The AFT Interview: Patrick ‘PJ’ Jacobsen
As silly-season racing clues go, it was pretty low key. Just an innocuous Facebook post in October of this year, one that didn’t generate any social media waves or cause the motorcycle media’s collective heart to palpitate wildly.
But it was a clue…
“Anyone interested in doing some one-on-one flat track training, or a group of people for a school, please let me know.”
There were a handful of replies, mostly from fans who a) loved to slide around and b) wanted to hang out with and learn from a top-level World Supersport/Superbike road racer and ex-flat track phenom.
Nothing came of the query, but it did signal that the dirt track bug had once again crept back into the mind of American-born road racer Patrick ‘PJ’ Jacobsen, who announced earlier this month that he was returning to the U.S. after several years of World Supersport and World Superbike competition to compete in MotoAmerica’s Supersport series on a HSBK/Celtic Racing Yamaha YZF-R6 in 2019.
Of course, road racing isn’t the only racing Jacobsen will be doing in 2019, as the 26-year-old New York native announced earlier today he’ll be riding an Indian Scout FTR750 in select events in the 2019 American Flat Track series backed by Nila Racing and managed by recently-retired Kenny Coolbeth. With the move, Jacobsen joins fellow AFT Twins competitor JD Beach as the only other rider doing road race and flat track double-duty in 2019 – at least so far.
“It’s a pretty exciting deal,” Coolbeth told us earlier today. “I know PJ’s family and have sort of mentored him over the years. He has a ton of potential, and he’s definitely proven himself on the world stage. He won flat track Rookie of the Year back in 2010, I think, and ran up front on a Twin as a 16-year-old, so now that he’s grown up and has been so successful in road racing, I feel he’s going to be even better in the dirt.
“The whole idea came together pretty recently,” added Coolbeth. “John Wise [Team Nila’s owner and supporter] and I became good friends over this past season, and after I retired we started talking about maybe continuing on in some other way. John wanted to stay involved, and I did, too, especially after the end of the season. It’s hard to leave, you know? It’s all I’ve ever done. Anyway, he asked me about riders, and I looked at the guys I thought could win, and most were already booked. But then PJ popped into my head, and I thought maybe he could pull off this kind of double duty, sorta like JD. We talked, and he was very interested, we put a deal together with John, and here we are. I’m going to be doing a lot, driving, crewing, wrenching, planning, etc., but it’s exciting knowing I’ll be back involved.”
Right now, the Coolbeth/Nila Racing team with Jacobsen aboard is planning to do nine events in 2019, though that number could increase depending on scheduling between the AFT the MotoAmerica schedules.
We connected with Jacobsen earlier today and asked for his thoughts on flat track, road racing, growing up as a dirt track kid, Kenny Coolbeth and why he’s returning to the flat track fold.
PJ Jacobsen (99) gets ready to launch alongside Bryan Smith (42) at a Mile event back in 2010, the year PJ won Rookie of the Year honors.
Welcome back to professional flat track. What was the impetus for you to return?
I just love dirt track racing. It’s all I knew growing up. I’m 26 now, and I’m not getting any younger, you know, so it’s my time now. It’s time to do what I want, and come back to dirt track where I started. All I wanted as a kid was to get my national number – just like my dad. I did that, and I enjoyed it. When some possibilities opened up for me on the road racing front, I did that – and am still doing it. But I always told myself that I would come back to dirt track, whether I was done road racing or not. So here I am. When I was road racing I couldn’t stand watching flat track on TV or on the computer because I wanted to be out there mixing it up with all the guys I grew up with racing as a kid. So it’s time to come back.
You and JD Beach will do double-duty this year. How’s that going to be?
Yeah, it’s going to be crazy, for sure. A lot of traveling, a lot of back and forth, but I’m looking forward to it. I did it back in 2010, when I rode some dirt track events – while still road racing – and ended up winning Rookie of the Year in flat track. I’ve known JD for a long time, and I know he’s trying to do the same thing – though he’s trying to make more than the nine races we’re planning to do, though we may do a few more, depending. I’m excited about it.
Jacobsen at the Suzuka 8-Hour, where he registered a second place finish.
Does road racing help your dirt tracking at all? Or vice versa?
I don’t know… they’re so different. You’d think the high speeds of roadracing would help on the faster Mile tracks, but I was pretty fast on TTs before – though that was on 450s. Not sure what they’ll be like on the bigger bikes. Should be interesting, for sure!
Are you more of a Mile/Half-Mile guy, or more into TTs and Short Tracks?
No idea, really. I’ve ridden some Half-Miles, ridden some Miles, but no TTs or Short Tracks on a big bike yet. So we’ll have to see. I mean, we’re gonna need to be good on all of them! I haven't been to a lot of the tracks on the schedule now, so I’m looking forward to them all. We just gotta take it step by step. Kenny knows them all inside out, so that is a huge help.
You started road racing when?
I made the jump to road racing when I was 11 years old and began competing at the age of 12, in 2006. My dad thought it was a good idea, and I quickly began to love it. I especially looked up to Nicky Hayden, who set many goals to believe in for many people. Because if Nicky could do it, why couldn’t a younger kid follow in his footsteps? At the time, roadracing was where many people wanted to be, so that’s the direction we went.
Tell us about your motorcycling history? A family connection? First race, first win?
I started riding motorcycles at the age of three on a PW50 Yamaha, mostly on an indoor track called the Thunderdome in the town of Middletown, which is very close to my hometown. My dad got me into racing motorcycles, as he used to compete back in the day in the Grand National Championship series. My first race was at the Thunderdome, and also my first win, so that has been a special place for me, basically where I grew up. From there my dad really pushed me. As a kid, flat track was so cool. When you’re a kid you wanna be just like your dad, right. We started doing local races and winning. After that we started going to the Amateur Nationals. I signed up for the 50cc Class at first, and won championships on 50s and 80s until I transferred more to road racing. I did select dirt track races even though we were really focused at this time on roadracing. By then I had over 30 amateur national championships.
Jacobson's flat track roots are deep, having grown up dirt tracking and scoring a pair of top-10 finishes (one at the Springfield Mile) on a XR750 Twin as a teenager.
What’s your history with Kenny Coolbeth?
Kenny has been a huge role model to me my whole career. I see how hard he used to work, and the guy has unbelievable talent on a motorcycle. He used to do a lot of schools with my dad, and I was at every one of them. So I was always learning something new from him. I’ve just always looked up to him, mainly because he never gives up and he is one guy on that list you can never count out.
Ridden the Indian FTR750 yet? When will you? What do you expect?
Nope, I’ve never ridden an Indian, but I’ve heard a lot about the bike, so I’m really excited to see what it’s like. I rode an XR750 for Pat Moroney and Bobby Weiss at a couple one-off events, and we had a good go at that. So it will be cool now to try something different and get to testing to see what it’s like. We are probably gonna start testing before the end of January. I’m excited.
Who are your dirt track heroes?
Obviously, Kenny Coolbeth has been a huge hero of mine. I have known him for a long time, and have looked up to him forever. He will always help you out, and he has never changed… always been the same Kenny I’ve known since growing up. That tells you a lot about somebody. Nicky [Hayden] is a huge hero of mine, too, for all the obvious reasons.
Want to thank anyone in particular?
I want to thank John Wise and Kenny Coolbeth for their belief in this project. It will be a fun year! Also, big thanks to Barry from Celtic Racing, and Bobby from HSBK, for letting me take this on.