Brent Presnell has always been one of the friendliest and funniest guys in the pits. He has great stories, like the time he was driving a box van to an amateur race and a young Trey Canard and Ryan Dungey were in the back, playing video games, and he fell asleep at the wheel. His box van swerved, Presnell snapped to attention and slid all over the road before finally saving it.
“I saved the sport of motocross,” he said. “During the 2010 season, when Ryan and Trey won the 450 and 250 outdoor titles, I realized that wouldn’t have happened if I had crashed that van. The sport would have never had those guys.”
Presnell is so light-hearted that he sums up a lot of his success to good luck and friendly people. He’s the only mechanic Canard ever had through his days with GEICO Honda and Team Honda, which is impressive since he wasn’t even supposed to be a mechanic.
Trey moved to KTM this year which meant Presnell needed to find a new gig. By coincidence, he found a KTM gig of his own. When Canard retired a few weeks ago, Presnell was the first person he mentioned in his thank you speech.
What’s Presnell doing now? We found him at Loretta’s.
Racer X: Tell everybody your new job. You used to be at every race, but now we haven’t seen you all year.
Brent Presnell: [Laughs] I just kind of faded out and no one seemed to notice. It’s okay. I didn’t take it personally. I was really sad. I hung out in the closet in my room for a while, but I’m good now. I work for the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull KTM team. I’m overseeing the amateur program to kind of give Tyler Keefe [TLD/Red Bull KTM team manager] a break because the man did everything. I don't know how he did it. He just did both, the pro side and the amateur side.
I heard you were pumped you have an office.
I was pretty excited to have an office. Although it was weird because I showed up with my toolbox and all my tools. Then they said: “You don’t really have a work area, but here’s your office.” So, right next to my desk there is the Snap-on box that has all my tools in it. I just have in the office just in case.
Have you used the tools?
I have … to put a clock on the wall.
So, the job clearly doesn’t entail working on bikes?
Not as much. I try to just so I don’t feel like a fraud. That way I know what I’m talking about when I’m talking to the guys. Basically what we do, I’ve really kind of helped them bridge the gap with WP Suspension, and then our engine program we do factory service stuff. So, I kind of coordinate with those guys, the engine rotations and things. Make sure everybody has their stuff.
Do the amateur guys test?
They do. Not nearly like the pro guys. Typically what happens is WP will find a setting and will ask our guys to try it. A lot of times it changes throughout the year. The guys get so much faster through the year, and they’ll say their settings aren’t really working anymore. And then we come out, we get them dialed in, and then they run it for a while.
I’ve always heard young riders—250 pros and especially amateurs—don’t know much about testing. So, your experience there helps, because you can’t maybe rely on the rider so much because it’s the first time they’ve ever done it.
Right. Here’s an example. The biggest thing for the amateur guys, they’ll say it feels harsh. When you watch the bike you can tell it’s actually way too soft. So, what we’ll do is we’ll stiffen the suspension up and they’re like, “That made it way softer. It’s better.” We’re like, yeah, okay, it’s softer, right. [Laughs]
Did you move because Trey was leaving Honda, or is that a coincidence?
I had reached the point to where I was tired of the travel so much, but then after Trey left Honda and went to KTM, there wasn’t a spot there for me anyway. So, our relationship had to come to an end at that point. That really forced me to really find something else, and it’s funny because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I just knew I couldn’t travel as much. So, I was actually calling Tyler Keefe to get in touch with the Troy Lee retail side and just get a 9-5 job kind of thing. Then he said he’d been thinking about having an amateur team manager and wanted to ask if I was interested. I was like, absolutely. It’s been awesome. I’ve really enjoyed it. I found what I wanted to do, I just didn’t realize I wanted to do it.
Do you go to the track with the guys? Do they all live in the same area? Is everybody in California? Are they all over?
They’re kind of all over the place. We have two guys that live in California, and then Pierce [Brown] who lives in Utah, but he stays at MTF [Millsaps Training Facility]. So, the guys in California, I go to the track probably twice a week, maybe three times. I’ll go out there and just watch. Just build a bond and kind of feel. That’s the biggest thing that made Trey and my relationship so good. You spend so much time working together you could read moods based on the progress that was being made or the struggles you had during the week. I wanted to really get to know the guys like that. So, I try to get out with them. You understand the weekends a lot more when you’ve been through the week with them.
So, do you try to establish that with your East Coast guys somehow too?
Yeah, whenever they come out I’m with them every time. We just kind of watch and make sure everything is going well.
So, it was a complete coincidence that Trey went to KTM.
