MPG / DAILY BREAD / FEBRUARY 22, 2017
If you’re an avid fan of Monster Energy Supercross, there’s a good chance that you’ve heard the name Dylan Slusser. He’s been racing professionally since 2010, but has really been able to find his stride in recent years on the SX scene. The Pennsylvanian made the first main event of his career at the eleventh round of the 2016 Monster Energy Supercross series and subsequently put in a respectable seventeenth place finish. The following weekend when the series moved to Indianapolis, Slusser put in his best qualifying performance ever by finishing up timed practice in twenty-third overall on one of the most grueling, technical tracks that the riders have seen in recent years. He was building confidence and momentum, on track to qualify for the main event yet again, until disaster struck in his heat race -- he drug a footpeg off the face of a jump in a rhythm section which sent him hurling off the side of the track, therefore suffering an endless list of injuries. It was a major setback that kept him off the bike for the better part of the year, but Slusser was determined to ride and race again. He was able to get back on a bike towards the end of 2016, beginning to rebuild his strength and confidence in order to ascend back to peak form. The Yamaha rider made his return to the big show this past weekend in Minneapolis and picked up right where he left off, gradually brushing off the cobwebs throughout practice and putting himself in the night show. He had one of the best heat races of his career, but ended up missing out on the transfer spot by just two positions. Some unfortunate circumstances put him in a bad position in the LCQ, but there are loads of positives to take away from the weekend and he’ll be heading to the Georgia Dome refreshed and raring to go. We caught up with Dylan to chat about what it felt like to be back on the big stage, his gaming habits while he was bedridden with the injury last year, and the ins and outs of living the privateer life.
So, you went and raced the first round of the 250 SX East division this past weekend in Minneapolis, how’d that go?
Yeah, it was pretty righteous to even be there. I didn’t even plan on going as far as getting a race bike done in time, but I ended up figuring it out last minute and uh...got a buddy to come with me last minute as well. So, I was pumped on gettin’ there. Practice went smoothly, I would say, I wasn’t extremely fast. I was a little rusty, I got to ride my race bike for maybe thirty minutes prior to going out for the first practice, so uh...I improved each time. After the free practice I dropped five seconds and then after the first timed practice I dropped another two and a half, so practice went well from my perspective of not ridin’ and not havin’ time on my bike really. I haven’t practiced too much in the last few months -- just from getting bike work done. So in practice I was definitely a little rusty, but I turned it around in the night show. I’ve always been super confident in my bike and knowing that I have pretty good equipment -- I was pretty far to the outside and I had a pretty good jump, and I ended up comin’ out of the second turn in fifth; I know there was a lot of carnage that went on outside of me, but I snuck through it all. That was unfortunate for them, but I was ecstatic. I mean, hittin’ the triple first lap and only seein’ four dudes in front of me, all factory guys, was pretty crazy. In the LCQ, I actually had a really good jump -- it probably didn’t look like that comin’ through the first corner, but I actually out-jumped the guys next to me. Alex Martin was one guy to the inside of me and as soon as he clicked into third gear, I watched his bike completely come over to the right side of me and pretty much kinda shut me down, and at that point I was pretty much buried goin’ through the first turn -- it was kind of a weird first turn so I was pretty much stuck in the back and at that point it was almost over, haha.
All in all, are you content with how your speed and how the night went?
Yeah, I’m actually real happy! I mean, that essentially was a first for me -- runnin’ up front in the heat race. Normally I get a decent start, but nothin’ like inside qualifying position in a heat race. That was my best I’ve done in a heat race so far. As far as not riding for the last month really...once or twice in the last month or two, comin’ there on a brand new bike that I only rode for a half hour on Wednesday night before I left...I thought I did great. I mean, it’s definitely gonna build from there I hope. I didn’t really have any expectations going in. I knew I wanted to make the night show, that was obvious. I didn’t really have any expectations on making the main or anything like that -- I just wanted to come out of there safe and get onto the next round. For how I did, I feel like I definitely exceeded what expectations I would have had set for myself.
What did you think of the track? The tracks have been breaking down really quickly this year and have generally been pretty gnarly.
I mean, I didn’t really mind the track so much. It didn’t really look like it should have on track walk; it looked like it would be really nice and like flow pretty well, but there was kind of like a lot of weird ninety degree corners that once you got on a bike didn’t really work out so well. There wasn’t really -- I mean there was one section that you could kinda do something different, the double dragon back sectiion -- and other than everything was kinda pretty much the same. But, the ruts in the turns breaking down is not a super big problem, but there were a few potholes and like kickers and stuff....especially on that dragon back section. The LCQ was the last race I did and I know they did track prep prior to that, but uh...I mean, I didn’t mind it. I kinda like when the tracks break down a little more, but it definitely seems like they’re breaking down a lot more than they have been in years past.
