Industry Insights | Ft. Christina Denney

AMA Rider Representative Christina Denney talks to Vital MX about her current job, being a former Team Manager, working with Team USA, and more.

In this week's Industry Insights we talk to the AMA Rider Representative Christina Denney. Christina was the first female team manager in our sport with Cycle Trader/Rock River Yamaha and has been a part of Team USA since 2016. She discusses these roles, her current one within the AMA, as well as how she's helped to improve the MXdN process.

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: It's great to talk to you, Christina. You've been busy. How are you? 

Christina Denney: I'm good. How are you? 

Vital MX: I'm good also. You were the former team manager at Cycle Trader/Rock River, Yamaha, and owner of Roost MX, which was a sponsor of that team. Talk about how you got involved with that, to begin with.

Christina: It was back in the early days of 2010. It's so long ago, it seems. With the Roost MX graphics company, we were a little bit involved in the industry at an amateur level. Rock River was the first dealer we worked with, and collaboratively we assembled a team. We were just going to do the graphics, possibly wrap the semi, do all the goods, and send them on their way. They didn't have a big, huge plan before this adventure, so we helped them get on the road and get going. I went to four races in a row, and the next thing you know, I'm team manager and helped run it for ten years.

Christina Denney

Vital MX: What did you and Chris, your husband, know about running a race team? Did you find it similar to running a business?

Christina: Absolutely nothing about running a race team. Full transparency, I think everybody knew that, but I took a lot of what we knew as a business and applied it. A lot of it was building relationships. Building a relationship with Yamaha was probably the most important part. That came pretty easy because they identified that we would need their help, and they truly were there for me. Also, developing relationships within the industry. The whole first year, I didn't know anything. I didn't know what the team manager tower was. What's that like? I just put my head down and ensured the truck arrived every week. That was the main goal, just the logistics side. Then I got into it a little bit more and took the business and ran the communications because we didn't have a shop to go back to on Monday. Everybody was spread across the whole country. So, applying what we needed to apply every week in and week out took a lot of time, and just communication and learning as we went. It was a learning experience. Looking back at the time it took, the perseverance truly made it last as long as it did. Somewhere along the line, Cycle Trader came on, Alex Martin signed with us, and we saw that we really had an opportunity. By then, we already had a bit of foundation to have a rider like Alex and help him because his pure determination made us want it. Having Cycle Trader come on was a game changer.

Vital MX: I find what you're telling me so impressive because you talk about knowing almost nothing starting in 2010, and you were the first female team manager, but you were named Team Manager of the Year in 2011. You were doing something right.

Christina: I still look back at that award and think, "How in the world did this happen?" I was so flattered and honored. I don't know what I did differently that caught MX Sport's attention. Maybe Davey Coombs or Carrie Jo (Coombs) felt that being a woman in the industry meant I deserved it. I never in my wildest dreams thought that was even a possibility. At the time, I was joking because we had the WMX (Woman's Motocross) Rider of the Year, and someone said something about Team Manager of the Year. I said, "Yeah, right. When there's a female team manager of the year, I have that one in the bag." I was truly surprised. I remember Davey, who caught me walking out of the banquet room to the restroom. He asked, "Where are you going?" I told him, "I have to go to the restroom." He's like, "Oh, you need to listen to this guy. He's hilarious." I'm in the back of this huge room, and they announced my name for Team Manager of the Year. I was floored and honored, and I still look back and know it was pretty cool.

Vital MX: That's great. I believe you also went on to inspire a few other women. Kourtney Lloyd, up in Canada, was inspired by you, and so were some other female team managers coming through the ranks. You kind of opened the door.  

Christina: I hope so. I'd like to think I did. I've received many messages through my Instagram or ladies like Kourtney stalking me (this is an inside joke between them) at the races until she finally had the nerve to introduce herself. I was thinking, "What is this lady following me for?" You know, girl at the time, that was so long ago. It was awesome. I often would have young girls come up and want to take a photo with me, and that just made it. I mean, I'd be exhausted and walk away with my head held high and thinking, "You know what, this is something I will remember for the rest of my life. Maybe I did make a difference in someone's life there." At the same time, I was there to do a job. It didn't matter what role I played, but to make a difference in a young girl's life or whatever it could be, it was pretty cool, too.

