Inside the Race Rig: What it Takes to Race Supercross with Buddy Brooks of TiLube Honda

Inside the Race Rig: What it Takes to Race Supercross with Buddy Brooks of TiLube Honda

Inside the Race Rig: What it Takes to Race Supercross with Buddy Brooks of TiLube Honda

By John Basher
Posted in: Features
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Team Manager, Engine Builder, and all-around man of many hats, Buddy Brooks, has been working with TiLube Honda for multiple years. The program is growing, but a larger Supercross program means even more work. We got the inside perspective from Buddy on what it takes to build competitive bikes and run a competitive team.

jepistons_tilube_honda_rev-1If you were to take a ride in Mister Peabody’s WABAC machine, you would recall that TiLube has long been a supporter of professional racing. Based in Iowa, the performance and racing lubricants company helped Nick Wey, Chris Blose, and Phil Nicoletti, among quite a few others. It was only natural that Joe Murphy, owner of TiLube, was also helping a young kid from Iowa by the name of Gavin Faith since he was an amateur racer. When Gavin, and his mechanic, Buddy Brooks, decided to contest the 250 East Supercross series in 2014, Joe stepped up and allowed Gavin, Buddy and his brother to use his truck.

“We were grateful for Joe,” explains Buddy Brooks. “We carried the TiLube name on and rode Honda CRF250Rs. Gavin won a heat race in Detroit and had good speed, but he was fighting a mysterious illness where he kept getting fatigued. We had to pull the plug on racing at the St. Louis round.” While it was an unfortunate ending to the season, it was the beginning of a new venture for Brooks and TiLube, as they continued a relationship in ensuing years.

Brooks' and TiLube's relationship has grown into an elite-level program since 2014.

The race team grew, but it wasn’t easy. TiLube Storm Lake Honda started out as Buddy and his brother doing everything. Up until 2018, the Brooks’ traveled the country in a show hauler that doubled as sleeping quarters. Thanks to increased funding and support, Buddy was able to add more mechanics and hire a truck driver. It meant that he could fly to races and sleep in hotels on race weekends. TiLube Storm Lake Honda by Buddy Brooks was gaining ground and increasing their presence in the paddock.

The program made waves again when they announced their 250 East Supercross team for 2019. Brooks hired several household names to race for the program. “I spoke to Blake Wharton, and then Ziggy [Rick Zielfelder] at Factory Connection,” states Brooks. “We were able to put something together. Steven Clarke was our second guy. He goes back to the days when we were Suzuki City. Steven is a good guy who can make the mains and has a lot of experience.” With the team set for the 2019 season, Brooks and the TiLube Storm Lake Honda program were ready to make a big splash in Supercross.

Buddy Brooks and the TiLube Storm Lake Honda team came into the 2019 Supercross season with well-developed race machines and seasoned riders.

David Versus Goliath

There are six official factory-backed 250 programs in the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross series. With vast resources, a large support group and deep pockets, factory-backed race teams have the tools necessary to succeed at the highest level. Meanwhile, the TiLube Storm Lake Honda team is a privateer effort with backing from Honda’s Ride Red program.

It is said that perception is everything. Brooks has done a masterful job of growing the sponsor list, attracting quality riders to the TiLube Storm Lake Honda program, and building a presence in the pits. The centerpiece would be the 75-foot cab and hauler that travels to every race. Squeaky clean and adorned with sponsor signage, the transporter is the team’s home base during the weekend. It’s apparent that the TiLube Storm Lake Honda team has worked hard. However, things aren’t as easy as they appear.

Even though the TiLube Storm Lake Honda team may have a factory-level appearance, it is the result of a dedicated blood, sweat, and tears privateer effort.

“From the outside looking in, it seems like we have everything,” states Team Manager Brooks. “However, during the week it’s just me and one other mechanic. We do everything, from cleaning the truck to building the bikes.”

If you think the team’s work stops during the week, far away from the glitz and glamour of Supercross stadiums, you’re grossly mistaken. In fact, that’s when most of the blood, sweat and tears are shed. Buddy explains, “I rebuild all of the engines myself. Both race engines come apart every week. It will be a 60-hour work week before even getting to the Supercross stadiums. It’s a tough schedule.”

