The GEICO Honda squad will have a new look this weekend at Spring Creek, as team manager Dan Betley is transitioning into retirement. Betley’s an old-school hard worker of the highest order, rising to fame as Jeff Stanton’s mechanic at Team Honda, then becoming an engine guy for the team, and eventually Team Manager of American Honda’s 450 Class program.
Two years ago, he moved over to GEICO Honda to run the 250 team. But now over 30 years after first coming to Honda, Betley is stepping away for some rest and relaxation. He’ll still help the team for the rest of the season, but Crew Chief Josh Wisenor will be the team manager starting this weekend.
We called Betley yesterday to get his take on the move.
Racer X: What is going on? You’re retiring. This is big news.
Dan Betley: Yeah. I think I’m old enough. I think I qualify! [Laughs] I feel like it was time. I’ve been doing this for a really long time. I’ve had a great career. I look back at over the years and the great people I’ve gotten to work with and I feel blessed.
What made you decide? I guess you’re going to still work for the team a little bit, but you’re not going to the races. Why here? Why now?
I requested to step away at the end of the season. They’re going to be promoting Josh Wisenor to the team manager role. So they’re going to drop him in the deep end early to kind of get a feel for everything. I’m going to play an advisory role, a consulting role for him to help him make the transition as smooth as possible.
So you’re going to be there in the shop during the week and stuff?
I’m going to be in and out. I only live 15 minutes away from the shop. I’m only a phone call away 24/7 to assist Josh or anybody within the team if they need that assistance.
I know you have certainly been part of this traveling circus for a long, long time, but what made you start thinking, I want to do something else?
I’ve been looking for property for a while to kind of lay the foundation for when I was ready. Then I lost my mom in December. I lost my dad what I would consider early. He was fairly young. I’m still young and I’m financially able to do it, so I figured now’s the time. I’m going to call this semi-retired because in six months to a year I could be bored out of my mind, I don’t know. I definitely am not getting back on a plane every week. But never say die, I may end up back doing something, but ultimately, I want to stay busy and enjoy the rest of my life, which means playing with a bunch of golden retrievers and riding my bicycles and go fishing and things like that. In my life, racing and my professional life was always the priority. Everything else came second. Now that’s just dropped to the bottom in my mind and my personal life is at the forefront.
A long time ago, there was a time briefly where you were off the road, right? And then you eventually came back.
Yeah. It reminds me of the movie the Godfather where he goes, “They just keep pulling me back.” I left the road, and when I came back to Honda I was in-house. Started doing engine development with Cliff White. I really enjoyed that aspect of it. At one point, I was heading up the 450 and 250 engine program. Then we didn’t have a team manager anymore. We were only a couple weeks out from the start of A1 and I’m like, who’s doing this? They suggested I try it. So I did, and I kind of became team manager by default. I enjoyed it and it was a whole new aspect of my career. There was a lot to learn and dealing with a lot more of the personalities than I had before. So I enjoyed it, but yet again I always missed just working with my hands. That was my first love.
I know when you moved over to the GEICO team in the 250 squad, I heard it could be a little more hands-on with the development of the bike and stuff. Did that actually happen? Did you feel that way this last year and a half?
Yeah. Actually, once I felt like I was getting settled in, I actually did do some head development. I ground a couple heads. I did a few little things, not a lot though. I think I was more helpful when we had reliability issues with certain parts. I was able to step in and definitely help that direction and understand why that problem happened and try to create a counter-measure so it wouldn’t happen again.
How much did you end up just having to be a manager of people? Was that still pretty much the case the entire time?
The majority of the time. There were times it was 110 percent of my time, and there were other times that it was 40-50 percent. There’s a lot of moving parts there. There’s 20-some individuals with 20-some personalities that you’ve got to work with. So, it was definitely a challenge. More so than American Honda. I enjoyed that at GEICO they were younger and more open to listen, but at times they were also more stubborn and not willing to listen. But it was still a very enjoyable experience. I wouldn't have changed it. I made the right decision. I have no regrets at all about anything I’ve ever done in my career.
You come from the old school. You were around even in the box van days. If you worked with a guy like Stanton, you certainly know the work ethic. Is it sometimes as simple as “Oh now I have to deal with these young kids.” Or are racers all the same? We know Chase Sexton works hard. Is it that much difficult to work with these guys today than a 22-year-old Jeff Stanton, or is it racers are racers?
I think in some respect it’s harder, but it’s not just because you’re dealing with the younger guys. It’s just in general. There’s so many more people around these riders. You’ve got trainers and financial guys and agents and this and that. Everybody thinks they know what’s best for this rider. When I was a mechanic, it used to be just the team manager, myself, and my rider. So now you’ve got all these other individuals that think they know better, and it becomes definitely more of a challenge. Everybody has an opinion. When you think things are getting led down some path that isn’t good, you try to get in the middle of that and sometimes that creates issues.
You don’t seem like the guy that really filters. You pretty much just say what you think. Am I correct in saying that?
Yeah and that’s what’s probably gotten me in trouble over the years a little bit! I am outspoken. I am opinionated. It doesn’t mean I’m always right, and I’m the first to admit when I make a mistake, but some people don’t like that. They don’t want a conflict or even a heavy discussion about what’s best. It just creates issues at times. But that’s who I am. I’ve never tried to be anything else. Sometimes I think it’s benefitted me and other times it’s probably hurt me.
I want to go back to the very beginning of 2017. Honda signs Ken Roczen. You’re the team manager. He dominates Anaheim 1. I remember you telling me in the pits at round two before that main event, which he did win round two also, but you told me, “That wasn’t real. I know how racing works. It looks like we got a new bike and a new rider and everything’s revamped and everything’s amazing.” I remember you saying, “That’s not how racing works. That’s not realistic.” I wish you weren’t right, for your sake, but you really nailed it, unfortunately. It was a high time, but unfortunately it just didn’t last. You knew too much. It can’t be that easy all the time.
