Every sport has its stars, the individuals that the media will focus their attention on and feature on posters, on web sites or on the glossy pages of magazines, athletes that the fans will adore and easily recognise in the streets.
But, for each one of these talented people there are perhaps one or two people, and usually many more than that, who beaver away behind the scenes to present this motorsport magic show.
Of course there are the event organisers, the sponsors, the programme producers, the lap scorers and points accumulators, the officials, the track builders and maintenance crew (the people on the end of the shovels and driving tractors or waving the watering hoses), the race starters, the flag marshals, the medics, the caterers, the announcers, the media (like Kiwi Rider or BikesportNZ.com, the New Zealand Herald or TV and radio stations, for example), the race team managers and truck drivers and all the spectators, who play their part by paying dollars at the entrance then adding noise and colour to the day … but haven’t we forgotten someone?
The sport’s unsung heroes are typically seen but not heard, maybe acknowledged only with a nod … they are the mighty mechanics.
Sometimes it’s a specialist factory man brought in from overseas; an experienced and long-serving bike shop mechanic who is attached to a team; maybe it’s mum and dad, brother or sister, or perhaps it’s just an old school friend with a handful of basic tools.
Aucklander Sean Fogarty is one of those rare breed of motocross people who has experienced life on both sides of the equation, as a top national-grade racer and as a top national-grade mechanic too.
He was one of the men on the business end of spanners and wrenches for the LCM Husqvarna Team, dedicated to visiting Australian rider Morgan Fogarty at this year’s New Zealand Motocross Championships and, despite these two men having the same surname, they are in fact unrelated, except that Sean Fogarty was himself once a Husqvarna team rider in New Zealand.
There’s a lot of work that goes into being a motocross mechanic.
“I’m just a construction worker for an Auckland building company,” Sean Fogarty admits. “I help out the LMC racing team by going down to the workshop and help them to get the bikes ready.
“Karl Brabant (the team manager) does most of the work but I help out around the pits on race day. Generally we just check over all the nuts and bolts and do oil changes. We will set up the suspension and handlebars and so on.
He says he sometimes gets “a bit nervous just watching”. Sean Fogarty has an emotional investment as a mechanic, but no control once the bike and rider leaves the start gate.
“It’s probably worse than riding. You definitely don’t want anything to happen to the bike or rider. I finished third overall in New Zealand in the MX2 class a couple of times, so I know what it’s like to be a racer.”
“I do maintenance for all three bikes in the team actually. Max’s 250cc bike is always the most maintenance. The 450cc bike is not so much work,” said Watanabe.
“I strip everything down before race day and check everything is nice and tight and lubricated. His engine is almost standard but sometimes I will be changing piston, cleaning chassis, swing-arm, steering and so on. Always quite busy, but I like this job.
“New Zealand tracks are very beautiful, and I like it very much here. Max is a fun guy to work with too.”
Waikato man Darren “Luppy” Lupton is the mechanic for Motul Honda Team stars Cody Cooper and Wyatt Chase and it’s a natural extension of his working week as manager of the Honda dealership in Pio Pio.
“With Wyatt injured at the moment, I’ve been working mainly with Cody,” he said.
“Basically, the riders look after their own practice bikes and I look after their race bikes. I take them home and check clearances, check bolts and strip them down to get them prepared for race weekend. The bikes are very reliable these days, but you never can be too sure. I’ll change gearing and tyres. We are pretty lucky with Honda because we always have plenty of OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) parts on hand.
“We don’t do any modifications on the bike, so it’s all stock. There are a lot of hours involved. I’ll probably spend up to 200 hours on the race bikes. My favourite tool is my torque wrench.”
Matt Crothers is the man behind Transdiesel Shell Advance Kawasaki Team rider Josiah Natzke.
The 27-year-old Crothers has been a mechanic for 10 years and has worked for Kawasaki race team for five years now.
“I take the bike home with me and it lives with me through the week, where I will spend 6-7 hours a week on it to get it ready to race. Filters and oil, grease and all that … if I have to rebuild the bike it takes a bit longer. Hopefully it’s smooth sailing on race day.
“We have a whole extra bike for spare parts, so that’s good. My favourite tool is my hammer,” he joked.
© Words and photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ.com
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