Wednesday, February 21, 2024

TRANSCRIPT: TCF Interview with Dustin Jones

On 29 September, The Checkered Flag spoke with Dustin Jones on the heels of his victory at the Silver State 300 in the maiden race for the Can-Am Maverick R.

The full transcript of the interview is available below. Some text has been altered from the actual dialogue to improve readability.

An article on the interview can be read here.

Transcript

TCF: It’s been about a week since the Silver State 300. How did it feel to not only win in the Maverick R’s début, but to win the overall in the UTV?

DJ: Naturally, we were excited and nervous about this opportunity to be the first guys to race this new Maverick R. You could say that there’s no pressure and it’s like, ‘Hey, we understand racing is racing and anything can happen,’ but because we were part of the development and we understand the effort that the engineers put in, this was a whole new design in terms of transmission and in terms of the knuckles for the suspension of it, whether they said it or not, we understood the pressure that came along with this race.

Going into it, I’ve been in tons of races and I know you can get a flat, you can break an axle, you could blow a corner and crash the car, and I’ve done both. I’ve won the biggest races and I’ve crashed the car six miles into the race and so I’m familiar with all of it. That’s variables we had to consider going into this race.

To roll through that finish line at the end of the race, generally we didn’t know how we finished. I kind of had an idea because I knew throughout the day where we were tracking with the leaders and where the leader was. I knew I’d caught him unless there was somebody else who had possibly won. When they delivered that news that we not only won first in the UTV class but we won first overall out of all vehicles, which has never been done in a side-by-side before; it was literally a historic moment that had never been accomplished in the history of racing for side-by-side. That’s when the emotion really set in and the good tears started rolling and you start realising what we had accomplished.

It was our goal the whole time to try to win, but it’s a possibility that things can go wrong. I’ve always told everybody with racing, there’s ten thousand opportunities for something to go wrong and it literally only takes one for it to happen. For all the stars to align, for us to have a clean day, for us to come out there and win the UTV, which is what we were trying to do, but also win overall overall was, dude, it was just mind blowing.

For me, in the smaller genre of racing, it was life changing to accomplish something like that.

TCF: What was the strategy throughout the race?

DJ: Going into the race with a new car, we knew that there was going to be a learning curve. We knew that we only had limited miles on this car because it had only been actually released for a few weeks. We couldn’t be out there guessing the car before it was released or anything like that, and then we were building a race car after the release happened. We had limited miles in the car, so we knew there was going to be a learning curve at the beginning of the race of getting used to it and running this thing at race pace.

Typically, my strategy going into big races like this is I know the pace that it takes to win a race because we’ve won so many and you try to stay just below that to conserve the car. Getting used to the car, kind of running conservative pace, it was go out there, feel the car out, see where the field is shaking out, and then make our move from there. As the day went on, we kind of figured out who the leaders were about 100 miles into this 300-mile race. When I knew like, “Alright, here’s where the top guys are,” from pit to pit, which is roughly about thirty to fifty miles apart, I would have my chase crew update me on time spreads of like, “Hey, how far are we from the leader?” From one pit, we would be three minutes behind, and then I would push hard for the next bit and then we would be within 45 seconds and so I was like, ‘Okay, now I know what the leader’s pace is, now I know what I need to do to win this thing.’

Going into the last hundred, we were a couple of minutes down and I had already made up a few minutes on a couple of different pit stops. I was like, “Alright, cool.” When we were in the last 100, I knew this is when I have to live by the motto that I preach which is “checkers or wreckers,” which is what a lot of people know me for is either I’m going to win or I’m going to crash. I’m going to win a race, I’m going to crash the car. Everybody knows I race checkers or wreckers.

Going into that last 100, we were down by about two minutes and I knew this is decision time. I’ve got 100 miles to either do this or do we take it easy and make sure the car gets the finish and make sure we finish the first race in the Maverick R. At that 100 miles, on my crew saying ‘You’re down by two minutes. You’ve got to decide what you want to do,’ that’s when I knew I had to live by my own motto and I got to go checkers or wreckers.

So that last 100 miles, we freaking turned it up. We pushed super hard. We picked off all the cars in front of us and the guy that had been leading all day, as we came into about ten miles from finish, I could see his car. That’s when I realised, “Alright, we caught the leader. He’s definitely not going to beat us.” And so it was that hard push at the end.

Just to quickly summarise, it was conserve the car, take it easy, figure out the pace, and at the end, we knew we had to turn it up and we did. We went full in and fortunately everything worked out.

TCF: How was it to sweep the entire podium with your Can-Am team-mates?

