In this week’s Industry Insights we talk to Dustin Pipes about growing up in a racing family and why they started HEP Motorsports. Dustin tells us his thoughts on transitioning from a professional racer to team owner, what it was like to win their first Supercross as a team, and much more.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you’re interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: Where did you grow up, and how did you get involved in motocross?
Dustin Pipes: I grew up in Madera, California. My parents and family ran motorcycle races with the California Motorcycling Association when I was growing up. They ran tracks around the Central Valley of California, so I grew up with a racing background. I was always at the track from a young age. That grew into me racing, and I became a professional racer for a bit. I was a decent privateer who made mains and scored some points. When I was winding that down, we started the HEP Suzuki team, and it’s grown since then.
Vital MX: Your dad, Aaron, co-owner of the team, also raced, right?
Dustin: Yeah. He raced before I was born. Growing up, he, my Aunt Dana, and Uncle Pat ran races together as a family. That’s the structure I grew up in. Now it’s me, my dad, and Aunt Dana who run the team’s day-to-day stuff. Also, Larry Brooks and my cousin Chase, who does all the media stuff for the team. It’s a real family effort.
Vital MX: That must be fun to do as a family.
Dustin: It’s fun and frustrating at the same time. You know how it goes working with family. You see each other all the time, and you can call everyone an idiot and then be fine five minutes later. It has its perks, and I wouldn’t change it for anything, but there are also some tense times.
Vital MX: You made your pro debut in 2010 at Washougal. What were your pro expectations at that time?
Dustin: If I could have jumped into the top ten, that would have been my goal. That’s not how things worked out. When you’re an amateur racer, you can be a bit narrow-minded regarding how good the professionals are with the number of pros there and that you’re racing guys that are 35 and you’re 18. That’s tough and a lot different than your ‘A’ class at Loretta’s. I think there was a lot more depth in the sport than I realized. Making the jump from an amateur pro to a true professional is much different. Tracks are different, and the competition is different. It’s a tough leap, and I didn’t make it as far as I would have liked to, but that’s okay.
Vital MX: Your first Supercross main event was in 2015 at Indy. How did that feel?
Dustin: It felt good. Obviously, that’s something I wanted to do. I jumped straight to the 450 class, which made my competition and leap more difficult. That was probably a mistake at the time because in the 250 class, you are racing with guys you grew up with. So, jumping to the 450 class was probably a dumb decision. Making my first main was a great feeling, but it made me think, “Why didn’t I do this every other time?” because it wasn’t hard. Once you do it, it feels easy, so you can do it again. “Now I know what to do to be here again.” That led to me making more mains and being better in my career.
Vital MX: You raced professionally for about eight years. It’s been almost five years since you stopped racing. When you look back at your career, what thoughts come to mind?
Dustin: Man, these aren’t the questions I thought I’d be answering. I love racing and everything about it. I’m glad I could experience that and transfer it into my career of running and managing a race team, which I seem to be more successful at. I’m glad I have that experience on the track because I can look at things differently. In terms of my race career, I think it was underwhelming, but that’s how it goes.
Vital MX: Your final year of racing was in 2018. That same year, you started HEP Motorsports and had a Supercross-only team, which included Henry Miller, Tallon LaFountaine, Kyle Cunningham, and yourself. What was the reason to start a team of that magnitude? It almost seems overnight that you had a four-man team.
Dustin: Yeah, it was very overnight. At the time, I was winding down my career. The year before, I wanted to be done. I was going to college and transitioning into being a lawyer or agent. Something like that. I did the Suzuki bike intro that year at JGR for Steve Matthes. I was sitting at a table with Chris Wheeler and Kerry Graeber, and they were losing RCH Suzuki. Ronnie Stewart also had a small team that wouldn’t continue, so they had some space. I said, “What if I start a team?” They said they would support it. It was a nonchalant conversation that just happened. There wasn’t a crazy story of just wanting to start a race team. It just happened through a conversation, and we saw it through. I didn’t think it would lead to where it is today, but I’m excited about where it’s headed.
Vital MX: In the team’s first year and your final year racing, how much more difficult was it trying to balance racing and being a team manager?
Dustin: A lot more. When you’re racing motorcycles as a pro, you have the ability to go out and ride and shut off all the other distractions you may be dealing with. You have that mechanism and relief from the stresses of your everyday life. You can go ride and unplug because you have to be focused on that. While running the team and trying to race simultaneously, I was doing calls between motos. I was doing whatever needed to be done to be successful. I couldn’t go out to the track and only focus on that. It was tough to grasp at first. Dealing with those new stresses was something I had to get used to. That whole year, in terms of my racing, was a shit show. I don’t know how Bubba Pauli has dealt with it for this long. I know he’s trying to do the same thing. For me, the team took off once I took myself out of the equation of trying to perform on the racetrack.
Vital MX: You mentioned wanting the previous year to be your last, but once you did step away, was it still a difficult decision? A racer usually doesn’t want to stop racing.
Dustin: I had many injuries and knew it would be time to step away. My last race was Glen Helen, a track I absolutely hate. It’s just no fun to race. So, I scored points in my last race and was content with it. As long as I went out scoring points and I gave my best effort, I was content. It was time to be done.
Vital MX: The team has come a long way in seven years. You’ve worked with Max Anstie, Alex Ray, Kyle Chisholm, Justin Bogle, the Seven Deuce Deuce (Adam Enticknap), Ryan Breece, Shane McElrath, and many more. In 2023, the team made a big step when you signed Ken Roczen. What was the direction of the team when you started compared to going into ’24? Did you think it would get to what it is now?
