Toby Price is living the dream and he knows it – he appreciates it. And there’s no end in sight.
STORY | DAMIEN ASHENHURST
I’ve had to Google some of the places you been lately because I’d never even heard of them.
I’m there and I still don’t know where I am (laughs).
At some of the places you sit back and think, wow did I really ride through all that today? It’s not accessible by a normal car and not too many people in the world have even explored that part I’ve just been through. That’s the biggest thing you gotta look forward to and that keeps the drive and the energy flowing for all that travel. I’ve probably got a five to eight year window of doing this flat-out and then I’ve got plenty of time to relax and retire and chill and drink beers.
You’re going to need sponsorship from Nurofen by then.
Yeah, I’m going to need some big sponsors on that side of things with the pain I’m gonna endure when I’m retired (laughs). But that’s the way it is and it’s all good.
Do you get sick of the constant travel?
To a point yeah I do. But at the end of the day it’s not going to last forever so the way I look at it is take the chance while you can. I get to enjoy racing the motorcycle which I love to do; I get paid to do it and get to see the world. Sitting on a plane for 22 hours to go to Europe is an absolute headache but at the end of the day you gotta deal with.
Are there any places you’ve ridden through that especially blew you away and stick in your mind?
Through the whole rally (Dakar), it’s virtually like that, unless you’re going through the villages.
I’ve been through some amazing sand dunes in Chili and in Peru. One of the dunes in Chili would be probably 25 to 30 times bigger than anything at Stockton (Beach, NSW) which is like a grain of sand in comparison.
How did you learn to take them on at that size?
Just hit ‘em. You get some that you don’t get up because they’re too damn tall and soft. I don’t mind riding in the sand so you just swing-off it and have some fun.
Have you had any mentors through previous Dakar riders or KTM people?
The biggest help I’ve gotten is from Jordi Viladoms (Former rally racer and now KTM Dakar team manager). He shares a lot of info. I got a little bit of guidance from Marc Coma but at the time he was still racing. He gave you enough information to understand it but not enough to fully dial it in. He wasn’t sure at first if I’d be good but after that he couldn’t help me too much because I’m his competitor.
You’ve won in motocross, supercross, enduro, endurocross and rally. If someone said you could have your career over again but it can only be in one discipline, which would you choose? Would you still like to be at Anaheim 1?
Yeah, supercross is one I’d really like to get dialed. To say I’ve won a round of the AMA championship.
You’ve got time mate – Reedy can still get a third.
I know! I’m 31 so I’ve got another five years up my sleeve. Reedy’s a beast and it’s cool to see his drive and his love for the sport. It’s good for the sport overall and the fans still love him. When I was over there last year to watch a few races, people line-up for hours at his camper and when the race is done they’re still lining up.
Like what happens with you at the Finke Desert Race.
I’ve got really good supporters and people that follow me there and hopefully with fingers crossed we’ll be able to get ourselves sorted and we’ll try and get back on the bike out there this year.
At Finke when you raced after getting a stick though your foot – that must have bloody hurt putting a boot on! What makes you so different that you can ignore that level of pain and ride?
Ooh yeah! It was swollen, black and bruised and looked it had been through a mincer. But I just hate missing out. I want to go and race and have fun and I just block that pain out somehow and I get the job done and don’t stress about it.
Are you competitive at anything you do?
Pretty much. I hate to lose in just a card game. I’m not a sore loser but I just don’t like losing. I’m not going to chuck a tantrum but I’ll probably be saying hey, line that up again we gotta keep going till I win one or I’ve got the most wins. I’ll eat my dinner faster than the guy beside me because I wanna finish first in that; absolutely everything I do is a competition.
How involved is testing for a Dakar?
The biggest thing is when they change the motorcycle completely. We’ve had the latest shape Rally bike for a couple of years and we are still fine tuning things and they will bring things out that we can change.
I remember when this bike was first getting done and it was just none-stop riding and if you didn’t ride for seven hours in a day then they wanted you to ride for eight. For engine development we’d get in the thickest bulldust, fesh-fesh (similar to bulldust), shittiest soil you’d could imagine and they’d say click top gear and hold the thing till it pops; we want you to pop the thing. We’d go out and make a 20-kay loop and just run lap after lap after lap after lap.