DJ: [laughs] In a car during a race, you’re focused on, ‘I need to do good. I have to try to win this race.’ That’s just the pressure you put yourself in as I guess what people would consider one of the top racers. The entire time, I was thinking our strategy, sticking to the game plan, making sure we take care of the car, making sure we’re catching the leaders, and then to roll across, find out that we won, and then just shortly after we find out that Phil (Blurton) took third in the Maverick R and then another one of our Can-Am team-mates took second so we overall overall swept 1–2–3 and then overall swept 1–2–3 in the Pro Turbo class. I kind of described it yesterday as like we’re running against those guys, we’re competing against them, but they are our team-mates. You get that mutual respect thing where you look over at each other at the podium and you give each other that head nod and that wink of like, ‘Bro, we did this and we did this together.’

Win, lose, or draw, I would want my team-mates to win if I wasn’t going to be able to win. I think they have that same mutual respect for me, like if they weren’t going to win it, they would want to see me do well. We all hug as team-mates and you give that head nod of like, ‘I was running against you but I’m also pulling for you.’

I was super happy to see that not only did we do well but our team-mates finished well too, and it’s just another feather in the cap of Can-Am doing a podium sweep overall overall, and it made for a good day.

TCF: There was only a single Trick Truck and a couple of 6100 cars in the field. There’s always going to be some people who will try to put an asterisk on the win for that reason, but do you see it more as taking advantage of what was laid out in front of you and a “win is a win”?

DJ: Those are variables that we can’t control. I’ve always been a person that thinks you can’t sweat the small things in life. Yes, there was only one full blown Trick Truck and I think two or three Spec trucks. I guess people could discount it, but for me, I don’t get hung up on things like that. Outside of overalling with just a few other vehicles there, we still overalled all UTVs, beat all competitor units, beat all other classes. You can’t discount that. If you want to discount that we beat some Trophy Trucks and that we beat some 6100 and we beat dirt bikes and we beat quads that usually beat all of us, if you want to discount that, you still can’t discount that we beat every other UTV on track. I try to always focus on the celebration and the enjoyment of that victory versus, “Well, it’s kind of like you won it but you didn’t win it.” You know what I mean?

TCF: Yeah.

DJ: They may say that. I haven’t heard people say that to me, but I can understand where they would. But you can’t take away that we still won, beat all the other UTVs that were on course.

Credit: Brandon Bunch/Can-Am

TCF: Let’s focus on the car itself. How different is racing the Maverick R compared to its predecessors?

DJ: What’s crazy is, you know, I’ve always been super happy with the X3 and that car is—especially our built race car—is really, really freaking dialled. I couldn’t emphasise enough to people that this car doesn’t necessarily replace this car. It replaces where the new Maverick R shines and it really excels above all UTVs, but there’s a lot of places where the X3 at this point, this early in the racing, that the X3 still shines and has good performance. The guy that got second, Vito (Ranuio), he was in an X3 and he beat Phil Blurton for second place in an X3.

The predecessor is not an obsolete unit. That is still a competitive unit that we’re going to have to battle against. But I do realise after racing this car and having thousands of miles on the X3 and a lot of wins in the X3, this car is a hundred percent the next evolution of UTVs. It’s moving us into another category and you may say, “Well, the race was close. I don’t understand how that could be the case.”

Well, this is the first race on this car and I know personally racing that car, I didn’t feel like it was 100% dialled in from our driving style, so that means we still left some things on the table and still beat every UTV overall. The potential that it has is significantly greater than all other UTVs out there. That was a really good feeling of knowing that we’re not 100%, our suspension is not perfect for what my driving style is because we had limited time, but I know what this car is capable of and it’s already doing that when it’s not 100%. It just goes up from there.

This car is certainly the next evolution of UTVs, especially after we dialled it.

TCF: How involved were you in developing and then testing the car before it was revealed?

DJ: We were fortunate enough to know about this car a long, long time ago and that was before we had ever seen renderings or ever seen the vehicle. I’ve known about the vehicle for years, but in terms of testing it’s been within the last year that we really started testing and what was incredible is when they bought us the “P3” version or like the final prototype version of the car, which is what we got to drive.

The car was already so close. We had some small inputs, some different little things that we liked, but man, it was so impressive to get in that car straight from the engineers and drive the P3 versions and realise like, “Dude, y’all were able to do this without any racing input, without us having any significant impact on the design of this thing. This car is already freaking incredible.”

