This article was originally printed in our September 2017 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
Determined To Succeed
Dean Wilson's Never-Say-Die Attitude Is Paying Off
By Austin Rohr | Photos by Mike Emery
Motocross is a sport that requires heart and dedication. A racer must sacrifice normalcy to achieve success at the highest level. It is a lifestyle that can be rewarding, but also trying. Challenges and adversity are the norm for professional motocross racers, and only a select few can rise above when the going gets tough. Dean Wilson is no stranger to adversity, as injuries and setbacks have been a constant throughout his career. Despite this, Wilson remains persistent and loyal to himself, his family, and the sport, all with a smile on his face. At the start of 2017, the likable Scot found himself without a ride, but he invested in himself by building a modest privateer race team and contesting the opening rounds of the Monster Energy Supercross series with a small group of family and friends in his corner. The goal? To prove his value and attract a factory ride. Five rounds into the season, Wilson's investments in himself paid off when he was hired by Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna. A former 250 National Champion, Wilson is a proven winner, and it seems he is finally healthy and ready to realize his potential in the premier 450 class.
Coming To America
Wilson's journey to the professional ranks of motocross racing is without question one of the most intriguing stories in the sport. He didn't hone his skills on a farm or spin countless laps on a Southern California track like most. Life for Wilson began in Scotland, but at the age of eight his family moved to Canada. "It's funny because when I moved to Canada, everybody knew that I moved from Scotland because I used to run a little Scottish flag on my helmet," Wilson said. Scotland was not only Wilson's birthplace, but the birthplace of his love for dirt bikes as well. "I used to race when I was in Scotland. My dad bought me an LEM 50 when I was four years old, and I started racing at about six years old," Wilson said. "It was always pretty muddy at most of the races, and even to this day I'm not a great mud rider. It rains a lot. That's what I remember the most when I raced there.
"After a while, people who'd see me race didn't really know my story or know that I was from Scotland. That's when they started claiming that I was Canadian. I really love both countries, but I do call Scotland my home. It's where I was born and where my mom and dad and sister were born. That's home for me, but Canada is my second home, and America is my third home [laughs]," Wilson said. Despite his international roots, Wilson still raced in America as an amateur. He even claimed two AMA Amateur National titles before turning pro in 2009.
Rise And Fall
It wasn't long before Wilson would find success as a professional, as he would contend for and collect a handful of 250 class wins during his first few years under Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki. Then in 2011, he claimed the 250 Championship in Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Unfortunately, a year later he would crash and injure his shoulder in Supercross, sidelining him for the 2012 outdoor season. Although injured, Wilson still planned to make the move up to the 450 class the following year, where more issues would soon arise. "Back in 2013 I was committing to the 450 class with the Jeff Ward Racing team, and when that collapsed I had nothing. Mitch Payton was nice enough to give me another opportunity to ride the 250s, and I did that for two more years. I still got injured both years, though," Wilson said.
Even while struggling with injuries in his final years on a 250, Wilson continued to show speed and determination. His cheerful personality also made him a fan favorite, adding to his value as a racer. In 2015, Red Bull KTM saw Wilson's potential and signed him to a two-year deal. "My first year with them, I did two races and then I blew my knee out. I came back midway through the season and had some average results. The next year I raced two races and blew my knee out for the second time, same knee and all," Wilson said. "It was tough because I had to fly to Belgium to get surgery on my knee. I came back to America and got a staph infection, so I had to fly back to Belgium to get it cleaned out and get an antibiotic IV drip. It's been really tough." Following two difficult years that kept him off the track, Dean faced an uncertain future as his contract with Red Bull KTM was coming to an end.
After five years of injuries and only a handful of races under his belt, Wilson found himself in a tough spot. His deal with Red Bull KTM had expired, and with the off-season already proving difficult for many, he watched his options narrow. "I never got any calls from any factory teams before this season, and I went out and spoke with them," Wilson said. "Speaking with teams is tough, and it's not something that I enjoy doing, but I knew it had to be done. I went into a lot of offices and asked them to give me a chance, but nobody ever did. I figured that I would have to go out and do it on my own."
And he went on to do just that. With nothing but a van, a lightly modified Yamaha YZ450F, and his dad spinning wrenches on his bike, Wilson set out to prove his worth at the opening rounds of the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross season. "Obviously, it wasn't an ideal situation to be in, but I sure learned a lot and it gave me a new perspective on what I do for a living and how much I really loved it," Wilson said. "It was definitely tough being a privateer and it was a lot of stress, but I had a lot of good people helping me. I have to give a shout out to all of the privateers because they do a ton of work and it's tough."
