For those of you that follow me on social media, you might have seen my wife and I on vacation with our friends in Iceland the past few weeks. Being in a country that has zero nuclear plants and only 1.5 recorded murdered per year was such an educational and welcomed experience. To be honest, we weren’t even supposed to be in Iceland, as we originally planned to visit Thailand during that time. However, once the trip was paid for and approved by the Thai government, we were forced to change our plans due to unforeseen circumstances (thanks Omicron and COVID testing).
Making that change from the literal trip of our dreams with our friends in a warm weather climate to Iceland in the winter was a little difficult for us, but the experience was so worth it!
Speaking of change, I want to give kudos to Peyton Stevenson (Ken Roczen’s practice mechanic) for stepping in and contributing to a win as the race mechanic at this year’s opening round of Monster Energy Supercross. Having a practice mechanic step up on race day is a big change for the rider, team personnel, and ESPECIALLY the mechanic. The amount of preparation and attention to detail that goes into wrenching for a factory team can be quite overwhelming for a mechanic that only wrenches Monday-Friday in a much more relaxed environment.
I know this first hand because I had that same experience with Andrew Short in 2012 during the Seattle supercross (I love me some Shorty). The week of that race, I was finishing bike work in Andrew’s shop at his practice facility in Texas (if you’ve ever been there, it’s so organized and clean that you can eat off the floor) and out of nowhere he says, “Do you wanna be the race mechanic this weekend?” Of course I said yes, but inside I was freaking out! I had never made it to a 450 night show in my career at that point, so it was a lot to process, especially considering the fact that we were going to be parked under the Factory Honda tent, as we didn’t have a semi that weekend.
I was a bit rattled during the day of the race, not because I remember Larry Brooks (Chaparral Honda team manager at the time) accidentally spitting his dip in our suspension case, but because this was unfamiliar territory for me. I knew most of the Factory Honda guys on the team from wrenching with Davi Millsaps and Ben Townley as their practice mechanics, but this was all new to me and I was in a position where perfection was the only option.
Even though I was nervous (Andrew definitely sensed it), the day went well and we qualified eighth in practice. We ended up finishing fourth in Heat 1 which gave us a decent gate pick for the main event.
Something I’ll never forget is when the 450’s were staging for their main, the “Lites” (250) main was in progress and there was a close battle between Eli Tomac and Dean Wilson as they were battling for the West Region Championship. As I was prepping the gate (back when starting gates had ruts), I looked up in time to see Eli completely clean out Dean right in front of the starting gate. I looked back at Andrew and we both were in disbelief at what just happened. However, we both still had a job to do.
Once the Lites main was over, Andrew rolled up to the gate. It was then that I realized that there was a huge rock directly in the middle of the rut. We backed the bike out, and I spent a few minutes frantically kicking with my mechanic boots to remove the fist sized rock that was anchored deeply in the tacky Seattle soil.
Some time had passed and I felt a panic set over me as the rock got bigger and bigger every time I kicked more dirt away. In an act of desperation, I pulled out a large flathead screwdriver and attempted to pry the rock out. Luckily, I heard Larry Brooks screaming “No” and quickly realized that I couldn’t use the man-made tool to prep the gate as it was grounds for disqualification. After a few more minutes of kicking and a sprained big toe, the boulder was gone and replaced by fresh Seattle soil.
At last, the gate dropped for the 450 main and the rest was history. Andrew got the holeshot (I like to tell myself it was because of my gate prep), Ryan Villipoto went down early and blew out his knee, and Ryan Dungey had issues of his own during the main. All of this culminated in a wire-to-wire two second victory over Ken Roczen who was riding the 350 at the West Coast rounds for Red Bull KTM.
I never screamed so much (and drank so much beer) in my life after that victory! I remember the fans cheering for me as I rode the bike to tech inspection, and I also remember Kelly Lumgair and Dana Wiggins (Ken and Jake Weimer’s mechanics) congratulating me when I arrived. That meant so much to me, as I had looked up to those guys for years. It was so surreal that I got to be apart of Andrew Short’s only supercross victory, I got to see Eli Tomac clean out Dean Wilson up close, and I lost 10 pounds of sweat after kicking a Seattle boulder with my foot. This experience happened for me because people trusted me to do the job, and I stepped out of my comfort zone and accepted the challenge.
As a mechanic, your job is to keep the rider safe at all costs, and be able to adjust to any situation at any given moment for the comfort and success of the rider. I think it’s important to recognize that mechanics don’t have the luxury of time and comfort when faced with last minute adjustments that the rider may need. One day, you could be at home with your family, and the next, you could be on a plane to California with no return flight. You have to be fluid and ready for any situation that may arise, at the expense of your own peace, safety, and most importantly, time with your loved ones.
So, Peyton, congratulations on your first 450 supercross win! I hope you have another one in your career at some point; and to all the mechanics out there getting thrown into the fire, your efforts are noticed and appreciated.
Andrew, and Jackie, thank you for trusting me with your life… and thanks for that fat bonus check as well.