Being a gear guy is easy, right? After all, all you have to do is hit the pits, drop off a few sets of gear for your brand’s athletes and your day is done. Simple.
Well, it’s not quite that easy and these hardworking “gear guys” actually wear a lot more hats than you think. To illustrate that point, we caught up with Fly Racing’s Max Steffens in Boise, Idaho, for this week’s behind-the-scenes Unsung Hero.
Racer X: First off, how’d you even get into being a gear guy, and is that the term you prefer?
Max Steffens: You can call me whatever you want—gear dude, I’ve been called man friend, whatever.
Yeah, but you don’t wash dudes’ boots do you?
No, I don’t really do the boot thing, mainly helmets and gear.
Okay, so you polish helmets then?
Yes. Unfortunately that’s the term. I polish helmets. It’s not good, but it’s true. Anyway, I worked locally at a dealership here in Idaho and ended up meeting up with a privateer based in Boise. Robb Floth, then Cole Siebler. I ended up being a mechanic on the circuit for four or five years, which slowly just worked into an opportunity with Fly Racing because they’re based here and I’ve been with them ever since. I believe this is my fourteenth or fifteenth year in the industry and it’s my ninth year with Fly, going on ten. My title is pro athlete manager, so I manage all professional athletes for the whole brand. I oversee a bunch of different demographics, but moto is my primary focus because that’s what they hired me for.
Talk about your job at the races. You’re supplying gear at the races, motocross and supercross, but are also traveling to mountain bike events?
No. We have guys in all demographics, and this is all just recent for me, and I mainly oversee contract stuff, jersey printing, logo’ing, stuff like that for the teams. I work with the head of our mountain bike division, who is also the national sales manager for WPS [Western Power Sports]. We have another two guys internally who work on the mountain bike side and I work with them to approve orders going out, certain dollar amounts, and making sure our athletes are wearing the correct stuff in accordance with the vision for the brand. And when I’m at the races I deliver gear or course, and with the Nationals for example, we’re a co-title sponsor, and I work with our sales team, who work with all the dealers, reps, to make sure everything is in its place and working properly. Our structures have to be up, our activation space has to be neat and clean, our dealer tents have to have drinks, all that stuff. I oversee a bunch of stuff at the Nationals.
What’s activation space?
It’s our displays at the races. We have all the current gear out for people to look at, we have corn hole games for people to play for a chance to win a trip for two to the Monster Energy Cup, we hand out keepsakes, stickers, that kind of thing. It’s basically just a space where people get to touch, feel, and experience Fly Racing.
Sounds like it could be easy to get overwhelmed at the races.
Yeah, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, but we have another guy who works with me in the office and he travels and sets up and tears down all of our activation stuff. I just oversee to make sure it’s all there, clean, and presentable. It’s basically our first foot forward with dealers. It has to be clean, hospitable, there has to be ice, I set up catering every week, I go to the podium and do our brief spiel we do every week at the Nationals. Yeah, it’s overwhelming, but it helps when we’re in the situation we are now as a brand. Like I said, I’ve been here nine years and we’ve won one championship since I’ve been here until now. This is our third supercross championship, we’ve won several races as a brand, we’re holding the red plate in both classes, it’s a huge deal and it’s awesome to be a part of the winning side finally. We’ve had a lot of good athletes.
Talk about that mad podium dash. It looks pretty frantic with everyone trying to get their product displayed on the athlete before those TV cameras come.
For lack of a better word, we’re a pretty dysfunctional family. All the goggle guys, all the gear guys, we’re all pretty much a part of our own group; we hang out all the time. Yeah, it’s frantic, especially with TV now. TV, they want guys so fast. They want guys to ride straight up on the podium! The biggest concern for us is obviously getting our brand forward, but so do the other guys. It’s their job. The team wants the hat, the drink company wants the water bottle, and the athlete needs water poured on him so he can cool off! You just find a way to make it all work.
How important is it for all that to actually happen?
It’s what we pay for. TV time is what we’re all vying for and the podium is the only opportunity besides track time. If a guy is riding well, obviously TV is going to watch him, but the podium is the one opportunity where we pay that rider, or that team, to represent us. That’s what we’re there for. It gets dealers pumped too. If they see the brand winning hopefully they want to get some in stock to sell to their customers. That’s the end goal.
What’s your favorite part of this job?
Hanging with the riders. I really enjoy that and I’ve become good friends with all of our athletes. I’ve been really good friends with Shorty [Andrew Short] for ten years now. I’m good friends with Trey [Canard], Weston [Peick], Zach [Osborne], the team owners, all those guys. I really enjoy their company. We’re pretty involved as a company. We have ride days, we have barbecues; I like that part of it. But I hate the travel. I absolutely hate it. I’m over being on airplanes. That part is evil to all of us I think.
Yeah, you have to be dedicated if you’re going to be in this industry a long time.
You hear it all the time: it’s a lifestyle choice. We’re all here because of the love of what we do. We all love dirt bikes, races, everything about all of it. My wife married me when I was a mechanic and she’s been part of this for a long time too. I have a 3-year-old, and it’s hard to travel every week, but this is what I do. It’s what I love. I love our sport and everyone in it.
Everyone? Even Matthes?
That’s debatable. Today he’s on my good side. We had a good meeting in the office and we chatted, we’re on good terms. Next week, probably not. He’ll probably say something to change it. But like I said, we’re a big dysfunctional family. Even though we’re all competitors, whether Fox wins or Fly Racing wins, or whoever, we can all go out afterward and have a beer and be normal with each other. It’s hard to find that in some sports. That’s the thing about motocross—we’re all here for the same reason.