We promised anonymity to a wrench in return for the straight goods on the profession
We promised anonymity to a wrench in return for the straight goods on the profession
I wanted to get you people some information on what people in our sport really think. Like, what they tell guys like me when the mics are off. The only way to do that and not have them get hammered by fans and the industry is to promise anonymity. So that’s what we did. We asked a current top mechanic about certain aspects in the sport and promised him that his identity wouldn’t be released. This guy has worked for a few different teams and for one of the top five guys in the sport as well as guys that are near the back of the top ten so he’s got a good grasp of a lot of things.
So without further adieu, here’s what “Mechanic X” had to say about certain topics- Matthes
Wrenching for a top rider…I’ve worked for guys that were solid top ten guys and then I worked with a guy that was one of THE guys. Working for a guy like that totally changes everything. You’re on call basically with a guy like that. The amount of attention that those guys require is unreal. Everything from tire testing, suspension testing, everything gets looked at. If the weekend didn’t go well, you were on a plane to wherever he was at. I remember one time at one of the early races, my guy struggled. That was it, I was stuck with him for three weeks doing testing and basically rethinking everything that he had chosen just a month before! I see some of the big name rider mechanics now at the races and I tell them that I know exactly what you’re going through.
When you’re one of THE guys, you require 100% attention from the mechanic and the team, honestly. Which when you’re in the position of the second rider, it kind of sucks for them. At one point my guy had six bikes all over the country and our other guy had two. We literally didn’t have parts for the other guy. Everything goes to that rider, everything focuses on that rider. Team members, testing dates, everything focuses on them as much as possible. It warrants it, I guess. They deserve it to a certain extent because they are “the guy” on the team but it changes it from working for a guy that’s THE guy to a secondary guy- It’s a totally different dynamic.
On talking to your rider…There’s always something. There’s always the entourage. You can’t get to the guy one on one or if the guy has a problem you rarely hear it face to face. You hear it from his gear guy, his bus driver… You’re going to hear it from everybody but him, which for a team is frustrating. It’s hard because I heard from everybody else what my guy wanted to do like two weeks before he actually told me himself.
That’s super frustrating, trying to get to that guy to actually talk to him and speak for himself. And with the parents, the parents always chip in there. I remember a dad yelling at me after one of the races because the rider thought his bike screwed up off the start and he’s like, ‘how can you let this happen’? We looked at data, nothing showed anything close to the bike screwing up or anything like that. We showed it to rider and he’s like, ‘I don’t know, that’s what I thought and my bad’. He was cool with it but It’s almost like people put words into the rider’s mouth or make up an excuse for the guy because of who they are.
One of my guys, he did not like confrontation at all, so he wouldn’t tell you either. He had a guy that helped him out and that guy does all of the grunt work. He is the one that deals with everything. If my rider had a problem he’s not going to tell you. It’ll be that guy and you just wonder how someone could be like that and have a guy to tell them what’s up with the bike. Plenty of time things get lost in the translation.
On the pressure working for one of the riders that can win races…Like I said, I’ve worked for great riders and riders that weren’t thought of as winners. There’s definitely more pressure as there’s a lot more riding because the team’s got all this money and time into this dude and everyone’s invested and you’re responsible for that guy. In my case, the year that didn’t go well, it kind of sucked. I was really thankful to be working for him. It was an awesome opportunity but it didn’t go that well. You start to almost question yourself. Did I do a good job? What’d I do wrong? You kind of think about it, you’re like, was it me? I would come home on the weekends like, crap, did I not do this good enough or that? Did I not take enough time doing this or that?
Eventually I worked it out that what it boils down to it’s all on the guy. Everybody builds a bike the same every weekend and whether I build the same bike for this top guy or for the guy that didn’t win, I built the same bike for everybody and it’s just what the guy does with it. As I got older in the industry and more years went on I’ve learned that. But definitely when it was going south, I was like, it might be me. I don’t know.
On other mechanics thinking they’re buddies…It’s funny, some guys get so wrapped up in it and I was probably like that in the beginning. You’ll get a guy who if they don’t like the guy or the guy’s not doing well they’re just kind of whatever. But they’ll get certain guys and they’ll latch onto them and they really, really buddy up with their rider and kind of bro down with the guys. They’d do anything for them. They’re at their house hanging out night and day. They pick him up from the airport. They go to dinner with him every night that they’re in town testing or at the race. They train with him, ride bicycles with him, whatever it may be. They do everything with the guy like he’s their best friend. But at the end of the day if you aren’t working for the guy and basically doing all his stuff for him, I think the rider wouldn’t have anything to do with them. They’re just in different classes of life y’know?
If the rider gets a better offer for another team and can’t take you with them, it’s not like they’re going to turn it down right? Look at Barcia, him and that Schnike guy (Mike Tomlin) were thought to be inseparable but he couldn’t take him to JGR and it’s like, whatever they’ve both moved on.
