Dalton Shirey Interview
2020 AMA Hare & Hound Champion
“I was scared of dirt bikes.” But now he’s the 2020 AMA Hare & Hound National Champion.
Words and Photography By Mark Kariya
There are numerous stories of champions who get their two-wheeled start at a young age, take to the sport immediately and rise through the ranks. Lesser known are the kids who ride a few times, aren’t that thrilled for whatever reason (heretics!) and walk away from the sport.
Rarer still are those who try it, go on to other things they find more to their liking, then return to two wheels and climb to the top of the heap in the sport.
Dalton Shirey is one of those rare individuals.
His family history seemed to guarantee he’d be a motorcycle racer. Shirey recalls that his father, Rick, enjoyed desert racing in Southern California’s AMA District 37 as well as SCORE competition in Baja. They’re longtime members of the Checkers Motorcycle Club, whose membership is full of legends in the sport.
In addition, his grandfather was a flat tracker and Shirey reveals, “That’s where I get my number from, 46—was because of my grandpa and that was his [AMA] National flat-tracking number. He used to be sponsored by Indian back in the day for flat tracking.”
Neither, however, won championships of note, though as Shirey points out, “My dad…says he’s beaten everyone that’s ever got a championship but never got a championship himself.”
Dalton Shirey Interview | The Mini Days
Like many in So Cal, Shirey went on camping trips to the desert while a tyke, which is basically where he learned how to ride, though it wasn’t his idea of a good time at this point.
“My dad taught me how to ride when I was younger—probably when I was 4 or 5 on a Yamaha PW50—but I didn’t like riding dirt bikes until I was 12,” Shirey confesses. “I was scared of them; I was too scared of dirt bikes back when I was younger.
“After that, it was like once a year or twice a year that I rode. I used to ride a lot of horses before I rode dirt bikes; I was always on horses instead of dirt bikes when I was younger. My mom had like 30 head of horses back in the day. We only have like 10 now, but I just used to ride them a lot—just rode a lot, always around them, doing team sorting, roping and that was about it.
“One day my dad got me a Honda 150 four-stroke, and that bike, the power was a lot smoother and easier and more friendly. Something finally clicked in me with that bike and I started loving to ride.”
Dalton Shirey Interview | The Trail to the Championship
The record will show that Shirey was the very first winner of the very first Big Wheel race when the AMA Youth Hare & Hound National Championship Series got started in 2013. Since he only hit the rounds close to him, he didn’t contest the entire 10-round series, but he was able to ride five of them, winning three and finishing second in the final two races. Thus, he earned fourth in final points.
That was his last year on minis.
In 2014, he jumped up to the 200cc A class with his YZ125 and followed the series, winning seven of the 10 rounds to clinch that championship before season’s end. For the final round, he rode 250cc A to get a taste of the competition in that class, finishing second.
But that wasn’t the only series he chased. In addition, he scored the Rocky Mountain ATV-MC World Off-Road Championship Series (WORCS) 125cc A Sportsman championship, the AMA District 37 Big 6 Grand Prix Lightweight II (200cc) Expert title and first in AMA District 37’s Desert Lightweight II (200cc) Expert.
However, he skipped going for the 250cc A-class Hare & Hound crown in 2015, instead, leaping headlong into the Pro 250s where he won seven of the eight rounds (finishing second in the only race he didn’t win) to easily cart away that number-one plate as well.
Shirey was definitely on a roll and a bright future seemed to lie ahead.
Unfortunately, a knee injury put him on the sidelines for the better part of a year in 2017. He’d apparently torn an ACL and the meniscus in one knee when he was 14 when he crashed off a jump at a local track.
“My dad never took me in [to the doctor]; he thought I was being a wimp,” Shirey says. “I didn’t get it fixed for a long time—I just kind of dealt with it until I was 17 or 18 and that was the first year I was on a 450.”
Hyper-extending the problem knee in a simple tip-over spill made medical attention a must and the resulting surgery kept him from racing for almost a year.
Dalton Shirey Interview | Dad Quits Paying
While his dad warned him that he’d need to get a sponsor or pay for his own racing once he was 18, Shirey’s championships to that point were enough to secure a ride from Zip-Ty Racing in Hesperia, California.
