Willy Browning is a staple in the world of Arenacross. He turned pro in 2003 and found moderate success in Supercross before turning his attention to AMSOIL Arenacross. He won the 2009 Arenacross Lites Championship and has competed in the Championship Arenacross class ever since. He's finished in the Top 10 every year including a career best 7th place in 2012.
Currently, Browning is a member of the Motosport.com-sponsored Spinechillers Racing team and after four weeks of Arenacross he's solidly in fifth place and is a strong contender to finish this year on the podium. In eight races, he’s placed in the Top 10 six times with one second and three third place overall finishes.
When he's not in Arenacross, Browning rides pretty hard in Pit Bike racing. In 2011, he became the first and still only rider to win all three professional main events at the Maxxis MiniMotoSX in Las Vegas.
Years riding pro: 11
What age did you start riding and on what: Age 3 on a yellow Yamaha PW50
What do you ride now? KTMs - 250SXF and 350SXF
Hometown: Pleasantville, OH
- 2008 - 7th overall in Daytona Supercross
- 2009 - AMA Arenacross East Coast Lites Champion
- Inside Top 10 Arenacross class every year since 2010
- 2012 - Career best 7th place in Arenacross class
- 2011 - Won all three pro classes at the Mini Moto SX in Las Vegas
Other sports participated in: Mountain biking
Other hobbies/interests: Anything involving a bicycle from road riding, mountain biking, and the occasional BMX. I also have started taking pictures at some outdoor nationals and arenacross races.
- How did you get started riding a dirt bike?
My dad has always been a huge motorcycle enthusiast. Got my first dirt bike at the age of 3 and I have been going strong ever since.
- When did you realize riding pro was a realistic opportunity?
It kind of just worked out. I lived and rode with one of my best friends - Jeff Gibson. He was a big impact to my racing career. To be honest, my first pro national I ever made was at Millville on a RM250 two-stroke that was his. I ended up riding his bike the rest of the season that year not missing a main event from that point on. Pretty cool little story not many people know about right there. Each year things just got better and better. I had just enough money and talent to keep my van full of bikes and the wheels on the road.
- You’ve competed in Supercross, and now Arenacross for several years, how would you compare the two formats?
Well, right off the bat if you're racing Supercross in the Lites class and you're not winning, you're not making the money you need or deserve to stay alive out there. However you can make some decent money in the 450 class by making the night shows and finishing well in the LCQ even if you don't qualify.
When I first started Supercross I was racing both classes, you might be reading this thinking what? Back in the day the AMA would allow you to race both the Supercross class and the Supercross Lites class. Double classing meant you stood the chance to make some decent money between the two classes. Then I think in 2007 the rules changed and you were no longer allowed to qualify for both classes.
When that happened I chose to race the Lights class because of my size and experience level. I always looked for the big break and landing that factory ride. I never got that factory ride, but I raced for some great teams and people along the way though. By the end of the 2008 Outdoor season and with the 2009 season approaching I got the opportunity to start a relationship with a team close to home doing Arenacross - The Spinechiller Racing Team owned and operated by a longtime friend, Dallas Avery.
The initial team consisted of two other Ohio riders - Nathan Skaggs and Zach Ames. My first year in Arenacross was a great! I finally saw my chance to be winning and running upfront instead of just trying to make the main event at Supercross. By the end of my first Arenacross season I had wrapped up the East Coast Lites title and finished a solid 10th overall in the premier Arenacross class. Seeing my success that year gave me the drive to continue racing Arenacross and making a house hold name for me in the series.
- What's the biggest difference you noticed?
One of the biggest differences between SX and AX would have to be how quickly you get into lapped traffic in AX. With lap times right around 25-30 seconds you catch the back markers quickly. The aggression level in AX is also much more intense because of the small confines of the arenas. You are always in a battle and the racing is much closer.
- Once the gate drops do your teammates on the Spinechillers become absolute competition or would you ever sacrifice your place for their benefit?
Once the gate drops everyone is a competitor. I would be aggressive to an extent, like showing them a wheel here or there just letting them know I'm there but I'm not going to take them out or anything on purpose.
- Privateers seem to enjoy a special prestige from fans - is there an unseen gain to being a Privateer a factory rider can't enjoy?
The privateers are treated as just the rider next door! Usually we know and talk to the "weekend warrior" that is just racing for a hobby and that makes us much more approachable. The big factory stars are looked up to as the elite so most of them aren't as easily approachable.
- Tell us about your involvement in pit bike racing.
Originally it all started out with the Z50. A group of your buddies and a backyard track quickly escalated from some "kids bikes" turned into some ridiculously fast and expensive "kids bikes." My involvement came from my good friend and professional photographer Jeff Kardas. He was working for the pit bike magazine called Mini Moto and called me up one day asking if I wanted to be a test rider for a KLX110 he had modded out.
From the first time I started on pit bikes I really took to it. Being of smaller stature I fit the bikes really well and rode them very well. The main guy behind Mini Moto Magazine, Tim Clark, worked toward putting together a Mini Moto championship in Las Vegas. When the idea became a reality I was put into contact with Lyle Mirsky, the owner of Classic Honda Products (CHP), and that was the start of a great friendship and racing partnership.
That first year of the Las Vegas Mini Moto I came away with a 2nd in the 12” expert class and had problems in the 10” class. One of the best memories I have from that first race was battling with Jeremy "The King" McGrath in practice. Cutting each other off and stuffing each other in practice and coming off the track laughing about it the whole time. That set the stage for what has certainly formed me into one of the best mini moto racers in the country and created some great friendships that I still have today.
- Does pit bike racing help your skills in Arenacross or is it the other way around?
I am not sure that it makes me a better rider but it certainly helps make me feel more comfortable and can’t hurt that's for sure.
- Is there a past or present rider you study to improve your skills?
I definitely spent a lot of time watching Eli Tomac at Millville last summer. The way he dominated everyone there and what he did on the track that day was insane! I also I like watching Cooper Webb since he has moved into the pro ranks. His small stature and aggressive riding make me want a Yamaha real bad!
- You're 30 this year, how much longer do you want to ride pro and have you thought about your future plans?
In the motorcycle game 30 is definitely getting old even if I don't feel that old. I have been married to my beautiful wife for seven years now and we have three wonderful kids. I have two girls, 8 and 4, and we just had a little boy on December 16th. With all that I have in my life now, I have a lot of responsibilities and others depending on me to not let them down. I have had a great career and I am still competitive with the kids in AX but my Pro career is definitely coming to an end, as much as that is hard to say.
I want to make sure that my kids have all the same opportunities to do their best in anything that they decide to do. Just like my parents always gave me. My dad has a heating, cooling, and refrigeration business and I have been helping him out with his business and learning as much as I can. I am not sure that it's something that I want to do for the rest of my life but I enjoy doing the job and I believe that when the time is right the right career will be there for me.
I owe a big thank you to Motosport.com/MJM Express/Spinechillers Racing, Chpusa.net, Fuel Clothing, Motoxtremes, 100% goggles and all my family and friends who have always been there for me.
Written By: AndrewT