In reality, Buddy goes from Team Manager under the Supercross lights on weekends to engine builder during the week. He tears down, inspects, and freshens up each motor after every round.

The TiLube Storm Lake Honda program would likely crumble without proper organization and adhering to a strict schedule. The 41-year-old Brooks has developed what sounds like an hour-by-hour strategy to stay on task and get the job done.  

“As soon as we get back from the races we wash the bikes and then disassemble them,” states Brooks. “The engines come out, and we take the tops off. I’ll inspect the top-end and make sure all of the clearances are where they need to be. I also look for wear and make sure nothing is touching. We do the best we can as far as keeping everything perfect. We will clean the injectors and put in fresh gas. The bottom ends are inspected every third or fourth race. Everything has to be gone through.”

As the phrase goes, 'Waste not, want not.' Brooks is very resourceful, in that he uses the most out of every part that he can. The team will take slightly used parts that are in great condition off the race bikes and transfer them to the practice bikes. New parts go on the race bikes. This practical approach minimizes costs and maximizes the usefulness of the parts.  

The clock starts ticking as soon as Buddy returns from a Supercross race. Cleaning, tear down, and inspection is critical to both performance and safety.

Developing a Race Bike

Honda unveiled the all-new CRF250R in 2018, much to the delight of the Red Rider faithful. The bike was radically different from its predecessors. With a double overhead camshaft layout, finger followers, larger valves, increased bore and stroke, lighter crankshaft, two exhaust ports and electric starting, the CRF250R made big news. Honda moved away from the low-to-midrange power characteristics they had become known for and targeted top-end power.

An all-new bike meant a lot of sleepless nights for Buddy Brooks. The soft-spoken engine tuner had to go back to the drawing board, because the CRF250R was completely changed. He admits, “There was a night and day difference. The new engine configuration was more advanced than anything I had seen prior.” That’s because Honda had drop-kicked their Unicam design in favor of a double overhead camshaft. That was just the tip of the iceberg in terms of engine areas Brooks had to dissect. Buddy had a lot of experience tuning the previous CRF250R engine. After all, he and Gavin Faith took on the 250 East Supercross series in 2014 on a CRF250R.

Although Honda's all-new 2018 CRF250R was exciting for many, it meant a lot of new scratch development work for Buddy Brooks to create a Supercross-worthy package.

After initial testing and getting feedback from his racers, Brooks realized that the 2018 CRF250R could stand to make more power. Of course, that’s the goal of any engine builder. One of the ways Buddy intended to bolster performance was through piston compression. Enter JE Pistons and their custom piston program. Although, to be honest, Brooks was unsure of the qualifications needed to get custom pistons made by JE Pistons.

Brooks admits, “I always thought that someone had to go through Pro Circuit or Parts Unlimited in order to buy JE Pistons, but you can go straight to them. The people at JE Pistons have been really great to work with. I haven’t had any problems with their product. They have actually helped me develop some custom pistons. The project began in 2018 when the new bike came out. JE Pistons is a company that keeps growing, and we’re happy to be on board with them.”

JE Pistons has been proud to work directly with Buddy Brooks developing custom pistons to deliver the specific performance Buddy is looking for in his engine package.

Torque is the area that Brooks targets when he’s building race-caliber Supercross bikes. Instant power is necessary when a rider needs to jump a 70-foot triple immediately out of a corner. The high-compression JE Piston helps in the torque and overall horsepower departments. Brooks also noticed that cylinder wear is better, and there is increased free revving with the JE product. A DLC coated wrist pin is also used to improve durability and lessen friction.

Many of JE's custom pistons for dirt bikes have base characteristics of JE's Pro Series line of shelf pistons, which are race-focused and typically available in various compression ratios. Anyone can call JE for custom pistons also!

Click here for the full scoop on JE Pro Series pistons, or find JE pistons for your bike here.

In the age of electronic fuel injection, mapping is a key component in the race to the first corner. Brooks explains, “I come up with custom maps and I’m constantly tweaking through using a Vortex ignition. Some of the riders may not notice a mapping change, but it might make a big difference on the dyno. I use the dyno a lot for development.”

