David Bailey: Little Professor Joins the Coaching Big Leagues

If there were a title for busiest man in motocross, David Bailey would surely have to be a contender. A multi-time national and supercross champ, and has been on a handful of winning Motocross des Nations teams. After a crash prematurely ended his two-wheeled race career in ’86, his feats in a racing wheelchair at the Ironman in Hawaii have been equally legendary.

More recently, he’s done analysis on ESPN’s supercross coverage, and he fills in the gaps with riding schools, a weekly column on his web site (www.davidbaileymx.com), frequent guest appearances on DMXS (a cool weekly web “radio” show), and watching the development of his son’s race career.

As if that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, one of his newest roles has him following in the footsteps of his dad, Gary, who has a been teaching riding skills for over 30 years and who lists Travis Pastrana among his current clients. David’s now jumped into the pro level as well, coaching Yamaha’s David Vuillemin. DV won several rounds of in last season’s supercross title chase, but finished up in the runner-up spot after a crash. He also started off the THQ World Supercross with a bang, winning in Geneva last December.

If you spend any time with him (like we did in Phoenix), there’s no doubt that David Bailey’s passion for the sport is as strong as ever.

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TransWorld Motocross: So how did you hook up with David Vuillemin?

David Bailey: Well, he e-mailed me when I was at Mammoth last summer. A friend of mine in Florida who runs my site told me, “Hey, Vuillemin’s e-mailing you and he’s interested in you coaching him.” So it just came out of left field, you know?

I was interested in it right away, but my concern was that if I was to take on the job, that the public who views the TV shows would think that I was doing too much and that it wasn’t fair. I can handle that. I don’t give a crap about what people think, because I know that I’m going to do my job the best I can, anyway. But I didn’t want that to come back on him and make things even harder. Going to Europe, he’s as popular as anybody. But over here, he’s not necessarily the most popular rider, and I didn’t want to add to that. I also didn’t want to do it for free because it’s not fair to other trainers. I didn’t know what to charge. But it ended up being really simple. He’s really easy to talk to, and he doesn’t care about money, he just wants to make sure that he does his best.

I felt like that I had already won a supercross title, and I was available, and fairly knowledgeable. I was a bit shocked because I’ve been kind of tough on him at times. Last year at one point after Dallas when he let Ricky have it, it was like, “Take off that Oxbow skirt and just ride.” I think I also called him Rubberneck, so it surprised me a little bit that he was still interested. (Laughs)

It wasn’t like I said that stuff because I didn’t like him. I actually pick on the guys that I really admire. So he asked, I thought about it, accepted, and we met right in person around the Fourth of July. I asked him some really hard questions right off the bat¿all the questions that would have me concerned about his ability to win the title. I already know he can get second. Everyone does. I didn’t want to come in here and not make a difference, where I tell him a bunch of stuff and he does it his own way anyway. So I asked him some hard stuff right up front and he had really good answers for them. It all made sense to me, and we’ve been working together ever since.

TWMX: Do you draw from your racing experience and the experience of training for triathlons?

DB: Yes, absolutely, becau I learned so much. I’ve been able to pull some of the mental stuff, some of the physical stuff, and what I’ve paid attention to over the years. I’ve talked to enough riders and paid attention to it enough that I can wrap all that up into a pretty nice package and deliver it to David on a daily basis.

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TWMX: How do you coach a guy with a riding style as unique as David’s?

DB: I like to see that. To me that’s a passion for riding to be able to move around on the bike like that. For instance, I was watching Paul Carpenter. The guy does not move. His arms are straight and his legs are straight¿nothing against him, Paul’s a great guy and has a good opportunity, but the first thing I’d want to do is tell him to move. I don’t have to tell David to move. He’s moving.

It’s more or less the mental approach and playing the game right, because there’s four or five guys who are basically the same speed, and it’s the guys who are in the right mental frame of mind at the right time that get the most out of themselves that can shave off another half or three-quarters of a second. So that’s more of what I deal with on David, and I don’t worry too much about his style. I like the fact that he moves that much.

TWMX: So how do you juggle the TV and training?

