How cool is it when we get a chance to do something we love? For us Moto folks, we get this feeling anytime we swing a leg over a bike. Now imagine getting to do your dream job! It must be exhilerating doing something you love day in and day out and actually getting paid to do it. Those lucky few really know what it takes to make this happen and we love to pick their brains anytime we can to see how we can inspire others to do the same in the sport we all love. This month we checked in with a young technician on the Rockwell Racing team, Derrick Sorensen, to see how he is living his dream...
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do…
My name is Derrick Sorensen, but I’m known as Drizzy in the pits, I am 19 years old. I’m originally from Utah currently living in Arizona. My life outside of being a race technician consists of being a general mechanic. I guess if I’m not outdoors mountain biking, camping, or shooting I’m probably working on my car or someone else’s car or bike. I’m the type of person who loves to be tinkering with things and I love problem solving.
How did you get into Moto?
Unlike most people in the industry or sport I didn’t grow up racing and I didn’t start riding until “later” in life when I was 12. I was always into sports and I always wanted a dirt bike, but it wasn’t really financially possible until I was 12. From then on out my story is the same as everyone else’s. I fell in love with it.
What motivated you to be a tech?
Since I started riding late I wasn’t going to make a career out of riding. I hadn’t thought about making dirt bikes my career until my sophomore year of high school when my 250 blew up. I mean I was always fixing things and taking things apart and was mechanically inclined, but really my only experience working on bikes was stuff I learned from YouTube when my bike was having issues. Things like how to clean the carburetor, fix a sticky throttle cable, setting sag, and other stuff like that, but when my bike blew up I had to find someone. So I started searching online for a good shop and ended up finding Matt Jory at Proven Moto. It turned out that his shop was only like 7 minutes away from my house and once I found out his background in racing I knew that I wanted him to build my bike. It wasn’t until I met him and saw his shop that I first had the thought that the only way to be at the races on Saturdays as anything other than a spectator was to be a professional race technician. Money was still tight then and so he told me that if I brought him the motor out of the bike it would be cheaper. I pulled the motor out that night and brought it to him the next day. Once the motor was done I picked it up and put the whole bike back together. The first time I started that bike up it was so satisfying to know that I had the bike torn down to the frame and then put it all back together, so the idea of being a race technician was set in stone
How did you start your on your path to becoming a professional tech?
Once I decided I wanted to be a technician I knew that I needed to get more involved in racing and make the transition from single track rider to racer, so through Matt I met Colby Sorensen. Colby is a local pro in Utah and was starting a riding school. I took a few lessons, but again money was tight. Colby was great and said that if I came and helped him maintain his track and help with some of the younger kids then I could ride for free and he’d give me pointers every now and then. But I still needed to figure out where I was going to learn more. Enter the ever so attention grabbing MMI Facebook ad. I went from clicking on the ad to having a recruiter at my door in the matter of a few days and I ended up enrolling. My start date wouldn’t be until after I graduated highschool, so there was still a lot of time for me to change my mind, but I stayed involved and actually was taking auto shop at the time and found out about a competition called skillsUSA where highschool kids compete at the state level in various trades. Well it turned out there was a motorcycle mechanic competition and if you placed you got scholarship to MMI. I found out how to get signed up and my first year competing (I was a junior at the time) I took third in state and won 3000 dollars in scholarship money to MMI so after that there was really no going back.
Going into my senior year I was planning on competing again and winning, so I spent months practicing, but only ended up taking second in state. It was good for another 5000 dollars in scholarship money. After graduation I worked for the summer and then moved out to Arizona to go to MMI. I learned very quick that MMI sets you up to go to a dealer and not to go to a team, so I reached out to as many people as I could asking if anyone would let me come to the races even if it was just to wash bikes. I really just made everything in my life revolve around bikes and doing well at MMI. Eventually, after messaging people another pro from Utah Shawn Yarbrough messaged me back and said he could use help at Phoenix and believe it or not that was my first time even being at a Supercross race. It was one hell of a way to experience Supercross for the first time. It was a dream come true, and after that I ended up helping Devin Sorensen (also no relation) out in St. Louis.