How did it feel to be back on the big stage after the crash last year?
I mean, I was nervous as all hell...knowing that the last time I rode SX was Indy of last year and I had an extremely bad crash. It wasn’t anything of my error, I just caught a footpeg going up the face of a triple in a rhythm and it slowed my speed down. That was definitely in the back of my mind -- especially ‘cause up until three hours before I left Thursday afternoon I was getting ready to drive by myself. I couldn’t find anyone to come with me; everyone had work or was going riding. So, I was like ‘Man, I have no problem driving by myself, but if something were to happen where I’d get hurt’...in the back of my mind knowing the last time that I raced, that’s where I ended up. That was kinda nerve wracking, but once I got on the track it really didn’t bother me too much. That went away.
For people that don’t know, could you talk a little bit about the crash last year at Indy and your recovery process afterward?
So, I broke my T3 to T7, there were a couple compression fractures, there was a T5 fracture, and uh...I think I had what was called transverse fractures. I had a couple slipped discs, I’m not exactly sure of the term they had there. I punctured my lungs, I broke four ribs, and I shattered my sternum into three pieces, and had a hematoma that grew out of the back of my sternum that was going towards my heart -- which along with my T5’s were two of the more serious ones that they kept me in the ICU for. That was the first week of April and I didn’t get back on a bike until like early September, I believe. I pretty much spent the entire summer in a bed; I was in a back brace for quite a few months, but uh...I mean, immediately after I got back on a bike it was like a newfound life for me. It was a pretty serious injury, but I knew I wanted to ride again.
What did you to do pass the time when you were injured? I’ve heard youre a pretty good Xbox gamer and you’ve got some Mad Skills skills also.
Yeah. Actually I was in the ICU until the Wednesday after Indy, I got home like late Wednesday I believe, and the following Friday I made my Dad drive me out to GameStop and I bought an Xbox One. I literally played Xbox -- I’m not even joking, probably twenty four hours a day. There were a few days where I went three to four days without sleeping, just Xbox every single day, haha. It came with a game called The Division that I got into pretty big and then umm...I actually switched over my game console to the UK, ‘cause they had released MXGP 2 over there a lot earlier, so I switched my console over so I could buy the game. I ended up playing MXGP after that pretty much the whole time, and whatever time I had between it was Mad Skills and that’s all I did.
How long did it take to get fully comfortable on the bike and kind of back up to speed to where you were last year at Indy?
I mean, I didn’t really lose that much speed coming back, but I lost like a lot of strength for sure. My doctors basically didn’t let me do physical therapy, so by the time I started riding I was kinda trying to ride myself back into shape and regain the muscle that I needed. I mean, I’m still building right now. I could go fast and fitness still really wasn’t really an issue as far as getting tired; I’d just get really sore in my back. I couldn’t really take a super crazy, gnarly hit…like I couldn’t g-out in like jumps -- so jumping was not really an option for me for a while. I just kinda did turns and jumped little stuff or I’d just have to land everything really smoothly, ‘cause it really hurt me to g-out
Is there anything you’re focusing on with your riding in particular this week before heading down to Atlanta?
I’ve never really been a type that needs to just work on one thing. I mean, obviously in SX one thing to work on would be whoops and that’s obviously not been my strongest point in years past. Umm, but just getting on a SX track and riding is like my biggest thing right now. At this point, I’m sitting here at PR2 waiting to get some suspension done, so even for me to get somewhere and ride a SX track -- I’m lookin’ at maybe one day this week. So, just riding. I don’t ride very much during the week, so if I could get some solid time on a real SX track with some real whoops and everything, it would make a world of difference.
How much time did you have on a proper SX track before Minnesota?
Umm, well if you want the serious answer -- zero. The last time I rode a SX track before this past weekend would’ve been two days after Christmas. I went down to Daxton Bennick’s place in North Carolina and I rode for one day on a SX track there and prior to that would’ve been Indy last year. So, I’ve really only rode on a real SX track once since my crash.
Living the privateer lifestyle can get a little overwhelming I’m sure. Can you give everyone a little rundown on what you have to go through between races during the week to get everything ready for the weekend?
