Jesse Janisch: No Time For Anything But His Everything

Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson’s Jesse Janisch seized a one-point lead in the evolving Mission Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines championship fight when he won the Mission Red Mile II, his second victory in the season’s most recent three races.

While the margin at the top of the standings may be razor thin, the gulf separating Janisch from where he is and where he was one year ago is enormous.

Equally staggering is the opportunity before him now, the latest unexpected development in a Progressive American Flat Track career that’s returned from the grave on more than one occasion.

At 34 years old and with plenty of life experience behind him, Janisch has the maturity to not only recognize that opportunity but embrace the challenge now that he’s on the verge of something bigger than he could have previously dreamed.

The most high-profile Progressive AFT career paths are also the least common – those belonging to the special talents who are destined for greatness, the can’t miss prospects who don’t miss. Even though the Jared Mees or Dallas Daniels of the world tend to dominate headlines, they are also extraordinarily rare.

Much more common are the career journeymen, the grinders who make up the ranks and whose love for racing is only fleetingly rewarded by a measure of success. And on rare occasion, one of those grinders will make good and break through to lasting prominence (think Cory Texter), providing motivation to all the others who continue to claw their way up the order.

And far more common still are the legions of aspiring riders who fade away into obscurity before ever making a genuine impression. Such is the reality of professional sports. For every established pro are dozens upon dozens who never make it out of the amateur or regional ranks, or, if they do, do so only briefly or intermittently.

While a unique case today, Janisch was that most common story. The Beaver Dam, Wisconsin native started riding at three, racing at four, and then spent his childhood and early adult years bouncing between flat track, motocross, supermoto, and roadracing.

Boasting credible results in both the Grand National Championship and AMA Superbike, Jesse contemplated a full-season dirt track campaign in 2011 before lowering his sights. Soon after, his racing career seemed to wrap up as another existence took center stage.

“I quit racing flat track at the end of 2011 and 2012 and got pretty big into drinking,” Janisch admitted. “Not that I was an addict. I drank, partied, and worked. I got a normal job. I did that pretty much 2012, 2013, 2014, and the beginning of 2015. It's pretty much what I did.

“I bought a house, and just did a lot of not smart stuff. I didn't get into drugs or anything but just a lot of partying. Not that it sounds right, but maybe the positive was I didn't (get depressed thinking) about motorcycling.”

Years removed from professional competition, Janisch’s interest was reignited when another promising talent from Beaver Dam made his way up into the pro ranks nearly a decade after Jesse’s original foray.

“In 2014 I was racing a little bit of flat track thanks to Morgen Mischler, because that's the year he went pro. He still had a 250 two-stroke, so I started riding that, dabbling around at races and having fun.

“It had been a couple years, and it allowed me to rediscover my love of flat track. I started really enjoying it and having fun with him. I was just screwing around with it.

“In 2015, I decided I wanted to try to get my pro card again, and I wanted to try the Peoria TT national because I was always a good TT rider. I actually sold my house for a loss. I was already living with my now fiancé (Renee Drabek). I sold my house for such a loss, I couldn't afford to pay for my pro card, so she bought my pro card.”

With additional help and support from George Mack and Jeremy DeRuyter, Janisch not only took part in the 2015 Peoria TT – his first Progressive AFT event since making a single appearance in 2012 – he won the GNC2 Main Event ahead of the likes of Davis Fisher, Bronson Bauman, Hayden Gillim, Dan Bromley, and yes, Morgen Mishler.

Typically, you’d say the rest is history, but it’s a pretty wild history that merits further examination. Janisch and Mischler subsequently played amateur detective, helping a well-heeled local track down some stolen racebikes and the person who stole them. That effort ultimately resulted in some sponsorship dollars that allowed Janisch to run more than half of the 2017 season, where he secured three more podiums including another Peoria TT triumph.

“I basically straightened my path – I wasn't drinking or partying anymore. I had a good job so I was making decent money and started building my career from there, buying my motorcycles and getting them better. I made a run at doing a bunch of them, and it just continued to be fun. Morgen kept it so light. I really enjoyed going racing.”

