We got the news last week that former factory rider turned privateer hero Nick Wey was retiring from full-time racing. During the latter part of his eighteen-year career, Wey ran his own team, and exits the sport as a guy that did it the right way. We called up Wey to talk to him about his decision and what’s next.
Racer X: Nick, you announced your retirement from full-time racing and then you immediately got sick this past weekend. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. This must have been a tough decision for you.
Nick Wey: Obviously I’ve known all along that you can’t race forever. I’ve never taken any opportunity or sponsorship or race for granted. I’ve always tried to be prepared and do my best and be appreciative. I definitely understood that I couldn’t race forever, but at the same time I’ve known too much about how bike setup and things can help your overall results and how much easier it is if you have a good bike. I know you’re wasting your time if you don’t have that. I’ve kind of been through all those scenarios.
That knowledge led me to do my own team so I could do it the way I wanted to. Obviously that’s been a struggle at times and I learned a lot as it’s gone. I’ve gotten more support each year. I spent all summer training and doing things that I knew I needed to work on myself. I found a bunch of stuff on the bike that helped me during the very end of supercross where I was able to get some top tens and semi wins. I feel like I was quite a bit more competitive than I was at the beginning. Then this off-season I did quite a bit of testing with Showa and we developed a new version of the air fork in which they were going to supply me works versions of a fork and shock, and my own technician. So I had a lot of support set up for this next season, but I couldn’t necessarily make the sponsorship side make sense.
Once supercross ended in May I was looking around and I had fifteen bikes sitting here, eleven of them which I bought. So it was like, I need to kind of regroup and see how much money I’ve spent on this team stuff and how much money had gone out versus how I was doing sponsorship-wise. Really I just needed a partner to come in and help so I could hire more employees to help with things, so I could really do the best I could instead of doing most things on my own. But that didn’t necessarily work out. I’m not going to field the full season. I don’t even really have any plans to race at all at this point. I’ve been riding and training like I was going to race until this last week here. That’s kind of how things came together.
Obviously it’s pretty late, but would you or could you ride for somebody else? Or was it just what you said, where you know you need a certain level of equipment?
There’s one thing of having your bike be competitive and another thing of riding a bike that’s not necessarily safe. So there are a lot of factors that went into me doing my own thing. For one, I knew what I was getting into. I chose what I wanted to use—the parts, whatever. I had peace of mind safety-wise because I’ve been on both ends of that—having a bike that wasn’t competitive and having a bike that maybe was fast enough but wouldn’t last very long. I don’t think at my age there’s necessarily a huge upside for me to do a bunch of learning as to a new team setup or a new manufacturer at this point, to be honest.
So it’s one of those things where you want to do it your way and that’s it?
If I’m realistic, no matter how I do if I were to race this year, it’s not like I’m going to take Kawasaki’s Monster deal [and score huge sponsorship money]. Nor am I in a position where I’m going to just lay a million dollars out and just help a bunch of kids either. I know how it is. There’s not necessarily a lot of sponsorship to cover costs. Ideally when I first started my own thing it was like, you know what would be awesome down the road is to try to have a kid or two and I could kind of show them the ropes. We could get a competitive bike through the relationships that I have and we could have fun.
Maybe it would be something through Team Green or another manufacturer to where they didn’t necessarily have a team that was at the right level for some riders, compared to the level that would be at Pro Circuit or whatever. So I spent years selling that type of thing to these manufacturers and these other sponsors and there’s just not a lot of money out there to make sense of it, to be honest. I even tried to do something with Jake [Weimer] and some other folks. It’s tough. I talked to Kawasaki for a long time about doing something with Josh Grant this fall. Everybody’s pretty tight.
I know you won’t just stop racing whether it’s RedBud or some European races or whatever. Would you fill-in for someone for a few weeks if it came to that and do you agree with me that you’ll race somewhere, someplace?
