In The Champ’s Corner, Part 2: The Race Team

10 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Wade Lewis, DPH/M33 Productions, Andy Wigan, Made Social

From the outside, motocross might appear to be an individual sport. But any motocross rider who’s won at the elite level will tell you that having the right people in their corner is an absolute prerequisite to success. We spoke with the key people in Todd Waters’ corner; those who proudly witnessed the likeable 28-year-old clinch his long-overdue maiden Australian MX1 Championship title.

Dale Hocking, DPH Motorsport

Over the past nine years, Dale Hocking’s DPH Motorsport team has been part of the Australian Motocross and Supercross Championships’ fabric, and always punched well above its weight. In spite of much smaller budgets than the top teams they’re banging bars with on the weekend, DPH has notched up an MX Nats MX2-class title (in 2016, with Jed Beaton) and a coupe of national Women’s MX titles (with Maddy Brown, in 2014 and 2015). After stints with Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha, DPH joined forces with Husqvarna last season. And in 2019, they achieved what no team has ever done in Australia: winning both the MX Nats’ MX1 and MX2 titles in the same year!

So, what’s made this family-oriented race team so successful? How did they manage to sign Todd Waters and Wilson Todd, two of the best riders in the paddock? What did it feel like to create history this season? And will a Husqvarna-backed DPH Motorsport team be back to defend their titles in 2020? We sat down with DPH Motorsports’ dealer principal, Dale Hocking, and fired these questions and more at him shortly after the team’s historic double title-win at Coolum’s final round of the 2019 Pirelli MX Nationals.

“We bought the kids a PeeWee when they were 18 months old. The kids started racing, so I built one trailer, then another, then a truck, and now a semi-trailer!”

TM: Your background in the sport…
DH: “I started my motorcycle apprenticeship when I was 14 and have been playing with motorbikes all my life. I was heavily involved with Trevor Flood Racing. I spannered for Steve Breese, who raced for Trevor Flood’s Suzuki and Yamaha teams when he was one of the top Pro riders in the mid 1980s, and for America’s Jimmy Ellis at the very first indoor Supercross race in Sydney. A few years later, I married Tash, had some kids, and when they were 18 months old, I bought them a PeeWee and built them a jump track. The kids started racing, so I built one trailer, then another, then a truck, and now a semi-trailer [laughs]. We started the DPH Motorsport team in 2010 and our workshop is based on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsular, not far from Honda’s factory race team. In nine years since, we’ve had two international riders race for us, Josh Hill and Dean Wilson. We’ve had a bunch of Australian riders on the team – the original riders were my sons, Boyd and Tyler Hocking, and off the top of my head, there’s also been Sam Martin, Cheyne Boyd, Kade Mosig, Lawson Bopping, Ross Beaton, Jed Beaton, Jacob Wright, Wade Hunter, Dylan Wills, Hayden Mellross, Madison Brown, Josh Cachia and Wilson Todd – and then Todd Waters and Bailey Malkiewicz joined Wilson Todd on the team’s rider line-up for 2019.”

DPH’s move from Yamaha to Husqvarna from the 2018 season…
“I’ve known Jeff Leisk for many years, and he and I kept in touch over the years. With KTM buying Husqvarna a few years back, the bikes got a whole lot better, so Jeff and I started talking more seriously in 2017 about the possibility of DPH moving to Husky. Jeff explained that they’d found some money to help DPH Motorsport put an official Husqvarna race team together, and that’s what happened. The timing was perfect because, honestly, the standard bikes are so bloody good. I genuinely believe they’re now the best bike on the market, in terms of performance and durability. As a team, that helps us attract good riders and it minimises how much development we need to perform to be competitive at the top level.”

The unprecedented achievement of being the first race team to win an MX1 and MX2 title in the same year…
“Well, the team has won a few motocross titles with Jed Beaton and Maddy Brown, and we’ve narrowly missed out on winning a few Aussie Supercross titles. But what we’ve done this year is something very special for everyone involved. We’ve always been kind of the underdog and quiet achiever, and I’ve been frustrated that we haven’t got a lot of help from the manufacturers over the years. So after all the time, money, effort, sacrifice and hard work put in by my family and the entire team, it’s a sensational feeling to achieve something that no other race team in Australia has ever done. Obviously Todd and Wilson rode incredibly well all year to win the titles. But I really ought to single out my wife, Tash, who’s been there every weekend helping out in every way she possibly can, and my son, Boyd, who has always been instrumental to the success of the team from day one. He’s the quiet achiever who stepped up this year; not only managing the team, but his passion for the sport also has him getting dirty in the workshop to ensure we produce the best product for our riders. I do all the engine work, but Boyd builds the race bikes virtually singlehandedly. The DPH team is a huge family effort with a great atmosphere and hands-on approach. Boyd gets dirty on the track, and Tash caters, ensuring the team are fed and watered. I think that’s why it works so well. Plus, both Todd and Wilson have fantastic, supportive parents and partners. We encourage and appreciate their involvement, and I believe that attitude has been a key part of the team’s success.”

