Anyone that was down in Texas for the spring nationals at Oak Hill and Freestone may have had a hard time finding Derek Drake on the track -- the California native was so far out front in some of his motos that he appeared to be in a race of his own. He utilized his many years of trail riding and river bed ripping experience to keep it smooth and consistent on some incredibly gnarly terrain on his way to a total of six titles between the two events. Drake had some injury complications at the end of last year at the Thor Winter Olympics where he ended up lacerating his liver at the beginning of the week, but he didn’t let it hold him back from continuing to progress on the 250. He put his nose back to the grindstone in order to come out swinging at spring nats and was easily one of the fastest riders in the B class every time he lined up on the gate. Drake began working under the direction of a new trainer towards the end of last year and it has undoubtedly taken his program to the next level. He gets faster and faster every time he swings a leg over the 250 and he’ll definitely be one to watch at the Ranch this year as he’ll be gunning down his first ever Loretta’s title. We caught up with Derek to chat about overcoming his recent injuries, riding jet skis on the central coast, and the secrets to his effortless riding style.
We’ve got to start off by talking about spring nationals, ‘cause it seemed like you’ve really kind of taken the next step with the 250. You got hurt last year at Mini-O’s and ended up not racing that. Were you one hundred percent coming into spring nationals this year with your fitness and everything?
Yeah, exactly. At Mini-O’s I got hurt in my last practice -- I endoed over the back triple, I wheelied over the lip and lacerated my liver, so I was out for a little bit. I’ve been down in Southern California workin’ with my trainer Ryan Raul. I spend about fifty percent of my time down south and then about fifty percent of my time up north where I live on the central coast, so I just drive back and forth. I put in the work with him when I’m down there and we got it all dialed before spring nationals. I came out with sixth titles; four at Oak Hill and two at Freestone.
That’s no joke, man. A lacerated liver is a pretty gnarly injury.
Yeah, at Mini-O’s I wheelied over the face of a triple and I endoed and I fell like right on my head and shoulder. I knew something was wrong -- I knew I didn’t have any broken bones, but I knew something happened. I was really short of breath; I thought maybe I broke a rib or something. So, I was like “I’ll just sit on it overnight, ‘cause I gotta race tomorrow.” So, we went back to the hotel and wrapped it all up, got some icy/hot, and it was so painful. I actually tried to ride the next day -- I did my first moto and I just couldn’t do it. We decided to go the doctor and yeah, it was a laceration of the liver.
Max (Miller) was tellin’ me about how you guys did a really gnarly mountain bike with your trainer out in Cali before spring nats.
Before spring nationals we had like a two week boot camp and it was Carson Brown, Kyle Peters, Max Miller, and I. Yeah, it was sooo brutal -- the gnarliest motos on the sand track. I worked with him before, so I was like “Aww, he’s kidding. We’re not gonna do three twenty-five minute motos at this bone dry track in SoCal,” and he actually wasn’t. It was just the start of this two week, gnarly boot camp. We did this eight hour team mountain bike race and that was just brutal -- each lap was horrible, but it all worked out for the nationals.
Obviously your speed was there, you ended up getting four titles at Oak Hill and had some great battles with Pierce. How’d the racing go for you there?
Yeah, I love the facility at Oak Hill. I hope next year there’ll be a little better turnout -- this year was just Pierce and I, Connor Mullenix, and Parker Mashburn. They added a SX portion to it which was fun, and then the outdoor portion is obviously a great track. I ended up getting four good starts and it just played out.
You carried that momentum into Freestone and were consistently one of the fastest riders in the B class there, ended up grabbing two titles, and probably would have had another one if it wasn’t for that mechanical.
Yeah, exactly. The 450 B class was kind of a bummer, but we compromised and got the two 250 B titles which is unbelievable. I’ve never won a title at Freestone and it was just clickin’ all week. Everything was super good and my suspension was good. Before every moto unless it was raining, I’d go do a couple practice starts. Starts are everything with like (Lance) Kobusch, (Garrett) Marchbanks, Pierce (Brown), (Connor) Mullenix, (Parker) Mashburn, (Jo) Shimoda -- we were all so fast. It’s just a matter of a start.
How is it for you battling through the changing conditions throughout the week -- do you change a lot on the bike?
On my mod bike, I didn’t touch a clicker all week, I don’t think. My stock bike -- we had some issues with the air forks, but we got it manageable through the week in Texas. I only had one class on that bike, so it wasn’t a big deal. As soon as I got back into SoCal, we went testing with the air forks and we got ‘em dialed in right now. I’m gonna do Loretta’s in 250 B Limited, so I’ve gotta have ‘em dialed in.
Is that something that kind of took an adjustment period for you -- just getting used to the air forks?
Yeah, when I first got on 250’s I was running stock air forks and I had problems with it pumpin’ up through the moto. It would start off good and it would just get so stiff towards the end. We got that out of the way and I’ve just been struggling how stiff it is at the beginning of the stroke, but we’ve got it all plush now.
