To the average fan at a Supercross or Pro Motocross National, the mechanic is the faceless guy under the tent. They don’t normally get a lot of attention, unless something goes wrong. These guys put in more hours than most would be willing to give so that everything is perfect when race time comes. Derik Dwyer has been in the game a long time and worked with many of the top riders in the field. He recently made a move to the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team to wrench for Cameron McAdoo. I reached out to discuss his career and so he can fill us in on a very special project that’s dear to a lot of our hearts.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: For those that don't know, you're a long-time mechanic in the industry. You just recently made the move over to Pro Circuit. But let's back up to the early part of your career. As I recall, you came into the pro series working for Wonder Warthog or MotoConcepts.
Derik Dwyer: Yep. I did some select rounds with Warthog. With that program, basically you had to find your own way. You pay for a hotel and brought your own tools. At that time, I was in Michigan, I just graduated from MMI, and was up there at a Honda dealership working, and I convinced the service rider to let me go to three other rounds. I went to Detroit, Toronto, and Indy and I worked for some different people. But I think the coolest one for me, obviously Detroit was cool, but Toronto, because when I got there, only one other intern showed up. So, the guy that ran it was like, “Hey, do you think you could do multiple riders”? And I was like, “Well, I'll give it a go. What are you thinking”? And he says, “Well, Jiri Dostal, Colt Humphrey, and Jo Oehlhof all need a guy”. And I'm like, “Oh, you want me to do work on three people's bikes? Okay, let's do it”. It happened to be that Jiri and Joe were in the 450 class and Humphrey was in the lites class. Jiri and Colt both made the night show and into the Main Event and Joe didn't make it. I don't know if he crashed out or whatever. I ended up having two riders in the Main Event and I think Colt got 10th, and then Jiri got 11th in the 450 main. I almost got two guys in the top ten and that was kind of the start of it.
Vital MX: That's a trial by fire right there.
Derik: Yeah, I couldn't remember much of the night other than the end, but it was fun. It made an impression on the owner of Warthog at that time, and his name was Darrell Saldana, and he was based out of L.A. So, I stayed in contact with him. He would tell me, “Man, I think you could do something and we're going to stay in contact”. I end up running into him at Unadilla later that year. I think that was 2006. And he's like, “I want you to meet somebody”. We walk over and get up to a motorhome and it's Alessi’s mom. He introduced me to her and she's drilling me on all these questions. She's telling me, “We might be needing a mechanic. We'll be in touch”. Two months later, I get a phone call out of the blue from Tony and said, “I heard you were interested in being a mechanic. Our mechanic's leaving. We need a mechanic”. I ask, “When are you thinking”? He's says, “Well, we're thinking now”. “I could probably be out there in a week”. And he's like, “No, we're thinking tomorrow”. I was actually moving into my house that I purchased in Michigan. I was literally unloading my boxes and it was me, my mom, and my girlfriend. I asked if I could call him back. I get off the phone and say I might have a job offer in California. So, he calls me back like 15 minutes later and asks, “Can you start”? “All right, what are we talking”? We'd talk numbers, and I was like, “Yeah, I'll give it a go”. And he's like, “All right, your flight leaves tonight at 530 out of Detroit. It lands around 1 a.m. I'll pick you up”. “Wait, I'm leaving tonight”? I got off the phone with him, packed a backpack, got a pillow, and I literally left that night, got in, drove to their house, slept until 11. And then I woke up and met him for lunch and I just went to work.
Vital MX: That's awesome. Through your career I'm sure you’ve had tons of people asking, “How do I get a job doing what you're doing”? Do you tell them you have to be ready to go, to be willing to work for basically free?
Derik: I always tell them everybody's story is different. But the common factor is the passion. If you're passionate about doing this, you're going to sacrifice. If you're willing to give up holidays, because you will. There are so many years when I was out here by myself, I worked every holiday, Christmas, you work 4th of July, Labor Day, Memorial Day, all the holidays that people are out on boats, having fun, barbecuing, doing all that. Well, you're at the races or you're on the road, you know, building bikes and getting ready. I always ask them or tell them, be ready to sacrifice, because ultimately that's what you're doing. You're sacrificing the fun stuff for a different style of fun. And then I always say, I personally feel like you should go work in a dealership for a year or two. Learn a bunch of different things and make some mistakes. Because once you get to this level. anybody that hits the track, you're basically handing them over something that can make it or break it for them. And if it fails on them, they potentially can get hurt. So, go to a dealership, it'll give you a little bit of a growing time and then you can come in and have a bit of knowledge on more than just the dirt bike. I really feel like that helped me as a mechanic. I worked at a Honda dealership in Michigan before I started doing this, and I also helped another guy run a mom-and-pop shop for almost two years. It's all in your drive.