“I believe the Husqvarna is now the best bike on the market. As a team, that helps us attract good riders and it minimises how much development we need to perform to be competitive at the top level.”

Your approach with the riders…
“I’ve never been one to scream and shout at the riders because these guys already put enough pressure on themselves. They’re professionals, so I see the team’s primary job as giving them the equipment and the environment that works for them. I’m so lucky that I don’t have ‘rockstar’ riders; I’ve got down-to-earth guys who work hard and enjoy what they do. We leave the boys to do what they need to do during the week, and then we go racing on the weekend. On Sunday night in Coolum, after wrapping up the titles, a lot of people came up and said something to me about how they liked the relaxed atmosphere we create at the races, but how we’re still professional and there to do the job. I think our choice of riders and the achievements this year confirms our approach has been the right one.”

Both Todd Waters and Wilson Todd come from the Atherton Tablelands, near Cairns. Coincidence?…
“Pure coincidence. Other than the fact that pretty much all the riders I know from that area are great blokes that any team would be proud to take onboard. Wilson was with us in 2017, but we lost him to Yamaha last year because I was still waiting on some sponsorship deals to be confirmed when Yamaha put the pressure on him to sign. So for 2019, we’d agreed that if he didn’t get the ride overseas, he’d rejoin DPH. And that how it played out. And to be honest, Todd sort of fell into our lap too. I’d been talking with Toddy for years but never had to money to pay what he was asking. Initially, he decided to come and ride the first few rounds with DPH in 2019 for free before heading back to America. So I asked him what he’d do if he were leading the championship at that time. He and his family considered that, and a week later they told me they want to come and race with DPH for the entire season. At that same time, I’d been in talks with Hayden Mellross. So when Hayden made the call to move to Raceline KTM, I had the money I needed for Todd. In hindsight, it was a great decision for us and for Todd.”

“We’ve always been kind of the underdog and quiet achiever. So after all the time, money, effort, sacrifice and hard work, it’s a sensational feeling to achieve something that no other race team in Australia has ever done.”

Todd’s father, Steve, as race-day spannerman…
“Shortly after Todd signed, I asked him if he wanted Steve to come on board to be his race-day mechanic. He loved the idea, so that’s what we did. Y’know, why break something that works? Steve’s got a great sense of humour and knows how and when to keep things fun and lighthearted.”

Winning on a shoestring budget…
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t more satisfying for us this year to beat bigger teams with much bigger budgets. But it hasn’t been easy. With KTM and Husqvarna in Australia recently becoming subsidiaries of KTM Austria, both brands’ racing budgets and plans for next season remain uncertain. For DPH and Husqvarna, there is definitely an intention to work together again in 2020. But I’ll be honest and say the future of DPH depends on sponsors opening their chequebooks. It’s as simple as that. We need more support next year to continue racing; to showcase Husqvarna and ride our way to win the Championship again. We have the riders and the team, but we need the funds. Currently, I get about one-fifth of what it costs to go racing from sponsors. So over the past nine years, I’ve tipped in a lot of money out of my own back pocket. If, by taking out two Championships this year, we haven’t proved that the team is worthy of full financial investment, I’m not sure what will.”

The DPH race truck’s last pick of the pit paddock parking ‘grid’…
“Even though we had the red plates in both MX1 and MX2 classes for much of the year, yes, we were parked down the back-end of the pits. I’m okay with that as it lets us do our thing and then prove ourselves out on the track, where it’s important. Husqvarna Motorcycles Australia decided not to sponsor Williams Event Management [MX Nats promoters] this year – I suppose every sponsor wants bang for their buck – and that may have had an influence on the positioning. I’m not concerned; we’re just there to race and win championships.”

“We need more support next to go racing again because at the moment, I get about one-fifth of what it costs to go racing from sponsors.”

Where we’re at as a sport in Australia…
“I think the MX Nats as a series really needs to have a look at the tracks it goes to because some of the rounds are raced on mini-bike tracks. I know this is a frustration for a lot of other teams and for the riders. Motorcycling Australia owns the series, so I think there’s a responsibility for MA to work together with WEM to ensure the country’s premier motocross series is staged at bigger, more flowing tracks that are worthy of the sport and give the riders an arena they deserve. The promotion model is also a key area I think MA and WEM need to look at if they want to attract larger spectator crowds. The small crowds are a shame because it’s an awesome sport with world-class riders and the capability of getting much more exposure. As it is, unless you’re a hardcore motocross fan – in the inner sanctum, so to speak – the MX Nats is virtually invisible. We have the Australian Superbike Championship aired live on SBS, but it’s been many years since we’ve had the MX Nationals on TV. I’m chasing sponsors all the time, and one of the first questions they ask is about the series’ media footprint, including its TV package. WEM uses NRG TV to stream the content of the racing, and I understand how important mobile devices have become for content distribution. But I think it should be a platform that complements television exposure, rather than be the sole source – in part, because that’s what prospective sponsors want to see before they’re even inclined to invest.”

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