Christina Denney

Vital MX: You didn't only make a difference in those young ladies' lives. You have made a difference in many of your riders' lives through the years. You mentioned Alex Martin and Alex Ray, Brandon Hartranft, Weston, Peick, Colt Nichols, and many more. I've heard from some of those guys how much they love you. They still stay in contact with you. I really feel the way you ran your team was a little different. It seemed very family-like. 

Christina: Well, thanks. Absolutely. We did. I think a lot of it was that we didn't have the pressure of these factory-level teams. Over the years, we believed we were getting there, and it took a while. We felt we were competitive regarding engines, and we were leasing stuff from Yamaha or giving the riders the competitive edge to compete. Having podiums with Colt, Alex, and Brandon over the years was an extra reward for working so hard. Knowing that you're spending all the weekends with these guys and their families, we try to make it as much of a family atmosphere as possible, but also trying to run a professional race team and not be a vacation every weekend. It was a lot of work. Spending time with them and having relationships is special. I talked to Alex Ray yesterday and talked to Brandon just the other day. Alex Martin and I will still text from time to time, you know, every other week. It means a lot that we do still have those relationships.

Vital MX: What key lessons you learned in your years as team manager have helped you with what you're doing now with the AMA? I would think being a team manager and working with the riders, and you can see all sides of the story when the riders and the teams have issues that they want to bring to you.

Christina: Absolutely. I think that was the goal of the AMA when they had this opportunity to bring in a different perspective for this rider representative. It's a new position. Mike Pelletier from the AMA told me about this position and his long-term goal. I told him, this is the kind of person who you need. I described all the qualities and the characteristics, and he said, "You know, you're exactly describing yourself." That wasn't my intention, honestly. I said, "No, I can't commit to something like that. I just finished leaving Rock River and need to spend some time with my family and business at home." So, I said, "Jeremy Albrecht would be a really good idea and a good person to talk to," and so he did. Jeremy also didn't want to commit back to going to all the races. So, we equally said, "Let's share this role." That's how that came about because I went to Jeremy for advice, as I do with other team managers who were very open and willing to help. We were like-minded in a lot of ways. Jeremy brings a lot more experience to the role, but as far as your question, having the team manager side and the rider perspective is what the AMA needed because it was very one-sided before. Having a voice or perspective that they never have seen, only because they never ran a race team is what they were looking for what I believe Jeremy and I bring to the table.

Christina Denney

Vital MX: What are your day-to-day and weekend roles as Rider Representative? You're involved with Supercross, Pro Motocross, and now SuperMotocross. You're also involved with SX Futures and the Combines, so your role seems very broad. 

Christiana: During the week, sometimes, I have phone conversations with Mike and Jeremy if something happens over the weekend, but rarely. During the week, all efforts are focused on Roost MX and getting some pickleball in. Life balance is what I lost from those ten years. So, I'm trying to balance not having to run a team, which was a 24/7 job. Not knowing where the truck was and dealing with riders and mechanics and all that kind of all went away. Having this job that required me to travel on the weekend and allowing me to have a family life and personal time was a great balance, and it still fulfilled my love for racing and being involved in the sport. It's a different environment. I wish everybody could experience a day as an AMA official because it's 100% the opposite. There is such a great team; you never know what's going on in these headsets from the outside as a fan. It's so different from what you think it is. The timing and the dealing with TV, the track, the starting gate, and putting it all together. They undertake a big task, and it's exhausting at the end of the day. You watch every single race. There's no returning to the truck to get off your feet and take a break. It's a long day, and I hope everything goes well. You don't want stuff to happen, but you have to be prepared when it does. Then you fly back on Sunday, and for me, I go right back to work on Monday morning, just like most of the team guys. They're returning to the office, and I just go to Roost. 

Vital MX: How do you like working with the kids at the moto combines?