I like to ride and I like to be at the track and hang out with my buddies. It comes to a point… there’s not a huge upside. I’m fairly confident that I can do well in all aspects of the business side of motocross, or whether it’s not even motocross. At a certain point I need to kind of take it as what it is for me, essentially a hobby at this point. I can’t make enough money doing it to be like, I’m all in, I’m going to spend all this money on a trainer and really eat right and do this and that. It may have come and gone. If there was an opportunity for me to take a bike to a couple races and have fun, cool. But as far as doing five or six races, that’s maybe too much.
What about a testing gig? If there’s something that you can do, it’s test a motorcycle and make it better.
Honestly, for years I’ve been doing stuff with Dunlop, so that will continue. I like to be at the track. I have supercross suspension on my bike. One of the bikes I have now that I’ve been riding is Showa. We’ve been developing their next version of the air fork, which is cool. So all that stuff is not necessarily a job, it’s kind of like a hobby. I appreciate their help but I can’t be like, “Let’s go spend these high fives I got at the track.”
It’s going to be a weird feeling not having you on the line for the first time since 1998. Will you be at the race? Will you go and sit there in riders seating?
I’m sure I’ll be involved. Going there and just primarily spectating is probably not going to happen. I’d be pretty bored. I’ve had some calls already this last week about some opportunities at the races to do some things. We’ll see where that leads. My brother’s been doing really well with insurance back home in Michigan. I might do something with him there on the side also. There are a lot of things that I’ve kind of been working on, but at this point I have a lot of bikes and stuff… I think I have twelve sets of suspension that I need to start thinking about maybe getting rid of.
Career highlights for you? Obviously there’s the Millville win and those 450 supercross podiums also, and a ton of 125 supercross podiums.
I think I got four 450 supercross podiums, and quite a lot of 125/250 Lites class ones. A lot of the times the stuff that I was most proud of was when the cards were down and I didn’t quit. Not that quitting was ever an option, but I kind of dug in and reestablished myself.
Like crashing at Millville and breaking your back.
Yeah, but there are tons of times before that even. I think it kind of gave me the confidence that I didn’t necessarily need to have the sweetest team around. My dad worked so much for me to be ready to go to these races. As an amateur I wasn’t the guy, but I was pretty high profile for that time. Even then I didn’t necessarily get treated that way by my main sponsors. The first year I raced pro I rode supercross, outdoors and had my own mechanic and then I had to go to Loretta’s also. I kind of just made it work no matter what my circumstance was. I think that’s what I’m most proud of, to be honest.
You’re not a guy to really look back or look at a bigger picture thing, but you’ve had a lot of positive things happen to you in the industry whether it’s the results, which speak for themselves, or off the track. I don’t think you had any sponsor relationships that went south. I think every rider out there respects you. You've raced them hard and they still like you. To me, it’s a really great career, on and off the track.
Growing up I was really into racing. I rode a lot and I did well. I got support from Kawasaki at a pretty young age, but I remember setting my alarm for like 2:00 in the morning and waking up and recording the races on a VHS tape. That’s when supercross was on. I never saw any other bikes in someone’s truck on the freeway. Coming from Michigan I was lucky enough to have five to ten tight friends that we rode with quite a bit together. It just so happened that one of my dad’s friends from when he grew up, they moved into a place that wasn’t so far from us with 80 acres. It was like one of the sweetest places around. It wasn’t uncommon for me to just have friends over and ride. That’s what we loved to do. Was I better than a lot of the kids that came there to ride? Yeah, but I just liked riding. I was always stoked on riding. It was fun for me.
I’ve had really good friends that literally are great riders, and they pretty much have bought everything their entire life [bikes, parts, gear] and they don’t complain. They’re stoked. So for me to be able to get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars, even millions over my career, regardless of the circumstance and how much better it could have been, it’s hard for me to say, “I could have done way better if this dude wasn’t a dick.” Or, “That sucks, I got fifth in supercross and would have got top five outdoors but I was the only two-stroke out there and I get clipped and then I ended up a privateer” like what happened at Suzuki. No, I learned a lot while I was with those guys and I made it work.
