Every rider who tries their hand at racing professionally deals with struggles—be it financially, on a support level, what have you—and each and every one of these guys can use help in some way. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Dean Wilson has become familiar with the grit and grind that the life a privateer racer encompasses—as he did just that for the first five rounds of the 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship.
Despite being in a situation where he’s had to put together his own program, he’s decided to give back to his fellow “Privateer Island” mates. While it hasn’t been publically known, each week Wilson chooses a privateer racer that he feels is deserving for their hard work, and grants them with $150 via the Deano Merch Privateer Gas Card. While Wilson has moved over to the factory team for the rest of supercross, he hasn’t forgotten that every little bit of support helps.
We caught up with Dean to talk about his gas card program and how much he learned about the everlasting grind of the privateer life.
Racer X: You’ve been doing your own deal as a privateer for a little bit now, but you’ve still been giving back to other privateers. I just kind of want to talk a little bit about how that whole deal even came about.
Dean Wilson: The Deano Merch Privateer Gas Card came about this year. I wanted to actually do it last year, but I ended up getting hurt. So we ended up doing it this year and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. The reason I do it is because I know what it’s like to be in that position. It’s only $150, but it definitely makes a difference whether that goes to gas or a hotel or whatever. It helps. So I just wanted to help a rider out every weekend. I think it’s just something that I do because I know what it’s like to be in that position and I know every little bit helps. I like to give back and help out a little bit.
Was it kind of one of those things where when you were putting your program together you were like, “Let’s figure out a way that we can help other riders too?” What made you decide on gas money?
Just because when you’re a privateer like how I was, you’re generally not flying to the races. You’re in a sprinter [van] or you’re in [another vehicle], so generally you have to travel to the races. I just think that any little bit helps. To have your gas covered, that’s one expense that you don’t have to pay. So $150 can go a little ways. I had such great support from all my fans supporting Deano Merch and getting merch from me that that’s why I call it the Deano Merch Gas Card, because really it’s all the fans that support me that helps me support the privateers. So it kind of just goes in a little bit of an effect where I get the support from the fans and then I try to support the privateers a little bit.
What’s the criteria? You’re out there racing, so you’re not really watching what other guys are doing. How do you pick who gets the card every week?
Obviously they have to be a privateer. It’s really who’s putting in a good effort on the track and a good result. It doesn’t always have to be the best result, but really it’s about the privateers that are trying hard, they’re putting in their best effort and doing all they can. I feel like that’s the same position I was in where I was putting in my best effort and doing the best that I can, so I feel like that’s kind of what I look for when it comes to privateer, someone that’s putting in some pretty good results. Last weekend was Martin Castelo. He got sixth at San Diego, and that’s a huge result for him. I was glad to be able to help him out. Every weekend it’s kind of something fun for me to do. Also takes my mind off of the racing, thinking about racing 24/7. It’s cool to give back a little bit. It’s not the most money, but it’s better than nothing.
Will you help out mostly 250SX riders or will you pick a 450SX rider when you think they have earned it?
It’s 450 and 250. I gave Martin Castelo his and he was in the 250 class. The first one I gave was I think Carlen [Gardner]. He was the first rider to get it. It was him, Chris Blose, Jerry Robbin, and then Martin Castelo. It’s any class. It doesn’t really matter.
I guess it kind of gives you an excuse to go back and re-watch some of the LCQ’s too. Those get to be pretty gnarly. Last weekend’s 250SX LCQ, that was a shit show.
Yeah [laughs], it was wild. It’s pretty tough being a privateer. I was talking to Cole Martinez who is riding really well at the moment and really like a top 15 450 rider and he doesn’t even know how he’s going to get back out East. I felt so bad. He was trying to figure it out, and it sucks. It’s tough being a privateer. I know I’m not doing a whole lot, but it’s better than nothing. So I’m glad I can help a little bit.
What’s the reception of the riders been? Just stoked to have a guy like you giving back? What’s the overall vibe been whenever you present these guys with the gas card?
Most of them are pretty stoked. I think they’re kind of surprised at first. At first when I did it, I didn’t really make an announcement that I was giving away a gas card or anything like that. I just did it because I want to help out. So they’re pretty stoked. It’s just something that’s almost for fun, too. It’s kind of a laugh. Like, here’s a gas card. It’s a big, huge gas card. Just to help out a little bit. It’s not something I take super serious. Just help someone that put in a good effort and got the gas card. They’ve all been pretty happy and stoked on it. It’s been pretty cool so far.
Can you talk a little bit about what the whole process of building your own program was like and maybe what you learned about yourself as far as going out and telling companies, this is why you should take a chance on me?