Christina: I think I resonate with them because Rock River in itself was like a combine because Rock River's goal was to take these amateur riders and bring them through the pros under the Rock River Pro team umbrella and send them on their way, whether it was to Star or any other factory teams. I look at it like those ten years I groomed riders from when they were in the amateur ranks, bringing them through. So, I've already experienced that for so many years. Even riders that I knew were Open Pro or guys that were moving from amateur to pro, I started doing the things that the Combine does early on. I was taking them to the races to see the day-to-day of how fast it goes and what they eat and all these things. When MX Sports and Jim Perry asked me to be involved, I said, "Yeah." One thing I miss about being a team manager is having the relationship or educating and teaching these kids what it is to be a pro rider. There's so much to the racing side. Honestly, this could be a multi-week course, not just two days. The amount of information we cram in on that weekend is unbelievable. I enjoy being a part of it. It's totally volunteer. They had their first year, and I got the feel and the taste of wanting to be back every weekend. It was enough to say, "Okay, this is good." I volunteer my time, see some faces and people I haven't seen in a while, and be a little part of these kids' lives. So, that was pretty cool. Seeing guys like Chance Hymas, Daxton Bennick, and (Haiden) Deegan is really neat. Casey Cochran, I've known since he was on Cobra's. To see him go through these things and to get an email or a text from these riders saying, "Hey, thanks for having this. Thanks for being involved. Thanks for taking the time and showing us what it's like," is so rewarding. Knowing that maybe just a little bit of what we taught them or spending a little extra time doing something will mean a difference in their future. Or they know they have a face to come back to. I think that's what's important. For them to know my role now in the AMA is someone they know, and they could come to that truck and ask for me, Jeremy, or Mike. It's not just when you're in trouble but also when you have a question. That's what we're there for. 

Christina Denney

Vital MX: Let's summarize this with some Motocross of Nations talk. 2018 was your first time involved with Team USA as Team Coordinator.

Christina: It was actually 2016. I was brought on to help handle some of the travel. When I got to the races, I had nothing to do, and from a team manager's perspective, I saw some holes where I naturally couldn't sit there and do nothing. Let's just say that it evolved into what it has become.

Vital MX: Let's talk about how it's evolved. From 2016 to 2018 at Red Bud when we expected to win, and things didn't go as expected. Then we won at Red Bud in '23. I watched some of the celebration party with you guys drinking out of the Chamberlain Cup. That was amazing. Paul Perebijnos gets involved and helps with raising some money. The process is changing, and much of that has to do with things you have helped do.

Christina: I like to think so. It's a team, right? I think it wasn't as much of a group effort as it's becoming. I know without a doubt you have to put everybody together, and everybody has to work together as one team. Mike Pelletier's mantra of team unity is what we focus on every year. Last year was the first year that we feel, as a whole, did an amazing job. You had Eli (Tomac) and Chase (Sexton) going at it every weekend. Mike and I were trying to be very sensitive when talking about Motocross of Nations and letting these guys battle to the end. Every week, we're on a Zoom call with Lars (Lindstrom), Jeremy (Coker), myself, and Mike, with them taking the time to see that we want to make this work together. That was a huge part, but it didn't happen overnight. There's always room for improvement. Last year probably was a pinnacle, and we're just carrying what we learned into this year and the future.

Christina Denney

Vital MX: Unfortunately, this year has been a bit of a struggle. There were a lot of logistical things going on with the teams and riders that caused some guys to not be available. There was a moment when we were wondering if we would have a team. How stressful were the last couple of months before we finally named our team?

Christina: It was very stressful. A lot of the logistics are done months and years in advance. The hotel that I coordinated I've had for 13 months now. You must get that stuff done because you're going regardless. Alpinestars does our team gear, and I had to turn sizes in back in June, not even knowing who was going. You're taking the averages and saying, "Okay, here we go. Let's just hope this works." They've been doing our stuff for a long time, and I want to make it easy for them. There's no way we could have waited this year, and knowing all that stuff is done is a big load off. The logistics of the teams having to do all the shipping, the manifest, and just getting the engines and everything they needed over in such a short time was probably the big stress for them. It's putting all the pieces together for us because we already have the parts and places to go. Paul Perebijnos found us this cool trailer that we're renting, the AMA is paying for, and we have Alpinestars as the hospitality headquarters, which they've done an amazing job every year. We couldn't do it without them. We also knew from last year that everybody's trucks and trailers are basically their home we won't have there. So, we wanted to take what we learned last year and bring that there. We knew we needed to get a central location that was going to be for the core team to get together and go over track, timing, and strategy. Paul was able to secure that, which was amazing. We will give these three guys everything we would if it were anybody else. So, we're doing the same. This race is about consistency, and I think we're all looking for them to do their best and for us to provide them with everything they need to do, whatever they need to do.

Vital MX: I cannot wait for next weekend. I'll be home watching with the rest of the American motocross fans. I appreciate everything you've done for the industry, and you know all the time you've given me over the years. 

Christina: Hell, I love every bit of it. I think the sport is sitting strong right now. There are a lot of teams like Cycle Trader's level that have come in that are filling up the paddock, which is awesome. 



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