Danielle Diaz is a very busy lady. She’s currently pursuing a career in chiropractic while also racing in MotoAmerica’s Twins Cup class aboard a Kawasaki Ninja 650 that was lent to her by her friend Niccole Cox, who just so happens to be MotoAmerica Operations Manager. When Diaz isn’t studying about how to treat sore backs, she’s backing it in aboard a twin-cylinder road racing motorcycle. We got Diaz to sit down with us just long enough to talk about her love of road racing, her blossoming career as a chiropractor, and her thoughts heading into this weekend’s Twins Cup race at Utah Motorsports Park.
Danielle, can you tell us how things started with you and motorcycles? How old were you? How did you get into road racing?
DD: I started riding when I was eight, nine years old. I grew up in the country, and we grew up on some land. When I was about eight, my cousin had gotten a little 50cc dirt bike. We were all very competitive with each other. I got to ride it once and only once. He wouldn’t let me ride it after that. After that I went home and begged my parents to get me a dirt bike. A couple months later for Christmas they got me and my brother little dirt bikes. I got a little PW80. It was meant just to ride around the house, just around the land. My dad brought out a tractor and made a little oval track. He knew nothing about racing. None of us knew anything about racing. That wasn’t really the intention. My dad’s co-worker and his son used to race flat track, so they invited us to go out and do it. So we went out to Chowchilla. They had a car dirt oval. I got second in my first race, and after that we did it pretty much every single weekend. I won a championship that year. For winning the championship, you got tickets to the Sacramento Mile. I had never seen professional flat track or anything. I didn’t even really know what it entailed. So I went and got to go watch that race – one of the last Sacramento Miles before they stopped it for a few years. I just remember going home after that and telling my dad, that’s what I want to do. So we started pursuing flat track a little bit harder. Started going to Lodi and places like that. I moved my way up all the way to 450’s when I was about 12 to 14, maybe closer to 14. My buddy who flat-tracked with me was applying for the Red Bull U.S. Rookies Cup. He was like, “You should do it.” So I didn’t really know what it was and I applied and got to go out and try it at Barber. It was my first time on a road race bike. I didn’t make the cut for the Rookies Cup, but after that, I went home and I was like, “Okay, that’s what I want to do.” So we spent a couple years building a road racing bike, just buying a bike in pieces, a (Suzuki) SV650. 2010 is when I started road racing, and I kind of stopped flat-tracking at that point. I’ve been just road racing ever since then.
It’s interesting that you started out with flat track. You started out with a dirt bike, which is a common starting point for most young riders, but a lot of them pursue motocross before going into road racing. It’s interesting to hear that you raced flat track. Have you ever done any motocross?
DD: No, not really. I’ve never done any motocross racing or anything like that. I’ve gone to Hollister and they have a motocross track, but I don’t even think I’ve ridden the track there. I’ve gone trail riding and maybe kind of mini-moto tracks, but I never ever got into motocross.
So, you made the transition from flat track to road racing. That’s the same pathway as some legendary road racers, including MotoAmerica president Wayne Rainey and MotoAmerica race director Doug Chandler. Tell me about the Red Bull Rookies Cup when you were involved in that. What other riders were there? Was it when Jake Gagne was trying out?
DD: Yeah. It was the year that Jake Gagne, Cameron Gish, Huntley Nash, Joey Pascarella and those guys tried out and made it. It was the first year they had it in the U.S., actually.
It’s amazing the lineage from that group of riders including you that are now a little bit older and definitely road race. Your peers during that tryout, that was a solid group no doubt.
DD: Yeah. I knew nothing about road racing at the time, so I didn’t know a lot of them. After that it was kind of interesting to grow up with them after that and get into road racing a couple years later and see them at the track and everything.
Do you race regionally with WERA (Motorcycle Road Racing) or AFM (American Federation of Motorcyclists)?
DD: I have in the past. With school right now, I’m really not. I’m not even really doing track days honestly with school right now. Kind of just showing up to the MotoAmerica rounds without any track time, but I have done full seasons in WERA and AFM in the past. I’ve done both. I’ve done probably more WERA just because of the mechanics that I’ve had throughout the year who have helped me out, they’ve always been from Southern California so it was always kind of more of a beneficial weekend to be able to test and work on things with my mechanics there. So we usually do WERA events.
Obviously things with your career have really started to take off. Can you talk to us about that? What your educational background is and what you’re studying to do in the future?
DD: I never took a break off from school. Straight from high school I went to a state college and did my general eds. Straight from community college I went to Fresno State for my Bachelor’s Degree. I got a Bachelor’s Degree in kinesiology, exercise science. Then, three weeks after getting my Bachelor’s, I started grad school for chiropractic at Palmer College of Chiropractic in San Jose. It’s an accelerated program. Specifically here we go quarterly. We go year-round really, five days a week, eight hours a day pretty much. We get three weeks off for summer, three for winter, and a week in-between seasons and that’s about it. Education-wise it’s worth four years of school, but it’s three years, three months total by the time we get done with it just because it is accelerated. So I started in January of 2016, and I’ll graduate next year in March.
What’s your career plan after that?
