BEHIND THE SCENES AT YAMAHA: “THESE ARE THE TOOLBOX GUYS”
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It was a sunny Saturday morning on September 19, 1981, and up on a hill at Mid-Ohio Motocross Park sat a lone yellow Team Yamaha box van. The back doors were open, and inside the dark, cramped recesses was a man dressed in some sort of baggy overall welding suit, quietly walking around the #100 YZ250 race bike. He was cleaning dried mud off it with a rag and a spray bottle of Windex. That man was Keith McCarty, and along with his rider, Bob “Hurricane” Hannah, they made up the most feared and formidable factory motocross racing effort in the entire world.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW
Flash-forward 36 years to the asphalt parking lot surrounding Angel Stadium. Keith McCarty is still at Team Yamaha, but things have changed a bit. Instead of a box van, overalls and Windex, McCarty is dressed in well-fitting official Yamaha team wear and taking a sort of mental inventory of the 18-wheel semi that serves as the mother ship for the Monster Energy/Yamalube/ Chaparral/Yamaha Financial Services/Yamaha Factory Racing team.
Beneath the sprawling awning are the #22 and #2 race bikes of team riders Chad Reed and Cooper Webb. Attending to both the bikes and racers are eight team members who, along with Keith McCarty, make this multi-million-dollar racing effort go. Welcome to the life of the nine men who serve as the pit crew of Team Yamaha. Collectively, these nine Yamaha employees have put in over 140 years with the company. But, if you add up all of their motocross racing experience, that number more than doubles.
“The eight other guys you see here today, that’s the toolbox of the team,” says Yamaha team manager Jimmy Perry. “There are many people in this organization who don’t come to the races every weekend because they are at the shop doing things or they have other responsibilities, but these guys are the people building bikes every day, making parts better, working with our engineers and addressing issues to allow us to always move forward. These are the toolbox guys—the nuts and bolts.”
In this modern era of the 450cc four-stroke factory motocross bike, with all the advancements in technology, the days of one man, one rider and one bike have gone the way of the dinosaur.
MXA wanted to know exactly what these nine men do—not only on race day but on the rest of the days of the year. So, we spent a race day with Yamaha’s toolbox guys and let them explain the modern realities of a factory race team.
YAMAHA MOTORSPORTS RACING MANAGER
40 YEARS WITH TEAM YAMAHA
“What I do is a combination of being a fireman and a forecaster. There are day-to-day things, and there are things we have to do after every event. There is always something that needs attention. I have a lot of really good people on this team, so I don’t need to be involved in everything; however, I also know stuff needs to be in a particular order, so I want to be involved. This is a business. It’s a corporation, so we have employee things to deal with, and we have legal people we deal with, and we have to hire contractors. There is a lot going on. Whether it’s a private team or a factory team, this certainly is a business. We have budgets we have to be careful of and partners that we need to take care of—all that kind of stuff.
“I obviously watch our guys in practice and look at the times. I think I have something to offer in terms of overcoming obstacles or what it might take for our guys to keep moving forward. I try not to be ‘that guy’ who gets in everybody’s face, but if I have something that I think is valuable, I certainly want to let everybody know, and then they can choose what they do with it. There are a number of guys on the team, and I appreciate their opinions and experiences. We try to check most of the boxes.
“When it comes to working with the riders, I try to work with our riders on a small level. What I’m trying to do is pass the baton to the guy who is in their corner, like I was. Whether it is Mike Gosselaar or Eric Gass, I think that union of mechanic and rider is very important. The mechanic is the last person to see the rider before the race starts; they get the last five minutes of the rider’s time before the race. It’s really important what you say to them. You need to remind them that you are there for them—win, lose or draw. I try to have a personal relationship with our guys and to have an open-door policy so I can say what I need to say. At the end of the day, I need to look in their eyes, and I need to know that we’re all on the same page.”
