In this week's Industry Insights we talk to the Oakley Motorsports Specialist Aaron Cain about working trackside at Supercross and helping James Stewart after a crash, how he got hired at Oakley, what happens to all the used race goggles, and more.
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: As always, we start with, where did you grow up?
Aaron Cain: I was born and raised in Saint Pete, Florida, and then I spent a little time in upstate New York after my parents divorced, but I claim Florida.
Vital MX: Did you grow up around motocross or any other form of motorsports? Or did that come later in life?
Aaron: No. Racing's been a big part of my family. My dad still races dirt bikes today, and I grew up racing dirt bikes. I've always been into dirt bikes, which I love.
Vital MX: It's awesome that it is something you get to enjoy together. Were you all in and following it growing up?
Aaron: Oh, yeah. At one point, I thought I would be the next big thing. I was totally into racing. I was a big James Stewart fan. Everyone is, but he was kind of my idol when I was a kid, but yeah, I thought I was going to go pro at some point, but it never worked out.
Vital MX: What about locally? Were you an 'A' rider? Were you riding at the pro level?
Aaron: I was never an 'A' rider. I was a 'B' rider in Florida and bounced around, racing a lot of the Florida tracks. Then I grew up and started getting into trouble and into girls, which got in the way.
Vital MX: That will do it. Do you still race now when you have time? I know you're pretty busy with travel and family.
Aaron: I don't have a ton of time. I do have a garage with a couple of dirt bikes in it. I ride my dirt bikes 3 to 5 times a year.
Vital MX: Come on, man.
Aaron: Yeah, yeah, life gets in the way.
Vital MX: What did you think your career path would be growing up? Did you have something you were thinking about doing, or did you plan to get into the industry somehow?
Aaron: I remember being a kid and going to the pro races and watching everything happening besides the actual dirt bike races. I thought, "How do I get into this scene?" I always wanted to be at Supercross. That was where I wanted to be. That was the bright lights and all the people, and I always worked towards finding an 'in.' I was lucky enough to go to high school with a kid who became a manager for Clear Channel, which owned Supercross then. So, I started working there in '07. That was my very first year working in the industry. I got hired as a track worker. I was hanging banners, putting tough blocks out, and doing the dirty work at Supercross.
Vital MX: Wow, you did start from the bottom of the industry. Were you the guy beside the track fixing the tough blocks?
Aaron: Oh yeah. That was my claim to fame when I worked for Clear Channel, then Live Nation, and then went to Feld. I thought I had made it when I worked Saturdays and picked up crashed riders.
Vital MX: That's awesome. Give me your best-crashed rider story.
Aaron: There's one that sticks out. I'm struggling to remember the year, but I believe it was in Oakland. (It was 2012 in San Diego. Thank you, Lewis Phillips, for remembering that) James Stewart was racing for San Manuel Yamaha and was in the title hunt then. He had crashed in the whoops, and his handlebars and clutch lever had gone through his pants. They poked a hole through one side, out the other, and into the ground. So, he was pinned to the ground, and he couldn't get it out. I was the first one to him. I said, "James, I can't get the bike off you. It went through your pants and stuck in the ground." He said, "Cut it". He's just screaming at me. "Cut it, cut it, cut it." I pulled out my pocketknife and cut a big patch out of his pants. Erin Bates was the track-side announcer at the time, and she got the patch and showed it on TV. I got James unstuck, and he got back up. I don't think he did too well, but he got some points. Afterward, they called me to his motorhome, and I got a jersey. You can go back and find it on YouTube. You can see me running across the whoops and saving James' night.
Vital MX: Have you talked to him since and reminded him about it?
Aaron: I've talked to James quite a bit, but we've never discussed it. Other than that night, I went out to his motorhome and met with his team.
Vital MX: Okay, where does the career path go over the next few years?