Throughout Wilson's career, both as a factory rider and a privateer, his relationship with his parents has remained strong. As mentioned earlier, his father even stepped up to wrench on Wilson's bike during the opening rounds of Supercross. "My dad enjoyed that for the first four rounds, but I'm glad that it's over because it put a lot of stress on him," Wilson said. "We only had a van and a pop-up tent. Our pits were pretty hectic, the fans were right in our pit. He was kind of stressed and it was a lot of work. He enjoyed it, but I'm glad that we're not taking that route anymore."
Like motocross, Wilson's dedication and loyalty to his family is a key factor in his successes as a professional. "I have a really good relationship with them, and they're my number-one support," Wilson said. "They've always had my back, even when I had nothing, and they're always there to pick me up off the ground. The least that I can do is treat them with respect and love. They still enjoy coming to the races. I have a good family."
A Second Chance
Some would say that opportunity is earned, while others would argue they're a matter of luck. In the case of Dean Wilson, however, his chance at racing for a factory team once again was certainly earned. During the first four rounds of the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross season, he fought hard to earn results just outside of the top 10. Rockstar Energy Husqvarna noticed the impressive results he was putting in and decided to give Wilson a shot. "Bobby Hewitt at Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna picked me up after the fourth round and it was a really good feeling. I've gelled with the team so well and I have a great mechanic. Everything's going really good," Wilson said. "The transition has been really good. KTM was awesome and they've helped Husqvarna set up my bike similarly to the way I had my KTM set up last year. It's not quite the same bike, but they're similar. I get along with everyone on the team and we all gel really well. We have a good laugh together and we keep the mood light. We're all putting in the time, but why not enjoy it? We'd rather do that than be miserable. It's been a really fun experience being on this team."
Wilson has since gone on to earn top-five finishes in both Supercross and motocross, proving that despite the races he's missed, he's still as capable as ever. More importantly perhaps is the fact that he's managed to avoid injury thus far. "Right now I've got momentum going for me," he said. "I've been hurt every year. I've been trying to come back to the races, even if I'm not at one hundred percent, and when you don't do so well it knocks down your confidence. Then you get going again, only to get injured again. It's hard to pick yourself back up and then get knocked down again. I've never gotten to build any momentum for myself. I told myself at the beginning of the year, 'If I just finish every race this year, that will be huge for myself and that will really help me out.' I'm starting to build that momentum and confidence and get strong again."
Through good times and bad, Wilson has always remained dedicated. At the same time, he also manages to have plenty of fun and isn't afraid to have a good laugh. Many struggle to balance hard work and fun, but this seems to be something Wilson has done quite well in his career. "I've been training with Tyla Rattray for the past two-and-a-half years, and it's a lot of hard work. We train every single day," Wilson said. "I think that's what keeps me balanced. I still want to enjoy my life and live it as much as I can. I think if you work hard and you have fun, you have a good balance."
Furthermore, Wilson truly understands what dedication means as a professional. "You won't ever be a professional if you don't put in the time, the motos, and the work," Wilson said. "You have to dedicate your life to it. I love what I do and I'm so passionate about it. Obviously, I showed that at the beginning of the season. I love this sport, and I wouldn't have ever gone out and struggled as a privateer after being on a factory bike the year before if I didn't. I'm passionate about what I do, and I knew if I could stay healthy, there would be a light at the end of the tunnel. In this day and age, you won't get away with not putting in the time, and everybody in the top 10 in both classes has to be dedicated to the sport."
With a factory team backing him and good health on his side, Wilson is now setting his sights forward on the future of his career. "I really see this year as a building year for myself," he said. "I want to finish every race. I finished eight in Supercross, and hopefully we can do well outdoors. My goal is to be in the top 10, be at all of the races, and build myself up. Next year I think being in the top five in both series would be really good. I want to do that, and I think I'm capable of it. It's all a building process for me. I've missed a lot of races and I've been out a lot of years. All of these guys that I used to beat are really fast now. I'm trying to keep building myself up. A 450 championship is the goal, maybe not next year, but the year after. I won that 250 outdoor championship in 2011, and I was always close to winning a Supercross championship but never quite got it. I always thought that when I got on the 450 that I'd really do well, but ever since my championship I've had all of these injuries for the past five years. It's not where I pictured myself, but I wouldn't change a thing. I've learned a lot and it's made me a stronger person. I've really matured and I've learned so much. I'm happy with where I'm at, and I just want to keep working hard so I can do well for myself."
Nobody knows what the future has in store, but the odds are looking good for Dean Wilson. Hard work, loyalty, and a good attitude have brought him this far, and with Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna at his side and experience under his belt, it'd be pretty hard to bet against him reaching his goals.