“This is my 14th season with Yamaha. I do a lot of things on the team. I work with Keith and Mike in regards to budget and forecasting the money being spent and money coming in. I take care of all the logistics in regards to the team travel. I work with Ron Heben in regards to the overall look of the team—things like tents, awnings and crew shirts and all those types of things. I work with certain vendors in regards to the look of the bikes and things we need to have done for that. Throughout the year, I work with the different promoters, either Feld or MX Sports, for things that go on at the races. I take care of overseas events that we might participate in, such as the Motocross of Nations and other major races. I have working relationships with our people in Japan and with our vendors here in the U.S.
“As far as what I do on race day, I think that we have great mechanics and an awesome crew on this team, so I spend more time making sure that we have everything that we need to get the job done. We have awesome guys on the technical side of things, so I don’t necessarily get my hands as dirty as I once did.”
RACING DEPARTMENT MANAGER
32 YEARS WITH TEAM YAMAHA
“I’m the racing department manager, so I’m one step below Keith. We work hand in hand, whether it’s setting the overall direction, working with management, rider contracts or anything that involves racing. It’s not just the 450 team; it’s the support teams, off-road team, Amateur riders, road-race program and contingency, so there are a lot of different aspects to it.
“My background is definitely motocross. I was a Saddleback/Carlsbad guy, a CMC guy, from day one. That’s my background, but the heart of it and the spirit of it carries through all of it. It’s always a challenge. From my position, I probably wouldn’t have it any other way because you want to be involved in it all, and it all has to work in unison in the end. A lot of times if you’re good at what you do, you end up wearing a lot of different hats. And even though you might not be making the end call, your opinion can be very valuable. We have a lot of people like that, so often times it’s a collective decision, not an individual one.
“On race day, we have key people in place that have a specific job to do. I look at myself this way: I’ll be the spokesperson. I’ll be the face. I’ll be the guy who washes the bike. If I can help with something, I’ll do it. That’s how I see my job, and I’m totally happy with that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“Mostly, I work on engines, but I do work on the whole bike. On Monday after a race, we’ll go over any fire drills that we might have had and that would go on into any failures that we might have had. Those are the most important things that need to be taken care of immediately. From there, we go on to the bikes. The guys have to rebuild their motorcycles. It all depends on the schedule, but I might have to rebuild one or two of the engines out of the bikes. On some things we might start conversing with Japan or whomever to find out what we need to do and what needs to get started.
“On race day, Dan Rambert and I are kind of an insurance policy. We are the old guys hanging around and looking at stuff and seeing what’s going on. Our guys do a great job, and we’re just around to be, like I said, kind of like insurance. If something goes crooked or there needs to be an engine change, we can be there and help. In our team, we’re pretty open to everybody having an opinion. It’s not like a real crew-chief-to-mechanic feel where the crew chief is going to lay out the orders and that’s what’s going to happen. We’re a lot more open than that. It’s a collaboration. We’ve all worked with champions and have been down a lot of roads.
“In working with the riders, it’s all rider-dependent. For some riders, it’s good for them to know what’s going on. It helps them psychologically if they’re smart about the mechanics of everything. With some riders, they may not be as educated in the mechanical stuff, but they can always tell you what makes them feel better or worse. And when you go testing, that’s all you really want to know— does this help you or hurt you?”
“I work with all the data and electronics. And even though everything within the team is getting more and more specialized and we each have our main focus, everybody here has done everything, so anybody can jump in on anything.
“I have a logger on the bike, so I can log all the data when the guys come in. I’ll plug into the data port and download the data while the guys are downloading to their mechanics. That’s the hardest part of it; I’m in the middle of downloading the bikes while the riders and mechanics are talking. When I do get the download from the bikes, I’ll see what’s going on and see what the responses were from the other guys. If we have any issues to look at, we’ll address those. Otherwise, I go in and look at all the data and make sure all the sensors are working and everything is good.
“From the data, we’re monitoring everything the bike is doing. It has GPS, so I can see where they are riding on the track. The lap times are in the data, as are all the functions of the bike. We’ll look at throttle position, gearing, what power range they’re in, ignition, fuel—we’ll look at everything. I’ll show the downloaded data to the guys, and if they have a spot on the track where they’re struggling or think that something is not right, I can go in and pinpoint that area of the track and see what the bike is doing there. It could be gearing, or the power might not be in the right rpm range, or even way above the rpm range and revved out. We can look at all that and see if we want to change the gearing, make a fuel change or alter the ignition —if we need to calm the bike or make more of a snap. We can make all those changes.”