DB: I try to give Clear Channel and ESPN all the controversy and all the stuff that they want, because there’s a percentage that they’d like to see, but it’s not always appropriate. So I try to mix it up. This opened up a whole new door. I may not do TV forever, and I would like to be able to do something else that I feel I can be really good at.

Last week (at Anaheim 1) doing the show was all pretty good up until the 250 main. During the parade lap I was really nervous. I’m not worried about our preparation or any of that, it’s just that with racing you never know. Obviously, with what happened last week (at round one in Anaheim, where DV finished fourth). I want to deliver for him. He hired me to do a job, and that’s to win. It wouldn’t hurt my feelings if dominated and won every single race, and every heat race and every practice session. That’d be great. But you’ve got to be realistic and know that the title is the most important thing.

I’ve got a lot on my mind with trying to do the right job on TV and not sound like I’m too much in his corner, and not too much the opposite. It’s out of my control and that point, and now I know how my dad used to feel when he was watching me. It’s come full circle and now I have someone down there that I really care about and admire that I’m helping. It’s nerve-wracking. It’s really bad. But now that we got it over with, on his worst night he got a fourth. So I’m like, okay, he’s solid.

I always knew that, but it’s the first race of the season, and that was a little different than the European races. So we had a lot to talk about after that night, ’cause I saw a different guy there than I saw in Europe. There’s no going back to the drawing board.

In Anaheim he was just a little too cautious. A little too clever in the heat with trying to see what Reed was doing to catch him, ’cause he thought he was going pretty fast, and Reed was reeling him in. He was like, “Where? I’m just about maxxed out here.” He wasn’t riding at the very top level, but pretty hard, and he was curious to see what Reed was doing, so he let him by. We’ll never see that again.

TWMX: What did your dad say when he found out you were starting to coach riders, too?

DB: He was congratulating me on second. He goes, “You know, that will be cool when you finish right behind Travis.” (Laughs)

He’s happy for me. He even had a few suggestions for me. He said, “If you can get him to do this and this and this, he’d be unbelievable.” I told him, I know. He said, “Okay, just checking. Good luck, and let me know how things are.” We’re not standoffish. David’s a different rider than Travis. I remember hearing Lance Armstrong talk about going into the Tour, and one of his old teammates went over to Jan Ulrich’s team. They were asking whether it bothered him that he was over there, with all the things that they’d shared over there with his biggest rival? He said, “No, because that was last year, and this year our program is different. Even if he knew exactly what I was doing now, he’d still have to implement that, and absorb those workouts, so it doesn’t bother me.” People can know what other people are doing, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it, or could, even if they tried.

TWMX: How would you like to coach Travis?

DB: I wouldn’t. I mean, I totally admire the kid and all that. He’s super-talented. But I want to know that the person is genuinely interested in what I have to say, and is going to give it a try and not abandon the plan because of whatever happened just now is more interesting.

I like the energy and creativity and the fact that he’s willing to stand on the freeway and see how many cars miss him. That’s cool. That’s life at its finest. The experiences and pushing the envelope. But I think Travis’s attention-span and his ability to take a lesson and then go apply it is a weakness. That would drive me nuts. It would drive any coach nuts to get to the nine yard line and then fumble.

TWMX: It’s interesting to see how you and Rick Johnson have evolved, and are now both coaching riders. Does it seems like you’re competing again?

DB: I don’t look at it like that. People are making more out of that than there really is. Johnny (O’Mara) was really the first one that I can think of who was successfully lined up with somebody. Not to take anything away from Johnny, but I think that was more of a friendship. The friendship part sort of came first, then through the friendship came a lot of Johnny’s experiences and suggestions and stuff. Ricky (Carmichael) took that to heart and applied it, which was great.

But now Aldon (Baker, Ricky Carmichael’s trainer) and all those guys come in there successfully, so all the riders think they need to be Superman when really, yeah, that’s going to help long-term, but short-term winning race-by-race, fitness isn’t always the biggest deal. It’s where your head is and your riding skill and it’s your whole level of effort. Travis could win tonight. He could totally win, and I know he’s not fit and both knees hurt. But he could still win. You can also look at (Ron) Lechien, and (Marty) Tripes, and you can talk about all the guys who weren’t in shape and still won. So training is just the insurance part that you’re going to have the fitness to go the distance. The other guys aren’t going to assume that you’re going to get tired later and feed on that.