“I was 17 years old playing football up at Mammoth and my brother lived up there at the time and I was in the middle of a game,” Shirey remembers. “My dad called my brother Preston and told him about the sponsorship offer and Preston came up to me and congratulated me at the game for getting a ride. I had no idea what he was talking about.
“Then he told me the whole story and I was like, ‘No way! Really?’
“He went, ‘Yeah, after the game, call dad!’”
Shirey adds, “The funny story is I wasn’t even Ty Davis’s first pick.”
In fact, Shirey was the third choice, but when the first two declined, Shirey got the call and rode for Zip-Ty for four years, though recovering from the knee surgery kept him on the sidelines his last year.
After getting his knee repaired, he returned and began mixing it up with the leaders almost immediately, finishing the Hare & Hound series fourth overall in 2018 after skipping two rounds and winning the finale. That got him noticed and he got a Husqvarna support ride through the 3 Bros./SRT Husqvarna team in Costa Mesa, California. (The FX 450 Shirey races is a factory-prepped Rockstar Energy Husqvarna that he gets from Husqvarna’s headquarters in Murrieta, California.)
It was much the same in 2019 when he earned fifth overall after skipping two rounds, finishing out of the points in two others and overalling one.
That set him up nicely for the 2020 season and after a subpar 11th at the opener, he went on a tear: 2-1-DNF-1-1-1. (The DNF was due to illness.) While tied in final points with privateer David Kamo at 155 apiece, the tiebreaker was number of wins, which clearly favored Shirey.
“That was not the plan, to make it as hard as possible,” Shirey says of the way the Hare & Hound series played out. “I didn’t want it to go down that way where me and Dave tied for the points lead, but at the end of the day I got my championship.”
Dalton Shirey Interview | Other Racing Interests
In addition to desert racing, Shirey has also remained a presence in both the FMF AMA National Grand Prix Championship (NGPC) Series (previously known as the AMA District 37 Big 6 GPs) and WORCS. As a racer, he likes to compete a lot to stay sharp, and while he has yet to overall any of them (which are closer to fast, long motocross races than anything), he dismisses being considered an underdog.
“No,” he answers emphatically when asked if he considers himself an underdog in those track-based realms. “I feel like when I go to a GP, I should be on the podium at least. I should be on the podium and I’ve been lurking around in fourth place a lot.
“[At round seven of the NGPCs], I got sick and started dead last and caught all the way up to Cole Martinez and Austin Walton and those guys. They were just sitting right in front of me, but I had to come through the pack and burned up a lot of energy and got tired by the time I got there. So, I just sat there and followed the train around the tracks to finish sixth for the day.”
Not taking anything away from the desert, but Shirey says, “I believe the level of talent in the talent pool is starting to rise in the GPs and WORCS. The talent’s starting to come to WORCS and GPs now instead of strictly going to motocross, so we’re starting to see more moto guys coming over here now. It’s really cool; it brings more competition, and if more competition’s there, it means better racing, more racing, more money—everything’s better, I think, because there’s more people, more sponsors coming, vendors and spectators.”
As far as preferring any one form of racing, Shirey says, “No. I’m just happy to be on my bike.
“There was a point where I didn’t like certain racing, but then I sat there and said, ‘Grow up and look.’ I opened my mind a little bit and looked at it and was like, ‘Hey, you’re on a dirt bike. It doesn’t matter where you go—it’s in the dirt and you’re on a bike so no matter what, your competition’s doing the same thing.’
“After I got that mindset, I enjoyed all of it. It doesn’t matter what it is—I love it!”
When asked to critique his strong and weak points, he says, “I really love sand washes! I love tight, flowy sand washes—I feel that’s a real strong point. The Sage Riders [Motorcycle Club’s round in Utah] and the Silver State Trailblazers race in Panaca, Nevada, how those types of races are, I feel like I love that more versus the hare & hounds in California down Bessemer Mine Road [a well-known desert-riding area outside of Lucerne Valley]. Hare & hounds here in California are just getting so beat up because we have such limited area to run around on. Now, I’m really starting to remember a lot of trails in So Cal. A lot of races I’ll be coming along and I’ll be like, ‘Oh, I remember coming through here before in a race!’ ‘Oh, I remember coming through here!’ They’re starting to lose their creativity because they’re limited where they can lay out courses.”
Dalton Shirey Interview | Baja?
