T-Dog’s Takes: Phil Nicoletti on His Amateur Career

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Muc-Off/FXR/ClubMX’s Phil Nicoletti is a media darling and for good reason. He’s always there to give a great interview whenever he’s asked and he delivers every single time. These days, most people know Phil’s every move, so I took a different direction when he joined the Squad Pod this week. I had him on to discuss his amateur career and to talk about the stepping stones to become the rider that he is today. 

Before the interview he told me he wasn’t exactly sure he’d be able to remember much, however after a few stories everything started to come back to him and I think he surprised himself in the process. 

Nicoletti grew up on a farm in Cochecton, New York, and his first rides on a dirt bike were in the basement of his house with the windows open. From there, he worked on his craft on his childhood property, then began racing soon after. Nicoletti would race every weekend at local tracks around him. The tracks would be packed with riders and the competition was extremely fast up in the Northeast.

He started to try for Loretta Lynn’s, but didn’t make it for the first time until 1999 where he finished 15th overall in the 65 (7-9) Stock class. You need to listen to the pod to hear Phil’s recollection from his first Loretta’s experience. He definitely will never forget that experience or his pit setup that first year. In 2000, Phil made Loretta’s again racing a KTM in the 65 (7-11) Mod class and a Kawasaki in the 85 (7-11) Stock Class.

One of the most crucial moves in Nicoletti’s amateur career was when he tried someone else’s CR85 at a local race. He said that the bike was faster than anything he had ridden to that point and he made the switch. Honda was the brand that put Nicoletti on the map and he gained support from Honda of Houston and then American Honda later on.

In 2006, Nicoletti raced 125A and 125A Pro Sport classes at the Ranch. He finished second and third, respectively in those classes, however he wasn’t offered any rides to the pro ranks. The riders that he was battling like Ryan Dungey, Sean Hackley, and Josh Hill were the ones to transition to a pro deal. Nicoletti did make his pro debut that summer. He raced his home national at Broome Tioga and then the season finale at Steel City. He didn’t score any points. Phil didn’t have any other options but to return to the amateur ranks for another season of A class, which wasn’t too uncommon back in those days. Heck, Kyle Chisholm did three years of A classes!

In 2007 things went better for Nicoletti. He grabbed a Red Bull JAMS deal and he may have been the first rider to do just that. He finished second overall in the Motocross A/Pro Sport and then third overall in MX Lites/Pro Sport behind Trey Canard and Nico Izzi. He raced Steel City and Freestone after Loretta’s that summer and scored some points. From there he had a deal in place with the Canidae Kawasaki team. If you’re a follower of Nicoletti’s you’ll know that the rest of the story isn’t exactly a fairytale ending. 

I found this quote from the Sullivan County Democrat after he got his Kawasaki deal. “Now, for the next seven or eight years, I can put my head down, get it done and retire at 26,” Nicoletti said.

Phil turns 35 in March and he’s still going strong. 

One of the coolest parts of Nicoletti’s career is that he was never the can’t miss kid, but he grinded and was consistently the next best guy. Here’s a list of some of the big names that he raced growing up:

Ryan Villopoto
Josh Hill
Davi Millsaps
Austin Stroupe
Nico Izzi
Wil Hahn
Zach Osborne
Cole Seely
Sean Hackley
Matt Lemoine
Jeff Alessi
Mike Alessi
Vince Friese
Broc Tickle
Darryn Durham
Kyle Cunningham
Ryan Dungey 

I’m sure I’m missing some names here, but the point is other than Friese and Hill, Nicoletti has outlasted all of them. Not bad for a kid who started riding in a farmhouse basement.

Listen to the Squad Pod on the Vurbmoto Podcast Network every week, but you won’t want to miss this episode with Phil. It’s a trip down memory lane that you won’t want to miss.

Main image: Jason Friberg

Written by Troy Dog

Faster than Slaw Dog. Editor-in-Chief

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