Dylan Gray is a veteran journalist and broadcaster who worked in PR for a motorcycle road racing team and also deftly navigated the MotoGP paddock as a commentator and presenter. Now, he’ll be the host of MotoAmerica Live+, MotoAmerica’s live streaming service that starts in just a few weeks. With Gray being a big part of our TV and digital coverage of this year’s racing, we wanted to find out more about Dylan Gray himself.
Dylan, let’s start out by getting to know your background.
Yeah, of course. I’m afraid the long version is far too long so I’ll try to be relatively brief. First off, I have an English dad and a German mom. I was born in England, but until my 18th birthday, we moved back and forth between both countries quite a bit, just because I think my parents have a bit of gypsy blood in them. I ultimately stayed in England to study mechanical engineering, and I absolutely loved it. I’ve always had a passion for anything mechanical…engines, stuff that moves, not just bikes, specifically. That led me to move to Australia after I finished my studies, and through chance and through an old contact I ended up doing some technical writing for a trucking magazine. I also like trucks. Obviously, it’s not the usual thing for a 22-year-old to like trucks, so I think it was a bit of a novelty.
So I did that for a while. Then I had the same job in the UK working for another magazine. That’s how I got into journalism. I didn’t actually end up becoming an engineer, which I sometimes wonder about, but it was a very nice way into journalism. Then the financial crisis hit, and the magazine industry was hit quite hard. I ended up in kind of a sales job, which I must confess I wasn’t really good at but I’m very glad that I did it because it gave me a lot of new skills and made me appreciate how hard some of those guys have to work.
As far as my way into motorcycle racing, I actually have my mom to thank for that. First of all, both my parents were bikers. Not racers, but they were bikers. That’s kind of how they met. I remember one day, my mom said, “Look, you love bike racing. You love GPs. Why don’t you combine your skills and try to work for a team or work for a championship.” She actually sent an email to MotoGP asking where her son should send his resume. It’s one of those wonderful stories. I remember spending one weekend sending out my resume to every single race team in the world. Two people got back to me. One of them was in MotoGP, and with Dorna. They said, “We don’t have anything now, but thanks for getting in touch.” The other one was the Crescent Racing team, which is now the Pata Yamaha team in World Superbike. The guy who responded to me was Tim Walpole, who was the press officer for the Crescent team. Tim is now Michelin’s press officer working in the MotoGP paddock. So I still owe him a big bit of gratitude. He passed my resume on to Paul Denning. I think for the American audience this might be interesting because the rider they had at the time was John Hopkins when he started in British Superbike. So that team was looking for someone to kind of help out with the sponsors, on the PR side of things. It was a part-time job, because they didn’t realize quite just how much interest there would be with John coming into the series. So they gave me my start. I’m forever grateful for them and it was interesting working with John. It was also a difficult time because we lost the championship that year by 0.006 seconds at Brands Hatch.
Then, at the end of that year, Dorna phoned me and said, “Dylan, we’re looking for someone to write stories for our Website. Would you be willing to move to Barcelona?” So then you’re young, you’re single and you’re not sure what to do with your life and then someone asks you to do that, so I said, “Absolutely!” So I moved to Spain, and did one year in the office with DORNA. Then at the end of that year in Valencia, one of the big bosses said, “Give Dylan a microphone and put him into pit lane. See how he does.” As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep much the night before. I’d never done TV before. I think if you were to listen back to it now, I think I was talking a million miles an hour. That was that. That’s what gave me my break.
There’s one article I read that will always stick in my mind, and it was called “Hollywood’s Balding Men.” That article stuck in my mind because it was all about when the huge craze about hair implants and stuff came about. I said, “If you look at the Tony Sopranos of this world, all these guys, if you like being on camera, you can transmit what you want to do.” I said, “It’s not about whether you have a good haircut or if you’ve got a ‘six-pack’ or something like that. It’s just about you enjoying being there and the audience feeling that enjoyment.” That’s stuck with me forever.