Dustin: Yes. The end goal was always to win races. When we started and were in 13th and 14th, whether 10, 20, or even two years away, the goal was to win races. We knew we couldn’t do it the traditional way. We didn’t have the money or the backing to go out and buy a win. We tried to win in different ways than on the track those first few years. When I say that, we tried to do better on data collection, win in the pits, and have the longest autograph line. We could take things like that to our partners and say, “Hey, maybe our results aren’t where they need to be, but here is this other stuff we can provide you.” I think doing that the first few years set it up to where we can have growth and take risks with Max and Ken to try and take the next step. We have good partnerships who want to see us succeed because we provide more value than just what’s on the TV.
Vital MX: With that success comes more expectations and pressures. It’s probably more difficult now as a team than in 2018.
Dustin: Yeah, I think it is. You always have to deal with the expectations. It is what it is. We have a lot of guys here who work hard and want to win. I don’t see that want going away. We expect much from ourselves, and I don’t think another team is working harder than us. We all work hard and consistently. I like the direction we are headed.
Vital MX: That includes hiring Larry Brooks as the team manager and taking some responsibility off your plate. I’m sure his knowledge is priceless.
Dustin: Being realistic, when we try to take the next step, it’s important to have guys in place who the riders feel comfortable listening to and taking guidance from. When you have a guy like Ken, who has been very successful and is one of the most talented racers in the world, it’s important to have a guy like Larry, who he can lean on. He wouldn’t have gotten the same know-how and knowledge from me if I was in that position. Having Larry was a critical step for the team to not only get Ken but also have the success we had this past year.
Vital MX: I mentioned how special it must have been for you to make your first main event. I can’t imagine that even compares to the team getting their first Supercross win with Kenny in Indianapolis this past season. Coincidentally, it’s the same city where you got your first main.
Dustin: That is funny. I didn’t even think of that. That’s kind of cool. I like Indy. Winning the main was a lot cooler than me making the main. I’ll tell you that. The way Ken did it by fighting back and leading the whole race. He won by holding off Justin (Barcia), and the crowd’s reaction was so neat. I don’t think a person in the building wasn’t a Ken Roczen fan. So, that was a special moment, and seeing how the motorsports community embraced Ken and his win was awesome for the next few weeks. It was one of the season’s talks and fueled us for more. We were kind of bummed towards the end of the year because we felt he could’ve had a win in Denver, but he fell three times. Then, in Salt Lake City, I believed he was going for another win until he had the little slide out in the corner and thought he hurt his knee. I know Ken and the team worked hard, and I want to see it pay off for them.
Vital MX: It was cool. Thankfully, I was there that night.
Dustin: It was badass, right? The crowd was incredible. I’ve never experienced that in twenty years of going to the races.
Vital MX: The crowd was amazing, but what got me emotional was how the other riders, his competition, were as excited for him as he and the crowd were. Everyone was coming up and hugging him, and it was unreal.
Dustin: Yeah, it was neat to see.
Vital MX: You also decided to step into the World Supercross series last year. You won a couple of World Championships now. That’s another positive in the overall scheme of things. Was it a big risk to go race WSX?
Dustin: Yeah, I think it was. It kind of continues to be. The good news is there are some stable partners and owners, and it seems to be headed in the right direction. I love racing, love Supercross, and I love the sport. So, we want to be involved anytime we can be involved in something that could potentially reach more fans and help grow the sport. WSX was a chance to do that, and we’re stoked that Ken won the title. We had a little mix-up in Abu Dhabi, but I’m glad we wrapped the title up in Melbourne. There’s a lot of opportunities and potential there. I know there have been some faults, and we’ve voiced those to the ownership group. They’ve been receptive to the things that need to be improved. I see the series taking off in the next few years. I know some of the plans for the future, and they make me confident in where they’re heading.
Vital MX: You recently extended your partnership with Suzuki through 2025, and you’ve been on the brand your whole career, correct?
Dustin: I started with Suzuki as a ‘B’ rider. I’ve been a Suzuki lifer.
Vital MX: It seemed they were pulling away from racing as a brand a couple of years ago. Now, it appears they are giving a lot of support in Supercross by helping HEP, and you’ve been a great ambassador for them.
Dustin: I know everyone makes fun of the kickstarter, but the bottom line is it’s still a race-winning bike. It’s a bike we feel is very good and could lead us to great success in 2024. The truth is that Suzuki supports us much more than they have in past years. There is communication with Japan, parts being made, and a bunch of stuff behind the scenes that has the wheels turning. We’re excited about a long-term partnership with them, and this is only the beginning. When I grew up racing, I was watching Chad (Reed), Ricky (Carmichael), and James (Stewart) win on these bikes. We know the lineage and heritage are there. We must do our best to ensure the fans and consumers know that and work towards the future.
Vital MX: Other partners that are a part of your team include Progressive Insurance and Twisted Tea. Twisted Tea has been on board for four years now. Those big sponsors have a huge impact, allowing you to have riders like Kenny and multiple semis. That has had to have made things much easier.
Dustin: The awesome thing about having partners like them is that they make sense and mesh well with the consumer and fan base. Twisted Tea is a fun brand, and when I think of the Supercross paddock, I believe people resonate with that brand. Having them for four years has been awesome, and I believe we are about to announce another multi-year extension. It’s great having sponsors in this series and sport for the long term. For the sport’s growth, it’s good that they see a return and want to stay. We also finalized a multi-year extension with Progressive. Having them see the value and what our fans, riders, and team bring is huge. I hope it brings more diversity to the partnership portfolio.