One of the coolest things about this lifestyle, and the sport we’re fortunate enough to cover on a weekly basis, is the many different people that you cross paths on a weekly basis. To paint the picture of this week’s Privateer Profile, we need to back track just a little bit.
Some of you may remember during the summer of 2017 when I did a ride along with privateer riders Theodore “Bubba” Pauli and Michael Akaydin for the Budds Creek National. During this trip I met Jason Watkins, who volunteered to mechanic for Pauli for a couple rounds of the nationals. I mention this because it may help you understand Jason’s character.
He had never met me, yet without hesitation helped me with any physical help that I needed. I use a wheelchair and sometimes I need help getting dressed and that sort of thing. I had never met this guy in my life, but by weekend’s end I had made a lifelong friend. As you read the following interview, you’ll read a story about a man who doesn’t base his life on materialistic things, or possessions, but rather on happiness, friendliness, kindness, and passions.
Present day, Watkins now works full-time as team driver, logistics manager, and mechanic for the TXS Productions supercross team. His story is unique. How so? Jason has spent the last several years working in the mountain bike industry, traveling the country, and living out of company vans. That’s correct, for the past six years Watkins hasn’t had a home! He still doesn’t, actually—he just travels with the team, works hard, and enjoys his life.
Having spent a lot of time with the TXS Productions team, and Jason himself (he actually traveled with me quite a bit to the races last year to help me with traveling tasks after the company he previously worked for restructured his division and let everyone go) I felt that a man who transitioned from living life as a mountain bike gypsy, to living life as a privateer motocross mechanic, was an interesting tale. Watkins laughs that this wasn’t a step forward, nor a lateral move, but a side-step in his career; from one gnarly/true grit lifestyle to another.
Racer X: Jason, you have kind of a unique story. Just tell us a little bit about that before we get into the motocross stuff.
Jason Watkins: I worked in the marketing department of a few different mountain bike companies, the first being Easton Cycling, the second being Santa Cruz Bicycles, and the third being WTB Components. For these companies, I would travel to mountain bike events or work with the brands’ dealers and we would do events where people would ride bicycles and test ride them out on the trail as opposed to being stuck in the parking lot at a bicycle dealer and having to keep a bicycle brand new. They could beat up the bikes that I took to them.
Talk about the life of being on the road, running these demo trucks. You basically lived in your van, right?
I’ve lived in companies’ vans. I did not have a vehicle of my own for almost seven years. The company vans would be set up as campers, but no water inside of them. So every morning you have to find a place to do your stuff, which if you stayed at a camp ground it’s easy, but I didn't always end up at a campground! We would travel from February until Thanksgiving, so you may work Friday, Saturday, Sunday, but you would travel and live in this van for 10 months at a time. So why pay rent on a spot when you don’t have to? So I went for four years with Santa Cruz bicycles, another year with WTB Components, and I traveled a year on the road prior to that with the women’s road cycling team.
You went from living in a van with mountain bikes, to wrenching as a privateer mechanic. How did you get involved with working with motorcycles, anyway?
Well, I grew up riding motorcycles, racing motorcycles and always working on my own machines, due to budget constraints, shall we say. A lifetime of growing up around motorcycles really has my heart and has a lot of my interest. The whole time working with bicycles I would look at motorcycles. I would ride motorcycles when available. I would talk to people about motorcycles. So the mountain bikes were my living, and the motorcycles were still my passion. There was a time traveling for Santa Cruz Bicycles that we had to go to Canada and at the border they stopped me and asked what I’m doing. When I say that I’m going to work with this mountain bike company, they really did some back checking on me and due to prior trouble that I had before the age of 18 years old, they did not allow me to go to Canada. So with a month of no work, but still receiving a paycheck, I called Bubba Pauli and I also called [flat track racer] Jeffrey Carver, because they are my friends and I had seen on their Instagram that they were going to the races alone. So I said to them, “I have one month off work. If you would like help at the races, I need nothing. No paycheck.” I went to two Flat Track races with Jeffrey Carver, and I went to two outdoor nationals with Bubba Pauli. And of course we remained in contact and remained friends, and this year I asked Bubba if he needed any help and he had this position open, and I decided that I didn't want to go work back in the mountain bike industry. I'm going to work with them and try to make ourselves a good living doing what we all love to do.
What exactly is your job title now with TXS?
If you read it as written with TXS Productions it is driver/mechanic/logistics.
Pretty much doing the same sort of thing where you’re hanging out in the van, driving across the country, just now these machines have engines instead of pedals?
Very much so. And I am dealing with professional athletes instead of the general public. So you go to the event, you set up the tent, you unload the van, you put the van contents under the tent, you take care of the people that are coming to ride the machines, you pack the tent back up and all of the stuff in the van, and you move along to the next city.
Still home-free [laughs], as I’ve heard it described. Which means that you do not have the burdens of owning a home.