Yeah, that’s been a huge part of my program this year is outside sponsors because that’s pretty much a lot of what I was relying on to go racing. Really it was tough for me because I don’t have an agent anymore so I was doing everything on my own. So I really had to put myself in uncomfortable positions that people don’t like to be in, but that’s what it took to get the job done. I’d have to walk in offices, talk to the biggest boss of the company, and pitch them my idea. You have this quote it’s like, “You’re not going to hit a home run if you don’t swing the bat.” So I was swinging my bat all off-season trying to make stuff happen. Things just started coming together with Ignite, AGL Grass, Lulu Lemon. It’s pretty crazy how it all comes together. I think that’s just from never really giving up on what you want. If there’s an opportunity there, you just have to go for it. That’s kind of my way of thinking. You just got to go in there, even if you don’t want to, and just kind of what needs to be done. I don’t like really speaking in front big sponsors and stuff like that. When it comes to the business side of things, it’s not what I like to do, but it’s what you have to do. So it’s a big learning year for me when it comes to growing up and handling all my own stuff.
Do you think that’s helped you build as a professional in the sense that you’re not afraid to kind of get gritty and get in there and make these deals happen?
Right, exactly. It’s just so much learning as a person this year. I pretty much put my whole little program together myself with help from some good people, but a lot of it was on my plate. I was riding and training, but when I wasn’t riding and training I was answering emails. It was like my brain didn’t stop thinking for a long time. I’d go to sleep thinking about stuff. I’d wake up thinking about stuff, because stuff needs to get done. In a way, going into Anaheim  it was a relief to have everything done, and then all we had to do was go racing, but at the same time it’s a lot of work and load on yourself as a racer because not only are you riding and training and racing, you’re handling ordering parts. So much stuff goes into it. Making sure you’re entered for the races. You’ve got to get your physical before the races. Talking to your sponsors. There’s so much. It’s crazy. So it’s been really good for me learning all this stuff. I think you can use it later on in life in other aspects.
It seems like ultimately you’re still the happy Dean Wilson that we know in the pits. What do you attribute that to? Just the fact that you were building your own program and having fun riding your dirt bike? Or just kind of a new outlook? How would you answer that?
I think I would answer that just from everything I’ve been through. I’ve been through really the worst of times with injuries and just so much going on in my life. I love what I get to do and it’s putting stuff in perspective that I get to race a bike for a living, and I think that’s awesome. So why not enjoy being there? There’s so many races I used to go to where I just put so much pressure on myself because I wanted to do so well, but it would do a reverse effect and I would ride terrible, I would get hurt or whatever. I want to be happy. I want to enjoy what I get to do. This doesn’t last forever. You put in the work and enjoy what you do and that’s really the way I look at it now. I look at it different than how I used to. I’ve been through a lot of injuries and dealt with a lot of BS, I guess you could say. So just being at the races and to be racing at the top level is awesome. I just want to keep putting in good results and having fun [in] what I’m doing and the rest will follow. That’s kind of how I look at things now.
Getting back to the other privateers, when you take what you’ve learned, what advice or tips would you give to other privateers as far as, “look what’s possible?”
I don’t want to say never giving up because sometimes people are in positions where it’s not realistic, but for me I could say that I just never gave up. I had a vision and I believed in myself that I could still do it, so I put everything into it. So I really think it is all in the mind. If you really believe that you can do it, you put every ounce of your soul into it. I feel like that’s what I did this off-season. I’d done everything I possibly could to be the best I could by Anaheim 1. So if I was to give a message to any privateer it would just be if you really want it that bad then you’re going to have to do stuff that you never did before and sacrifice and commit yourself. I think some privateers want to be pro just to say they’re a pro supercrosser, and then there’s some that want to be on a factory team. It’s just a lot of dedication and commitment that you have to put in to be at the top level.
The more you interact with these guys, does it kind of remind that sometimes you have stories that are more similar than what the fans would perceive? A lot of times fans think factory guys and privateer guys are totally different, when realistically we’re all cut from the same cloth.
I think everybody’s got a struggle whether you’re a factory racer or you’re a privateer. If you’re a factory racer, what comes with that is expectation. You have bosses that are looking at you and if you’re not putting the results in, then you’re going to be looking for a job the next year. There’s a lot of pressure when you’re on a factory team. So I think everybody has struggles, even when from the outside it looks like a factory rider’s made it. It’s not really like that. It’s a constant battle and you’re always just waking up every morning to try and be better than you were the day before. So it’s tough. In that aspect, I think that’s what being on a factory team is. It’s a little bit more pressure. You’re kind of always expected to do well, whereas a privateer you’re just always the underdog so you’re just always pushing hard to do the best you can. You don’t have that side of expectations. I do think that the privateer [route] is always a struggle. Factory life isn’t as much of a struggle, but it’s still very, very tough. Both sides are tough because it’s a very tough sport.
Lastly, you’re still able to keep all your sponsors that you initially started with even though you’re under the factory awning now, correct?
Yeah, for sure. That was a big deal to me because those guys were there in December when a lot of [other] guys weren’t. With Ignite, AGL, those were my two big ones. Best MX has been a big help. I’m stoked to keep those guys. That was a big part of my deal. Those were the guys that helped pay my bills, so I’m not just going to let them go like that.