At 56, Johnny O'Mara could still whip you on a mountain bike.
Follow Johnny O’Mara on Instagram @oshow1
Johnny O’Mara is a legend in motocross. With a 125 National MX Championship, a Supercross Championship, and four Motocross of Nations Championships to his credit, “O’Show” was also one of the riders in the 80s that elevated the fitness levels required to be successful at the highest levels of racing. A fanatical trainer, O’Mara carried on with endurance sports after he retired from motocross and has racked up eight cross country moutain bike National Championships in the years since. At the same time, he’s also remained close to the sport by working as a trainer with a ton of top riders including Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart, Ryan Dungey, Thomas Covington, Jeremy Martin, and now Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki’s Joey Savatgy.
We crossed paths early this morning with O’Mara on our local mountain bike trails, where he was getting in a quick workout before meeting up with Savatgy to do some work…
Great running into you on the trail this morning, what's your day look like, O’Show?
I'm on the Joey Savatgy schedule. He's in town for a couple weeks so I'm meeting him out at the K2 Supercross track. He was going to join me this morning, but he opted to do just a little run. I'm going to go spend some time with him and he's got some other stuff he's got going on this afternoon. Pretty much when he's in town, I'm 24/7 working for him and it’s my job to help keep him on track. We're getting pretty close here to the season since it's December. Everyone's getting a little more excited for sure.
When he's training back at Carmichael’s place, how does your role as his personal trainer work? Do you send him programs? Does he send you data?
All of that. When I first moved into the position when Ricky Carmichael hired me for him, I was kind of his race guy and weekend guy. Obviously, as we've grown together and bonded more and he's liked my style, I've taken over all of the angles with the training and diet and scheduling on laps and timing and peaking. I'm kind of in charge of everything and while he isn't in California all of the time, it's constantly a balancing act with Genie Carmichael and Ricky at the farm. I know exactly what he's doing every day – even on his rest days – and what his heart rate is, what his data is if he's tired. It's everything [laughs]. It's a lot, and that's why I only really enjoy doing one guy. Doing more than one guy, I don't think I could do it. It would be very difficult, especially if I didn't have hands-on access to the guy wherever he's at. That's why I really enjoy just one guy. They get all of my focus and every minute of the day, even when I'm taking care of my family. When I'm with the kids I'm still thinking about Joey, like, 'How can we make him better?' I'm always trying to look at every little detail and picking up every little stone to figure out how he can be a little bit better or how the bike can be a little bit better. We get along pretty well and I'm pretty confident that he likes me. Obviously, it's a tough program being down there with Genie too. I have to balance that. Genie works him hard on what he does on the motorcycle down there. It's constantly all of us negotiating between Ricky, Genie, and myself. There's a lot of, 'Okay, I think he needs this or he needs to do that.' We're always compromising or negotiating, but it's all in the best interest of Joey. I like the little triangle that we have and it seems to be working well. I'm very confident in what's coming up that he'll be able to ride up to a level that people haven't seen yet. We're really excited about 2018.
Mitch Payton likes to keep it secret with which guys are racing East and West up until the last minute. So as a trainer, is it hard to get the guy ready for Anaheim 1, and then modify things if he’s chosen for East Coast?
Absolutely, it's very difficult. I wish I knew which series Mitch had in mind to be honest because I'm such a fanatic on timing. Timing is everything with these guys, but the one thing I do look at and do respect with what Mitch is doing is that these guys are the 250 guys, the grassroots guys. At some point, they're going to have to be 450 guys and step up and ride the full season anyway. He's kind of prepping them for that also, and even I had to look at that and think, 'You know what? That makes a little bit of sense.' With what I do, I know Joey's very fit right now and he could go West Coast right now no problem. The timing would probably be perfect if he did that. If he goes East, I'm going to have to back him off here shortly. I've already done that a tad because we're into December. Maybe one day we'll pull Supercross laps out or give him one more day on rest. Something is backed off every week with him already because we've had him tested and I know all of his numbers. He's pretty good for his body type and especially compared to when I came on in April I believe. What a significant jump he's made in that time since April. Yes, I will have to modify the program here shortly whether he goes racing or waits six or seven more weeks in February. That's very tricky on what you can do and can't do. You can push the guys too far and put too much stress on them. It's not just the training, it's all of that stress too. It's tricky for me, but I think I've got it down pretty good. I know my body pretty well and I've worked with other motocross guys, some of the best in the world, and I know what's going through their minds and the pressures they've got on them from manufacturers, sponsors, and what they put on themselves personally. Some guys can handle it a little more than others. I think I've got it down pretty good.