DD: Ideally I would like to stay in the motorsports industry. No matter what, I want to be working with athletes, but specifically motorsports athletes and specifically road racers would be nice, especially because I know a lot of people in the paddock and since I have known them for so long I feel like they kind of trust me. Those are just the people that on a really deep level I connect with. I get to treat patients right now at the clinic at school, and it’s great and I love treating patients, but whenever I get to treat a road racer or a motorcycle racer it’s just a little bit different. You understand them on a deeper level. I get a lot of the common injuries. I get how they train, or just a lot of things that they’re saying with explanation just because I’ve been in that role for so long. So when I graduate ideally I’d like to be in Southern California somewhere because the hub of motorsports is kind of down there in America. I’d like to work with specific individual racers or teams and be able to kind of travel with the series a little bit, MotoAmerica, and be at the track and work with racers onsite.
There used to be in our AMA road racing paddock a woman who was a massage therapist that used to kind of travel around and a lot of the riders would go to her. Can you compare or contrast the difference between a massage therapist and someone like you who is involved in chiropractic?
DD: I know massage therapy. I don’t know too much about the program. I know it’s very short in comparison to chiropractic. I think massage therapy is an eight-month program. They learn the ins and outs of the muscles and soft tissue. As chiropractors we also deal a lot with soft tissue, but we don’t give massages per se. Essentially any of the soft tissue work that I do specifically, it’s not meant for relaxation. It’s meant for rehabilitation. We use it as a tool alongside our adjustments. So the main focus that we use, we deal with the musculoskeletal system and we deal with the joints. Not just the spine – mostly the spine, but any joint in the body that has restrictions. We put movement back into that joint in the proper direction. There are different avenues that we can go through in order to help our adjustments. Soft tissue is one of them. There are a lot of different techniques that we can learn, too, as chiropractors. Some of what I do is with my hands. Some of what I do is instrument-assisted, so using other tools to get a little bit deeper down in the muscle versus massage therapy that is, as far as I know, really just with the hands. I definitely think they do go hand in hand. A lot of chiropractors have massage therapists in their office and they work alongside each other. I definitely think both benefit each other.
Chiropractic used to be kind of a black art or black science, something that people didn’t really understand. It seems to have gained legitimacy over the years. Do you feel that way and what’s your reaction to that?
DD: I haven’t felt personally too much of the negative perception of chiropractics, but you hear about it. Throughout school, throughout the curriculum we’ve heard about it. I have met a couple people that maybe aren’t too sure what they think of it or think it’s new or something like that. Chiropractic is so open in the way that you can practice. It’s not a cookie-cutter profession. You have a lot of freedom in how you can practice. There are definitely some chiropractors who aren’t as evidence-based, I guess, and some chiropractors who have made a not-so-great name for the profession. At least with me and my peers and a lot of the younger, newer generation of chiropractors that I’ve seen, we seem to be a lot more evidence-based. Particularly at the school I go to, they pride themselves on being very evidence-based. I get it. Some of it doesn’t necessarily make sense. Like, how do you do this and that makes me feel better? But everything I do or I try to do is backed by research, at least. I know there’s that negative stigma, but I definitely think it’s lessening. My parents went to a chiropractor my whole life. They would take me and he would adjust me when I was a kid. So, growing up at least, I didn’t really know there was such a negative stigma until I kind of started school. But I also didn’t know everything that chiropractors are trained to do, or everything that the curriculum involves. It’s a pretty rigorous program, and it’s not just about adjusting. We deal with all sorts of diseases with the musculoskeletal system. Not necessarily how to treat diseases, but at least to be able to identify diseases and refer out to the necessary people. I know not every chiro, especially older chiropractors, practice like that, but at least the people who I’ve been around and I know, that’s how we are. We get encouraged to, “don’t think you can fix everything. Refer out.”
You are so tuned into the human body, and being a racer and an athlete, obviously, you must do your own training. Can you kind of tell us what your training regimen is?
DD: My mechanic and I, for the past couple of years since I started this program, joke any time I show up to a race that I’m straight off the couch, with how busy this program is and then my lack of riding. Before I started this program I was going to school full-time. I was working a pretty decent amount, as well, and I was racing. So I’ve always been busy before I started grad school. I was fortunate beforehand that I used to work at Rich Oliver’s Mystery School, so I got to be on a dirt bike two to three times a week sometimes. That honestly kept me in great riding shape. I was in better shape doing that than I was going to the gym a few times a week. I’ve always been, for the past two years at least, into running. Not necessarily super-long distances, but I run several times a week. Especially with school, that’s kind of my main focus. I do some just regular bodyweight stuff, but just to kind of decompress after school. A lot of the times, I don’t get home until 7:00 at night, and luckily this time of year it’s still light out so I’ll go on a two- or three-mile run, four to five times a week. Obviously, it helps with endurance for racing, but also it’s a way for me to kind of decompress and de-stress after my 10-11-hour day. That’s kind of all I do is run and just kind of do some bodyweight stuff here and there. I would love to do more, but I’m usually at school 10-11 hours a days\, four to five days a week. So I don’t have a ton of time outside of that.
