Talking with Johnny O'Mara, the man behind Joey Savatgy's program
There’s no denying that Johnny O’Mara is a legend of the sport and has proven time and time again that he is one of the most athletic racers to swing a leg over a dirt bike. To this day he remains active with both motocross and mountain biking, which includes training racers. Most notably, he trained Ricky Carmichael, and we all know how that turned out. For 2018 and 2019, O’Mara is working alongside Joey Savatgy. Just a few weeks back, Savatgy had a breakout ride in his first race on a 450 at the Monster Energy Cup, so when we had the opportunity to sit down with O’Mara to talk about things behind the scenes with Joey, we couldn’t pass up it up.
We're in the offseason right now and looking forward to 2019. Who all have you worked with during the off-season?
Well, on the moto side I always have one guy. Right now, that's Joey Savatgy and I've been with him for just about a year and a half now. I'm onboard for '19 with him. It's a new chapter in his life with going to the 450 for Monster Energy Kawasaki and I've been with him almost every day since the last National. We're getting comfortable with the new team and getting him as comfortable as he can be on the new bike. Everything's going perfectly and we couldn't be happier at the moment. Training-wise, we're continuing with that as part of my role too, but the goal is to make him stronger mentally and physically. We're happy with where we're at. We had that test race a few weeks ago in Vegas and the guy did spectacular, so we're right on schedule.
Tell me more about the Monster Energy Cup. That was a really good first showing on the 450 and I won't go as far as to say that nobody expected it, but it was a surprise to see him do that well right out of the gate.
Yeah, exactly. I could see how that surprised a lot of people. I'm close with Joey and we're not dumb, we see what people are saying and there are a lot of people that were thinking that spot [on the team] should have gone to someone else. Just because I work for Joey, I'm not going to be naïve and say he deserved it, but in my opinion, he did enough to earn it. Kawasaki still believes in him and his technical skills. People have to look at it the way we look at it. What you see with Joey is that he has some really good technical skills and coming from my background, that's what I look for. There are a lot of people that are really fast, but they're inconsistent and winging it. I love the beauty of the sport, and Joey has that naturally. I really gravitate towards that and I had a really good hunch that he'd be a better 450 rider than a 250 rider. He won races on the small bike and didn't win a championship, but came close a couple times, and that's the sour note on his 250 career. He'll tell you the same thing, he's bummed on it, but with us having this fresh start and seeing the progress right from the get-go, it was like I'd envisioned it. Before we went to Vegas, the only thing we hadn't done was ride with Eli [Tomac], so we didn't really know. Obviously, we ride at the same Kawi track that he does so we had a little bit of an idea with lap times, but lap times are lap times. Some days the tracks good and some days its blown out, so who really knows. So many people ask me, even his family, and I always tell them that he looks great. I wasn't saying that and blowing smoke, he looks perfect and he's beautiful on that bike. Even the crew at Kawi came out at different times and they were all just impressed. His result didn't surprise me. He's an unbelievable starter, I knew he'd get good starts and lead laps right away. The only thing I questioned was when I'm watching Joey, is the speed good enough? Is it as fast as Eli or Marvin or any of those guys? Sure, not everybody was there that night, but there were still plenty of fast dudes. Everybody seemed so shocked, but it really didn't wow me because he really does do the work. Most people don't know him like I do because I work so closely with him, but he puts in the work and he's in a great system at Ricky Carmichael's place or here with me in California. He's got a great team around him and I'm not sure he could get better people around him. We're constantly reminding him of that and seeing how we can make it better. We're very pleased with where we're at.
I know it's hard to say a lot, but maybe even just from a philosophical standpoint, what is the difference between your training program and the other ones out there?
You know, I'd probably have a hard time answering that because I don't watch what everyone else does. All I can really say is that while Aldon Baker is the go-to guy and he has a few of the best guys, I placed him in this sport when I hired him for Ricky Carmichael back in the day. I know what he does and I helped build what he offers his riders now. Aldon does a great job. He keeps his guys committed and holds them accountable for their actions. They have to train on a daily basis. He's relentless with them the way I was with Ricky and he was that way with him too. Aldon went in and was in there more than I was when I pulled back a little later on. As for what everybody else does, I don't really know and it doesn't really matter, to be honest. I've been there, I know what it takes, and I know what type of commitment it takes on a daily basis. You have to cut out all of the fluff that you don't need and stay on this path that you're on. That's what works the best.
You touched on accountability, and Joey always seems like a guy who holds himself accountable, even to a fault maybe. He's always the first to admit when he's done something wrong. Does that change your approach at all working with him compared to other riders you've worked with in the past?
Yeah, they're all different, so for sure. I've had five or six different guys I've worked with since Ricky and every one of them is different. It could be the mindset or one being more athletic than another, or one's got more skill level. How I approach everything is that while Joey has the program that Ricky and I built, he still can't do everything that Ricky did. Ricky had the DNA and not many people can work that hard. Dungey was that way too, he could've been a professional athlete in any other sport. He was amazing. Even Jeremy Martin was a freak genetically. That was one of the strongest guys I've ever worked with and he could kick my ass. Joey is more in the middle on all of that. I handle it differently and it's tailor-made to him. There's no doubt that in the time I've spent with Joey, he's so gifted on the motorcycle that it's the last thing I have to work on. If anything, I have to remind him that he can do a section. He could do it in his sleep. He may take a while to build up to things, but when he does it, he does it better than anyone. I try to remind him of his skill level without babying him. That's how fragile these guys are mentally. I'm sure it's that way with any sport at the highest level. Every one of those areas I talked about is addressed with whoever I'm working with.