That definitely shows when you’re on camera. We can tell that you enjoy it. Let’s talk about your broadcast work in MotoGP. Your stuff was so terrific on there because you would talk about some technical things, but you’d also get to know the riders and what was going on in the paddock. Tell us about what you did on camera for Dorna.
I was always very lucky because Dorna generally said just come up with ideas, and very rarely did they say no. You’ve got to say, “What do you actually want to transmit when you present motorcycle racing?” Because it’s motorcycle racing. In the name, it already tells you that it’s got more to do than just the riding a motorcycle. With motorcycle racing, we know that you can have two of the best riders in the world, but if one of them has an inferior bike or is riding with different tires, it can make a huge difference. I always felt when you were talking to people who weren’t right in the paddock, you’d get so many of them who would say, “This-and-this rider isn’t very good, or this isn’t very good.” I just wanted to be fair and say, “Okay, how can we look below the surface and not just say someone’s running new suspension or someone now has a new braking technique or something like that, but explain why. Why does that matter? Why should you as a fan care that this person now has this on their bike? Why should you care that they’ve all of a sudden started doing flat track as their training? Why should you care?” And then relate it almost specifically to this race, this corner, this something, because then, even as a casual viewer, you’ll feel invested in what’s going on. In a way, you can empathize with the guy who might be running last and say, “You know what? This guy who you see running last would blow everyone away at a track day by about 10 seconds. It just so happens that he’s maybe 10 horsepower down, or the guys in front of him just happen to be a little bit better. But the difference is .5 seconds per lap, which as you know is nothing, but over race distance looks huge.”
So, with Dorna, I would always do videos and features that would try and explain that. You’d often only get to ask five questions or have five minutes. I never cared quite so much about questions like, “How’s the season going? What do you expect for this race?” You’ve got to try and dig a bit deeper. It didn’t always work, but I always felt like, if you can treat the riders and try and empathize with them – with what they’re going through – with things like someone saying “I had arm pump.” Well, you might sit on your sofa and say, “Well, come on, surely you can ride through that.” But anyone who’s ever had a cramped forearm going that fast on a motorcycle will understand that just bringing that thing around the next corner is a bloody miracle, let alone finishing the race. When the riders talk about tires and people say, “They’re always complaining about the tires.” Well, okay, but that’s like you having to run a marathon in a pair of rubbish shoes instead of good shoes. I always try to relate. I can’t claim that I always managed it, but that was my main goal. To have people understand what the riders and the teams actually have to go through to be this fast on race day, and not take something away from the riders, but give something more to the team and the manufacturers so it’s not just the rider that’s going to get the credit for the performance, but the data guy, the electronics guy, the suspension guy. There’s so much that goes into it.
Motorcycle road racing, on the surface, appears to be an individual sport, but it is one of the most intense team sports there is, wouldn’t you say?
Absolutely, and everyone has a different role at a different part of the weekend. For instance, you start off with the crew chief and with the data guy. They’re saying, “Okay, what happened at the last race or last year when we raced here? Do we have data? Yes or no?” If you don’t, then you’re starting from scratch. “Right. Which tires shall we try? Okay.” Then you’ve got all the setup, all the build. So that’s more on the mechanics. Then you get the rider, but then the rider might be on track for 30 minutes, maybe 40 minutes. So then it’s pretty much all the rider and the guy on the pit board. What they do in the box then is generally smaller adjustments compared to what you might do on Friday night or Saturday night.
I remember with the Crescent Superbike team, sometimes those guys would stay at the track until midnight. With MotoGP, you would see that sometimes, too. You’d have data guys back and forth just trying to change a little electronics setting here, a little electronics setting there. The relief you see on these guys when the bike also comes back from a session and there’s nothing wrong with it. Riders for me have the high pressure, in-the-moment job, but there is pressure on every single crew member and everyone involved with the team.
