Getting his start as a motocross racer, Brian Deegan climbed his way through the amateur ranks as a Team Green rider, but shortly after obtaining his first Supercross Main Event win the Metal Mulisha co-founder stumbled on a new career path in Freestyle Motocross. Deegan quickly rose to stardom and became a household name across the country thanks to his “bad boy” persona, but once he began to feel the effects of past injuries, the FMX icon returned to another kind of racing; Rally and off-road. Deegan’s three kids are all involved in some form of racing, as well, as his son Haiden is a rising amateur motocross star while his daughter Hailey just wrapped up a championship in the Mod Kart Series. Racing has come full circle for Deegan and his family, and there’s no telling what the future has in store
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with you, Brian. What has been going on lately?
Another long season of racing rally cars with Chip Ganassi and off-road trucks, as well. I have my own off-road team, and my daughter has actually been racing off-road in the Mod Kart Series, and she ended up winning the championship. Meanwhile, I was focusing on rally and I ended up winning the last races along with finishing inside the top three in points. This was my first full season of rally racing, and I even managed to squeeze in a few days of riding here and there. It’s been tough, though, because I haven’t been on my dirt bike as much as I’d like. Out of everything I do, I still enjoy dirt bikes the most, but it’s extremely hard to make time for it these days.
Your professional career actually started on the racing circuit, but you later made the transition into freestyle motocross ultimately becoming one of the founding fathers of the sport. A lot has changed since your days of competing, so what is your take on the current state of FMX?
Yeah, freestyle started as a movement of sorts and that was a great point in time for motocross. During the 80s, everything started to get pretty cool, and then when the 90s rolled around that’s when everyone was really having fun. At that time, Shift MX came out and their image was seemingly all about partying, which in a way tied in to the way things were happening back then. Like I said, the fun free-riding back then is what started this particular movement. I don’t think that era will ever be duplicated, and I'm stoked just to say that I was around at that point. I think when we started all of this it jumpstarted this action sports movement, and it was just a result of a bunch of guys having fun on their dirt bikes. Think of how many people went out and bought a dirt bike after watching all of us have fun. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told that we were the reason why so many people started riding dirt bikes; all thanks to the Crusty movies. It’s cool to think that we had something to do with that, and I think we' ll always be considered the OGs of action sports. That was a fun time because that’s when the money started coming in. After starting with nothing, everything blew up. Soon after though, the sport took a turn that no one expected when I came to progression. When I did the 360, everyone thought that was the biggest trick in the world, but then the double backflip emerged along with the body varial. Everything started to get really crazy, and after so many injuries I eventually had to take a different route; that’s where racing cars began for me. I really enjoy it because it brings me back to racing, and a lot of people don’t know this, but I began racing motocross. I came through the amateur ranks, and I was even a Team Green rider. After turning pro, I won my first Supercross main event and I ghost rode my bike over the finish line (laughs). Still to this day I hear people talk about that night and what I did. It’s usually a guy that’s 40 or 50 years old that I run into at the grocery store or whatever and they’ll say, “I was there that night! That was awesome.” I think with freestyle, though, it began quickly, blew up fast and then it seemingly plateaued. I think once the sport became a little more mainstream and the characters were weeded out is about the time when everything got really serious. There were guys out there on factory bikes with the “racer” look, and not long after that is when the dynamic of the sport changed. The sport became extremely dangerous and the industry kind of drained it. Again, I think the sport has almost plateaued right now, but it was great to see X Games bring back freestyle. Overall, I think the sport has seen its best days already and it’s in a moment of cruise control. Every once in a while someone will still come out with a massive trick that goes viral on the internet, but I don’t know how much longer that will go on for. It’s cool to know that we started something that became so big, though, and even though it’s not like it was it’s still great to see it alive.
A few months ago, the inaugural Nitro World Games took place in Salt Lake City. Do you think this contest could possibly jumpstart action sports again?
I think any event for freestyle is a great thing. X-Fighters really kept the sport alive for a long time, and essentially what they’re doing is employing riders. Anytime that happens, the sport is alive. As long as the Nitro Games don’t try to cannibalize other contests, I think it’s great. It’s great when you give a rider a job, but when the promoter wants to take out other organizations, that’s not a good thing. At the end of the day, there’s enough for everyone; there is no need to be greedy. Each promoter can do their own thing to separate themselves from the rest instead of doing exactly what everyone else does. Again, I believe the Nitro Games are a good thing for the riders, and it keeps the sport in the eyes of the viewers.
These days you’re a full on moto-dad, as your kids are heavy into racing. Did you ever think your kids would be this into motocross and racing in general as much as they are?