Brooks understands that what performs great on a dyno may not transfer to the track. For that reason, he has spent many hours with team riders at the test track, making mapping adjustments in order to get the most out of the engines. Rider feedback is important; that is, if the rider feedback is accurate. Fortunately, Buddy has seasoned veterans Blake Wharton and Steven Clarke at his disposal. However, each rider is different in terms of what they feel.

“Blake Wharton is very detailed. He can tell every change,” states Brooks. “Blake will give me a three-page report after a test session. Steven Clarke will either give me a thumbs up or a thumbs down. Blake has been at that factory level, where he did a lot of testing on a lot of different parts. He has also ridden a variety of bikes, which makes it harder to get feedback sometimes, because he will start comparing different bikes. That’s all part of the process, and our communication is getting better.”

Buddy mentions that successful bike tuning cannot be done solely on the dyno. Track testing and rider feedback is key to success when it comes time for the night show.

Brooks has been elbow-deep in four-strokes for many years and is an expert on the many changes and advancements in four-stroke engine technology. What’s most impressive about his approach to building race engines is his attitude, despite being in the sport for a long time. Buddy admits, “I learn something new every day. I’m always trying to figure out something better. Little things really add up.” 

Starting Your Own Supercross Team

Buddy Brooks didn’t just happen to luck into being the Team Manager for TiLube Storm Lake Honda. It takes skill, dedication beyond measure, patience and resolve to grow a program into what Brooks has been able to accomplish. Through it all, Buddy has learned a lot about what it takes to succeed.

Brooks reflects, “Be organized. Understand the importance of social media for the sponsors. The funny thing is that I don’t do much social media, because I don’t even like my phone [laughter]. I’m always strapped for time. Fortunately, I have a guy who does that for me. Speaking of that, make sure you have good guys on your team. Make sure they’re doing it for the right reason. Don’t get guys who want to be rock stars. Also, don’t be scared to get dirty. I’m still pushing bikes to the starting line and wrenching. Safety is also a big issue. Make sure you keep track of service intervals and maintain reliability of your motorcycles. Pick good riders who are respectful and say, ‘Thank you.’ That’s a big one for me.”

"Pick good riders who are respectful and say, ‘Thank you.’ That’s a big one for me." - Buddy Brooks

That single quote should not only speak to aspiring race team owners and managers, but also mechanics, racers, and anyone entering the workforce. You should end up achieving success if you heed Buddy’s advice.

Buddy Brooks is responsible for a lot of things on the TiLube Storm Lake Honda team, and he has sacrificed a lot to chase the dream of competing at the highest level. He is the Team Manager, as well as mechanic, engine builder, mapping guru, parts washer…the list goes on. In fact, the only thing Buddy doesn’t do is suspension, as that’s handled by Factory Connection. Surely there’s a reward. As Buddy explains, “The most rewarding part about my job has to be the reality that I have put my own race program together and we are competitive. It makes me feel like I have done something positive.”

“The most rewarding part about my job has to be the reality that I have put my own race program together and we are competitive. It makes me feel like I have done something positive.” - Buddy Brooks

What do Brooks and the race team aspire to accomplish? “I want to keep building. I get a lot of help from Honda. If you go out and beat one of their guys, or any one of the factory guys, it’s pretty rewarding. A ‘Thank you’ also goes a long way with me. If someone thanks me for my work, that really puts a smile on my face. Racing is also supposed to be fun, and we have a good time. I grew up with the guys on my team. I went to school with the truck driver. Jeff, his boss, is a couple of years younger than us. We all used to ride together as kids.”

Of course, Brooks couldn’t go racing without sponsor backing. Fortunately, the team has some of the biggest names in the sport helping. Folks like Joe Murphy at TiLube, Storm Lake Honda, JRC, JWE, Yoshimura, Leatt, Hinson, Hoosier Tire, Diamond Billiard Products, JE Pistons, Calico Coatings, Racetech Titanium, ARC, Cometic, Vortex Ignitions, Slick Products, Factory Connection, MotoStuff, Acerbis, RK Excel, Hammerhead Designs, Twin Air, KSR Wheels, Guts Racing, Gaerne, Renegade Fuel, and 139 Designs.

To learn more information about TiLube Storm Racing Honda by Buddy Brooks, please visit www.tilubehonda.com.

Big thanks to Swap Moto Live for the awesome photos. [@swapmotolive]

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10 months ago