From there it was basically just messaging everyone I could and trying to go from round to round and help people out while going to school. One of the people that I also ended up helping out was Bryce Stewart at Salt Lake. We clicked well and I told him if he needed any more help to let me know. Bryce also mentioned he might need help at the first three rounds of outdoors and so from then on out I kinda stuck with him. I drove out to Vegas SX to be there for him and ended up driving back and forth from Phoenix to his house in California every weekend until the AMA Outdoor Nationals started. Things were going well and I decided that I wanted to take a break from school and stick with him when racing headed east. I was with him up until about Unadilla. Once I got back to school I started the MMI K-Tech program and was talking with Devin about doing east coast once I graduated. (We’re pretty good buddies now so shout out to him!). I ended up finding out that Rockwell watches had a team and needed someone. Shawn was working for Rockwell at the time so I hit him up and got in contact with Ryan Clark the team owner and Chris Elliot the team manager and sent in my resume. I guess they liked what they saw and said I had a spot on the team, the only problem was I was supposed to take the Suzuki fast program and I wasn’t gonna graduate until February, well I decided real quick I’d be better off working with the team than taking Suzuki so I dropped it and graduated as soon as I finished K-Tech at MMI. I graduated on a Thursday and was at the track that Friday. I’ve been with them ever since.
What are your daily responsibilities as a technician for Rockwell?
My day to day responsibilities for Rockwell Racing depend on if it’s a regular weekday or race day. During the week I usually will wash the bike and tear it down on Monday and clean,grease and polish everything on Tuesday, and assemble on Wednesday. I like to just put music on and go through my routine. I try to talk to my rider AJ Catanzaro during the week and form a game plan for the weekend and debrief, if you will, about the past race. During the weekend my job is pretty simple, myself and fellow Rockwell Racing mechanic Eric a.k.a. "Jelly" set up the semi and get the bikes through AMA tech inspection. Saturdays are usually pretty crazy and the only things I worry about are the bike and AJ. The bikes get ran through and checked over completely before they go out for each practice and race. And besides that I just make sure AJ is happy with the bike and doesn’t want to make any changes.
During the pre-season and off time I am responsible for maintaining the shop and fixing or fabrication various things around the shop. Me and Jelly usually team up to take inventory and clean. Going back to race day it’s for sure awesome to be with Rockwell because there’s always a crowd of people and there’s so much going on with Nuclear Blasts set up and the Justified crew doing their thing selling their apparel. I mean for A2 FXR brought out a really trick snowmobile and at Houston we had a fully set up Timbersled, so that brings a lot of people over.
Rockwell is one of the coolest teams in the pits. What is the vibe like under the tent with the guys from your perspective?
As far as the team goes everyone vibes pretty well. Ryan Clark is definitely the mentor type and is so helpful to have around, Chris is like the team mother in a way because he is always making sure everyone has what they need and everyone is taken care of. Chris Sharpe handles things on Rockwell’s end and is always keeping things running smoothly and brings the two sides together really nice. Jim is our team cook and is the unsung hero. There’s not a single person that doesn’t help out in their own small, but major way. That’s why it’s a team because everyone has a job and without all the great people on the team things wouldn’t be possible. Over all I think the vibe is really easy going, a lot of teams have their area so roped off where as we always have people over and up close to the action checking out watches talking to riders, and talking with the Justified crew. It’s cool that so many people in the industry rep our gear so it’s just cool to be a part of that
What is it like working with AJ? What are some things that make him stand out from other riders?
I’ve really liked working with AJ because for one I am a fan and so when I found out I was gonna be working with him I kinda had a "fan-girl" moment. AJ’s definitely very laid back and usually doesn’t ask for a lot and doesn’t change a lot of things so it makes my job really easy. I’m a little bit of a jokester so it’s nice to know I can joke with him and he can take it and it doesn’t throw him off his game. I think what sets him apart is just how likable he is. It seams like he always has a long autograph line and is always talking to someone. Plus I mean it’s the "Cat" and everyone knows he’s got a nasty style and flow. It’s hard not being able to work together durning the week, but I feel like we’ve got a pretty solid rapport going.