It seems like you do quite a bit of your riding in the river beds back in the 805 where you’re from, does that kind of help to prep you for those rougher tracks?
Yeah, it does -- that’s kinda my riding style, too. I grew up riding trails in the mountains, and grew up riding in the riverbeds. We have a group of friends that go and make tracks in the river bed -- like Jessy Nelson grew up in my town and that’s what he did as an amateur, too. I just continue to do that; when it rains, there’s no better place to ride.
It’s pretty cool that you also get to go ride out at Castillo Ranch — that’s such a legendary place in moto history just because of all the cool stuff that has been filmed there and everything. How is it riding out there?
Yeah, Jim’s really awesome. I just text him whenever I plan on comin’ out and it’s awesome. He’s got an inline sprinkler system and once he waters the track, it’s so good -- especially when it rains. When it rains, you gotta go there -- it’s just green, natural, and really good. It’s nothing like the SoCal tracks where it’s just flat (except for Glen Helen) and wide open. I feel like Castillo just takes so much more skill to ride; it’s just awesome!
That picture on your Instagram with the thirty-three carved into the hillside was sick, man.
Yeah, I was ridin’ the hills at Castillo and it’s just awesome. There’s these super big gullies and I thought it’d be cool to roost out my number in front of this hill and get a picture.
You ended up having to pull out of the Cal Classic. Is everything okay?
Yeah, it was just a stupid deal. My first moto of the whole week I got a bad start, I was comin’ up through the pack and my left foot came off the peg -- it did somethin’, got twisted and hit a rock, I dunno. I was like “Ow, that hurts,” but thought nothing of it, I’ve had that happen before. I kinda like moved it in my boot and it felt fine. So, when I stopped and kinda walked around, it started to bug me. I tried to go ride my second moto and I physically could not do it. I couldn’t stand on the balls of my feet or shift, so I was like “Okay, we need to get this checked out and go to the doctor.” I broke my big toe and I was just like “What the heck!?” We got it splintered off and I rode for the first time today -- everything’s all good. I’ve got some fresh Tech 10’s and it’s awesome! I’m going back to SoCal on Monday and we’re gonna start doing it again.
I saw you were ripping around on some stand up jet skis -- those things are a blast!
My stand up jet ski is awesome, I love it! My mechanic, Tristan, has one and my buddy, Cole Barbieri, has one and Aaron Plessinger too -- we all go out to Canyon Lake and ride those things. It’s awesome and it’s a good workout. This guy in Paso, Taylor Curtis -- he’s the owner of TC Freeride -- he builds gnarly jet skis, like top of the line, like he ships ‘em off to Europe. I’ve got to know him pretty well and I just got out there and ride these gnarly jet skis which are so fast. All of my buddies on the central coast have one and we got out and ride them at our lake; it’s an awesome time!
Do you guys get competitive on those things as well?
Yeah, sometimes we set up buoys, but we’re not that good so we just go out and free ride, hit wakes and see how far we can jump ‘em.
Looking back on last year, you ended up getting your best overall finish at Loretta’s with a second in the 125 class and then matched your previous best finish with a fifth in the Schoolboy 1 class. Were you happy with how things went down at the Ranch?
Yeah, it definitely was good. The second overall -- I went in with a two and a one going into the third moto, the championship was on the line. I had a problem the whole week with my bike bogging on the 125 and I would get the worst starts the whole week except for two. The two that it didn’t bog, I won the moto. I came from behind every moto and I ended up getting a 2-1-5 for second overall, so it was kind of a bummer. I forgot what happened in the other one, but something that caused the fifth overall. Just before Loretta’s I started workin’ with my trainer now, Ryan Raul, and I came from dead last pretty much all of the motos and got up to the podium, so I just missed out on the first spot.
It’s pretty awesome that you were able to do so well in your last big race on the 125. Do you think it’s kind of helped you to move away from that bike though and solely focus on the 250?
Yeah, for sure. I was kinda gettin’ over it on the 125 at the end of the year. I was always at Pala or wherever tryin’ to ride with the pros and they’d just blast by me -- especially at that big triple, they’d just pass me every lap there on the 125. It got annoying after a while and I wanted that 250 bad.
Now that you’ve been on the 250 for a while, do you miss rippin the 125 a little bit?
Ummm, yeah. A little bit, but I still prefer to the 250 over the 125.
What’re your goals/expectations for yourself heading back into Loretta’s this year?
I won’t have that bogging problem, ‘cause it’s all fuel injected now. But yeah, I’ll just be practicing starts before that and the whole week at the Ranch. They’re so important -- like everyone was at Freestone and everyone’s gonna be at Loretta’s, you just gotta back it up. I’m hoping to go down there and get my first title, that’d be awesome!
Who would you like to thank for helping you out this year?
Red Bull Troy Lee Designs KTM, GoPro, Spy, FMF, Stance, Alpinestars, Adidas, Dunlop
/ Words /Images / Lake Kilpatrick
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