With momentum on his side, Janisch finally accomplished what he had never done despite decades of race history – he competed in a full professional race season in 2018. He quit his job as a supervisor at Kraft overseeing the production of Philadelphia Cream Cheese and made a go after being a full-time professional racer.

And it certainly seemed like he was onto something. In ‘18, Jesse won at Peoria – again – and racked up enough points to end the season ranked fifth in the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER championship.

In 2019, things started off even stronger, as he won three of the opening six races and battled for the early championship lead before tailing off over the season’s second half en route to an eventual sixth-place ranking.

“It seemed like the stars were aligning in ‘19, but our bikes were a little down on power. It's tough. If you don't have a full-time team working, it's just so much money to pay someone to build your bikes. So when we started to get to Miles season, it pretty much went par for the course.”

So where did that leave Janisch in 2020?


“Honestly, in 2019, I went back to not enjoying racing. Situationally, it wasn't super fun. I was struggling with results, which didn't help either. So, I thought, heck, I would just do the rounds I could do pretty well at in 2020.”

However, that plan was severely damaged when COVID hit, forcing a schedule reshuffling that effectively erased the rounds at which Janisch was most likely to excel.

Undeterred, he sought the blessing of Mark Muth to brandish the #96 in 2020 in memory of Mark's late son, Alec Muth. Alec, who was from Black River Falls, Wisconsin, and close with both Jesse and Renee, succumbed to his injuries following a racing accident at Black Hills Speedway in 2018. Along with paying tribute to his friend, Jesse focused on once again finding his love for flat track.

“I rode basically a stock Husqvarna 450. It wasn't super competitive, but I went to races where I thought I could make the Main and made the majority of them. I had a lot of fun. That was the point – to get back to enjoying flat track. And that was super rad to do. By the end of 2020 my best result was ninth. And you're not exactly going to get people calling you to go racing after that.

“I had pretty much accepted that I was done racing (flat track) and that was okay. I got into off-road racing and did that fairly seriously at a local level. That's where my focus was. And I was actually going to school to get a real estate license.

“In 2021, I had no intentions of racing. I was actually going to the races to help out Davis Fisher, changing tires, changing gearing, and wiring stuff. Just helping out. I think I did all the rounds until Lima. And then I was just pretty much hanging out in Florida. I was actually watching Weedsport when Dalton (Gauthier) hurt his leg. Obviously, I didn’t know the extent of it. The Tuesday before Peoria, Dalton put up his post saying that he wasn’t going to be riding.

“I texted Robby Bobby probably within five minutes of seeing the post. He got ahold of Craig (Koontz) who is the manager at the Indy plant of Vance & Hines and then Craig got ahold of Terry Vance in California. They gave me a call and said if I could get my license, I could come race Peoria in a one-off deal.”

And just like that, Janisch’s career was resurrected a second time.

For years, Janisch had bristled at the notion he was a TT specialist. He’d podiumed on a Short Track and earned multiple top fives on Miles and Half-Miles. But with six victories to his name, including three at the fabled Peoria TT, there was no denying his TT mastery.

“I guess I always felt (the label) was a little unfair. But my results backed up the comments though, right? I had won like six TTs and I had never won on an oval. Deep down I knew my 450 wasn't the most competitive 450 out there, but nobody cares about that. All they care about is the results at the end of the night… It is what it is. If I didn't want that reputation, maybe I should have stopped winning at the TTs, you know?”

But for once, the tag worked in his favor as Vance & Hines contemplated putting a sub on Gauthier’s Harley-Davidson XG750R at Peoria of all places.

Janisch knows the score. “Absolutely. I wouldn't have had a shot in the dark to get that ride for just about any other round. I'm very well aware of how lucky I was... how lucky I am.”

He turned that opportunity into a podium, and even more crucially, even more opportunities. He ended the ‘21 Mission Production Twins season on an absolute tear, notching up podiums at both the Springfield Mile and Sacramento Mile, and then winning the Charlotte Half-Mile season finale.