What is it like being on the floor during an SX race?
To be on the gate during the night show is unreal! It’s so cool to see all the people and know that there’s people in the stands that wish they could be in your shoes. It’s so cool to me when people will see me after the race when we go out to eat and say, " Hey nice job the bike looked great all day" or people will ask me questions about the bike while I’m doing my run through and it almost makes you feel like a celebrity. It’s just cool to be a part of something especially when it’s your dream. Not very many people get to live their dream so it’s rad.
What is the most fun thing about your role?
Again, I’d have to say the most fun thing about being a technician is being on the floor and talking to people and getting to see the bikes on tv or pictures and knowing that you were a part of that. But I’d also say that being with the team and going to dinner or joking around after the race is always fun too. Really it’s all fun no matter how much hard work it takes I love it.
What are some things you’ve learned that you didn’t expect to?
I think the biggest thing I’ve learned that maybe I didn’t think I would is really just how much it really takes to keep a team going and how much effort everyone has to put in. I’ve learned how to be better at certain things and definitely how to be resourceful, but I expected to learn that. So by far it’s just seeing how much goes into things
What are some misconceptions that people have about tech’s?
I think the biggest misconception people have about techs is that we only work on bikes, where as I have many different hats and play many roles. It’s really a full time thing and a lifestyle. I also think people assume we have secrets and use magic when really it’s just a lot of common sense, practice, and routine. It definitely takes more than just being a good mechanic though , you have to know how to talk to your rider, play mental coach, and sometimes detective.
What is one thing that you would change about the industry if you could?
It’s hard to find something I’d change about the industry just because honestly this sport is so great. But if I could change one thing about the industry it’d probably be how expensive it is to be a part of. Tracks are getting more and more expensive to ride at. Bikes cost more than ever. Gear is expensive. I know it kept me out of racing when I was younger and I feel like it’s keeping a lot of other people out of the sport too.
How do you overcome the fear of starting out at this level and making mistakes?
I think for me I was never afraid of starting out because it’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to get my shot and I wasn’t afraid of mistakes because I knew I was going to make them. I think the biggest help for me has been just telling myself that I belong. New things are always scary to some degree, but it’s important to just embrace it
What are some skills that others can use to get where you are?
I’d say the most important skill you can have as a mechanic is the ability to think outside the box and be organized. Organization is key! Give yourself timelines and schedules or a routine or list. Find what works for you and refine it. But by far the most important skill to have to get to where I’m at (which isn’t very far by the way, I’ve yet to accomplish anything substantial) is perseverance. People skills help a lot as well. I’ve quit jobs to go racing, I’ve been broke, I’ve lost sleep, I’ve invested all my time and energy into my goal.
What advice do you have for other young tech’s who are just starting out?
So to summarize I think what it boils down to for me is the fact that I’m never satisfied, no matter what I do I know I can do better, and the key for me is I’m brutally honest with myself. I sit down and evaluate things and I think to myself, "Am I really doing absolutely everything I can be? Where can I improve and if somethings not working am I tryin to change it?" I think that knowing I’ll make mistakes like everyone does (even the top mechanics and riders do), but choosing to learn from them instead of getting discouraged about it has helped. When I make a mistake it lights a fire underneath my ass because I see it as a spot to learn and grow. But at the same time instead of worrying about what I’m not good at I found what I was good at and doubled down on it and became tunnel visioned. It just happens that dirtbikes was that thing that I found. So anyone that wants to do this can if they really want it. You can't just say that you want it. There’s no reason that anyone can’t be or do anything they want. The formula is simply hard work and dedication. The best place to start is changing what you can immediately to be better, so don’t wait to meet the right people. Instead go find them! Don’t wait to be taught, go learn! Go to the track or go work on your own bike. Just make everything you do in life about achieving your goal. Then, once you get your shot worry about refining your craft, being organized, getting a routine, trying new things and always-always try to learn more.
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