There was one day and I don’t really know what the temperature was because the thermometer on the truck went over 50 and just said ‘H.’ It felt like it was about 53 to 54 degrees and I was putting a big ice block down the back of my Camelbak to keep that water on my back cool and then I put another Camelbak on my front and put a block of ice down that and that literally lasted two minutes before it was melted and in five minutes my gear was completely dry again.
You could be doing the moist treacherous shitty stuff and they’ll just say, “We want that motor to stop so do whatever you can to make that happen,” holding it wedged in sixth gear. And it just kept going round and round and round and round; we blew so much packing out of the exhaust because it was running so hot, but it would not pop.
And I take it they can’t use a test rider – it has to be you so they can see how it takes you riding at Toby speed.
You can put a test rider on it but if he’s running 10 per cent slower than you then it’s not showing it at its full potential. It’s a big risk because we have to run that thing at the limits it would normally run at in the race so you could wipe yourself out pretty damn quick.
So from the engine we get started on suspension and there are so nay different settings we can run with that. I remember one day we had 12 different linkages sitting on the table and they all look absolutely identical, and they go try that, try this, try that and on and on.
There are so many options; if I want my pegs two-mill lower and three-mill back then they’ll make that.
Can all that get confusing?
Sometimes you think yep it’s getting better and getting better and they’ll go alright sweet, we’ll put it back to the original setting we started with and you go ‘ooh that feels better again,’ so now I’m back at the start!
And I guess your team mates all have very different body shapes so the package has to be refined to suit each individual rider.
We went out and tested frames and what was working for Sam (Sunderland), wouldn’t work for me. I could feel more flex in the frame and you actually see the front wheel would hit on the front guard because it was flexing in.
For my frame they actually weld in another brace; I’m a heavier guy – I’m probably 15 kilos heavier than the other guys, maybe 20 (laughs).
It comes down to personal preferences but they’ll weld two or three different braces into the frame and you’ll go ride and if it’s too stiff they’ll cut one bar out and if it feels like it could flex a bit more they might cut another one out. Once you’ve got to where you need it to be it all goes on record and go make that frame for you.
It’s a long process and sometimes it’s enjoyable, but 60 per cent of the time it’s damn frustrating.
How long does the whole process take with the bike you’re on now?
We were developing this shape bike now from about the middle of 2015. And we’ve only had it for this Dakar and last year’s Dakar – it’s only two years old this thing.
Given the insane number of Dakar wins in a row (18), is KTM putting in more of an effort than the other manufacturers?
Oh hell no. Honda and Yamaha are putting in a big effort. Obviously in the results its showing we’re doing something different but we’ve just been able to develop a good, strong, reliable bike. And it’s not only the motorcycle but the people and the crew that are behind the scenes that know the event and how everything functions.
All the crew when they show-up know their job and the specific thing they need to do and there’s no-one sitting around with their hands in their pockets. Nobody’s walking around lost and everyone’s got something to do and everyone gets along.
What’s life like living in a desert during Dakar?
We don’t have it too bad because we have a campervan, just a small campervan that we share between two people. We don’t try and venture into the bivouac because it can give you the runs pretty quick, so we try and stay clear of that. We usually have someone to prepare us some food and some stuff that we’d brought from Spain or I some comfort food that I’d brought from Australia.
With your experience seeing and competing in events around the world, what have you seen that Australia could use to help grow the domestic race series?
The Australian Offroad championship is good; it’s producing world class riders like Dan Milner. But spectators can’t go out onto the track and watch.
You’ve gotta stand in the pits while the rider heads off into the bush and wonder what am I going to do now? It’s pretty boring watching that and then him cross the finish line six times in a day.
I think promoters also have to help teams and riders sell merchandise and getting other people on-board.
I didn’t understand how endurocross didn’t take off in Australia. I know to build the tracks takes a lot of work; it’s labour intensive and takes a lot of hours but that’s kind of like our Arenacross that can bring people to the stands. Everybody wants to see carnage, chaos and shit going wrong and that’s the perfect racing for that.