Vital MX: In your time at GEICO you worked with Christian Craig, Jo Shimoda, Hunter Lawrence for a minute, and Jeremy Martin. Those are all guys that are championship quality guys. From a mechanic standpoint talk about the difficulties of actually putting together a championship run at a season.
Derik: That's ultimately the end goal, right? To be up on the top stage. I've watched multiple people do it. I've been a part of nine championships. When I started in 2012 with (Zach) Osborne he had come in from Europe and there were high hopes, and me and Osborne got along great. We worked so many hours, so many days riding, doing whatever it took. I think we did five weeks going into this season. We rode six days a week because I needed at least one day in between to build engines and keep things going. We rode on Sundays even, and we were probably overprepared. In his head he thought, “This is what I need to do to be competitive”. I did two years with him. Then, going into the ‘15 season, I wasn't going to have a rider. Then some names got thrown around such as Joey Savatgy, Malcolm Stewart, Nico Izzy, Jake Canada. And in the end, they ended up picking Malcolm Stewart and they're like, “Derik, you're going to work for him”. So that was December 1st and we basically had four weeks to go racing because I think we raced January 2nd that year. We did everything possible. And Malcolm had a breakout year that year. I think we had five podiums. We got his very first win together in Oakland, which was awesome because that was actually my first Supercross win as well. It was just so cool. But at the same time, I learned so much in that 15-minute race. How to control your emotions and stuff like that. And then he didn't race outdoors. So, I picked up with Christian Craig after Muddy Creek and he had an up and down outdoor series. He was top qualifier, top fives. I think he might have hit the podium at RedBud that year. I think he got third. And I had worked with Christian in the past when Osborne was hurt. So, we had that relationship, and we get to Millville and Jeff (Majkrzak) says, “By the way, we're going to move you to Christian full time and somebody else is going to take over Malcolm”. I said, “Malcolm and I have already talked. We're going to go win this thing next year”. And they're like, “Yeah, we don't think that's what we want. We want to put you with Craig and blah blah”. And so that's what happened. And I watched Malcolm that next year battle for a championship, and he ended up winning the championship. Craig and I were in a title contention against Cooper Webb, and Osborne was in there a little bit, but it was basically between Craig and Webb. And, you know, I helped Craig get his first win. But I watched Malcolm get his championship and I'm like, “Man, that could have been me”. But at the same time, I was happy with the season that we had going, so I couldn't be overly upset about it. It was a team decision. I worked for Craig, I think for two and a half years. He went to the 450 for Honda for a fill in ride outdoors and a little bit of Supercross. In 2017 I helped him over on the 450 side, just as a helper. Not as a mechanic. And then in 2018 when they brought it up, I said, “I'm not really interested. I've done all of this work in the off season to help him get where he's at, and if I'm just going to be a helper, I'd rather help our team try to go win a championship”, because it was a new model bike. The 2018 Honda 250F. Dan Bentley was like, “No, I agree with you. I think you need to stay with us”. In the meantime, I helped Jo Shimoda out on the amateur side for a little bit when my guy was out or racing for the 450 class. Then RJ (Hampshire) was having some struggles with bike problems, so Larocco and the team decided that I wasn't currently with a rider, to jump in and finish the season out. RJ went to Washougal that year and he got his first podium. So, I've had successful riders and I helped fill in with some other riders and had success. It's pretty cool that there's a lot of firsts with a lot of guys. So hopefully I can get a championship at some point here. But, you know, whatever, the goal stays the same.
Vital MX: Everything has to fall into place perfectly and there's just so many factors. It's not as easy as just having the best rider.
Derik: Look at 2018. I moved over to Jeremy Martin going into Vegas. Outdoor is his thing, right? So, we go into ‘18 and I think we got second and Hangtown, third at Glen Helen, first at Colorado, and then we go into High Point, and it was everything on deck. And Jeremy said, “I just I need everything out of this engine package. Give me what you can”. So, Kibby built what he could, and we blew up in one of the motos. We have the red plate, and we blow up. Then we lose a ton of points and we're battling with Plessinger. We left that race down on points. We go into Muddy Creek; Jeremy wins the first race by a 17 second gap or something like that. He's like, “Dude, this is just easy. I'm feeling so good today”. And we made up 13 points. We're back in this thing. And then the second moto comes, and he didn't get the greatest start. He was like top ten or whatever in the start. (Justin) Cooper hit a wet spot and moved over in the air and clipped him and that's when Jeremy broke his back. So, we went from the highest of highs to the lowest to lows in a matter of just seconds. And then a long road to recovery for him. But in the meantime, I worked for Cameron McAdoo in 2019 while Jeremy was still healing up. His goal that year was to get on the podium. And, you know, I remember when we first started working together, he actually lived with me, and we would have dinner together and we would just talk. I was trying to convince him that if he opens his mind up and thinks instead of “if” I get a podium or “if” I get a race win, if he just says “when” I get a podium, then it'll start setting these days together. And sure enough at the East/West shoot-out, the very last race, he's sitting in second and we end up getting third on that night. That was a fun win for us, to watch him get his first podium.