Looking to the future as an off-road racer, of course, Shirey admits, “I want to try to get myself in a Trophy truck one day.”
Trophy trucks, of course, were practically invented for SCORE’s Baja races, and, to that end, Shirey admittedly has little experience there—one Baja race a few years back and pre-running for the 1000 this year. For any die-hard desert racer, if there’s one race to win, it’s the Baja 1000 and Shirey remembers his first race experience there well.
“In 2017, I think, I went down there to be on a Chris Haines-sponsored team. I raced it once and I did 200 miles for my section. It was really good; I made up a lot of time on the 1X—made up, like, five minutes in 80 miles or something.
“I had an opportunity to pass the 1X. I slid out in a corner when I was right next to him and messed up my opportunity and had to sit in his dust for the next 100 miles until I got off the bike.
“It kind of sucked, but it was good to go down there and learn, see what it’s all about, what type of racing it is. It’s definitely way different; it’s a different animal than what we do up here. Hare & hounds are more like a fast trail ride. Most of the time it’s single-track or maybe quad-width or you’re going flat-out across the desert valleys where it opens up. It’s more technical, fun, it’s shorter, not as high-speed, you’re not on two-track roads forever.
“The big difference between the two is the roughness because I think hare & hounds are not that rough compared to what Baja has, like San Felipe. San Felipe’s just horrible because of those trucks.
“You can’t ride 100 percent down there. Like, a hare & hound, you can push it, you can push yourself and get a little sketchy here and there. Down there you can’t really push, because if you push and hit the ground, you’re freaking miles away from anything. It could be 10 hours, 15 hours for a helicopter ride out of there to get back to a hospital in the United States to get checked up so you definitely back it down and ride more conservatively.”
Dalton Shirey Interview | Next Up
Shirey, however, has no plans to add a full-time run at SCORE—three series in the U.S. will keep him busy enough—though if he got the funding for the SCORE World Desert Championship series, he wouldn’t rule it out.
“I really want to go down there and win the 1X plate. My dad has gone down there and won his class multiple times and got, like, fifth overall and never really won it overall, I don’t think. I don’t think he won the championship down there to get the 1X. I really want our last name down there on it one year. I don’t know—it’d probably take me a couple years to get it so it’d probably be more towards the end of my career, I would say. Right now, I’m really trying to get NGPC and WORCS and hare & hounds done.”
He emphasizes, “For sure I want to back up my Hare & Hound Championship and make sure no one says it was a fluke deal.
“Then I really want to get myself an NGPC title. I feel like I’m a year out from that one. I’m definitely going to try my best for next year, but I feel like in 2022 I’ll have a better shot because this year I kind of sacrificed the GP stuff to benefit me more in the hare & hounds.”
As Shirey sees it, he’ll need to add a little speed to his repertoire. “Those guys like Zach Bell and Dante [Oliveira] and all those guys, they are such good sprinters right out of the gate; they just go for it. Sometimes I have to kind of work into it just because the weekend before at a hare & hound, how I approach hare & hounds you’re more mellow. I feel like if you’re super-aggressive at a hare & hound race, the desert will lash out at you and bite, so you have to be more smooth, calm, smart, really paying attention to the course markings.”
He recalls, “It’s definitely a big challenge. When I first led my first race ever in the desert, I was panicking because I lost sight of a ribbon. You have to learn not to panic when you lose the ribbon. You’re like, ‘Okay, like every other time you lose the ribbon, go back and find it.’”
With the Hare & Hound Championship under his belt, Shirey believes he’s better prepared for the type of terrain and racing he’ll face undertaking three series. “Now I can focus more on the GPs and balance it out better. Learning how to balance between the two elements like GPs and hare & hounds is kind of hard, because you’ve got to go trail riding one day and you’ve got to do motos another day.
“I don’t know. It’s kind of hard to get those two balanced a little bit. Only two people I’ve seen who’ve done it so far, and they’re legends in the sport. Kurt Caselli, he’s won a Hare & Hound Championship and a WORCS title in the same year! Then you’ve got Gary Sutherlin who did the same thing—a Hare & Hound title and WORCS crown in the same year. Those are the only two people I’ve ever seen do that and I really want to put my name along with them!”
At 22 years old, time is on his side—now that he’s no longer scared of dirt bikes.CN