I was very lucky throughout my years with MotoGP because I built up some nice relationships with mechanics and with a lot of the crew chiefs. They couldn’t always say a lot of stuff on camera, because as you can image with MotoGP, there are some very watertight contracts. But when I say this, it’s not that they said bad things, but obviously they would give me a bigger insight into what was going on than they might have felt was appropriate. They would show me data charts, and then you go, “This guy’s snatching the brake this fast. This guy’s a bit smoother on the brake.” And then you have that, and it’s not only what the rider does. You imagine as a team, you have to convince the rider to do this because his teammate is doing it. You can physically show it on a laptop or a data printout. So, you’re dealing with someone who knows he’s one of the fastest 10 or 20 riders in the world, but you are having to show him because you know for a fact that something works better. You have to tell that rider, “You need to try this tomorrow morning.”
So you’re playing with egos. These guys need egos. You’re playing with them, but you’re also playing with so much fact. I think if I could focus on that, it’s so factual. It’s not necessarily who has a good day, who has a bad day. Of course, everyone has good and bad days, but that’s what I love about motorcycle racing. Most of the time, you can understand the “why.” You can figure out the “why.” Of course, you get guys like Marquez, and sometimes you think, “How on earth did he do that?” But you look at the data, and you see exactly what he is doing. The team knows how he does it. They just didn’t know at the time that their bike could do it.
Coming back to what you said about it being a team sport. It’s not the rider who necessarily just reacts to the conditions. The rider has to change his or her riding style. But what’s the bigger job? It’s maybe changing the entire front suspension, changing the rear shock, changing the tires, having to play with the engine map. That all comes from the team. It’s not just the rider.
Regarding the new TV and digital package, what you expect or want to happen, MotoAmerica is like Dorna in that you will be able to make the shows what you want it to be. So, we want to hear what you want it to be. Along with that, we’ve had some conversations with Wayne about doing technical articles on the MotoAmerica website, and one of the things he has said is that our core fans are pretty sophisticated. He’s concerned that if we talk about technical aspects that we’re kind of, “dumbing it down,” and that it’s obvious to our core fans. But even if they know it, sometimes hearing it or reviewing the information is probably okay with our core fans. So, when you’re presenting something of a technical nature, do you ever think about, well, there’s going to be a segment of fans who are going to be like, “I already know that.” But there are more casual fans who probably don’t know that stuff. Where do you sit with that? How do you present that technology to everybody?
I think one of the luxuries that I had with MotoGP was – and I remember this so, so clearly – you could also talk about if you made one change on a Ducati… This is an example. When Andrea Iannone went from Ducati to Suzuki, he took his crew chief Marco Rigamonti with him. I remember saying to Marco, “What’s it like on the Suzuki?” He said, “Great bike. Great learning curve.” But he said, “With a MotoGP bike, what might be obvious in production racing – like you lower the front end, it does this. You lower the rear, this happens.” He said, “You’ll find that, with a MotoGP bike, they can be so different. Things can be so turned on their head, even though they look the same from the outside.” So I would always try and keep my videos very specific. I always knew that if I said something on camera, I would get the info validated by the person that was actually working on the bike. I couldn’t always say who it was, but I made sure that it was validated.
So, I think answering your question more specifically, it sounds bad, but you have to not care about the fans as much as you do about the message. You’re not trying to tell the fans what they should think. What you’re telling them is what does the rider who’s riding this bike in this series, what do they think? Why does this electronics package matter to them? Why does this tire change matter to them? You have to make sure you are connecting whatever technical issue you’re covering to the rider they are following in that series. You’re not trying to educate them on what they should do with their own motorcycles. You’re just saying, “This is what the fastest riders in America do when this happens at this particular track.” You’re telling a story about a situation. You’re not doing a manual about how to do certain things. If you try and please every fan, you’re not going to. But if you get the message across, hopefully you’ll do so in an interesting manner. More often than not, I would find people that are actually very, very clever with bikes say, “Oh, I never thought of it from that angle before.” Or you’d have someone come in who’d never heard of bikes and said, “Hey, I didn’t realize these guys could do this, or that the bikes could do that.” So, the key is to try and talk in a manner that everyone understands. If there’s someone very, very technical, and they see a video where you’re saying, “So-and-so explains this-and-this concept on this bike.” Someone who’s really technical might pick on it, but might say, “I know how this works, so I’m going to watch it for entertainment value or I won’t watch it at all.” Someone who doesn’t know about bikes, they might not look at it because it’s too technical for them. So the way I view it is any insight into the paddock, as long as you relate it to the results and why someone is doing well, or why someone is doing badly, it’s going to be exciting for everyone.