Vital MX: In the last five years or so you left Geico when they closed the doors, went to Star Yamaha, then TLD with Pierce Brown, and now back with McAdoo at Pro Circuit. What are the difficulties of going from bike to bike but also every team has their own process. From schedules, ordering parts, and the day-to-day process. Is that something you adjust to pretty quickly?
Derik: For 13 of my years of wrenching I was at two different teams. I'm not a guy to want to jump around. I'm not a guy that looks for the greener grass on the other side. That's not me. Now I'm on the third team in three years. And I'm going to tell you, last year I did a lot of soul searching and trying to figure out the situation and what I needed to do. I went to Star with Jeremy Martin after Geico shut down. We had a great 2020 season at Geico. We finished second in the series just short of Ferrandis. We led a lot of the series, probably one of the most monumental years for me racing. Going into Star, I knew they were moving to Florida and I'm like, this is just going to be a buffer year probably. To see how it goes. Jeremy had a one-year deal, and we'll go from there. The hardest thing at Star for me was walking in from Geico, which was super organized, a giant shop, a gym, everything needed, right? And then I walk into Star and it's just a different atmosphere. I was the competitor to these guys for so many years, so at first it was like, “This guy's not wanted here”. And I struggled with that and then organization a little bit. My first month, I think I turned the parts room around, did a lot of organizing, guys started to open up. I brought new ideas into the team. Some of the younger mechanics, I built really good relationships with. Come outdoors, since Jeremy got hurt, things started to move forward, and relationships were being made. That's when Bobby Regan offered me the Crew Chief position, and that was going to be located in Florida. I flew down to Florida. I checked it out. Actually, it was before the Crew Chief position, they offered me Wil's position, Team Manager. Then Bobby kind of got like, “I need an answer now”. So, then he hired Seth Rarick. But it all came back around because mid outdoor season, there's a couple of guys having some issues with bikes and Bobby came to me and was like, “Hey, we need a technical guy”. I said, “Okay, let me give you an answer in a week or two”. And at Southwick we had a DNF with a bike and obviously I'm still working for Jeremy. But he goes, “You're going to be my crew chief. You're moving to Florida”. And I said, “Okay, let's do this”. I was all gung-ho and going to do it. Everything was solid until the vaccine stuff came up. And I told him where I was at with it, and we just came to a disagreement. So, I ended up not moving and doing that position. I moved on to TLD. It just seemed like a really good put together program. Somewhere in Supercross it just started to kind of unravel. I end up struggling mentally. I just wasn't gelling with where I was, who I was around. I didn't like what things were happening on the back side. And it just started playing a factor. There's one key race that I made a mistake and I had to sit back and go, “Dude, a mistake like that doesn't happen. I have never made a mistake in 15 seasons. I'm just not thinking clearly”. And then outdoors, I was just in my own world. I was working for Pierce. I had a great relationship with Wil and Pierce, and then the rest of the crew, we didn't gel. I just didn't feel like I was part of their team. So, I went to TK (Tyler Keefe) and I said, “Listen, I'm not happy. I don't want to stay and affect Pierce's future. When I suggest things, people don't want to listen. You know, Pierce talks to me on the back side, and then he doesn't relay the same information to you guys. Then you guys think I'm pushing an agenda, and that's not the case”. I basically told him I'm leaving, and he's like, “Well, where are you going to go”? And there is nothing. No jobs. I had talked to factory Kawi a little bit because they were talking about maybe having a third guy at some point, and that fell through. A couple of weeks after the season, Cameron (McAdoo) called me and said, “Kyle's (Defoe) going to move to KTM, what are you doing”? And I said, “Well, I'm not working at TLD anymore. I'm kind of jobless”. He said, “Come work for me”. So, we started talking and made it happen. I told Mitch that atmosphere is everything to me. If you have an atmosphere where it's super negative and you're not willing, you're not wanting to go in and race and it's always a negative environment, then I don't want to come over there. And he's like, “Nope, I think we have a good crew. Everybody works hard”. Then I talked to McAdoo, and he vouched for it, and we end up making a deal. Now I'm here and I am actually really enjoying it. I have quite a bit different mindset going into this season. I'm not pushing envelopes. I'm just kind of learning. There's a lot of stuff to learn over there. They do a lot for the amateur world. So, if you just keep your ears open and your eyes open, I think it's a win win no matter what. And then back working with McAdoo, which is amazing. The dude works hard, you see his racing it's all in. When you have a guy like that, which I've had actually quite a few guys like that, it just makes the hours and the days a lot easier to do. 16-hour days and you just know that the kid, he's back at the gym or putting in a 100 mile bike ride or whatever. You guys are working together for the same goal, just from different places, you know?
