Photos by: Cycle Dump
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional motocross and Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
If there was an award for the breakout privateer of 2018 in the 450 class, TPJ / Fly Racing’s Dylan Merriam would have the award on lock. In just his second year as a pro, Dylan is making his mark in the 450 class on his privateer Yamaha. The Southern California native has two overall top ten overall finishes so far in the 2018 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship and is currently sitting 15th in the 450MX Championship standings.
In a sport that is dominated by the haves and where the have nots seldom become the haves, it is always refreshing to see a kid who was given nothing pushing his way to the front. Dylan has basically been a privateer his whole life and has earned everything he has ever gotten the hard way, so you definitely will not hear him complain about his situation in our interview below. What you will hear is a kid, as he so eloquently puts it, “trying to turn his idols into his rivals.”
Thanks for doing this, Dylan. I’m curious, where are you based out of right now? Are you flying home to California between every race?
Yeah, I’ve been flying back and forth home to California every week. Been doing that since Supercross.
That has to be a tough program. Where do you do your riding during the week?
Typically I ride Pala Tuesday and Milestone Wednesday or Glen Helen on Thursdays. We really only have two or three good tracks right now, if you can even call them good. They’re hit and miss. (laughs)
Well, those tracks are definitely working for your hard pack skills. Your best results seem to come on the harder packed tracks. Congrats on your second 450 top ten overall last weekend at Budds Creek, and Budds was uncharacteristically hard packed this year as well.
Yeah, I definitely agree. I think they expected some rain, but luckily the conditions were pretty good. The humidity was nasty! It was definitely hard packed, but it got some good ruts in the corners. I actually raced my pro debut in 2016 there and I feel like it’s always kind of had a hard base in a lot of the spots. This year was definitely harder than normal.
This is just your second full year as a pro, and on a privateer effort, you are already running inside the top ten of the premier class. What has it been like racing in the top ten this year?
It’s been awesome. It doesn’t really get any better than that. The goal coming into this year was to try and race inside the top ten as much as possible. A lot of people might have thought it was out of reach, but I know what I’m capable of. The first three rounds were spot on; I was either inside the top ten or right around there. I hit a little rough patch there in the middle: a few bike issues and freak accidents. It was nobody’s fault. I tweaked my back at RedBud so that kind of made things tough, but we came into Unadilla back at 100%. I got a sweet holeshot there and we picked up where we left off after the first three rounds last weekend.
How was racing in the slop of Unadilla? I know, in the end, the results weren’t what you wanted, but the conditions did not look fun. How bad was it?
It was insane! I’ve raced some pretty bad mud races, but that was probably number one. The first moto, the first few laps I got out front and they had ripped it super deep so the mud hadn’t come through yet for the first few laps. So that was pretty awesome. It started to settle in and it got nasty quick. The first moto was better because it was raining during the moto. I had to pull into the mechanics’ area three times for three different goggle issues. I’m not going to get into that, but we made a change last week. For the second moto, it stopped raining, but the damage was done. All the slop started to tack up and it stuck to everything. I had a good start coming into the first turn, but I got blasted from a puddle, couldn’t get to a tear off and went way back. At the end of the first lap, I think I weighed probably an extra 100 pounds. (laughs)
That holeshot at Unadilla gave you a little TV time too. What does it feel like to pull a start like that at a 450 National on a privateer bike against the factory boys? You look left, you look right and you’re like, “Holy shit, I’m getting the holeshot.”
Oh yeah, other than winning a race in the pros—which I haven’t done yet—there’s no better feeling. It was pretty cool and that was definitely the most crucial time in the mud. The start is everything in the mud. To get my first holeshot against all the factory dudes in the mud, that felt pretty cool, not to mention I got to lead almost a full lap. When you’re getting passed by [Marvin] Musquin and [Justin] Barcia and stuff, it doesn’t seem so bad.
When you’re getting passed by those guys and it pisses you off as much as getting passed by anyone, that’s when you’ll really know you’ve turned that corner.
Yeah, one day we’ll get that start and we’ll stay there. They say your idols become your rivals. I look up to people, but now that we’re racing, I gotta beat you.
It has to be crazy battling with those guys in just your second year as a pro. I mean you had some flashes of brilliance as an amateur, but you weren’t one of the top factory amateur kids.
For sure, coming out of amateurs I was on my own. I did win a Schoolboy Championship at Lorettas, but then I went to the A class, got hurt and disappeared. I think people underestimated me too. I could never go into a season healthy. This is my second year as a pro, but this was the first year I went into Supercross and then outdoors 100% healthy. I think that’s why I was so confident and did so well at the first three rounds. In the beginning like at Hangtown and Glen Helen when I was starting inside the top five or top ten in the first moto and then I go back to the line for the second moto, I feel like these guys start looking at you like, “What’s this punk doing? Do we have to keep passing him every moto.” Then, if you get enough good starts and you make them have to pass you enough times, they start think, “Okay, I think he’s worthy of being up there.” That feels good too. I feel like from riders, to mechanics and everyone, they start looking at you differently. When you’re doing good they look at you, they acknowledge you and it’s pretty cool.
What would you say the toughest part of being a professional privateer is? I know most guys are losing money outdoors, but is that the toughest part for you?
I would say the bike side of it. I have a lot of good people helping me out financially at this point, but when you’re on a factory team, every race you’re getting new suspension, new clutches, new clutch cables, new motors if they need it, new brakes. Everything gets done and they’re so on top of it because they have such a big budget. At one round I had an issue with a battery and I had to borrow a battery from factory Yamaha for three races. The company I’m using is the same one they use, but they’re not in production yet so they had to build me a new one. Just being a privateer, you don’t have the access.
Have you been contacted by any of the second tier type teams? I know this is just outdoors and teams want to know you can do it in Supercross, but you I think you showed some skills indoors in 2018 as well. You made two 450 mains and when you got a couple race deals with Cycletrader you finished a very solid 12th at Salt Lake in the 250 class.
No, there’s nobody specific that’s contacted me, but I’ve been personally reaching out to a bunch of teams the last few of weeks. I haven’t heard anything back yet, but I’m about to reach out to more today. Nothing set in stone. I had an offer from someone I can’t name yet who has a smaller 250/450 team who mentioned helping me out. I would get basically bikes, mechanic and all of 450 SX paid for. I would have to cover flights and hotels. I really like the 450 outdoors, but in SX I would enjoy being on a 250, so I’ve been reaching out to teams like Cycletrader, Ti-Lube, AJE and teams like that. Very quality teams that are just below the factories, and hopefully I hear back from one of them.