Spanner – Dan Hissam

Motocross draws fans from all walks of life. And whether you’re a rider, a mechanic or someone in between; at the end of the day we’re all just fans of the sport, no matter what our individual backgrounds, preferences and affiliations. Team MDK’s Dan Hissam is a classic example of a true MX fan. Having walked an interesting and intriguing path through his first 30 years of life, Dan’s love for motocross continues to suck him back into the sport, despite attempts to pursue other avenues. For 2005, Dan has joined forces with Nick Wey as his wrench and personal entertainer. Here’s a quick peek at the multi-talented Dan “Dynamite” Hissam…

How did you get your start in motocross?
Well, I’ve been a gearhead for as long as I can remember. When I was little I loved taking things apart and putting them back together, so when I got my first bike at age eight, it was on. I just had this mechanical bug in me that led to my enjoying working on bikes more than actually riding them. By the time I was 13, I started going to races with older guys and helping them out with their bikes, and by 15 I was doing top-ends. I knew when I was pretty young that this was what I wanted to do, and I always excelled at school, so I knew that I wanted to get some type of related college degree as well.

What type of degree relates to motocross?
I got a BSME, a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering, from Ohio University. I am a mechanic at heart, but I’d really like to be involved in R&D someday, so I thought that was the best place to start. I was bummed while in college, though, because I didn’t know how I was going to keep up with racing and studying at the same time. As it turned out, the valedictorian of my ME class was actually a pro, and even qualified for a couple of Nationals. He and I became good friends, so I was able to do both things; get my education and wrench a little on the weekends. It was cool!

Did your degree help you land your first wrenching gig after college?
(Laughs) No, after college I actually got a job offer at General Motors as an engineer. I lasted there one year. I just couldn’t handle the office atmosphere, and deep down I knew I belonged in the motocross industry. I got online and found out that Zeb Armstrong needed a mechanic for the 2001 season. About a week after I started with him he separated his shoulder, so I hooked up with Kevin Townsend and Robbie Skaggs at the Torco Suzuki team and worked for them for two years. Fasst Company took over the team in ’03, and then I actually developed the Fasst Company handlebars.

That was you?
Yeah, I invented them and designed them myself. It was a way to get my feet wet and it was cool to be able to use my education to design a product and then see it come to fruition. But shortly after that, in 2003, I actually quit motocross and moved back to Ohio. I thought I needed to get an engineering job and settle down. The nine-to-five life lasted exactly eight months before I packed my bags and headed back out to work with Casey Johnson at the team, which is now the MDK Motorsports team. We learned a lot last year, and for ’05 the team was ready to move to the next step, which was hire a premier rider in Nick Wey. Now here we are.

You guys have some pretty big outside funding, but you’re still dealing with trying to put together a brand-new, competitive bike for Nick. How’s everything coming along?
Our team owner is a pretty successful venture capitalist, so we started out with some pretty nice funding. Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit have been very good and very patient with us while we’re getting everything together, though, so that’s been a huge help. They’re doing our motor work and our suspension. Nick’s working his butt off, too, and I am confident that it’s going to pay off.

In addition to your skills as a mechanic, Nick mentioned to us that you break out your guitar at the test track from time to time, and that yyou even played piano in a piano bar to get yourself through college…

Yeah, actually I am really a musician with a motocross habit (laughs). I am self-taught and pretty proficient on eight different instruments. I got started in the eighth grade because of a guitar riff in a Led Zeppelin tune that I just had to learn, and the rest is history. From that point on I’ve spent every spare minute teaching myself a new instrument. In college I realized that I could make better money playing the piano than working at a bicycle shop, so I went for it. But yeah, sometimes the guitar’s a good icebreaker at the track. I can hand Adam Sandler his ass at making up funny little spoof songs…