To test it with them, the engineers were there to learn. They wanted to know what did we think about it, not just as racers, but as somebody that would be a general consumer, what is that balance of like “What do you need for racing specifically and what if that translates to a production model end user?” It was incredible to work with the engineers and those guys had pen and pad out, they were taking notes, and to see the final version, like the full production models that we raced, and see little touches that you had some input on, it was such a cool experience.

TCF: Were there any differences in the Maverick R that you raced that was prepared by S3 compared to the one that’s going to be available for everyone else to buy?

DJ: Generally, no. It was pretty well a stock unit. We used stock shocks and we had our old valving put into the shocks because we are driving harder and I don’t want to break anything, but generally we put some little gusset kits. We have to have all the safety requirements, but it’s strengthened some things that we would do anyways. It doesn’t matter if it was the Maverick R or if it was any other unit. There are certain things I do to my vehicles to prepare for a race that have nothing to do with the strength of the car or reliability; it’s just things I like to do, like certain wheel and tyre combo, a certain shock, a certain rock deflector to protect vital parts of the car.

But generally, we took a stock car out there with some little reinforcements and all the safety requirements and that stock motor, stock transmission, all factory drivetrain, all factory axles, all factory interior, besides what we have to have for safety requirements. Where I would normally want to tear the car all the way down, full sheet metal interior, full sheet metal door panels and things, we didn’t on this one. It’s got stock doors on it, stock dash, stock interior, and just some reinforcements that I like to have on all of my cars. Besides the safety requirements, somebody else could have raced the exact same car that I raced, you know?

TCF: If the car you just raced now was almost fully stock, does that leave the door open to potentially making more upgrades to it in the future to make it even more optimised for racing?

DJ: For sure, for sure. There’s no doubt about that. Kind of similar to what I was talking about, like the suspension wasn’t exactly right. It’s hard to replicate a race scenario until you’re actually in it, so we went suspension testing for three days with Fox and I was really comfortable with it. But then you get in a race scenario, you’re driving 20% harder. You’re like, ‘Oh, this thing steps out a little more than I remember in testing.’

To your point, yeah, the potential of what this car is capable of when we tear it down and build a full blown race car, like stripped down as light as we can, as strong as we can, oh my god, these cars are going to run with the buggies whenever we’re whenever we’re done building them.

TCF: I’m sure you’ve seen the comments and all that about the design since the reveal, especially on that front knuckle suspension. Do you think that a win like this so soon can help change people’s minds on that?

DJ: It’s hard to argue with the performance of it. I understand as a person that looks at the same thing you’re looking at, it’s different. Different is not always easily accepted. If you’ve been through any vehicle launches—the new Chevrolet, the new Dodge Ram—everybody’s like that. ‘New front end is so ugly, the new grille is disgusting!’ And then six months in, nobody cares and they love it.

I recognise as a person that’s been an early adopter my entire life, like the new latest and greatest, I’m willing to open mindedly give it an opportunity. I’m fortunate enough to be able to get in the car, drive an X3, jump in that, and feel the actual difference. That’s what’s really going to make the most difference is when a person can have that driver experience. It’s one thing for me as a racer to tell them, “This thing drives incredible. You can drive it one hand at ninety miles an hour through the whoops and you feel comfortable.” But until a person can get in there and drive it, they won’t understand how valuable that suspension design is.

It’s like chopping a tree down. This win, you know, the information that we provide through all of our social media of the design and the performance of this thing, it just chips away at those naysayers. I think the biggest swing, the biggest axe hit was to go out there and win in this car and people will be like, “Oh dang, this thing ain’t just a funny looking, different design. This thing gets down as a UTV.”

TCF: It seems like all of these manufacturers have been introducing new, far more competitive UTVs in the past year. You’ve got the Maverick R, Polaris has its Pro R Factory, Honda’s got their new Baja Talon, and SPEED UTV’s got their own thing. What are your thoughts on the state of UTV racing and how it’s grown in recent times?

DJ: There’s two ways that I look at it: it’s in terms of racing and it’s in terms of the general public. Because I own a company S3 Power Sports that builds aftermarket parts, that builds full turnkey race cars, I have to look at it from both sides.

There’s the general public that puts food on my table, and so for me it’s absolutely incredible on the building aftermarket parts. People are becoming more educated with social media, with more information out there, they know more about these things. They understand the dynamic of them and how well they work and what they’re capable of and that gets people excited and they want to fix them up.