We had a good attempt but it needed to be cleaned up a little more. It’d be cool to try and bring it into the cities. Like the supercross they had down here in Darling Harbour (Red Bull Citycross – 2001), that was insane. It makes everyone pumped and excited to see racing. Nobody wants to go and drive for hours if they don’t know much about the event, they want to be walking past in the streets and see a big billboard that says there’s offroad racing today and hear a whole heap of noise and people screaming and yelling.
I’ve been on about this for ages (some Australian series’ won’t allow or severely restrict merchandise sales). Go to a Supercars event and everyone’s wearing the merchandise, they’re waving flags and the kids have showbags, all of which is not only great for the fans but it’s advertising for the teams, the sponsors and the sport. They let you join the tribe.
Yeah, you join a family. As soon as you walk into the pits you can get a Will Davison jersey, a Chaz Mostert jersey and the whole family’s decked out with who they love and they gets to go to the back of the pits and they get to see the guys doing their thing and think we need a bit of that.
Have you ever considered moving to Europe so you don’t have to constantly fly back and forth from the furthest possible home base?
I don’t enjoy living there much. I don’t really enjoy the coffee – you can find good coffee there but literally here in Australia everywhere has good coffee. There’s no place like home and nothing beats Australia. As soon as you throw two feet on the ground here and take a deep breath you know this is where you want to be. This is where I want to retire and finish up and I’m not moving out of Australia.
How much do you feel like a businessman now? You’ve kind of become an industry unto yourself now.
Yeah absolutely. That kind of kicked off back in 2012/13 really, and this to me is a business. Everyone looks at me enjoying going racing and riding and seeing the world which 100 per cent I am but if I don’t do this right I don’t make any money and I don’t keep the lights on at my house. This is my job and the business that I’m trying to run.
There are so many other things I do to bring more exposure like the V8 Supercar thing with the Stadium Supertrucks, Superutes and my own Trophy Truck. I try and keep my name out there racing something and trying to build this TP brand (Toby has a range of merchandise that can be found at his website).
Does it feel like you’re under a lot scrutiny?
A little bit, like some people frown upon things that I’m doing and don’t want me to do it – they don’t want me racing cars and go and sky dive and bits and pieces like that. The eyes are definitely on you.
It’s weird how people could get upset about you doing things that are nowhere near as dangerous as your actual job.
I get frowned upon a little for the car racing but I’m in a five-point harness strapped to a seat with a pretty damn strong chrome-molly cage around me. You can get hurt I the thing but I guarantee you nine times out of 10 I’m going to climb out of that thing and not even have a headache.
Like when you rolled your Trophy Truck five times at Alice Springs just before Charles Wooley was about to get in for the 60 Minutes story!
Yeah! That was a great day (laughs). He looked good in his [driving] suit and he was pumped and prepped and thank God that happened two minuted before he got in the thing. But I literally climbed out of that thing and didn’t even have sore shoulders from the seat belts. I crash a bike at that speed and you’re going to be lying there waiting for a helicopter.
We don’t have a crystal ball to tell us what’s going to happen. I just want to live every day to the fullest and they always say that you only live once, but I think that should be changed to you only die once and you live every day.
You’ve certainly done that – at least since that day in Young (2009) when you beat Stefan Merriman for the AORC title and everyone thought, ‘What the hell just happened?’
Don’t worry I was saying the same thing (laughs). I’m still saying the same thing now when I’m winning Dakar. It just feels like it was two years ago that it was ’09 and I’d won my first offroad championship – it’s been a big blur but it’s been a rad journey and it’s got me to do some badass and pretty cool things like race trucks, race bikes, race Can-Ams and race whatever and experience the world. I got to fly a helicopter with Red Bull in Austria, I’ve done aerobatic stunt flights and raced Baja and met great people there.
And when you arrive in the middle of Australia for Finke, you’ve got five hours of autograph signing with a line that barely fits in the pits.
People line-up at Finke and they think they’re the lucky one to meet me but I think I’m the lucky one to meet them. Because they’ve driven two or three days from the east coast in Sydney or the west coast in Perth into the middle of Australia and the middle of absolute nowhere, just to get 30 seconds with me and ask if they can get a photo and a signature and if you give them that 30 seconds and have a chat and interact with a kid, then you see the kid walk off and looking back with the biggest smile on his face. That to me is – winning races pays my bills but seeing a kid smiling like that – that’s a bigger win for me.