No, it’s not. After Anaheim 1, you go to the next race and San Diego was probably one of the best races I’ve ever seen, period, with him and [Ryan] Dungey. It was knock-down, drag-out. I was on the edge of falling out of that managers tower for 20 laps. He won again, then I started thinking, okay, this isn’t bad. This is pretty good. Then it all went bad the next weekend. No regrets, though. To bring him to the team and try to implement some of the changes that we made, everything was just looking up. I think it has still improved. I think Kenny is still a huge part of American Honda and their program moving forward. Even when I was at GEICO, the relationship I had with those guys at American Honda never changed. I think I talked to Erik [Kehoe] a couple times a week and we kept a good rapport and communicated really well.
This year the team ends up winning a title with Chase Sexton. It kind of came quick. How crazy was that to try to manage all that?
Well, after his third practice, he stared flipping out a bit and actually I had to start yelling at him. I actually got pretty heated. I think that’s the first time ever that I can remember as a manager getting really heated with one of my riders. I was more just trying to keep him calm and make him understand how good he actually was. I think everyone starts second guessing themselves. It was the first time he was dropped in this pressure cooker of winning a championship. But it was all good. I love Chase. He has so much talent and such a bright future ahead of him. I think we connected on a couple different levels, which was good. I’m hoping to stay friends with all the riders that I’ve worked with, but I’m hoping to see him and the rest of the guys kind of move up the chain and win some races and championships when I’m gone.
I know that you wanted so badly to get Honda back to winning a premier class title. Just by the math alone, somehow, it’s got to happen at some point. Even if you’re retired, I got to imagine you’ll have a smile.
I am a Honda guy through and through. I am so fortunate for them to even select me to be a race mechanic back at the end of ’88. To have worked with Dave Arnold and Roger De Coster and Cliff White… Those guys, they’re it. They’re the guys. Then to be able to work with them and learn what they brought to the table and learn from them, I can’t say enough about them. I can’t believe Roger is still doing this! Every weekend he’s getting on a plane. When I worked at American Honda, I had an hour drive back and forth from work, and then that turned into an hour and a half, and an hour 45, it just weighs on you. You don’t realize how that affects you and your personality. So when I moved to GEICO, and I’m only driving now 15 minutes a day, that was a huge difference. I can’t believe how many people actually said how much more relaxed I was and seemed so much happier. I think that had a lot to do with just the drive.
At a team manager’s level, is it seven days a week? Is it shop, then travel, then back to the shop?
Pretty much. I try to take a day off before I travel, but if we weren’t testing, I was in the shop. Being a manager, you’re on call 24/7. You get calls at ten o’clock at night on a Sunday or whatever. You’ve got to pick up.
So is that grind pretty much what led to retiring?
Pretty much. I’m no different from when I was at American Honda. I made a statement where I said that if I can’t make a difference, I’m going to step away. But that really wasn’t why I stepped away. It was more of the grind. That grind is still here. Also, I think it’s ultimately more the interaction I have, not just with my staff, it’s MX Sports, it’s Feld [Entertainment], AMA, I think I’m just getting to become a cranky old man and I need to step away before it starts affecting my relationships in my personal life and my professional life.
So you fully admit this? The outspokenness or unfiltered, whatever you want to call it?
Yeah. I think there’s people in the industry that kind of understand that. So I’ve had a few instances this year where I’ve had some discussions with sanctioning bodies, or people within sanctioning bodies, and I just kind of got tainted from those discussions and I think it’s best that I just kind of walk away.
You were mentioning that San Diego race with Roczen a few years ago and you were almost falling out of the managers tower. You’re 30 years in almost at that point, at that level, and it still meant that much. It still meant that much to you.
To have that passion for that number of years and still love what I did, that says a lot. I grew up as a kid wanting to be a race mechanic. That was my dream. There’s not many people in this life that can go, they’re doing exactly what they wanted to do in life. So I feel extremely blessed for that.
You did say, “If the Roczen thing doesn’t work, it’s my ass on the line.” Do you regret having said that?
No. No, because I went out on my own terms there. I didn’t leave because of that. I was just getting burnt and the travel and the drive and everything. I really felt like this move to GEICO would help that, and it did for a period of time. But ultimately again, if I feel like I’m becoming more of a hinderance than a help in any capacity, I’d rather step away and let the cream of the crop rise. It’s time for Josh. Josh is a great guy. He’s incredibly intelligent. What he brings to the table for the team, he does a great job. I think [team owners] Jeff and Ziggy made the right pick for a team manager there.
Sum up what his roles have been and how he worked his way through to this level.
I originally hired Josh back from Alta as a crew chief, but he never really kind of took on that role because we got dropped a brand-new motorcycle and didn’t receive the first one until December. So, we were scrambling big time. So because of his skills in the electrical side, he kind of took over the manufacturing the wiring harnesses and data harnesses and took on all the data analysis. He did a great job at that. So now as a team manager, he’s going to slowly transition to that but he’ll still be able to do that data analysis until we can get somebody up to speed that can do as good a job as he does.
When you went over there to GEICO Honda, I heard “Dan’s going to be a team manager that’s really strong on the technical side.” That seems like what you kind of have built in here with him.
Exactly. I guess you could say I was kind of overseeing the testing and direction, and not that I tried to micromanage anybody, but I just made sure the wheels were on cart going in the right direction, as far as where we were with chassis, suspension, and engine. So that’s kind of the role that I played there.