Do you expect that MotoAmerica Live+ and MotoAmerica’s other viewing options will have some things that harken back to what you did in MotoGP and with Dorna?
I think that it’s very important to really make it about the riders and the paddock. I kind of feel it’s best to keep the actual presenter to a minimum because what happens is – and this is something that I found out in the past – the cameras that go around the paddock will pick up so much interesting footage, and it could be people having a laugh, riders doing something funny, but they might also pick up some moment, some look, some conversation between the crew chief and his rider or between the mechanic.
I’m really hoping that our shows will essentially tell the full story and more of an entire race weekend. When you do a live show, you are normally limited to live shots or pre-recorded footage. But, there’s so much other stuff that the cameras pick up that can’t be used on the live broadcast and will make interesting material for “Inside MotoAmerica,” and will make the fans feel even more like they’re there. Paddock life is very important.
I think the most important thing is telling the full story of MotoAmerica by using as much paddock footage from the race weekend as possible, and then maybe analyzing it. The nice thing is, this show comes out later. Can we analyze the weekend? Is there anything we found out after the race by looking at the footage that we captured? “Ah, we didn’t realize this. Look at what happened in the pits here.” By doing that, I think it will be an absolutely fascinating show.
So, you’ll be able to provide more in-depth coverage of some of the compelling things that were uncovered during that race weekend. It sounds like almost anybody in the paddock on these teams is fair game for you to talk to. Crew chiefs, the tire guy, obviously the rider. Pretty much anybody in the paddock if it relates to the story you’re trying to tell.
Let me put it this way. My dream, my ideal scenario for a perfect first year in MotoAmerica is that, in Superbike, Supersport, Junior Cup, Stock 1000, and Twins Cup, at some point we will have spoken to every rider, every crew chief, every mom and dad who helps out, every person who takes care of the tires, every person who cleans the bike – because everyone there has a story to tell.
My biggest frustration with MotoGP was that I couldn’t interview many of the mechanics because their contracts wouldn’t let them talk to me. I’m hoping with MotoAmerica to have even more access because half the people who are going to be working on those bikes are ex-road racers or they’re motocross racers or they do some form of racing on their own. I find that fascinating. People don’t realize how fast the paddock actually is as a whole. It’s not just the riders that are fast. Half the mechanics would probably set a lap time within a couple of seconds, maybe. There are so many stories, and we are never going to run out. I guarantee you, we are never going to run out. With the depth of the MotoAmerica paddock, there’s always some interesting story there.
You have a first-hand understanding of this sport because you’re a rider. You do track days and understand bikes. Tell us about that.
It actually took me a long time to get onto a bike because I had moved around so much. I mentioned England and Germany, but I lived in Australia, as well, for a year. I did the Australia bit, then I was in France for a bit. I’ve kind of gone back and forth so much. It actually took me till my 25th birthday to get on a proper motorbike for the first time and get my license. So I had a very late start, and I bought a second-hand R6. For someone like me who had never really gotten on a bike, it was a steep learning curve, and I didn’t do very well. I never got out on track until just before I turned 29. Then I bought an old CBR1000. It was a 2004 model. It was the first of that model year. I bought it when I moved to Spain and I did my first-ever track day in Aragon. So, I was a very late starter, which in a way, I think, isn’t a bad thing because I used to have a bit of a reckless personality when I was younger. So I think, from a safety point of view, it was probably quite good.
