Sunday, March 8, 2009 Updated: May 22, 2:07 PM ET
Being Drake McElroy
By Garth Milan; Video By Cliff Talley ESPN
Drake McElroy is an action sports enigma. Despite his relatively young age of 27, the Sparks, Nev., resident has traveled the world riding freestyle motocross for the better part of a decade now. And while he is still unquestionably considered a "professional" athlete, there is more to Drake than backflips, combo tricks or contest wins.
One glance at McElroy and you immediately think pro skater, musician, or eclectic hipster but definitely not pro FMX rider. In a sport full of flat bills and black socks, Drake has gone against the grain to carve out his own niche and stand out against convention. Sure, Mulisha fans might laugh at his tight purple, acid-washed American Apparel jeans, but Drake has his own legion of groupies and admirers that love him as much for his style on the bike as off. Drake is renowned in the sport for his amazing riding ability, but he's also acknowledged for an entirely different side; one that focuses on art, music, style, the Smoking Seagulls and anything involving two wheels and speed.
The Snakeman has way too much going on to be characterized by a couple of short paragraphs. The only true way to understand Drake is through his own words. Here's the interview!
You're most known in action sports for freestyle moto, but there is a whole other side to DMC that many people don't know about. Tell us about your other interests.
Yeah, most people would know me from my freestyle background, because that was my gateway into the media, and that's how I was able to tap into the mainstream of motorcycles. But in reality, I'm just a two-wheel dude. For the most part, I enjoy anything that has to do with two wheels; whether it's building custom street bikes, racing Supermoto or jumping I love it all.
But there's only so much time in a day. Which do you concentrate on most?
I try to ride something every day. I'm fortunate to have access to a local street track in Reno called Fernley Raceway, which is perfect because it gives me a chance to ride my street bike and Supermoto bike at the same place. I definitely love all forms, but I'd say those two, along with riding my dirt bike on an almost daily basis, are what keeps me busiest.
I'm just a two-wheel dude. For the most part, I enjoy anything that has to do with two wheels; whether it's building custom street bikes, racing Supermoto, or jumping I love it all.
-- Drake McElroy
Speaking of Supermoto, do you plan on competing much in that sport this year?
Definitely. I'm trying to get some tire money together right now for testing and practicing, but my plan is to ride a few AMA events in order to qualify for X Games again this year. There is a panel of guys who choose the riders for X, and the criteria involves your skills, experience, name, as well as AMA points. Plus, I'd like to ride early season anyway to prepare and get the bike dialed in before X. But I'm paying for most of it myself, and man, it's expensive!
Beyond all the riding, you're also very artistic. Any projects in the works that you'd like to discuss?
I'm actually doing a helmet graphic for Bell right now, which has been a great experience. They were a really cool company to work with; they reached out not only to me, but to other artists in the skateboard and tattoo community to do collaborations with, and I think that's really cool. They're trying to track down legitimate art that is core to the sports and the people involved in them. I'm fortunate to have the opportunity to be involved in art and to be able to produce some pretty cool stuff, and with the abilities I already have on a bike, it's a perfect match and a great way in the door for projects like this.
Yes, I heard you also recently designed a jacket for Alpinestars
Alpinestars is the ultimate sponsor for a guy like me: They have always been a great supporter of anything motorcycle-related, whether it's on the streets, tracks, or trails, which is perfect for me because I do all of those things, too street, MX, etc. Beyond that, they have a more traditional style that caters perfectly to me. That jacket you were talking about is a great example; they asked me what I wanted in a jacket, and then allowed me to pick the materials and designs. Though that particular jacket will just be a one-off for now, they use the ideas that we collaborated on for inspiration on other pieces in their line. It's fun to be a part of it all.
You've also been working hard promoting the Smoking Seagulls. What's that all about?
The Smoking Seagulls is a cultural project for the motorcycle community as a whole. Basically, I see it as a way to bridge the gap between like-minded people who don't necessarily fit perfectly into the mainstream motorcycle market. That market as it stands definitely doesn't cater to everyone; there are a lot of people out there who love the idea of bikes, but don't like the styles that are out there right now. Artists, musicians, skateboarders, etc. A lot of those guys think motorcycles are cool, but not in their current form. So our idea is to add a custom element to it. Machine-wise, Smoking Seagulls is a bike club for single-cylinder machines, period. It's cool because it allows you to use all of the old parts that are lying around your garage, then, using your creativity, piece them together to make fun, simplistic, and naked cafe racers that are not only cost-effective, but also light, quick-handling and fun to ride. Using vintage styling with modern parts, it's kind of the equivalent to fixed-gear pedal bikes, only with motors.
I want to set myself up to be dangerous for fun instead of doing it for a career. Luckily, with my love for two wheels, there is way more to life than backflipping at a contest.
-- Drake McElroy
Back to the dirt: What will your involvement in FMX be in 2009?
Well, beyond all of the normal riding, filming and shooting that I do, this year I will also help Red Bull at their new compound, just north of LA. They basically want to build it up to be Red Bull's own version of an exclusive "Camp Woodward," only with dirt bikes. I will coach the camps and help put the whole program together. We will also concentrate on finding the "diamonds in the rough;" new talent that people may not know about. Using Red Bull's amazing resources, we have everything we need at the compound to push these athletes to whole new levels, and do it safely.
Basically, all I did in my program was cut out the contests. But doing stuff like coaching still keeps me involved in the sport, and on the bike, which is perfect. I still wanna ride every day, do the tricks and film the parts, but the older I get and the more responsibility I have, the more I have to think about what I do and the danger that is involved. I want to set myself up to be dangerous for fun instead of doing it for a career. Freestyle motocross is not a young man's sport, as much as it is a young man's mindset. When my only two possessions were a pickup and a bike, and I was traveling around and sleeping on couches, I could do whatever I wanted to. Now, with my family [daughter Marlo, 17 months, and wife Hilary], I have a lot more to consider when putting my life on the line, and you can't compete with things like that in your head. Luckily, with my love for two wheels, there is way more to life than backflipping at a contest!
Cameras love Drake. Here, the media bombards him at a Red Bull X-Fighters event, where he was judging.