Courtesy of Yamaha Racing
Levi Kitchen was born and raised in Washougal, Washington. Those who follow motocross know that the small town of Washougal hosts one of the best Pro Motocross Nationals on the circuit each year at Washougal MX. A trail from his house to the track inspired the inevitable love that Kitchen has for anything with two wheels. He started racing dirt bikes at the age of six and hasn’t stopped since. The 17-year-old has looked up to and aspired to be like former top racer, Ryan Villopoto, who also was born and raised in Washington. It wasn’t until recently that Kitchen had the opportunity to meet the multi-time Pro Motocross Champion on a trainer/student level at a summer camp hosted by Villopoto near his hometown in McCleary, Washington. It was there that he realized that with more hard work and training, his dreams could someday become a reality and he could earn a living doing what he loves.
He has since moved down to Louisiana to train full time at Real Deal MX Training Facility with Rob and Sherry Burkhart. Kitchen signed with the CycleTrader Rock River Yamaha team for the 2019 season and has been competing on the Yamaha YZ125 in the 125 (12-17) B/C and Schoolboy 1 classes with his practice and race bikes prepped by Team Manager Ed Torrance himself. Kitchen started off the racing season by proving that his hard work throughout the offseason at Real Deal MX has paid off tenfold and it was reflected greatly in his riding. He demonstrated the necessary title-winning speed in his first heat race as he went out and grabbed the win, but an unfortunate crash in the second heat race ended his weekend early with a few fractured ribs and a punctured lung.
The Washington native got back on the bike a couple of weeks later and went back to work in Louisiana to get ready for the Cal Classic where he demonstrated the same raw speed, winning a moto on the first day of racing. Kitchen carried that speed into Mammoth and Loretta Lynn’s where he consistently found the overall podium, finding a good rhythm on his YZ125 in the middle of the season. We caught up with Kitchen to talk about his move to Real Deal MX and how the races have gone throughout the 2019 season.
Obviously, things didn’t start off the way you wanted this year with an injury at Daytona, but you still showed some really good speed before you got hurt.
I mean, it was good considering that my speed was there but I didn’t even make it to the mains. I won my first heat and in the second one I ended up crashing. It was good to see where I was at with the other kids, but I was pretty bummed that I wasn’t able to finish the whole thing out.
What was the extent of your injuries?
I fractured a couple of ribs and punctured a lung so it wasn’t good. When I crashed it didn’t even hurt that bad really, I got hit by another kid. I got back to the pit and I just kept coughing up blood, so all the people (my family and team) were telling me that I need to go to the hospital. The medical unit at the track didn’t notice anything bad, maybe because I didn’t really say much, but we ended up going to the hospital and when they took me in the ambulance they were like “Yeah, you punctured a lung and all this.” It was definitely kind of weird because it was hard to breathe. I thought that was mainly because of my ribs, but it ended up being a bit more than just that.
So you weren’t healthy in time to race Freestone, but you still went out and supported your friends and hung out at the track. Was it tough to be there not racing?
Yeah, it was definitely cool seeing all of my buddies and supporting all the kids that I train with at Real Deal. It was also cool to see most of the kids that I’ll be racing with the whole year there and just study them and see what’s going on, so it was a good time.
How do you find a balance between rehabbing an injury and maintaining a base fitness so you don’t have a lot of catching up to do when you get back on the bike?
I pretty much did the normal week. We work out five days a week and I kind of just went lighter on the weights, because my ribs when I first got back from Freestone were still hurting. I did a lot of stretching, which helped a lot and a lot of work on the spin bike to keep my cardio good, so when I got back on the bike everything felt fresh.
Fast forward to the Cal Classic, how much seat time did you have coming into that race coming off of the injury?
I started riding a week or two weeks after Freestone and as soon as I got on the bike I honestly felt pretty good, like nothing hurt. I think I worked out for like a week and a half in the gym, I just didn’t ride but when I started riding everything was good. I felt well prepared for the Cal Classic, but it kind of ended up being another Daytona. I had the speed all weekend and won one of my motos, but I had an unfortunate crash that ended things early.
Although you ended up crashing, did your speed at that race do well for your confidence going into the second half of the season?
Yeah, for sure. I’ve come along way, especially since last year. I’ve never really been one of the faster kids – I mean, I’ve always been up there in the mix, but I think this year I’m definitely one of the top kids. As long as everything goes my way and I stay off the ground, I think I can do well.