I think your sponsors and fans and everybody else can understand that. If it was all about money and results to you, you would have hung it up a couple years ago. You clearly love to race dirt bikes.
Ultimately I had some deals where I had stuck with the privateer team and made more money than I could have on a factory ride. I can’t necessarily say I could have gotten this or that or I could have done this, because I was confident that with the equipment that I had I could get the results I needed. Whether it was with essentially stock cams and stock everything else but a piston and a pipe and thinking that’s going to do it for me. Looking back maybe it wasn’t the best move but I just had the confidence in myself. And I kind of got a bad taste in my mouth with people acting like they were so smart and everybody needed them, it’s just a lot of smoke and mirrors. It kind of wore me out. I didn’t necessarily like how people acted, some of them. If I had something else that I could do that I could make more money and not necessarily have to deal with the egos, then sweet.
Who do you want to thank?
Obviously my family growing up, even to this day, they’ve been a huge supporter of mine. I couldn’t have done it without my parents, obviously. Even having my own kids now I can’t even fathom how much they took me riding and racing. Without them I wouldn’t even have been able to have a chance at a professional career. Obviously my wife Nicole has been there for me through thick and thin for the bulk of my career, honestly. Without all of them I wouldn’t have gotten very far.
But I definitely owe a lot to Jeff Stanton and his family for kind of showing me the ropes. I met them through Ron Heben, who is another guy that I respect and definitely learned a lot from. He was a manager at Team Green at the time. He had a relationship with Stanton and Stanton kind of took me under his wing and showed me what I needed to do and gave me advice the majority of my career. He was obviously a great rider himself but I think he’s probably a much better guy than he was a racer, which is pretty hard to say because we was an awesome racer! So those guys, especially. But there’s been so many mechanics, truck drivers, trainers, fellow racers, teammates… You drove my bike across country countless times. Big Nasty, so many guys.
The work in the industry doesn’t necessarily make a lot of sense financially. I can’t necessarily say that it makes sense as a rider all the time, either. You just have to have a lot of passion for the sport. That’s kind of how it goes around. From the riders’ standpoint it’s always like, we’re not getting paid enough, which is 100 percent true, but whether it’s the MX Sports folks, who have all this money on the line to try to build up the outdoor nationals and get more publicity and whatever, they’re there day in and day out working hard. They invest a lot of money out to there to try to make a little bit. Same with Feld. We’re lucky to have the two biggest series in the world here. Could it be bigger and better? Yeah, but it’s not the series or the promoters’ fault. We just need to be able to get more numbers so we can sell more sponsorship or however that’s going to work.
Some of the stuff that I’m most proud of is just coming from Michigan, to be honest with you. The first year that I raced professionally was 1998 and that was the first winter I had even ridden through the winter. My dad, for 40 years he drove a garbage truck and he kept working that job essentially so he could have the flexibility to take me riding and racing. He could go to work when it was 12:00 at night so he could get out at 4:00 in the morning. He could get his work done and have a flexible schedule to come help me, really. That’s a lot of sacrifice. We didn’t have the means to go stay at some training camp or stay at Florida. The first year I was pro, I sat at the Kawasaki track that winter thinking, I should be in like 11th grade right now. It’s kind of weird being out here. So that was like an uphill battle for me from that aspect. And then in 2001, I pointed out of the 125 Class when I knew that I probably shouldn't, but I just couldn’t lay up. Just didn’t have it in me. And then there was no support available and luckily you and I worked it out and you drove me all across the country and I helped where I could. We both got more support the next year, which was cool.
Another time was when I got let go by Suzuki when I was top five in supercross and almost top five outdoors. I was one of the only two-strokes out there. Then it was back to another privateer effort. A good friend of mine built a supercross track at home within the weeks between what was then the U.S. Open and the outdoor nationals. And I just rode and rode and rode on this new stock Honda 250 and I came to the U.S. Open and I ended up getting second to Chad Reed. We got more support for that supercross season and it just snowballed from there. We were able to build more support for them and they spent some money and it was awesome. There were plenty of times where I just had to pick myself up by the bootstraps.