I was up in the tower at High Point this past weekend looking at the lineup of 250 Class riders when I saw a dude with a fanny pack and pit board behind his rider that looked like Doug Dubach. The former Yamaha factory rider is a guru of all things exhaust, a 450SX winner, and an all-around good guy.
Turns out, it was! Doug’s helping out Japanese national champion Yusuke Watanabe this summer, and although he doesn’t want to be the mechanic right now, he is. I had to get to the bottom of this with him, so I called him up the other day.
Racer X: Doug, so, like, what’s the deal here? You’re a mechanic again?
Doug Dubach: That started a few years back. Yamaha U.S. was looking for somebody to house and train a wintertime rider. At that time, they had kind of a Star Racing sort of program. It was called the Yamalube team, and Yusuke Watanabe was their 250F guy. So I threw my hat in the ring. I said, “Sure, I’ll help the guy and take him to the track. Kind of share some of my knowledge.” Then that turned into another year. Then I started going there and doing some bigger, week-long projects with them where we trained small kids all the way up through A riders. That relationship built from there.
So they had agreed partway through this—he was coming three years; this is his fourth year now—that if he won the championship, they would let him race here. They do this big, long summer break, which they’re on right now. I said, “Look, you guys are off for six or seven weeks in the summer. Send him over to do a couple nationals. He’ll get his butt kicked and he’ll go back with a little more knowledge and be ready to go for the next time.” It was just, “No, no. We’re testing.”
They always had some excuse, but then they agreed, “If he wins the championship, we’ll let him come over and ride all 12 rounds.” So Yusuke was 2017 MX1 champion. So then here we are. So I don’t have an official title, but I guess you could just call me trainer liaison. I am helping him through all the growing pains of trying to ride 12 new tracks—11, really, because everyone’s ridden Glen Helen—and all the little things that go along with that.
It’s kind of like what Hollywood [Jim Holley] did for years?
And he still does. He’s got a great relationship with many teams over there. I think they still send a lot of guys his way. But for whatever reason—nothing against him. He’s a longtime friend and all that, but I think they were looking for a little more of a serious… Not just housing and here’s a van, go to the track, but someone that will actually take him under their wing. Jim’s doing his thing, and maybe that’s just not his cup of tea or whatever. They liked what they saw when he came back from the first year here. He had a notable improvement. The second year, he was winning races. A couple little DNFs and things kept him from the title that year. Then third year, he won.
So you’re back on the nationals?
It’s great. High Point was so awesome. Driving the little back, secret road from Morgantown into the track. I haven’t been there since probably 2000 or something like that. So probably almost 20 years since I’ve even gone through the front gates there. So that was great for me.
You got to get a mechanic. You can’t be doing this.
Well, it’s just been a little bit of, we thought we had everything under control. You meet, you talk to people, and all of a sudden you get to the first race and you realize the effort was there. He’s MMI and all this, but he just didn’t do things in the way they needed to be done. He’d wash the bike and he would do a lot of fluff. Eating the dessert before the main course kind of thing. Then some problems arose from that. It was something we couldn’t really work through, so we let him go at Colorado. So I did Colorado, and then it’s hard to find a guy well into the series. “Hey, what are you doing for the next eight weeks? We got a job for you.” If you’re any good, you’re probably already working for someone.
Do you enjoy that part of it, or are you actively hoping you find someone real soon?
We’re actively pursuing. That stuff doesn’t bother me. I’ve got to where I think I can get a 250F engine out in about 11 minutes. I’m getting pretty good at that, but it’s not my role. It comforts him because we’ve built a pretty good relationship over the years, so I think he would like to see me, if not his guy from home. We’re kind of in that negotiation. His mechanic from home has a wife and kids and is pretty rooted. He’s not some young single guy that can just pick up and go anywhere. So we’re pursuing it. I do kind of enjoy it, really, to be honest. But it’s not my role. I need to do the other things to help him.
You can help with lines, you can watch the track, the race from above, and offer him race advice.