It actually helped me a bit in MotoGP because, when I did those commentating laps with a GoPro on board, people could see, “Hey, he actually likes riding bikes.” Throughout the years, I never got much quicker on the BMW because we were always stuck with road tires and no tire warmers, and I’d have to commentate during the first flying lap. So I was always a bit wary, especially on cooler days. I got better on the tracks around Spain where I lived. Depending on who turns up at the track days, I’m either one of the slower ones in the fast group or one of the quicker ones in the intermediate group, if you had to place me somewhere.
And now, you live in Miami. Tell us why that is.
In early 2017, it was the best thing that ever happened to me in MotoGP because I was interviewed by a very lovely lady who works for beIN Sports named Terri Leigh. Some people will know her as a presenter for beIN Sports.
We all have a crush on her, Dylan, just so you know.
I know. That’s the one thing I’m worried about. So anyway, we just stayed in touch. We sort of found that we got along very well in the interview. We stayed in touch and, to cut a long story short, within one year and three months, we got married over here.
I love MotoGP. I always will. But I’d reached sort of a limit with my job. There wasn’t much more I could do, so I decided that it was also time to go and explore other parts, and it was a lovely opportunity. Terri was obviously doing very well over here. So we just said, let’s give it a try. That’s why I’m in Miami right now. But you never know with MotoAmerica. I’ll get to know new places. You never know what’s going to happen with Terri’s job. So who knows where we’re going to end up?
The MotoAmerica TV package, is great because we’ve got the three options for fans: FOX Sports 2; “Inside MotoAmerica” on NBC Sports Network; and MotoAmerica Live+, the live streaming service. Is there anything else you want to say about what we’re going to do this year?
I think all I’d say is to the fans who love the sport and even to those who are still deciding on whether they should love it, our main goal is that you’re going to see all the action. But not only that, you’ll get as much analysis as possible, with as many insights into the paddock as we can provide. If the riders are on track, well then, we still have all the teams that we can talk to. If one class is on track, we can go to another class and have them analyze what’s going on, have them talk about what they’ve just done. I think what the future is, is we’ve got this paddock. We have a couple of TV cameras, and we don’t intend on stopping for one minute on Saturday or Sunday. Hopefully, diehard racing fans will be able to watch TV all day and not get bored. Whether we’ll get that right from the start, obviously it’s a whole new concept, with the team we’ve got. Greg White, who is an absolute fountain of knowledge. Jason Pridmore, who is fascinating to listen to about what the riders are doing. Then you’ve got Hannah Lopa. She knows the paddock so well. I think it’s a great combo. It’s a great team that we’ve got here.
I just know that, not only the fans in America, but also people from outside of America will hopefully get to see that there’s this really cool national series and get a good look at some of the people who are there. I don’t see why some of them shouldn’t end up on the world stage. And, hopefully, we can give more exposure to the riders, to the teams, maybe get more sponsorship on board, maybe get more visibility in a country that could bring those riders across. Overall it’s a great feeling. Everyone who I’ve spoken to has been so, so nice, so, so positive. They’ve all said amazing things. They’ve all said, “Dylan, you are going to love the MotoAmerica paddock.” I’m convinced that I will.
You definitely will. There’s no doubt. It’s a very welcoming paddock. What you guys are going to be doing, it really is truly almost like being at the track for people who are going to be watching from home, wouldn’t you say?
Oh yeah. Absolutely. It’s still better if they actually come to the track, of course. That would be the best thing, for the riders and teams to be supported in person, but that’s also part of the reason why I think it’s so great doing this TV. It shows people what MotoAmerica is all about, gets them hooked in a nice way, invites them to come along in person because they’re going to absolutely love it.
I’ve got to be really thankful to Wayne, to Chuck Aksland, and to all the guys who have given me this opportunity because if there’s one thing in MotoGP that I always missed was that I couldn’t do more, and now I feel, with MotoAmerica, I’ve been given that opportunity, which is wonderful.
I want everyone to know that I’m going to give absolutely everything I’ve got to really show America, and to show the world, what this paddock is all about and hopefully be a very valuable fourth member of the team with Greg, Jason, and Hannah.