This week we had the chance to hang out with Tag Metals Racing Manager, Chris Wheeler. If the name rings a bell, you probably remember him as an up-and-coming pro racer who rode for the A.M. Leonard KTM team in 2000, or as a 125 rider competing up in Canada aboard a Blackfoot/Honda bike. Unfortunately, shortly after joining the Canadian team Chris cased a triple, sending him over the bars. In the crash, he suffered damage to his C-5/C-6/ C-7 vertebrae in his neck and T-2 in his back.
Now Chris is back riding, going faster than ever, and he also holds down a very important job at Tag Metals. We caught up with ?Wheels? to find out more about Tag and what he?s been up to.

Let?s start out with the basics. How long have you been working at Tag Metals and why did you take the position?
I?ve been here almost two years. I can?t remember the whole beginning of working here, except that Andy Harrington was working here and he called me because Tag Metals was looking for help with technical support. I was just doing testing and had ample amounts of free time, plus I wanted to get into the business side of the motocross industry. On top of that, I lived in San Diego and was really close to the office.

What exactly do you do at Tag Metals?
Right now my official title is the Racing Manager. I deal with all of the teams that Tag Metals sponsors, as well as amateur support. I am also involved with technical issues. For example, right now the 2005 bikes are being released and any changes that are made I help with those changes. Plus, with my testing background I can do extensive testing on the products and give my input. It works well that way.

Can you tell us what teams and riders you?ll be working with in ?05?
We can?t really disclose that information [laughter]. No, but seriously, next year we have several teams signed that we?re really happy with. We?re still looking for a couple more teams to sign, but 2005 will be a really good year for sure.

So do you have Ricky Carmichael for next year since Tag Metals sponsors factory Suzuki?
From the way it looks, yes. He?ll be on Suzuki and we sponsor Suzuki, so if that happens then it?s awesome. Carmichael is gnarly!

How has Tag Metals changed since you started working here?
We?ve grown tremendously in the two years since I started. Myself, I?ve learned a ton about the business side of the sport as well. As for Tag, every different aspect of the company has grown. We have our super busy times of the year, and then right now it?s towards the end of the year and things are tapering off. Then again, we?re getting ready for 2005 and our indicators are showing that ?05 should be really good for us.

Could you describe a typical day at work?
Usually I come in and check all my emails. I also check faxes because a lot of our amateur support rider?s fax in their orders, so I make sure their orders get fulfilled. After that I call teams and make sure everyone is taken care of. I also take phone calls, and some people have technical questions about the products. Other people call me just to chitchat. If we get a big shipment in, I have to make sure that all of the backorders are cleared if we did in fact have backorders.

What is the best part of your job?
I like dealing with the amateur kids. Some of the dads go a little overboard sometimes, but it?s cool to see the kids when they?re all excited. It?s neat because I grew up racing and I know what it?s like to be traveling around and looking up to riders and trying to get sponsors. I especially like when the kids call and they?re excited to receive their bars, stickers, and other things.

You mentioned that you do quite a bit of testing. Who do you test for?
I?ve been testing with Suzuki on and off since 1996. I used to race for them when I was an amateur and when I turned pro I still rode for them. As I got better at testing, I worked with them full-time for a few years just testing bikes. I learned a lot about the bikes and plus I got to ride all day and help develop the new bikes.

How difficult is it to be a test rider?
It?s kind of difficult, but I?ve done testing for so long that now it?s easy for me. There?s a lot involved and some days we?ll be out testing all day long from when the track opens to almost when it closes. Not only are you thinking about riding and what how the bike is responding, but you also have to watch out for people on the track. A lot of people have a difficult time figuring out how the bike is reacting, or they just can?t put the problems into words.

Some pro riders have problems diagnosing different areas of their bike that need working on. Do you think that a lot of pro riders would be good test riders?
Some of them, I?m sure. Then again, some riders just focus so much on speed and trying to go fast that they aren?t even thinking about how their bike is reacting. I know of a couple top guys that are not very good at testing. That?s a big problem, because part of the whole package of doing well in the pro ranks is being able to correctly set your bike up; especially when the track continually changes. I think a lot of top guys are spot on with what they want and they also get confidence too if they have their bike working perfectly.

On top of being a test rider for Suzuki, you?ve been a test rider for Motocross Action. How was that?
It was fun! MXA wanted me to rail turns and hit jumps, so it was definitely cool. I would try to lay the bike over as far as I could and whip the bike as hard as I could off jumps. It?s really just like play riding, which is always fun. Plus, I was able to ride new bikes and wear new gear, and I got to wear a famous orange MXA helmet. It was cool.      

How many races do you attend each year for Tag?
I haven?t hit too many races this year, actually. I went to Loretta Lynn?s and I also hit a couple supercross races. There were a couple of people here at Tag Metals who were splitting up going to the races, so I didn?t really go to a whole bunch. The first year that I worked here I was doing some racing and also tons of testing, so I didn?t travel too much. Then after my injury I?ve been working at Tag full-time and wherever they need me to go I?ll go.

Have you recovered 100% from your neck/back injury?
Yes. Ten months after the crash I was released by the doctor to ride again. The doctor said that I was the best-case scenario for the injury. I saw four different doctors from physical therapists to doctors and every one of them was surprised at how quickly I recovered. When the injury first happened it was pretty scary.

Do you think you?ll race professionally again?
No, I think I?ll just play around and have fun riding. I?ve been thinking about doing Loretta Lynn?s or something, but as far as doing it to make money, I won?t be doing that. I?ve had so many big injuries the past few years that it?s been no fun at all sitting out and healing.

Final question. Next year?s 250 supercross class is going to be stacked with talent. Can you give us your top five overall for the series?
Oh man, that?s a tough one. I can?t wait for the kickoff and I hope that everyone is healthy. The first three guys are going to be good, because you have RC, Bubba, and Reed. Those are my first three; I just need to figure out the order. Well, I have to pick Carmichael because he?s going to be hungry to get that title back. Plus, it?ll be good for Tag Metals. I?ll say Stewart second, Reed third, Windham in fourth, and fifth will be Fonseca if he stays healthy. Stewart is a question mark, because I know he?ll be fast but I think he?ll throw it away a couple of races just trying to go for the win.


Comments are closed.