I was half an hour to 45 minutes behind. So it was pretty much over." He had walked away from the crash with just a few scratches. Why did he think he had to go on? Call it sibling rivalry. Mike raced in the next event some four months later.

He sees ATV racing growing in the future. "It will definitely grow quite a bit because there's more TV coverage. The WPSA is helping the sport immensely. And I hope to see a little more recognition in the desert side of the sport. I hope to see it become a little bit more mainstream with more TV and magazine coverage."

As for his future, "I expect to continue what I've been doing--managing a team and racing independently. I will probably continue to do this for another two years or until I'm not as competitive as I would like to be. Ultimately I would like to work for one of the companies that now sponsors me or manage a team for an OEM or for a company."

By the way, Mike's racing partner now-a-days is Danny Prather. He no longer is partnered with his brother Carmen. "We have different things going on in our lives," concluded Mike. "Carmen is more focused on work and family. I'm focused on racing and furthering my career in racing. We each have different goals."


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