It was. It was funny because we were like, we’re parting ways. It was almost like a breakup, but then having to see each other again for the holidays. All of a sudden we weren’t working together, and then all of a sudden we’re in the KTM family again.
But probably not crossing paths too much?
Not really. We crossed paths at the beginning for team intros and stuff like that.
But you’re not even in that same shop?
Yeah, we’re not even in the same shop. We’re completely separate shop than the Red Bull KTM team. But it has been cool because when I started working under KTM, he started riding a KTM, so we were able to compare what we’ve learned. That probably helped.
You said that you guys actually are still super tight?
Yeah. I do believe I probably talk to him more now. Before I avoided his phone calls because it usually meant something was broke, or he needed something. It meant more work. Now we just call to chat and see everything’s going.
Are you pretty happy for him the way it turned out? I feel like at Millville when he finally had the weight off his shoulders, he seemed happy. I’m sure he has mixed emotions, as they always do.
He does. He doesn’t exactly know what the next move is, but I know that it was really weighing on him, the racing and just trying to push through what he did. I was so happy when he was like, “I’m going to call it. It’s time to move on.” He’s always understood that there’s more to life than racing. So, I’m really excited to see what the next chapter is in his life. I suggested he pick up a hobby, like golf. Something that would challenge him a lot, because these guys would get bored out of their minds.
They need the competitive part?
I think so.
I’ve always heard that Trey is so gnarly on himself. You more than anyone saw how much pressure he put on himself. Always heard the feeling of letting people down and wanting to succeed and to help everyone, that all weighed on him.
Yeah, absolutely. He was the hardest person on himself by far. With each injury—I told him he wasn’t allowed to read comments from people on the internet, but I would read it and I would get fired up and then I would have to stop. You just kind of take all that hatred that people have and I think he put that on himself. I know it was really killing him every time he did something wrong or got hurt.
You were his friend too. You had to try to tell him “Hey dude, it’s okay.”
Absolutely. I had to talk him off a ledge a lot of times.
I just don’t think people sometimes realize that’s how competitive these guys are.
They really don’t. I think people get jaded. They see them as superstars or athletes, but you don’t realize these are real people. I always put it into perspective that if I had a bad day and someone knew about it or whatever, and it was magnified, how bad that would be. If somebody saw me do something stupid, now you think the whole world saw you do something stupid.
You’re the first guy Trey thanked at Millville in his speech. Like, literally your entire path was him. You worked all the way up from the amateur ranks to Team Honda with him.
Yeah, I was really fortunate … to I guess ride his coat tails for the most part.
He’s mentioned how you moved into his house and made the full commitment to him when he was a kid, and back then he wasn’t a guaranteed success.
No, not at all. The biggest thing is I was really close to the family. We were friends and I just really wanted to help him out. I was kind of like, I don't know what I’m doing as far as working on bikes, but I’ll help you through the summer. I was not a mechanic. Not at all. The fact that Trey made it on some of the bikes that I had prepared early on in his career, that’s probably why his luck ran out as a professional. He used it all up from me. But I was really fortunate to have a lot of really good mentors and a lot of really good guys show me the ropes along the way. It was a steep learning curve.
But they all trusted you enough to bring you along.
They did. It’s my personality. I think they just liked me. I was easy to work with, for the most part, I think. I think that has a lot to do with it. Maybe they just felt bad for me and they didn’t want to tell me no.
When he first went to Factory Connection and all the steps, were you always his mechanic?
Yeah, I was always the mechanic. By that time, his last year of amateur with Factory Connection, I had spent a lot of time in California with Kibby [GEICO Honda technical director Christian Kibby] and the whole crew there. Kibby called it putting me through boot camp to where I knew that motorcycle inside and out, procedures, everything. It was good for me.
I even heard when he’d be a free agent at times you guys were kind of a package deal.
He chose Factory Connection over Pro Circuit as an amateur because Factory Connection guaranteed a spot for me. That was one of the major factors. But then after we went through Factory Connection and the GEICO team and won some championships, won some races, I thought I’d proven myself as a mechanic. I figured if he goes to factory Honda, they’ll hire me. He signed his deal with Honda and there wasn’t a spot for me! They were like, “Sorry, we’re full. We don’t have a spot.” So, I was actually probably three or four weeks away from moving back home because there wasn’t a spot. I was done at GEICO. So with Trey I was kind of like, “Well, I did my best. I got you as far as I could. I’ll see you later, man.” And then Eric Kehoe called like a week later and told me a spot opened up and they were going to bring me over to Honda. So, that’s how I got there. When he was finally moving on last year, Trey told me there might not be a spot for me once he was gone. But I wasn’t worried. I told him that if it works out it’s fine. If not, I’m ready to make a change.