Of the many motocross memories, Dean Wilson debut season racing as a professional in 2010 stands out. Wearing number 108 and racing for the all-powerful Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, Wilson made an immediate impression. He was a stand-out on the track, and equally as impressive in the pits. He had a happy-go-lucky, fan-friendly personality. Whether it was minutes before a moto or hours after the race, Dean was still happily chatting with fans. And this wasn’t some struggling privateer we’re talking about. Wilson won two 250 National overalls that year. In turn, he earned the 2010 AMA National rookie of the year award. Dean Wilson was one of the brightest starts of the motocross future. The Scotland born, Canadian raised, SoCal transplant then won the 2011 AMA 250 National Champion. From 2010 until halfway through 2013 Dean didn’t finish outside of the top ten in the series points standings. He was on his way to superstardom.
Since the summer of 2013, Wilson’s career has seen its highs and lows, with numerous injuries and folding teams taking their toll. When Wilson signed with the Roger DeCoster-managed Red Bull KTM team to race the 450 in the 2015-2016 seasons, we were eager to see what he could do on an established 450 team. Unfortunately, knee injuries derailed his progress. In a startling 2016 offseason with many riders and few open rides, Dean was left without a spot. Determined to get back to where he belongs, Dean will privateer it on a Yamaha YZ450F at Anaheim. In spite of his last couple years of adversity and setbacks, Dean has that same enthusiasm for racing. If you weren’t a Dean Wilson fan before, maybe this interview will change your mind.
By Jim Kimball
Dean, how were you feeling back in 2014 when you signed a two-year contract with the Red Bull KTM 450 team?
It was such an awesome feeling. I remember the day very well. It was the last Supercross race of 2014, which was in Las Vegas. Then I actually ended up winning that night, so it was an especially good night. Everything was going good.
What was your mindset heading into your rookie 450 Supercross season in 2015?
I felt fit and strong, but really had a bundle of nerves the first few rounds. I qualified third in the second round, which was cool, so I knew that I had good speed, but I needed to get some races under my belt. Unfortunately, I only did two races. In that second race I ended up with an eighth. Then I blew my knee out during the week at the practice track. It was just a mistake on my side, so it was pretty tough to take. That was basically my entire first year at KTM. For my second year I trained really hard to come back from the injury. Then the same thing happened after the second round again. I was at the third round, and just doing a qualifying lap when I put my leg out and the front wheel washed. That small crash tore my ACL and meniscus, and it was all over. That was a huge disappointment for me. Here I was on a premier 450 team [Red Bull KTM], and then blow my knee out both years.
Was it a big adjustment going from the 250 to the 450?
I think the big adjustment for me was getting on the KTM, because I had been a Kawasaki rider my whole career. I was on Team Green Kawasaki before I rode for Mitch [Payton, Pro Circuit Kawasaki]. To ride a KTM, which was not a Japanese bike, was a completely different feel of bike for me. The first year I did not get enough time on the bike to be comfortable and into the race mode of things. The second year I felt like I was definitely getting more comfortable. Things were starting to come around, and I won my heat race the second round. It was just kind of unfortunate how things ended there.
You had been trying to land a 450 ride a few years prior to signing the Red Bull KTM deal for 2015. Why didn’t the deal go through?
I wanted to go full-time 450 in 2013. I had a few great options with awesome teams, but I really wanted to stay with Kawasaki. That was when I signed with the Jeff Ward Racing-backed Kawasaki 450 team. The whole deal sounded like it was going to be good, so I signed with them in 2013. Then no less than a week after I signed the team folded and left me with nothing. All the spots on other teams were already taken, so it was tough. I had a great relationship with Mitch, so I told him, “I really want to win a Supercross Championship in the 250 class. Maybe this is a chance for me to get it.” He signed me back on. I stayed with Mitch for another two years, and unfortunately got another second place overall again, for the fourth time. It’s too bad things didn’t work out on the 450 team deal, because I was promised a lot of things and got screwed over at the end of the day.
