Lee Collum has certainly had his fair share of ups and downs as a mechanic, having spent the past four years as Travis Pastrana's factory Suzuki wrench. With all of the uncertainty surrounding Pastrana's racing career recently, Lee has spent the last month or so in shoes similar to those of the lonely Maytag repairman. Well… that is until now. Lee has hooked up with new Factory Suzuki up-and-coming star, Broc Hepler. We caught up with Lee in the pits at the US Open in Vegas to get the scoop on his days with Travis, and his second coming with Broc.
How much contact do you maintain with Travis during the times that he's hurt?
We usually talk a couple times a week. In fact, he just called me a few minutes ago wanting to place some bets for him (laughs). He's lying in the hospital right now from having his knee operated on.
The first time we saw you work this summer was at the X Games. How different is it being a freestyle mechanic versus a race mechanic?
Well… the environment is obviously way different. As far as the work goes, it's pretty easy actually. You set up the bike for the jumps and that's all there is to it. Once I get the gearing set to where Travis likes it, that's really it.
At a national the mechanic's job on the line is to say things like “use your head, you can do it, relax, breathe, etc…” What sort of advice are you responsible for at the X Games? “Flick it out bro! Sick!”
(Laughs) Yeah… That's about it. Oh, and “keep it on two wheels!”
How's the anxiety level as a mechanic watching him leading a race as opposed to flipping upside down and doing 360s?
I'll tell you what… I was really nervous, not so much this year, but last year when I went to the Gravity Games with him and he was going to do the first backflip. My palms were sweating! All the hype and the talk about it all, and I knew when it was coming in his routine, so I was really nervous. But once he did it, he made it look so easy that I was like “cool, now I can relax.”
So you've seen all of the tech things that we do with mechanics in the magazine. If we asked you, would you say something like “I'll show you how to cut down a seat or chop a fender?”
(Laughs) Well, you know what? It's funny you mention the fender thing because we get other riders asking us all the time why we don't cut them down, but Travis likes them the way they are. He always tells me to just leave them alone.
OK… So give us the lowdown. On the outside, as journalists, we see Travis as this happy-go-lucky, clean cut guy, but he really pulls mad bitches doesn't he?
(Laughs) Well, all I can say is that Travis does his own thing in his personal life. You know, it's tough being underneath the spotlight every place you go. Being a young kid and being scrutinized for every little thing is difficult, and although he doesn't show it, he needs his personal time.
Two years ago you guys were here together to race the US Open. Did you go with him to the seedy porn shops down on Main Street?
(Laughs) No… You know what? I've never been to a porn shop with Travis. I think that's Malcolm's job (laughs).
Your new rider is Hepler and you're sort of closing a chapter in one part of your career and opening a new. What are your emotions about going from a rider that's outgoing and extremely personable to a guy like Hepler who's the quietest guy we've ever met, and who won't talk to us on the phone?
Yeah, it's definitely from one extreme to another. I met Broc at the test track and initially I thought maybe he didn't like me because he never said a word. But the guys were just like, “No, that's juust the way he is.” He's a really nice kid, he's a hard worker, and he knows what he wants. It is definitely a change in personalities, but I think Broc and I are going to do very well together.