Dean Wilson interview
The majority of our Race Tech Suspension presented “Privateer Showcase” interviews are with virtually unknown riders looking to escape the obscurity of privateer life and to make strives towards landing a ride with one of the major teams in the pits. In 2017, though, there are a handful of riders that have won races and even championships that find themselves unemployed for the first time in their careers.
For Dean Wilson, 2017 will mark his eighth season as a professional, but it will be the first time he’s entered a season opener without a home inside a major team semi. Deano spent the first five years of his career under the Monster Energy / Pro Circuit / Kawasaki tent and has been with the Red Bull / KTM team the last two seasons, but since winning the coveted 250SX AMA Motocross National Championship back in 2011, the #15 has been dealing with one injury after the next—the last two seasons being two of the toughest.
Dean signed with Roger DeCoster and the Red Bull / KTM team heading into 2015, but over the last two years, he has only competed in five Monster Energy Supercross, an FIM World Championship series races and just thirteen Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship races of the fifty-eight possible events. It’s been two steps forward and three steps backwards for Dean, and because of that, the former national champ was not signed to a team for the 2017 season.
While Dean has dealt with a lot of injuries and now finds himself unemployed, there is still no quit in the Scottish-born AMA champ, so we gave him a call to find out what he’s riding and how he’s getting to the races in ’17. As always, Deano had no problem doing an interview and answering some tough questions that give a glimpse into the mindset of what it’s like to be a rider of his caliber in these personally uncharted waters. Thanks to Dan Lamb for the interview.
Hey Deano. How are the holidays going for you?
The holidays are good. I haven’t done any Christmas shopping yet. I’ve been super busy with getting things organized and getting ready for the season. It’s coming along good. Obviously, I’m not in the same shape I was in the past five-six years, but it’s all good. It’s been a learning experience, and I’m enjoying this. So it’s okay.
Where are you spending Christmas at?
I spend Christmas out here in California. My mom and dad are here, and my sister’s here. I have my family here, so it’s all good.
How’s the Supercross training going for you. By now, most people know you’re riding a privateer Yamaha at the moment. How are you liking the Yamaha?
The training is going good. I just actually finished with boot camp. We’re not going as hard as we were. We were going really, really hard with training and riding over the past four or five weeks, but we just kind of ended that chapter. It’s going good, though. I feel pretty good on the bike; I like the bike. Everything is going pretty good, but there’s still a lot of organizing to be done. I’m still working hard and doing what I can at the moment.
You were spotted on a couple different bikes during the off season, and there was quite a bit of speculation on where you might end up. What was the reason you ended up going with a Yamaha when you found out there would be no team deal for you in ’17? What kind of help are you getting with the Yamaha?
Yeah, I rode a Suzuki for a little bit because I was kind of hoping I would get on the RCH team, but they ended up not choosing me. Then I went and had a meeting with Yamaha. They said they would get me at the least a bike and get me some parts to support me. Really Yamaha was the one that stepped up and supported me. That was pretty cool and really the reason why I’m on the Yamaha.
Are you going to be pitting near the Star or Factory Yamaha team or just have your own pit area?
That’s something I’m really not that concerned with. I’m just concerned with racing. I’ll probably just be in the back in my truck.
What are you pitting out of at A1? Will we see you in a Sprinter van or rolling in the pickup truck?
Just my Toyota of Escondido truck is the plan.
Is that something that’s hard to swallow for someone that’s experienced the kind of success you’ve hand in your career?
No, it’s good. I actually like it. I’m just going to do my own thing. I’m there because I want to do well. Of course I’m not in the position I’d like to be in, but I’m working hard. That’s all I can do from my side.
I know at this point you’ve accepted the situation, but is it surprising to you that you’re in this spot? For me, the answer is, yes. You’re a former AMA National Champion who dominated races indoors and outdoors on a 250. Yes, the 450 career has been injury-riddled, but when healthy, you won a 450SX heat race as recently as 2016.
Yes and no. I’ve obviously never been in this position before. I spoke to JGR and RCH and I was on the list, but they chose other riders. I feel like, I’ve only done four Supercross’ in the last two years and that’s something they look at. “Is that going to happen again? Do we want to take that risk?” It’s tough, but like I said, I can only do my part.