It’s like having a Jeep. Jeeps have been around for seventy years or whatever it is. People like to customise those things, and so that’s become a thing the more educated people have become on Jeep. The most modified vehicle on the road is a Jeep. UTVs are becoming exactly that for the off-road. These things, nobody leaves these things stock anymore. They all customise them. They all do their own touch to them. For me, that’s incredible and what drives that is changing models, updating models, improving increasing capability, and then the competition of it between models.

For me, I bleed black and yellow so I’m die hard. Fortunately, I get to build and drive every UTV out there. Aside from being a factory racer, I genuinely believe in my heart Can-Am makes the best UTV bar none at this point. I get to drive and build everything, so my opinion is based on my experience, not who helps me be able to race. That’s on the general consumer side. It’s incredible for us to see people just building these things and excitingly calling every day to ask questions. 

On the racer side, competition is imperative because if Can-Am is just completely dominating everything and nobody aspires to outrun them, to make a better vehicle than them, then I become obsolete as a factory racer. So that competition is imperative. I’m friends with Robby Gordon. I hope his car does amazing. I love seeing him do good.

Mitch Guthrie, Branden Sims, Ryan Piplic, all the fast Polaris guys, I love seeing those guys be good and be competitive because if they’re at the very back of the pack and it’s just Can-Am, Can-Am, Can-Am all the time, they’re like, “Man, what do we support racing for? We’re dominating. We don’t need to support this anymore.”

That development, that improvement of the Pro R, of the SPEED UTV, of the Maverick R is imperative to me. I don’t want to just go out there and dominate everybody, then I’m just racing against my team-mates. I want to race against the fastest guys in the world in the best UTVs that people believe money can buy.

I love racing those Pro Rs. Those cars are tough, they’re good vehicles, they have good suspension in the rough. I want to race those dudes at their very best, you know what I mean?

Credit: Brandon Bunch/Can-Am

TCF: Looking ahead, what are your plans after this? Like there’s Laughlin in a couple of weeks, but what else do you and the team have planned for the rest of this year or maybe even next year?

DJ: You would think you would slow down after reaching this milestone and building a new car and winning in this first race. You would think that once you reach that milestone, you kind of slow down, but for me, it doesn’t slow down. It’s wide open. Now that we’ve accomplished that, I’m looking forward to a Best In The Desert championship. We’re second in the points for the Best In The Desert championship, we have two more races this year, and I’m trying to win that championship this year. Now that we’ve crossed this hurdle, that’s become very important to me.

I love racing. I tell everybody I like to race. My next thing that I’m looking forward to is this weekend, I’m hosting a pit bike race, a mini dirt bike race on some property that we have. I’m excited about that. I’m focusing on making sure my bikes are ready tonight to race tomorrow because I just love to race and that’s just what I like to do.

Once I finish that race this weekend, the next important thing is going to be Laughlin and then the next is going to be the final Best In The Desert race, and I go straight to Baja 1000, racing for Monster Energy at the Baja 1000. The year doesn’t slow down for me. It’s wide open, but it seems to be all kind of pivoting around and based on racing because that is what I love to do. I do this because I enjoy freaking racing.

TCF: Is there anything else you would like to add?

DJ: Aside from the car stuff, I want you to know that I appreciate the opportunity to talk with you guys. This is such an important part for me because your help is how I get to keep living a dream that as a child was not possible for me. I do not come from money. My family couldn’t afford it. I used to love going to dirt track races with my dad and watching, but we couldn’t afford to race. I used to go watch the quads race, but we couldn’t afford to get one. So my entire life, I dreamed of doing something like this and never had the opportunity. 

But it’s chances like this to talk to outlets like you that makes it possible for me to keep living my dream, so aside from all the interview and aside all the race car stuff, thank you for taking time to interview me. I appreciate that Neil (Storz, BRP Media Relations) hooked us up for this chance for me to be a voice.

Outside of that, I’ve always tried to be a good steward of the opportunities that I’ve been given. I remember as a small child, I had an older brother and I thought he was so freaking cool and I thought his friends were so cool and there were some of his friends that were very nice to me as a dorky little obnoxious little boy that just wanted to follow them around. I remember his friends that were very nice to me and I remember his friends who treated me well to this day. I remember their names, which ones were which. I made up my mind as I got a little older that I’m going to be that good guy that leaves people with a positive impression.

I’m so thankful that I can have a little bit of success in racing because that gives me an opportunity to show people that good guys can win and that being a good ambassador for our sport and not being the villain and not getting attention by talking trash or making people mad, you can win by being the good guy and I always strive to do that.

All aside from the interview stuff, I just wanted to say those things that I always try to be that guy. Thank you for this opportunity and I appreciate that Neil hooked us up for this.

Interview on YouTube

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