Aaron: I started in '07, and my friend Ed worked for Supercross. He called me and said they had a guy that got fired or quit or something. I was living in Florida, and they were in town for Supercross in Orlando. He said, "I know you live close by. We need some help. Is there any way you can come over and work with us for the weekend, hanging banners and doing tough blocks?" I said, "Yeah. No problem." I came over and did it, and then the race had come and gone, and they said, "We're going on to Seattle. Do you want to go to Seattle with us?" I was like, "I guess I can." So, I packed a bag, jumped in a truck, did the rest of the series, and then got hired full-time with them. I was a track crew guy and did some other stuff with Feld for seven years until 2014 or 15. I had finished my degree and moved over to the marketing side of Feld. I started doing sponsorship stuff. Nobody knew who I worked for. I worked for Feld and got paid by Feld, but I was there for all the sponsors. I was always helping Monster and Toyota, the two biggest sponsors at the time. I was doing stuff for those guys to make their lives easier at the events. Then Feld created the VIP experience, and I launched that whole program for them. I did that and continued doing the marketing. Then, when the race ended, I jumped in a piece of heavy equipment and loaded out dirt and tough blocks and stuff. I was maximizing my money-making at the time.
Vital MX: Were you getting paid separately for all of that?
Aaron: In my last couple of years with Feld, I worked for three different departments and collected three different paychecks from them. Honestly, I probably would still be with Feld to this day if Covid hadn't come and changed the world. In 2020, the day the world shut down, I had just landed in Indy, and I got to the stadium, and my boss said, "You can head back to the airport and fly home." So, I did that, and then a week later, I got the call that Feld was letting me go. The world was shut down, and that was the end of my time with Feld.
Vital MX: What do you do? You have a wife and two daughters.
Aaron: Yeah, I've got a family. It was a big shock, and I had worked for Feld for 16 years. I understand business and how things work, but I was a little upset with how everything went down. I had to figure things out. I went back home and did my own thing and kind of soul-searched and had to figure out whether or not I wanted to stay in the industry. I kind of hem and haw back and forth and was on the fence with a couple of things. I had some opportunities, but I was looking to better myself. I didn't want to necessarily make a lateral move. I wanted to one-up this thing. I wasn't going to go back to Supercross. I had given up basically. I got a phone call from somebody at Oakley saying, "You've come highly recommended, and we have a position open for the Athlete Manager position for Supercross and motocross. Your name has come up a bunch. We'd like to interview you if you're interested." This was three weeks before Anaheim 1 in 2021. I said, "Yeah, I'd love to. I just need to know a little more." They said, We'll give you all the details, but we need to interview you this week." So, I said, "Yeah, let's do it. Let's do it tomorrow." I interviewed the next day with Tarek Dahdul, my boss over at Oakley, and Anthony Paggio, whom most people know in motorsports. Then, John Ohail, who's over BMX, cycling, and action sports over at Oakley. It was a formal interview on a Teams call. We interviewed for about an hour and a half, and at the end, they said, "We'd like to hire you." I was like, "Really?" They said, "We think you have what we're looking for." So, I took the job and flew out to California to get my feet wet with the guys at Oakley, and it's been all go from there. Now I'm in it.
Vital MX: Did you consider not traveling as much after Feld and before Oakley?
Aaron: There was a part of me that wanted to just stay home, but when you work a job in the industry that we're in, it's really hard to step into a regular 9 to 5 job and be happy. I tried it. I did a couple of different things. I have certifications in heavy equipment, so I went and worked at a construction place for a little bit, and I'm like, "Man, what am I doing? There's no glamor to any of this. I'm just working hard." I talked to my wife, and she's my number one fan. She supports me in every way. She knew I wasn't happy and said, "You should look into using all your resources from 15 years of being in the industry. You can't tell me that there isn't somebody out there that can turn you on to something." So, she was all for me getting back on the road. She wasn't all for me being on the road when I started this job with Feld when I stayed out on tour and drove a Toyota Tundra in the early days of 2014, though. I went around in a Toyota Tundra and stayed on the road for all of Supercross. Once I got my degree and moved over to the marketing side, I became a fly-in and fly-out guy, a Thursday to Sunday-kind of deal, which was better.