This is your first year as a mechanic for supercross. You have one main event under your belt now. What's that experience like, working in the stadiums and being down there on the floor during the races.
I guess you don’t notice that part all that much. Growing up watching this [supercross], I’ve heard that from people, but now actually working there, I feel like that I will be standing in the middle of the crowd, or on the stadium floor, no one’s watching me but yet there I am. It took until about the fourth round that I looked up and realized that there are 40,000 people in the stands. So everyone works and does their job. It doesn't feel that the stands affect that very much or that it’s really anything you notice.
You guys had a little bit of an interesting story from San Diego to Minneapolis. What happened?
It sure was interesting. [Laughs] I was working for bicycle companies in Northern California and I had my personal belongings still in the location of the last place that I worked. So after the Oakland Supercross it was three hours’ drive to go pick up my belongings, including my personal van. So I went after Oakland, picked up my personal belongings and took them to Lake Elsinore where we resided until the San Diego Supercross. After San Diego, we head to Minneapolis. So logistically it worked for me to get my van, drive with the team van from San Diego to Minneapolis and drop my van and my belongings in St. Louis. Along the way, my van has a little trouble around Salt Lake City and I [had to] go to a Freightliner dealer to get it fixed. They fixed it. I end up about half a day behind the team van. In that half day, Interstate 80 was closed in Wyoming and was going to be closed until Friday. We needed to be in Minneapolis on Thursday. So I looked at the next Interstate to the north, 90. 90 was closed. I look at the next Interstate to the north, 94. 94 was open. So I take Interstate 94. One day later after driving, I am in North Dakota and they close the roads from Fargo, North Dakota, all the way to Minneapolis. I pull over at a local diner, and was going to get food of course, but also speak with the locals and try to get their knowledge about the backroads to get from there to Minneapolis. While in the diner, I met a local firefighter who takes me around in his 4x4 firefighter truck to look at the roads, because he wanted a report on the roads for himself. He drives me around and we look at the roads and there is no chance of my van making it. He offers for me to stay at his house for the night, which I do. We get up the next day. We go outside, try to start my van. My van is frozen solid. It will not start. It will barely turn over.
What’s the temperature at this point?
The temperature was -28 Fahrenheit that morning. So, we tried to get my van running for a few hours, but it’s Thursday. I need to get to Minneapolis for the race. So, he offers to loan me his mid-90’s Lincoln Town Car to drive five hours to Minneapolis and then return on Sunday with the Lincoln Town Car. His car!
And you’ve never met this guy in your life until this moment?
Met him at the diner at noon the day before, yes. Never met before in my life. So, I take his Lincoln Town Car to Minneapolis. We do the race and I drive back and return the car to him on Sunday and stay with him another two days while we get my van into a garage to sit in the heat and thaw out. Then we go to Bismarck, North Dakota, to get a battery and a fuel filter and some parts. We go back to the shop and the next day they have it running and I carry on to St. Louis where I dropped my stuff and pick back up with the team before the Dallas Supercross. It was pretty crazy!
What has life on the road has taught you? I know you have a little bit of different views as far as “if I don’t need it, I don’t need it” type of mindset.
I will say that when I first started, of course life on the road and traveling, you are alone and you travel by yourself. You don’t see friends or family as much as you would like. That creates a longing for home or a longing for familiar situations. But with no end in sight to traveling, I very quickly developed a skill that I can meet someone and when I see this person again, my mind recognizes them as a friend, or someone that I can count on at least immediately enough to say, “Can I borrow your 1995 Lincoln Town Car to drive five hours to do my job?” I think this quick recognition also makes people comfortable with me, in that I have nothing to hide. I am honest. Here are my troubles. If you are able to help, great. If not, also great. There are never any hard feelings. So, the quick recognition of “Hello, my name is Jason,” to “You are my friend,” happens a lot quicker. I feel like I can integrate myself into communities or new jobs or new places very quickly. Make friends and make a feeling of my own little community of the folks I have met or dealt with. That happened that day in North Dakota, at the café. That happens also at the supercross track where everyone is very friendly and open and accommodating and on the same agenda, which is very cool.
What’s next for you? Is the motocross industry where you look to finish out your career?
Tough one. I do want to continue with this career. It's been a healthy change. It has been something that has mixed what is more of my passion in with what is now my lifestyle, and it’s given me a way that I can use some of my other skills. So, working with this team especially I am not as much a cog in a machine as much as I am able to utilize my skills to build a program that we can all benefit from. So, to build a community, to make something that we can all benefit from on our team, and to make something that is a positive thing to see for people that are out there, maybe trying to do it themselves or maybe just wanting to support a program that is three riders out of a sprinter van. I can get behind something like that. So using my skills that I’ve developed in marketing, advertising, as well as photography, I can help these guys and perhaps we can build from what we have. I feel the momentum we are gaining and the direction we are headed is all on the rise.