I’m seen this before and when the riders leave, they basically don’t really talk to you anymore. It’s like you never even knew them. That’s kind of how it works. A lot of guys don’t really see it that way and they don’t really pay attention to it that way, but that’s how it is. They’re not your friend, unfortunately. They are for the time being but it’s only because you’re doing something for them. You’re washing their boots or doing whatever it is. A lot of almost I don’t want to say it’s bitch work but it kind of is! And I did it also! You’re doing a lot of little things for them. Honestly, in some cases with certain guys, it was like babysitting. Do you have this? Do you have that? Do you have a place to stay? Do you have a rental car? How are you getting from the car to the shop? You basically had to plan their day for them. Part of that comes from a parent thing.
Motocross is a team and family sport growing up and when they get to that level the parents or whoever, they still rely on people to do everything for them. It is a team sport, family sport, but it is one solo guy out there doing the racing. So they rely on everybody to do basically everything for them. I’ve known guys that hire man friends or whatever it may be to do crazy stuff. Take out their trash, do their laundry. It’s crazy. It’s not what they forget but it’s what they don’t want to do or act like they don’t have time to do.
I’m not saying the riders job is not difficult. I could never do it. They’re all bad-asses at what they do in the sport, but they’re also human beings. You get up in the morning and you go to the gym. You’re at the gym for an hour and a half-or maybe a bike ride-whatever it may be. And then you go ride. You ride until probably 3:00 or 3:30 and then you’re done for the day. Your day is complete. You literally have zero to do until the next day. Your practice guy or mechanic takes your bike back to the shop. It’s prepped for you. Usually your mechanic or your buddy, man friend, whatever will wash your boots and whatever you want done the next day. You literally don’t have anything to do. So basically, they’re really well taken care of children!
On riders parents…The parents in our sport are bad and probably getting worse. They look to every avenue but their kid 99% of the time. It’s the team’s fault, it’s this person’s fault, it’s that fault. And then if it’s not that it’s the tires’ fault or whatever it may be. It’s usually anything but the kid, and that stems from amateur level and stuff as far as how they are with them. Most of the families I’ve dealt with or parents have been that way.
There’s very few that will call their kid out. I have worked with some before that just kind of stayed back and watched in the background. We had a few that were really complimentary of the team. They’re thankful for everything, thankful for the help, the opportunity. There are a few parents that are really appreciative, step back and kind of let their kid do their thing at this level, but a lot of them are in way too deep.
A couple of things that bug me in the sport are…The lack of time between motos outdoors, if you have an engine failure it better happen at the beginning of the moto. If something like that happens, something big, it needs to happen at the beginning of the moto or else you’re not making the second one. I know there’s a TV schedule and everything involved in it but it’s so built around the show almost that it doesn’t take time to consider the things for actual racing. Supercross isn’t as bad. There’s not a lot of time between the semi and LCQ. That’s kind of a tight one. But other than that nothing really bugs me as far as the sport went.
I think everybody has the gripe list with the AMA. The AMA or Feld or the FIM—whomever is calling the shots. I think it always depends on who you are. The penalties or whatever it may be are always different depending on who you are. They say it’s per situation or whatever, I honestly kind of think penalties are dished out as to who you are.
On mechanic bonuses… It’s a weird deal. Some teams are getting more and more picky about this and wanting the rider to bonus out the entire team instead of just the mechanic. And I get it, the suspension and motor guys do work hard but they’re coming in a day later than us, we’re setting the tent up, we’re at the test tracks more than them. And usually these guys make more money than us anyways. Some riders don’t pay anything at all and they suck. But some mechanics expect a certain amount and that’s bullshit also. A bonus is just that, whatever the guy wants to pay and if he doesn’t think you did a good job then he doesn’t pay.
On mechanic’s having egos…95% of the guys are cool. We all kind of have that same bond. We know we work our butts off. I honestly believe everybody, especially on the factory team level, does the same job every weekend. Everybody builds a good bike. You don’t really see too many bike failures out there because of something the mechanic did wrong. But there are a few of them that have that attitude. Whether they’re winning or whatever it may be, but they’re the guy that thinks they’re the reason the rider is winning. His bike building skills are better than yours. But there aren’t too many guys like that. When their guy starts winning that’s why it happened. They’re too cool to talk to you and everything. That’s why I always tried to be the same all the time to everybody. I mean really Matthes, when you were a mechanic you were doing motors and changing tires and we don’t even do that nowadays! (Matthes note: I also changed suspension oil for my riders but who’s bragging?)
There are a couple of guys in the sport that I didn’t get along with. We didn’t see eye to eye on stuff. There’s guys that maybe we got into it or said stuff to each other before because of things that our riders did to each other but not necessarily things that we did to each other. Just kind of in the moment at the race, you’re frustrated and stuff like that. And I had a few guys here and there that I just generally didn’t like. I’d like to say ‘Hey guy, if someone else was building your bike, they’d still win’. I feel like the sport is like that and a lot of it depends on where you’re at in your career as a mechanic and it’s who you get paired up. When you see a J-Bone that gets paired up with Emig and Stewart and has an awesome career and just kills it. Same with Goose getting paired up with Ricky because of Chad Watts screwing up. Guys like that that just get “the guy” at that point in their career and they’re just awesome. And then there’s really good mechanics too that never get “the guy” and they may not be as popular and get as much media attention or recognition but they’re still a really good mechanic. They just don’t end up ever really having “the guy.” But be careful as I said about getting “the guy” ‘cause sometimes it’s not all that awesome!