Did not lining up at all in 2017 ever cross your mind? I know after one of your knee injuries there was a brief moment when you contemplated retiring, but this is obviously a different scenario.
No, not at all. I think back then I was just in a dark place. I had worked really hard when I was at KTM for my second year coming back from the torn ACL. I was training with Tyla Rattray, and I had put in a lot of effort. I felt good. I was qualifying good. I won a heat race, and things were looking up. Obviously, I blew my knee out again, and it was pretty crappy. It’s just tough when you have all these injuries in a row. Your pay gets cut and there’s just a lot of stuff people don’t see from the outside. People are all like “Oh, I’m so bummed Dean’s not on a ride,” and they feel bad for me, but I have a lot of great support out there from people still supporting me. I’m hoping that this is just a little journey in the path that teams can hopefully look at and say, “Man we should have hired him.” I just have to earn my way back there.
Take in mind, the last guy that was famously running #15, Tim Ferry, found himself in a very similar spot midway through his career. He jumped on a privateer Yamaha and quickly proved his worth again to factory teams. Maybe it’s in the number. (laughs)
Yeah, you never know. I’ll just do all I can do.
You haven’t raced SX in a minute, but you no doubt remember what the speed up front feels like. How do you think your speed is looking so far on the Yamaha as you prepare for 2017?
I think my speed is pretty good. I’ve only been riding with a stock pipe and factory suspension so far. I’m really looking forward to getting my race bike built—should be the end of next week—and see how I feel on that. Overall, the bike’s good, I feel good and my speed feels pretty decent. I’m a little bit behind just because I got started late, but I’m doing all I can.
The change to twenty-minute + one lap main events will be in play starting at Anaheim 1 for 2017. Is that just something Tyla [Rattray, Dean’s trainer] instantly works into your training program?
Yeah, Tyla has us doing twenty-five minute motos which are pretty gnarly. That’s just twenty-five minutes by myself. Think of when you have riders all around you. That’s going to be a lot more intense. It will be interesting. I think there will be a few that will excel, and there’s going to be a few that do not like it so much. You have to just stay strong the whole way through.
On paper, it doesn’t seem like a huge change. I looked at it the other day, and I think on average it’s an extra 2-3 laps. You had tracks like Daytona, one of the Anaheims and Las Vegas where the main events were over twenty minutes. You’re just not going to have any of those fourteen minutes main events any more like Santa Clara last season. Is it a change you like?
When you think of races on the East Coast like Indianapolis last year where [Ryan] Dungey and [Ken Roczen] battled real hard, that track was really gnarly rutty. By the end of the race, they were just doubling all the sections. Just think, that was only a seventeen minute race. Another six minutes or so, and that track is going to be sketchy. With that type of track, I don’t like it because the track gets a bit dangerous, but it’s the same for everybody.
Nobody wants injuries, but we know they’re going to happen with some factory riders. Are you in a good spot where you can just jump into a fill in ride somewhere?
Yeah, I feel I’m in shape, I’m riding decent and I feel good fresh and healthy. If the opportunity comes we’ll have to see, but yeah. You never know really. I’ve obviously in the past been the rider hurt after the second round.
I wanted to ask you a little about what you think about where the sport is at. What do you think when you look around and see former champions like yourself, Malcolm Stewart, Jake Weimer and James Stewart are without rides in the 450 class? What do you think it is?
I don’t know, I just think there’s a lot of good riders right now. The talent level is so deep. It always used to be—not that it’s not now—a lot more spread out. You pretty much could predict the top five and that was it. Now, though, you look at the 450 class and almost the whole top twenty has won championships. It’s pretty gnarly. It’s not really been like that in a long time. It’s just a really deep field of riders.
Where do you see yourself fitting into this deep and talented field come A1? What would make you happy?
I would be happy with just twenty minute plus one lap of solid laps and charging until the end like I was at the beginning. I don’t want to be getting any arm pump or riding tired. I want to just be riding at a good level the whole race and I will be happy with that. I don’t want to put a number on anything, because I don’t want it to mess with me. If I just ride the whole way the best I can, I’ll be happy.
Sounds like a plan. Thanks for doing this Dean, and I look forward to seeing you in a couple of weeks. Merry Christmas to you and the family. I’ll see you at A1.
Thank you and Merry Christmas. I’ll see you there.