Do you still have a good relationship with Mitch Payton?
Yes. Mitch has been really awesome to me. Even when I rode for him, we just always had a good relationship. He reminds me a lot of my dad. Mitch says it the way it is! There are times when I have cried in Mitch Payton’s office, but I think that is what built the relationship. He often tells you things you don’t want to hear, but it is what you need to know. He is great for advice, and someone who has always had my back from the very beginning. Loyalty means a lot to me. He is going to be doing my engines on my Yamaha, and I will be running his exhaust and some other parts. I am happy that he is still supporting me.
You’ve faced a lot of adversity in the past few years. How do you overcome it?
Obviously injury is a part of the sport, and unfortunately that is just the way it is. I feel like some of it has been my fault and some of it has not been my fault on the injury side of things. It is just the way it is, and I cannot look back on it. I just plan to focus on the time now, and try to be the best me that I can be this year. That is what my goal is. The Jeff Ward Racing team deal really sucked, as well. That was not an ideal situation to be in. I have had a crappy go-around on some things. Still, I do not feel sorry for myself. I love to race, and that is why I am in the sport. I love riding my bike, and it is a shame that I have been injured and haven’t gotten the results I wanted to. I am hoping that I can really get the ball rolling.
It’s admirable that you’re forging ahead and not pointing any fingers.
Thank you. There is nothing that can change the past, so all I can do is focus on the future. That is what I am doing. I want to race again for a factory team and be at the top of the sport. It is going to take a little bit of time, but it is my goal and I am working towards it. I have to be positive and work hard. I feel good things will come.
You are still young and have a lot left in the tank, right?
I am 24 years old. I would say that I have a few good years in me still [laughter]. Like I said, it is about being healthy at this point and building momentum.
You were riding a Suzuki for a while, and now you are riding a Yamaha. Many were speculating that the Yamaha factory team would find a spot for you, but that didn’t happen. What’s your plan?
I will be lining up at Anaheim 1 on a Yamaha. I am very thankful for the help from the Yamaha team. I will be privateering it, though, as Keith McCarty [Yamaha Racing USA Director] already has his team and everything set up. For me to go in there and try to get on the team was a little difficult. I even told Keith that I would ride for free if he just gave me a chance, but that did not end up happening. Still, he is helping me a little bit, which is awesome. He has given me a couple of parts, and maybe eventually I can get on the team. That would be awesome. As of now I am going to do the first few Supercross races on my own. We will see how it goes.
You’re wisely choosing to race despite the lack of a ride. That says a lot about how badly you want to continue on with your career.
I think it is better than sitting at home and doing nothing about it. I feel like I can still do well in this sport, so I am not going just give up. I need to prove myself again, which is fine. I think a lot of teams did not want to pick me up because I have been so injury prone, which I understand. I want to show the teams that I am a hard worker. I do want this as a career, and I want to do well in this sport. I have gathered up some great sponsors to do the first five rounds. It is hard to commit to the whole series right now, but I am just going to do the first few and see how it goes.
Have you noticed the fan support given your plight?
Absolutely. I definitely appreciate the support, and for the fans who have stuck by me after all of my injuries. It means a lot, because obviously I am not a rider that has been at the front of the pack lately. I hope to be back there soon enough. For a lot of the fans that are still sticking behind me, it means a lot.
As a Pro rookie you were always smiling and kind of happy go lucky. You seem to have that same attitude, despite the challenges you’ve faced lately.
Someone once told me, “Never grow up. That is what keeps you young and things exciting.” I feel like I have grown up and matured a lot since when I was in the 250 class. I am not always happy, because it’s impossible to always be happy. I do get bummed out at times, but you have to try and look at the best of bad situations. That is the way you have to look at it or you will just make your life miserable. Don’t think that I am always “Mr. Happy.” There are times that I am pretty grumpy, but that’s life. I’ve learned that I have to take things as they come and try to be as happy as I can.