Yeah, I mean...I wouldn’t say I don’t trust many people, but I worked for Eleven 10 Mods for a very long time -- being a mechanic there, working on engines, chassis, and everything they had to offer -- and other than the guys at those shops, I don’t really trust anyone to do anything else. So, I take it upon myself to build my own engines, build my own chassis, and do every bit of the mechanical work that I possibly can...just to eliminate the factor that if something went wrong I have no one else to blame but myself. Leading up to Minneapolis...I had my engine and everything sent out, my crank, my transmission -- I was waitin’ on parts. I didn’t even get to put my race bike together until late Tuesday night; I assembled my engine, threw my chassis together, threw everything on there, had to take some parts from my practice bike ‘cause a lot of parts are on backorder. But, between the races after the initial bike build is done -- I’m not too crazy with rippin’ everything back down. I know factory teams completely frame their bikes each weekend, but for someone like me that doesn’t really have factory parts that need to be timed out or changed often, so like...every few rounds I’ll rip it down and re-grease all the linkages and the steering stems and everything like that, but just a really good wash and scotch-brite the frame, just go over everything and check all the bolts out. It’s just normal maintenance stuff, so that I know my bike will be good for the following weekend.
Do you have any privateer pro tips for anyone living that lifestyle?
I mean, I’ve always liked to present myself at the highest level that I can as a privateer. I spend all my money on making my bike run and look as good as I possibly can without spending a bunch of money which involves a lot of tedious little work; like polishing stuff, scotch-briting brake pedals and stuff like that. It’s definitely good to work with what you have instead of buying a bunch of useless, not-needed parts. Usually the OEM stuff works pretty well, so there’s no need to go out and buy a bunch of random parts that just look good. That’s definitely a good tip. You don’t need to go on a certain sponsor's website and buy everything that they possibly have.
Any travel travel horror stories from things that have gone bad on the road, awful hotels, or anything of the sort?
Man, I’ve got a lot of stories. I mean, I’ve only flown in an airplane twice in my life, so every bit of every race that I’ve ever been to has been driven, usually by myself. Regardless of whether I was racing or not, I drove a lot. There’s so many stories, but back between like 2011 and 2013 I did a lot of driving for Eleven 10 Mods for the SX season -- I was Alex Martin’s mechanic in 2012. I drove to the majority of those SX’s and there was a lot of crazy things that happened. But uhh...one in particular that I guess could stick out -- I’m a really good driver I think -- and when people do dumb things it really pisses me off, and I really don’t like being cut off at a high rate of speed. Traffic was movin’ at like eighty miles per hour and I’m in a pretty large-sized box truck cruisin’ and this guy just cut over and he did it twice -- the first time I didn’t mind it, whatever, but the second time he did it, it really ticked me off. We were goin’ down the road and I was kinda movin’ over on him tryin’ to tell him ‘Hey, I didn’t like that very much,’ and he’d move back on me. The next thing I know I saw him in my rear view mirror like on two wheels gettin’ speed wobbles in his car before he pulled off the exit, so that’s probably one of the craziest things that I’ve had happen.
What’s your go-to gas station snack?
Oooh, I’d have to say Sheetz mac ‘n cheese bites, I’m addicted to those. I mean, when you go out west it kinda sucks, they don’t really have anything close to that. We’ve got Sheetz that has like full made-to-order meals -- it’s like fifteen restaurants built into one little screen that you tap on.
What’re your plans for the rest of the season…are you racing the rest of East SX and select outdoors or what’s the plan?
Yeah, I mean I plan on doing all the rest of the East rounds -- that was my plan last year as well. I know the plan was to do Vegas as well to finish it off, so I’m sure that’s in the works for this year as well. I’d like to do that just for the experience. As far as outdoors, I’m not really sure. I’ve never had like a super crazy plan for outdoors. It’s so hard on your bike and I mean...if you’re running race gas on a normal day where you run both practices, the LCQ, and both motos -- you go through five gallons of race gas right there and that gets pretty expensive. And outdoors is just so rough; it beats the crap out of your equipment. I normally try to do four, five, six rounds of outdoors -- all the close ones on the east coast.
Who would you like to thank for helping you out this year?
FCC Motorsports, Switchback MX, Cernics, PR2 Suspension, MXtire, MX Graphics, Eleven 10 Mods, Total Image Autosport, Bell, Scott, ANSR, Dunlop, No-Toil, Sunstar, Braking, FMF, Works Connection, Bristol Core, Mototape, Hinson, ODI, ICW Radiators, Cycra, Engine Ice, KSR Wheels, and all my family and friends who've been there to support me, thank you!
/ Words / IMAGE / Lake Kilpatrick
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