Exactly. I don’t know if you’ve been in the mechanics’ area, but you can’t see a whole lot of the track.
He’s just out of the points in a lot of motos. What do you think of his performance through the first eight motos?
Very happy, to be honest, because it’s so difficult. People don’t understand. People that just grow up racing against all the fast guys and you roll into your first national, that’s enough pressure on its own, but you’re still starting next to guys who you started with at local TransWorld MX races or whatever. So it’s a big culture shock to come in and line up. He’s qualified every round. He’s finished every moto, short second moto at Mount Morris. A rock hit him and got him pretty good. He had a pretty swollen hand. That was a little unfortunate because he was looking to get maybe his first point, but woulda, shoulda, coulda.
I’ve just been impressed with his fitness and his mental toughness. He gets out there and some of these where he’s got no press day or anything, your feet are in the fire from the moment you get on that track. It’s the no-joke flag, or the wheels on the ground flag or whatever. About a couple thousand yards later, you got to go wide open and you don’t know is this hill the one that’s the double or is this the triple? I’m pretty impressed that he hasn’t chucked himself on the ground—knock on wood—trying to do this. Just go wide open from the moment that clock starts ticking. So he’s made it in every time. Hasn’t had to ride any of the last-chance races. I’m totally happy. He definitely has more in the tank. He’s strong and fit. I think when it gets hot, he’ll do really well because he’s got to race in that kind of weather in Japan. So I’m totally happy. You’re always going to have those teething problems, but I’m looking forward to the next 16 motos. I think he’ll have some stuff that’ll even surprise him.
Are you going to stay back at all? Did you bring a bike to ride a little bit?
I imagine Rob [Buydos] probably sprung my little secret, but my wife actually left this morning with my son, who—his birthday is today. They’re going to Tennessee. It will be a little summer deal for my kid. He’ll get to ride four of the national tracks. But he and I are both riding the 125 [All-Star race] at Southwick. That will be fun. It’s my 55th birthday on June 30 on Saturday at Southwick, so what better thing to do than get your ass kicked by your 15-year-old kid?
If you need some help or something goes astray as Yamaha factory guys, can you go over there and get some help and all that?
Yeah, I’m obviously very tight with all those people from top to bottom. I’ve known them all for a lot of years. I try not to play that card unless I absolutely have to. I really haven’t had to yet. We’re trying to be prepared over on our team. Not a big team, but it’s just like anything. 3D Racing is doing well. They’re providing a good service and a platform for us to get in there and get our feet wet. But so far we’ve been fairly lucky, I guess. You make your own luck, in a lot of ways. Everything has gone okay. Like I said, there’s always teething trouble.
You mentioned not going to High Point for 20 years. Is there another place you’re looking forward to going to? Is there another track? You’ve had great results at all these places.
Probably Millville. I’m going to try and ride, because there’s two 125s in the back of the sprinter that’s probably around New Mexico right now. I want to ride some class—I don’t know what I’ll ride—at Millville. That was my last national. It was 2001. I rode the 125 Class at Washougal. I want to ride one of each class. Washougal was easy, and Millville was always my favorite track. So I did 125 Class at Washougal, and then I rode the 250 Class.
Didn’t you get tenth in 125s? You did pretty good.
I went 7-12 for tenth, and I was 38 years old. So that was quite a nice little feather in my cap. Then I went Millville. I wanted to get top-ten at both, and I freaking missed it. Just bad start second moto. I got all tangled up. I got ninth the first moto. I battled our Japanese buddy, Akira Narita, who was probably 18, and I was 38. Then I was looking good, and then second moto, just didn’t get the start and got bumped around. I could see it was Kyle Lewis and Narita were the next two guys. I had to pass either one of them to get tenth, and I just petered out. Didn’t have it. Stupid trivia, Ricky Carmichael lapped me in exactly the same spot getting the white flag both motos. Same corner, right before the white flag. I thought, man, either he’s really consistent as well as me, or that was just the most dumb luck ever.