Vital MX: You worked with Cameron back in ’19. What do you see different in him? Because the kid has matured drastically from what I've seen from the outside.
Derik: Yes, tremendously. I think back then he had, in my opinion, for his age, he had one of the best nutrition plans I had ever seen. Dedication wise, you can't shake a stick to it. I think Nick Wey helped him in so many more ways than what anybody would ever know. And I think Cameron knows that. Nick has that long experience, age, all that. Cameron's focused on more defined areas. He knows working on his weaknesses is a bigger thing than just riding a dirt bike. He has a lot of faith in what Nick tells him. Conversations between Cameron and I, they're quite a bit different. It's more on a level playing field now because before I had a lot more of the experience and now, he's had the red plates, the wins, the championship contentions. His years haven't been the easy years. Everybody says, Jett's the guy, right? He's raced Jett every year and he's been the guy to beat Jett. So mentally, he has what it takes to beat the guy. And as he's getting older, he's getting smarter with stuff. Normally on practice days it's send it. Well, now there's a lot more finesse to that. We want quality over just sending it. So, if it's getting sloppy, we'll put him in check and then he understands why he's getting put in check and he moves forward with the day in a positive manner instead of crashing and having a setback. On a day to day, we have A.C., Anderson, all of them have won races. We are literally battling out with all of those guys. Every day is a progression day. The other day at the beginning wasn't so great and he was kind of getting upset or whatever. He was a little rusty, but by the end of the day, the mindset had changed. And he's like, “I'm going to make the best of it”. And at the end of the day, it was like a completely different guy.
Vital MX: Before I let you go, I want to talk about our buddy Brian Kranz, who unfortunately recently was diagnosed with T-cell Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. It's a rare and aggressive form of cancer, man. I know he's been struggling, and you are working on some benefit stuff on Zaffle.com. Just talk about that.
Derik: I worked with Kranz at Geico. I worked really close with Kranz. When I got there, they said, “Kranz is our guy with Eli. Do whatever he does”. What that meant to me was if Kranz builds a bike a certain way, you build a bike a certain way. So, that's what I did. And I got really close with him. He lives around the corner. Obviously, being on different teams we don't see as much of each other, but we've always stayed in good contact. When I caught the news of it, it just kind of touched base at home with me because he's got three kids, a great wife, his family life. Obviously, he stepped away from Eli for that. And then he's going to be diagnosed with this less than a year after he walked away from racing, that's not fair to the family. So, I started putting it out there that I'm going to do a raffle or an auction. I got contacted by Motion Pro and I got contacted by riders and I got contacted by Fasst Company, and it just kind of started going. I'm like, “You know what? I really could put something together”. I started looking into platforms and everybody wanted money. They all wanted a chunk of the money. It was going to be like 22 or 23% of the proceeds would have been taken out. And that sucks. So, Eric Grondahl from Zaffle reached out to me and said, “We were going to do a bike on behalf of Krantz”. His dad was part owner in Geico. He started questioning me about the jerseys and the memorabilia and all that stuff. And then he goes, “What if I did a bike and donated it to the Lymphoma Foundation. And 100% of the proceeds of that motorcycle are going to go to that foundation”. Then we start talking a little bit more and I’m now up to like 25 jerseys, number plates, and all this stuff. This is getting real. We have to figure out how to launch this. And so he goes, “Let's use my platform. 100% of the proceeds will go to it”. The only thing that they take money out for is the transaction side using the credit card deal. That's way better than 22 or 23%. Let's do it. And then all of a sudden we posted it, we get it up and more riders are like, “Hey, I want to get involved with this”. And then another guy, Andrew Bauer, he reached out to me. He goes, “I have a lot of friends in freestyle, and I have a lot of contacts”. And within the last two weeks, he's got me some names that I wasn't going to get. (Jeremy) McGrath, (Axell) Hodges, the Lawrences are going to send stuff. Twitch stepped up, (Tyler) Bereman and names that I wouldn't have got because I don't have a relationship. Our goal, me and Eric were talking, our goal was between ten and 15 grand. And if we can get there, in my heart, I feel like that's a successful number. If we did more outstanding, but we'd really like to be between ten and 15 grand, and then we're going to present it to the family. And I mean, it's simple. You can donate $10, and you get a certain number of entries, or you can donate $250 and you get 5000 entries. And I have so many items right now, your odds are so good to walk away with something. But at the end of the day, it's not really about what you're going to get back, but about what you're giving. And you're giving the opportunity for a family who's going to need this extra help. I'm happy that Zaffle stepped up and open up their platform for me.