How much of that improvement do you accredit to making the move to Real Deal and training full-time or is it just the seat time and experience that you have on the YZ125 at this point?
Yeah, it’s been really good. Last year before Loretta’s and all that, I would ride as much as I could but I didn’t have a set program where I’m working out five days per week and riding. This year, ever since I came to Real Deal in December – unless it rains and we can’t ride, I’ve pretty much been riding and working out five days per week. That’s helped a lot just because it’s so consistent and your body just gets used to it. In the gym it’s getting easier and easier. Mrs. Sherry, Rob’s wife and our trainer in the gym, was having a hard time with me when I first got here. I pretty much sucked in the gym when I first got here to be honest. It’s been a lot easier now and everything’s going good with that. It just makes you so much more confident on the bike knowing that you can do longer motos and not get tired.
How was the transition moving from Washington down to Louisiana at Real Deal?
It’s been good. I went home a couple of times here and there. Before the Cal Classic I went and visited home and for my birthday I went home for a little bit. I mean, honestly it’s not a whole lot different. It’s a little different living in a motorhome honestly than it is living in a house at home. Every once in a while I’ll get homesick and I miss my parents, but as long as I stay busy at Real Deal it’s fine and I know it’s all for the better, so it’s worth it.
As opposed to the facility, what do you guys have for riding around there? I saw some stuff on social media of what looked to be a pretty gnarly sand track.
So, there’s a sandpit like thirty minutes from us that we’ll go ride if it rains and there’s a track in Alabama, that’s actually where I rode my 125s from Ed when I got them for the first time and that place is sweet. If it gets too much rain here we’ll go there because it can’t get rained out, it’s just pure sand. It gets pretty rough and it’s another option just to go ride. At Real Deal we’ve got an amateur supercross track, we’ve got a grass track up top that gets super gnarly ruts, and then a pretty big clay/sand corner track, and then we’ve got the main track which is huge.
So you mentioned that one of the big changes for you moving down there was the structure. What’s a typical day of training like for you?
Yeah, I wake up about – I mean, I’m not going to lie because Rob’s right here next to me – but I wake up at about 8 a.m. and go to the gym at 8:30 a.m. or 9:00 a.m. for kind of a warm-up. Then I come back to the motorhome and eat my breakfast, get my bike work done if I have to throw a filter in or change the oil, and then try to be out on the track by about 10:30 a.m. We do a session in the morning and usually break the track in and do a couple of motos, but we do three sessions and probably put about an hour and a half on the bike each day. It’s been getting hot so maybe we won’t ride as much, but we’ll just get in and get out to get our motos done. After that I’ll eat some lunch or whatever and go to the gym at 3:30 p.m. and we’re in the gym for an hour. Then Sherry cooks me dinner at 6:00 p.m. and I’ll go eat and then usually just get ready for the next day, hang out with some buddies or go fishing. We do that quite a bit.
So how do you guys approach your motos with all of the different riders there?
There aren’t a lot of people here right now because everyone’s off getting their Loretta’s Qualifiers done, but typically when everybody’s here, Jace (Kessler) and I will start at the back and just see what we can do, pick as many people off as possible. I mean, I’d definitely say I get roosted the most which kind of sucks but it’s been pretty good. Honestly, everybody here goes pretty fast so it hasn’t been easy.
Loretta Lynn’s has come and gone and you scored a third overall in the 125cc class and a commendable seventh overall in Schoolboy 1. Where does that leave you moving forward for the remainder of the year?
I didn’t really meet my expectations to be honest as far as the overalls go, obviously it’s always the goal to win. I was glad that I came out and I was able to show my speed. I got two moto wins but in one of those I got docked. It was good to get a few moto wins, get a holeshot and get some good starts, but I had a couple of bad motos that held me back from getting a good overall. In one of the motos I popped my shoulder out and I had a problem in practice where my ribs were still out of place from Daytona, so it was kind of a rough week, but I was happy with what I was able to show. I’ve been spending time at home after Loretta’s and I’m headed back to Real Deal next week to start training again. Ed’s got two 250s and I’m going to start riding those a little bit. At Ponca I might have to ride a 125, it’s still up in the air but at Mini O’s it’s going to be all 250s.