Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Thunder Bay, Ontario native Shane Drew was travelling across Canada competing as one of the top pro riders on the National circuit. With a number of Top 10 overall finishes, Shane was considered to be one of the hardest working and no-nonsense riders on the circuit. As his racing days came to an end, Shane used the connections and friendships he had made over the years to land a job in the USA as a mechanic on the Noleen Yamaha Team under the guidance of Clark Jones. At the time it was an amazing opportunity for Shane and since then he has been involved with a number of Factory Teams, including Team Yamaha, TwoTwo Motorsports and Team Honda. For 2020, Shane is back with the red team and is the man in charge of chassis development for Justin Brayton and current 450SX points leader Ken Roczen. We caught up with this Canadian legend as he was sitting in traffic on his way to work.
MXP: Hey Shane, how are things going today?
Good! I’m just driving to work right now.
The last time we spoke you were living the good life near the ocean, are you still in the same spot?
Yes, we live in a city called San Clemente, which is at the south end of Orange County. It’s a great spot and we really love it here.
Does it make for a long drive if you have to go to the Honda test track during the week?
I’ve actually found that the traffic is better for me living here as I always seem to be going against the traffic when I have to go to the test track in Corona. On days like today when I have to go to the Honda Factory in Torrance, that’s a little tougher as Honda is up by LAX. Overall, though, it’s not too bad.
What is your weekly schedule with the team during this time of the year?
Today (Monday), we go to the Honda shop for meetings and to go over what happened at the race on the weekend. We all compare notes and meet with a few of the Japanese engineers to go over all of the information we gather from the race. We then apply that to the bikes, and then Tuesdays and Wednesdays we ride at the test track. Thursdays we’re back at the shop and then Friday we fly to the race. Saturdays are obviously race days and then Sunday we fly home and take the rest of the day off. That in a nutshell is my week.
That actually sounds pretty busy, but I guess it is race season and if you want to win then you have to put in the work.
Exactly, that is what you have to do.
Well, whatever Team Honda has been doing lately definitely has been working as you guys have started off 2020 really strong.
Yes, we’ve had a great start to the 2020 SX season. Kenny has really been riding well and he feels very comfortable with his bike. Other than some issues at the opening round in Anaheim, he’s been really happy with everything, and obviously his results are reflecting that.
Even with the different type of track conditions that we’ve seen so far in the series, Roczen’s Honda has looked good, which must make you happy.
For sure, like I said, we were a little off with our set-up at the opening round, and Kenny struggled a bit. However, we made some changes for Round 2 and since then we’ve just been fine tuning.
After the opening round in Anaheim, Roczen mentioned that his bike was too stiff and he lacked a little feel on the track. Was that just a miss on the team’s part or had that set-up been working all through testing and then the A1 track was just different?
As soon as we rode press day at Anaheim 1, we knew that we were too stiff with Kenny’s set-up, but at that point it’s to late to make any major changes. And credit to Kenny as he said to leave it, he’d figured it out. In the past, Kenny has had some crashes and part of those were because his bike was really soft. It was no one’s fault as that was the set-up Kenny wanted. So, coming into 2020, he wanted to go really firm, which is what we did. However, in race conditions, when you can’t always take the lines you want and the track gets a little rougher than say a test track gets, his set-up ended up being too firm.
So, at that point the team met on the Monday after Anaheim and came up with a plan?
Yes, we all sat down on Monday and went over everything, then made a plan for testing the next day.
Was it a suspension or chassis issue, or even a combination?
It was purely a suspension issue, and mainly it was the forks that were too stiff. During the meeting I suggested that Kenny should try Brayton’s forks as his set-up is a little plusher. So, we put them on and Kenny instantly liked them, and then we went to St. Louis the following weekend.
And the rest is history.
Yes, Kenny rode great in St. Louis, and since then we’ve been spot on. Kenny actually won St. Louis using the exact forks that Brayton used to win the Australian SX. Also, we made a few setting changes with the rear shock and that was pretty much it.
Overall, what type of set-up does Kenny like? Does he like his bike to be balanced or the rear end to be low or high?
He definitely likes his bike to ride tall and have a lot of traction with the front end. Like I said, in the past he’s always used a little softer set-up than he’s using this year. Even the softer set-up we went to after Anaheim 1 still wasn’t as soft as it’s been in past. I think we’ve found that good balance right now, and he’s obviously happy.
One thing I’ve noticed from watching him in person at A2 and then on television for the rest of the rounds so far, is that his bike looks very balanced. It appears to be working well on all parts of the track, not just one section.
I would agree with that, for sure. Sometimes you get a set-up that works in the whoops but it won’t turn very well. Or it’s the opposite. Kenny feels like his bike is good everywhere and that is one reason why he currently feels so comfortable.
How has it been having Justin Brayton on the team this year? He definitely brings a ton of experience to the team.
It’s been great having Brayton on the team as he and Kenny work really well together. Everyone gets along and they even bounce ideas back and forth. For instance, as I was saying, Roczen is using Brayton’s forks and last weekend Brayton tried Roczen’s rear shock. So, it’s great having them both and it’s really good having them both using Showa suspension.
As we mentioned at the beginning of our chat, everything appears to be rolling along. I hope it stays that way.
I do as well! Another thing that I will say is that Trey Canard is hugely important to our program right now. He still has some great speed and is always testing for us. He’s able to test with Roczen’s and Brayton’s set up so he knows exactly what their bikes are doing and he’s able to relay information really well. He also works with the riders at the races with line choice and racecraft stuff, so Trey has been great.
I’m glad to hear that things are going well. You’ve been at this a long time!
Yes, I have, from my early racing days to coming down here and becoming a mechanic at the Noleen Yamaha Team, it’s gone by pretty fast.
When you first went down to the USA to work for Noleen, who was your first rider?
The first rider I had was Larry Brooks but then I wrenched for Kyle Lewis. Kyle and I really got along well and we had a good time together. From there I was lucky enough to get a job working for Sebastien Tortelli at Team Honda and then I went from there. It’s definitely been fun and interesting at the same time.
You were at Team Honda back in 1997 when Honda released the first aluminum framed CR250R. I raced that bike and I actually didn’t mind it, but overall it really got a bad rap.
I think it was McGrath that really didn’t like it when it first came out, and then of course he left for Team Suzuki. From there some riders really struggled on that bike and the press ran with that thinking. However, in 1998 Ezra Lusk rode pretty much the same bike and was great on it and won a bunch of races. I think the bike was good, it was just so different than anything else at that time. Sometimes people hate change!
Well Shane, as always, it’s been great chatting with you, and it makes me happy to see that you’re still doing well. I remember us lining up together back in 1990 at a very dusty Riverglade National. Racing was a little different back then, wasn’t it?
It sure was (laughs), but it was a lot of fun!
Good luck for the rest of the season and we’ll see you again at another round.
Sounds good Chris, thanks for reaching out.