If it’s something that’s free, doesn’t take skill or luck ¿and it’s something you can control, then do it. Top it off. Let some spill out the overflow. Make sure that’s handled, and then hopefully the stuff that’s out of your control goes okay. But at least take care of the one thing that you can control. That’s what David understands.

It’s good working with him. I’d heard that he was stubborn and has a temper, and all that stuff. I haven’t seen any of it. Well, I did see a temper one time, but I’m glad that I saw it at the time he showed it. He had a legitimate reason to be pissed off, and I want to see that kind of fire. I don’t think Ricky takes things lightly, and Hannah didn’t, and Jordan didn’t, and I didn’t, and Rick didn’t. It’s important to have that little bit of teo do this and this and this, he’d be unbelievable.” I told him, I know. He said, “Okay, just checking. Good luck, and let me know how things are.” We’re not standoffish. David’s a different rider than Travis. I remember hearing Lance Armstrong talk about going into the Tour, and one of his old teammates went over to Jan Ulrich’s team. They were asking whether it bothered him that he was over there, with all the things that they’d shared over there with his biggest rival? He said, “No, because that was last year, and this year our program is different. Even if he knew exactly what I was doing now, he’d still have to implement that, and absorb those workouts, so it doesn’t bother me.” People can know what other people are doing, but it doesn’t mean that they’re going to do it, or could, even if they tried.

TWMX: How would you like to coach Travis?

DB: I wouldn’t. I mean, I totally admire the kid and all that. He’s super-talented. But I want to know that the person is genuinely interested in what I have to say, and is going to give it a try and not abandon the plan because of whatever happened just now is more interesting.

I like the energy and creativity and the fact that he’s willing to stand on the freeway and see how many cars miss him. That’s cool. That’s life at its finest. The experiences and pushing the envelope. But I think Travis’s attention-span and his ability to take a lesson and then go apply it is a weakness. That would drive me nuts. It would drive any coach nuts to get to the nine yard line and then fumble.

TWMX: It’s interesting to see how you and Rick Johnson have evolved, and are now both coaching riders. Does it seems like you’re competing again?

DB: I don’t look at it like that. People are making more out of that than there really is. Johnny (O’Mara) was really the first one that I can think of who was successfully lined up with somebody. Not to take anything away from Johnny, but I think that was more of a friendship. The friendship part sort of came first, then through the friendship came a lot of Johnny’s experiences and suggestions and stuff. Ricky (Carmichael) took that to heart and applied it, which was great.

But now Aldon (Baker, Ricky Carmichael’s trainer) and all those guys come in there successfully, so all the riders think they need to be Superman when really, yeah, that’s going to help long-term, but short-term winning race-by-race, fitness isn’t always the biggest deal. It’s where your head is and your riding skill and it’s your whole level of effort. Travis could win tonight. He could totally win, and I know he’s not fit and both knees hurt. But he could still win. You can also look at (Ron) Lechien, and (Marty) Tripes, and you can talk about all the guys who weren’t in shape and still won. So training is just the insurance part that you’re going to have the fitness to go the distance. The other guys aren’t going to assume that you’re going to get tired later and feed on that.

If it’s something that’s free, doesn’t take skill or luck ¿and it’s something you can control, then do it. Top it off. Let some spill out the overflow. Make sure that’s handled, and then hopefully the stuff that’s out of your control goes okay. But at least take care of the one thing that you can control. That’s what David understands.

It’s good working with him. I’d heard that he was stubborn and has a temper, and all that stuff. I haven’t seen any of it. Well, I did see a temper one time, but I’m glad that I saw it at the time he showed it. He had a legitimate reason to be pissed off, and I want to see that kind of fire. I don’t think Ricky takes things lightly, and Hannah didn’t, and Jordan didn’t, and I didn’t, and Rick didn’t. It’s important to have that little bit of temper to drive you. He’s got plenty of it.

f temper to drive you. He’s got plenty of it.