Vital MX: How has your role evolved from when you started?
Aaron: I think Oakley was scrambling a little bit. They were looking for somebody right before Anaheim 1. So, they said, "You're going to be the dirt bike guy. You're going to be at Supercross and motocross. Those will be your guys, and you will be dedicated to them." So, I took that on. The goggles are a big deal, a performance piece for dirt bike riders. The first year, it was 100% just Chase (Sexton), (Justin) Barcia, and the dirt bikers. Now, I'm not just dirt bikers. I'm motorsports. People don't realize this, but I actually take care of the athletes at Formula One, MotoGP, IndyCar, NASCAR, flat track, American Superbike, and amateur motocross. So, I've got much more going on than people know because they see me weekly at dirt bike races.
Vital MX: Tell us about your day-to-day during the week and how a Saturday at a Supercross or national works.
Aaron: Mondays are a big office day for me. I'm touching base with everyone at Oakley since I'm in Florida, and they're all in California. We're touching base, recapping wins, discussing budgets, and stuff like that. Tuesdays are product order days. I order products for all my athletes across all sports and deal with shipping and receiving. Wednesdays are a big build day. I build goggles for Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, Chase Sexton, and the TLD 250 guys, and then I've got a couple of other guys, such as Benny Bloss and Kevin Moranz. I don't necessarily build their goggles, but I take care of their needs at the races. So, Wednesday is a big build day and pack day. I travel pretty heavily with two to three full-sized gear bags. Then, on Thursdays, I usually fly out in the morning to the events. I show up on Thursday afternoons, let everyone know I've made it, so nobody needs to scramble, and just say hi to everybody. Then, on Friday, I return to the races and lay everything out for everybody. I touch base and hang out with my riders to ensure the relationships stay healthy, and everything's good. Saturday, we go racing, and I'm there. I check on those guys every time they come off the track. With Oakley, they always get a brand-new goggle. We're not cleaning goggles and reusing them or anything like that. So, when Eli goes out for opening ceremonies, it's a brand-new pair of goggles.
Vital MX: What do you do with the used ones?
Aaron: I take all the goggles home and clean them up. Dirt bike riding is a huge trading platform as far as motorsports goes. With all my other sports, many of those guys ride their bikes during their downtime or when they're training. So, I clean them all up, and I'll send those goggles to riders that are just using them for practice purposes, or I'll donate them to charities, hand them out to amateur kids that aren't as fortunate or don't have money. I ensure nothing goes to waste, everything gets used, and we get the most out of it.
Vital MX: Earlier, you mentioned being a James Stewart fan and how big of a deal it was to help him. Now that you're working with some of the biggest riders in the industry, is it still cool to know you've built these relationships with them?
Aaron: I pinch myself all the time. All my friends are big moto heads, and they've never really got to work in the scene. When I'm out with friends during the off-season and my phone rings and Ryan Dungey calls me, my friends lose their minds. It is pretty surreal that I've got these guys in my contacts. I'm friends with these guys. I hang out with them. I try not to take it for granted. I always try to remind myself that I'm blessed and fortunate to be in this industry in my position.
Vital MX: Are any of your riders picky about anything?
Aaron: Justin Barcia is one of my easiest riders and one of the most easygoing guys in the pits, but there are some things that he is very peculiar about. TLD has signature goggles with Oakley; sometimes, the straps don't stretch as easily, depending on the goggle Troy designs. Some give well, and some don't give it all. Justin will not run a strap that does not give. So, we've had to work around that. This year, they had two signature goggles, and Justin could only run one of the two, so he had to run one of their two signatures all year.
Vital MX: I noticed you're a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan. So, I wanted to know what your interests are outside of motocross. Go Niners!
Aaron: Yeah, I'm a big Bucs fan. I was a season ticket holder before Tom Brady ever came to town. I live down in the Florida Keys now, so if I'm not messing with dirt bike riders or goggles, I'm on my boat enjoying the sandbars and fishing.