“We’re a team still growing and we all do everything, but I have a title here; it’s overseeing chassis development. It’s a position that I think has been overlooked by a lot of teams. I work super closely with our suspension guy, Kaz Chibba, and also with Dan Rambert doing all the electronic stuff. It all plays together.
“With my role here, we plot out all the geometry stuff and know what we’re doing when we change linkages and what those changes will do to the bike. I also operate our suspension dyno down at Yamaha. With the suspension dyno, basically what we do is bolt the components in and set a program to check the damping at all different shaft speeds of the fork or shock. Kaz and I both work on that to get settings. We also do a lot of testing during the week with Chad and Cooper.”
“This is basically my 23rd season of being a race mechanic. I think I’m pretty darn lucky to be in the position I’m in. I see a lot of the mechanics get credit for everything in this sport, but we’re just a small part of it. We’re just a little cog in the wheel, because there are so many people involved now. It takes a lot of people to make these things go around the track now. With our team, everybody is always making sure their part of the job is done and making sure everything is ready to go. There is a lot of stress. You have the guy’s life in your hands. You’re always worrying and wondering— at least I do—about making sure everything is just right.
“Chad knows how to explain things to each guy on the team, and he has a good working relationship with each guy, so his input and feedback doesn’t just come through me. He speaks directly to the team guys, and we’re all part of it. When Chad comes in after each session, we start downloading him, and he’s always got ideas on how to make the bike a little bit better. Hopefully, we don’t make too many changes, but we usually do.
“I think both eras I’ve worked in as a mechanic are special. Today, you have so many people helping you that you’re just a small part. In the old days, the mechanic was everything. You were the driver, the mechanic, the shopper and everything in between. There were just a few people from the factory showing up at the races every weekend. They’d just show up and everything was ready to go. It’s just different now. It’s completely evolved. It’s way more professional now. There is a lot of stress on everybody now because everybody gets paid well. We are part of a big thing. We’re working for a manufacturer and representing a lot of sponsors. It’s more of a business now.”
“Before I joined Yamaha, I was the Kayaba suspension technician. I’ve been a suspension technician for 18 years now, and during that time I worked with Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed, Tim Ferry, David Vuillemin and Jeremy McGrath.
“During the week leading up to each race, I’ll do an overhaul on everything, go to test sessions and work on the suspension dyno. At the race, first of all, I’ll have to ask the rider for comments and what he thinks about jumping, landing and cornering. From there we will make any adjustments he wants, or, if necessary, I will have to change the suspension internally or change the spring or change the oil. There are unlimited variables. Experience talks in this sort of job. I have to always stick with the riders and make some conversation and listen to their comments. This is very important.”
“While I was working with Star Yamaha with Cooper Web, I had to go over to Yamaha to get some parts, and I remember coming back to the Star shop and saying to some of the other mechanics, ‘Man, they got it going on over there. They have road racing and motocross, and everything is side by side and so organized and so clean. You know what? I want to work for factory Yamaha.’
“Coming into this season on the 450, we didn’t know where we belonged. Cooper wasn’t really that great at setting up a 250, so he’s not really that good at setting up a 450 yet, either. We just got Cooper comfortable and stuck with that and just let him do motos. Up until now, as far as the bike goes, it is what it is. We have a lot of good guys behind us, especially with Kaz on the suspension and Dan with all the data. We’re all trying to get Coop comfortable and ready to go. There are a lot of variables involved, but not that many more than on a 250. It’s just learning to set up a 450 like a 250, because it’s not a 250.
“The relationship between a rider and a mechanic does involve a bit of psychology—being a babysitter, chaperone, big brother, good guy or bad guy depending on the day. One reason Coop and I work so well together is if I need to tell him he’s being an idiot, I’ll tell him he’s being an idiot. In the big-bike class, Cooper needs a talking to at least three or four times a day, whether it’s, ‘Hey, you are doing good’ or ‘Hey, you need to fix this.’ I would consider my role in his mental state to be pretty big, since we’re the last two talking to each.