You mentioned that you want to have your career relate to motorsports. Do you feel that chiropractic has a place in motorcycle racing?
DD: I absolutely think it does. I know personally for me, this isn’t everyone, but every time I ride now I’m like, I want an adjustment so bad. Just because I know how tense and tight I get while I’m riding. Chiropractic and adjustment alone kind of helps relax your muscles around the joints. When they’re adjusted, it releases endorphins and makes you feel good. So that’s just one little part of it. Also we’re trained for the rehabilitation part of it, as well. Obviously a lot of injuries in racing need X-rays or they need to be maybe in a cast if you have a fracture or things like that. But there are a lot of musculoskeletal injuries that chiropractors can treat. Even a sprained ankle; if you adjust it quick enough, not that it fixes your sprained ankle, but it at least makes the healing process of that sprained ankle a lot faster and puts the joints in line so that they can heal properly and quicker. So that’s just one example. I definitely think just with the injury side of it, there’s a need for that there, but also even just kind of keeping you loose and moving properly throughout the weekend. I think that’s a big part of it, too. Making you feel the best that you can before you get on a bike.
Let’s talk about this weekend. You raced at WeatherTech Laguna Seca in Twins Cup, a new class for MotoAmerica this year. Can you talk a little bit about the class? What do you think of it? What are your goals for this weekend, and for the bike you’re riding?
DD: I was super-excited when I heard that they were going to have a twins class here. When I started road racing, I started on a twin, like seven or eight years ago. I raced it for two years. Granted, it was a production bike. It wasn’t the modified twin, but still I loved that bike. I loved that class. I always joke that whenever my sponsorship on the 600 runs out, because I don’t have my own 600 guaranteed – they’ve been supplying me with a bike for years now. So just whenever he’s done with me, I’m just going to go buy a twin and start racing that. The fact that they have Twins Cup in MotoAmerica is awesome. Once you go do pro races, it’s really, really hard to go do anything else. It’s not the same. It’s not that same intensity. For me specifically in the 600 class during my first year in chiro school, I was still racing the 600 class and I kind of had shown up to the track without a lot of seat time, but I think because I was so new in chiropractic school I was still willing to risk a lot like I had before, but I was so stressed and cooped up in class for hours that getting on a bike, it was awesome. It was not stressful. It was just fun. I actually had some of my best finishes that year. But then, a couple months later I had a pretty big wreck and was airlifted out. It was in the middle of my program. It was in the middle of a quarter, and I had a broken scapula so I couldn’t take some of my lab exams because I couldn’t use my arm. I was concussed for the last month. That kind of made me realize I could hurt myself to where either I end up having to drop down a quarter and not graduate with the class I started with, or I could hurt myself enough to where I can’t practice and pay my loans back when I’m done with this. So, that kind of opened my eyes and I kind of decided I need to be more responsible and maybe I shouldn’t be in the 600 class just because I wasn’t willing to risk it. I know it sounds silly. I know you can get hurt on any bike, but the Twins Cup class sounded perfect for me. I wanted a class where I wasn’t with a younger crowd, where I was kind of with an older crowd who had to go to work on Monday morning. That’s the mentality I wanted. At Laguna, that kind of seemed to be the mentality. Everyone kind of had a general respect for each other. Not that the other classes don’t, but still it was kind of that sense of, “Hey, guys, we don’t need to hurt each other here.” And I like that. That’s exactly what I wanted. Everyone’s still competitive and doing their own thing, but we all have other stuff going on. I think they’re fun bikes. I hadn’t been on a twin for seven years or something like that before I hopped on a twin at Laguna. I forgot how much fun it was. They’re just fun bikes. They’re super-fun to ride. You can ride those things hard. It’s not like a 600. You’re not afraid it’s going to buck you off. I really, really liked it. We were building a twin for me in 2017. It was supposed to be done for Laguna, and it wasn’t. So Niccole Cox stepped up and let me borrow her bike. For Utah we were sure my bike was going to be done, and I found out about a week ago that it’s not going to be. So I’ll be riding Niccole’s bike again, which is great. I really like that bike. The only thing that’s kind of a bummer is it is a little older. It does seem to be under-powered in comparison to a lot of the other bikes in the class. Utah does have the longest straight in the series, as far as I understand, so we’re going into it a little bit bummed out. But, honestly, I’m just stoked I get to ride and be out there. I think we can still be competitive. We were still competitive…not as competitive as I wanted, but competitive at Laguna. So regardless, I’d rather be out there on any bike than not out there at this point.
Will you also be at Sonoma Raceway?
DD: I will be there 100% at least to watch. I said I wasn’t going to go race because I have my Part II’s and III’s of national boards two weeks after Sonoma. I know that sounds like a long time, but if I get concussed again, it’s a $1400 exam, and you don’t get a refund. So I don’t think I’m racing it. I said I wasn’t going to race it, but my mechanic and I joked after Laguna that you put us on a motorcycle and we turn stupid. That’s all we want to do is go ride. So I’m telling myself I’m not going to do it. I don’t think I am, but there’s always that slight possibility. We’ll see.