You've also been there, done that, and won championships. My favorite day on Instagram is always Thursday, because I can always count on a #tbt post from you. What's it like still being involved in the sport this many years later? Did you expect that?
I probably didn't expect it because let's say even with a guy like Ryan Dungey right now, he doesn't know what he wants to do. When I was done I went straight into mountain biking so I had something to do, but it's so interesting how it's all we know and it's still kind of our family. For me, it brings you back automatically. Where I'm at and where I've been for the last decade or even two decades since I've raced, I feel like I've given back to the sport and it's great. The sport has given me a great lifestyle and I was successful at it, and people still want to hear my voice or they come to me and ask for help with training or race craft or whatever. It's quite a compliment when I get that. It makes me feel good that people know the history. I do think that in any sport you should know the history. I'm really a big history guy in every sport just cause I'm a little old school, but every sport I watch I'm intrigued with where it started. I want to know how it evolved and how gnarly the guys were there and what the generation is like now. It does evolve, everything is different now, but it doesn't in other ways. It's still the best guy, the most talented that makes the least mistakes, the fittest guy. It's really basic too if you look at it like that. I think that people overthink it and try to break it down way too much because if you just do the basic stuff and get your mind in that mode that you're going to win no matter how you're going to get there, you're going to get there. That's how I was, I had guys that I looked up to and I said, 'Man, I'm going to beat those guys.' I just knew it. That what those guys have to have. If they don't have that, it's pretty difficult for them if they're looking at these guys in awe. It's tricky for them. They can ride just as well, but to race with them side-by-side and line up with them, it's a whole different deal. I loved the challenge in my day of racing with [Bob] Hannah and all of these guys that I looked up to and had pictures of on my wall. I see it with all of these guys now. Those are some of the things. It gives the normal person a little perspective on how I look at it.
We're here on the mountain and you're blazing up the hill. Tell me about your mountain biking escapades these days. You're still racking up National championships.
Yeah, I do hit it pretty hard still. I've got my brand new 2018 S-Works Epic here by Specialized. I'm still kind of tweaking on it with my setup. I've been on this thing quite a bit setting up the bike the same way I would on a motorcycle with shock psi and things like that. I'm just a tinkerer. I love having my bike feel just like my works bike back in the day. Like I said, I blazed up this hill and had a pretty good little clip here. It was a little over an hour and now I'm going to meet Joey at the track. I'm still captain of the Baghouse Industrial team and I really enjoy doing that. That's really my second little side job or hobby. I've racked up quite a few Master's National Championships, I think it's up to eight. I'd love to get to 10, I'd be content with that. Everyone's asked me when I'm going to retire from that too and I don't know, but I have this 10 number stuck in my head. You guys know I have quite a few Supercross, motocross, Grand National stuff. I've done it quite a while. I'm at about 35 or 40 years now as an athlete at a high level. That's pretty long. I feel Father Time catching up with me though, I can see the younger kids coming up, but I still hold my own.
I always hear people ask,”What is Baghouse…”
My good friend Chad Smart owns a company, Baghouse Industrial, that does custom sheet metal fabrication. The business itself is amazing, they make things you wouldn’t believe! Everything from medical air blowers and air ducts, all the way down to the new expanded steel starting pads that they are using in Supercross next year. Chad loves mountain biking as much as I do, and he is the man who owns the Baghouse MTB team. We are an elite amateur race team and have multiple Cat 1 National Championships to our credit. It’s really cool for Chad and I to see how much notoriety the team has gained in our arena. We get asked for Team Baghouse kits all the time by motocross racers who know the backstory.