‘It is what it is’ became ‘it is what it was,’ as Janisch transformed those opportunities into a full-season with Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson in 2022.

Five races in, he’s added Half-Mile and Mile wins to his name and relishes the chance to show what he can do at a Short Track on the XG750R at this upcoming weekend’s Progressive Laconia Short Track presented by MOMS Motorsports at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.

“One opportunity – that's pretty much what I’ve thought since I got that phone call from Terry in December. I've got one shot. I've got to make it count. I certainly don't feel like there's a bunch of people calling me. There was one amazing opportunity, and I've got to take advantage.”

Asked what it would mean to him to win the championship, the mindset of a racer who witnessed the premature end of his career twice already was very clear.

He said, “That would be rad, but to be perfectly honest, it would mean even more to me to have a ride next year.

“You would think those two things would go hand-in-hand, but they don’t necessarily always do. But if I got second this year and got a ride for next year, honestly, I think that would mean more to me than winning the championship this year and not having a ride next year.”

And with the twin-cylinder classes slated to merge in 2023, equally important in earning that ride for next year are Janisch’s performances in the Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle Main Events via the Mission Production Twins Challenge, an avenue in which he’s already made waves this season.

“Oh man, that's everything. That's the premier class in the sport. Ultimately, that's where you want to be. At Volusia, I was running like fourth at the beginning of the race. But honestly, I felt like I was prepared at Volusia, but I didn't know what to be prepared for. My cardio was super good, but just my strength in other areas faded. I was in fifth for a good majority of the race and with maybe seven laps to go, Jared (Mees) and Brandon (Robinson) got by me and I ended up seventh.

“After the race, I told my guys to give me two months. I didn't know what we were really getting into running back-to-back Mains. Nobody did. ‘I'm going to work on this and be in better shape.’ The past two months I've been in the gym almost every single day. We didn't really get tested at the Red Mile because it's not super physical, but we're about to head to Laconia and Lima. If I can get in the SuperTwins Main, watch out and see if my tongue is dragging in the wind or not. Hopefully not.”

As if going from the couch to the Mission Production Twins championship lead and Mission SuperTwins top-five contention wasn’t good enough, Janisch is also able to enjoy the parallel rise of Mischler, who’s brought the story full circle with his bid for the Parts Unlimited AFT Singles title.

“I told Morgen, I don't bet money – I'm cheap – but if you would have told me in 2016 that we would be where we are right now and you would have bet $1000, I would have bet against that all day. ‘There's no way it's going to happen.’

“It’s super cool... We've done a lot of training and ridden together, we bicycle together, we go to the gym together. It's been fun that way.

“The one goal is that we both win on the same night, and we keep doing every other round. He won Texas. I won I-70. He won Red Mile I. I won the Red Mile II. So we're cheering for each other to get it done. The funny thing is he's the one stuck with all the pressure, since I race before he does. So when I won the Red Mile II, I looked up at him and said, ‘It's your shot brother. You've got to get it done.’ He got second by like half a wheel. But we've got a lot of rounds to get it done.

“Obviously, ultimately, we're both in really good positions, and if we could both be battling for championships at the end of the year, man, that would be wild. We were just buddies from Beaver Dam who hung out. It's cool to watch him succeed.”

The benefit of delayed success is having the sort of perspective that allows Janisch to truly enjoy the success of his friend – and his own, for that matter, while recognizing everything that’s made it possible.

“It's crazy. The opportunity is super cool. Being older and more mature, you can sit back and realize everything that's going on. When you're a kid, there's no nice way of putting it, but you're young and dumb. Now, I fully understand the money and time Terry Vance and Vance & Hines are committing to this to give me an opportunity.

“Obviously, I also understand that's marketing for the business, but they could go do other things with the money. And Terry could go buy a boat and just go fishing. My crew chief Steve (Polk), my mechanic Josh (Sutter), Craig (Koontz) the manager of the team – those guys, they could be sitting at home with their families. They don't have to be out here sweating. Yes, it's their jobs, but they're also choosing to do it.

“It's so cool to be able to realize that and understand these guys are sacrificing to basically help me try to complete a dream.”