I got away from motocross around '99 to build freestyle and everything that came with it, but to be honest I never really pictured myself getting back to racing. After my transition into action sports and then into car racing I thought it would be cool for my kids to try racing. My son Haiden took an interest in dirt bikes and he kept on begging me to take him racing. After holding out for about three years, I finally took him to his first race, and after a while I really began to notice a lot of talent. I could tell he was really into it, so we've pursued motocross with him. He’s done really well so far, and I don’t really see him getting burned out anytime soon. As for me, it’s a lot more fun this time around as we pursue racing. The first time was really hard, for me. I was a kid out of Nebraska doing everything out of the back of a van with my dad. Doing all of that again now with my son is a lot easier because I’ve been in the industry for so long. I know everyone in the game and I’ve built a credible name for myself and my family, so everything is a little easier this time around. As a rider my kids still have to produce results because at the end of the day it’s not about your name. Racing is about winning races, it’s not about being the most popular guy out there. It’s been great to do all of this with my kids, and even though I had never planned or anticipated any of this, we're all having a great time doing it.
With all of that on your plate and then some, do you ever find time to ride anymore?
Yeah, but only once or twice a month (laughs). Motocross is still my release from every day stresses. At the end of the year, Hayden and I will go back east to Charlotte, NC because we have a great little riding area at our house. It’s a time for us to get away and it’s a time for me to blow off some steam while we have fun, so I’m really looking forward to it. That’s what I really enjoy doing! I guess the winter is now my time to ride (laughs). It’s tough, because my daughter has become this championship car racer, and now everyone wants to get involved in her career. It’s not very often that a girl comes in and beats all of the boys, so she’s gained a little bit of popularity. We talked about it and she took an interest in NASCAR, so we took her out there and she was really fast during some of the testing; guess who’s getting more phone calls, now. There’s a chance that you might be able to catch us at some NASCAR races in the future. I’m not against my kids racing whatsoever, and since they already have the itch to race I’m not going to take that away from them. I think motocross is the ultimate foundation when it comes to racing in general. I mean look at it Jimmie Johnson and the other guys that grew up riding moto. I actually ran into Jimmie not long ago and he told me that he and I lined up together at Ponca City on 60s back in the day. It was a trip to hear that! The way I look at it is if you're going to do something, do it till you get to the top. If my kids want to race then that’s what they’re going to do, and if they want to win championships that’s what they’re going to do. Who knows, maybe in the next three or four years you’ll see my daughter behind the wheel in a professional race. The Deegan legacy will live on (laughs).
You were at SEMA with Ford and that is a really good relationshipyou, because it's across all channels. You have support in both cars and trucks, and it's not like you're kept from doing something because they don't make an automobile for it.
When I raced Supercross and motocross, I always wanted to get a factory ride. I ended up leaving the sport to do X Games and freestyle, and I just missed it. I felt like it was something that I always wanted. I started racing cars and got a deal with Ford Motors, which in the end is the pinnacle. It's so much bigger than what I ever planned in motocross and it's been a great relationship. They are a powerhouse company in America. I'm racing trucks off-road and with the Raptor and the F-150, it really fits me perfectly. The rally cars have been good and I had a good year racing the Ford Fiesta. It's been a good deal.
In the Ford deal with the car and truck racing, I started with truck racing and the Ford Raptor was a perfect fit for my image. And then I started racing rally and the small car market, that's a big push right now. Back in the day, you wouldn't have thought to buy a Focus, but now that the small market has taken over America, it's become one of the cooler cars.
Were you ever surprised at the size of Ford?
Ford has been around over a century and to meet guys like Edsel Ford Jr, they are guys that are part of a brand that helped form America. Not many companies can say that and to be a part of it, my little small piece by bringing the youth to Ford, it's cool.
At the show it seemed like you had an autograph signing every hour. Are you surprised at how well you've been received by the auto industry?
It's hard for me to break out of the mold of the dirt bike guy. It took years of winning championships in off-road and in cars, and a lot of people still look at me as a dirt bike rider, which I am. I still love riding with my kids, but now I have a whole different fan base with people that know my car and truck racing. It's cool to think that I've extended my career into cars and trucks and it's such a longer career, a safer career for me. It's been a while since I've broken a bone, knock on wood, from racing cars and trucks.
You had a very busy schedule in 2016 with racing. Will it be the same next year or do you slow down a bit for your kids to go racing?
The bottom line is that I have to race to make money. I have to go win races and when I do, I make good money and that gets spent on my kid's racing. I spent it on Hailey's stock car racing and Haiden's motocross, and it's not cheap to take kids to the Nationals. But it's what my dad did for me and what I want to do for them. I want to work my butt off as much as it takes and get them to the pro level, so they are on a pro team so they can do their thing. And maybe I can sit back and chill out a little bit when that happens. I give it a good three to five years of me going wide open.