Danny Nelson: Heavy Thunder, and a New Reign Snap, January, 2000

Questions: Ayres/Mulligan
Photos: Mulligan

Powerlite’s Danny Nelson has had his best year ever in 1999 by winning the NBL Number One Pro title and being well within striking distance of the ABA title. We wanted to get a few words from Thunder Dan so we headed out to his home track in Simi Valley, California for an interview. Here’s what Danny had to say on the title, the upcoming ABA Grands, and his relationship with Powerlite (among other things).

James: You’ve said that there are others who are better than you, but because you’ve had your head together for so long you’re able to make it happen. Was that the case in Louisville?
Yes and no. Thomas (Allier) is a more skilled rider than I am. He’s more technical, he’s as smooth as anyone’s ever been on a bike, and he can speed jump things that no one else can. In that respect he’s a better bicycle rider than I am, but I get by on consistency and capitalizing on the things I’m good at: power, gate starts and consistency. I win with my mind and by capitalizing on my strengths.
J: Some riders have said that they knew they were going to win a big race before they even got there. Has that happened to you?
Yes, in Phoenix I came in knowing that I was ready to race and I knew that my gate would help me a lot on that track¿the gate’s real tight there. I’m not going to say I knew one hundred percent that I was going to walk out of there with wins, but I knew that I’d do well if I rode at the level I was capable of. Sarasota was the same way. Thomas wasn’t there¿he was injured¿but I knew there was a good chance that I was going to win both days and I did.
Keith: Did you feel like you got into a “zone” at some point during the year?
Yeah, I didn’t race in January¿I was still training. By the middle of February my training had about finished up and my strength and my power were really coming together. Everything basically started in March. I put a few races together and everything kind of ran off of itself after that.
K: Did you feel like your amateur days¿getting holeshots like that?
Yeah, in pro there are so many fast guys, and if your starts, rhythm, or first jump aren’t all clicking, you’re not going to get holeshots. It’s been seven or eight years since I’ve experienced getting out front early like that.
J: You’re in the running for this year’s ABA title. Are you looking at that race the same as the NBL Grands or is it different?
When I’m at the Grands and it’s time to race for the title, I’m going to approach it the same way. ABA is more of a catch-up game now. I need to go to the Gold Cup races and get myself in a position to have a shot at the title. I’m not going to go in there leading, but I should be close enough if I can put it together at the Grands, to give myself a chance¿depending on what happens with other people¿to win it.
J: You’re one of the hardest training pros out there. Is it tough to put in the time at the gym or do you enjoy it?
That used to be my biggest shortcoming¿working hard. When I was an amateur I got away with minimal work¿I was a strong guy and I could out-muscle people. That’s how it was my first couple of years in pro. Looking back, I want to kick myself because I didn’t work as hard as I could have. The last two or three years I’ve learned so much about training. I’ve experienced how it makes you feel through a whole season. Now it’s one of my biggest assets. I went from being kind of lazy to working hard, and I enjoy it now.
J: How do you motivate yourself if you’re at a race and you’re not putting one hundred percent into it?
You have to step back and look at the big picture; what your goals are and where you’re headed. Life could be a lot worse. You could be doing construction or roadwork. When you look at it like that, it seems pretty easy to go out and ride your bike for a living and give it everything you havwhen you’re at the track.
J: Will the NBL’s cut-back on the number of pro races raise the level of riding?
Yeah, I think it will. In the past it’s been really hard to put together a training program for a season that has so many weekends. This will help. We’re still going to be real busy because of the ABA; I don’t think they’re going to cut back their weekends.
J: With Mario Soto turning pro next season, are there things you’re going to tell him to be prepared for¿like certain situations or certain pros?
No, not really. I was fortunate enough to have Gary Ellis. For years we were roommates and we talked a lot about BMX. I learned a lot from him, but I learned more from him by example than from the conversations we had. To be honest, I’m not in the business of being a teacher to people who are going to come up and try to beat me. I think Mario will learn a lot, but he’s going to learn a lot by example.
K: You mentioned Gary Ellis. There are some big rumors going around that you’re going to ride for Nirve next year. You have another year on your Powerlite contract, but I’ve heard that you have a way to get out of it. Any plans for next year?
(Long pause…) No, right now I plan on racing for Powerlite. There have been offers and things have come my way from winning the title, but right now I plan on racing for Powerlite.
K: How have things changed since you’ve gotten the title?
I’m relieved that it’s over. It’s mentally draining¿physically as well. There was a couple weeks worth of celebrating where I let BMX go, but with the way the ABA is shaping up, there’s a good chance that I’m going to have a shot. I have to put out a little extra effort to get re-grouped and focus on that. I would like to enjoy the NBL title more, but the ABA title is right around the corner¿I have to stay focused on that.
J: What one word would describe the season you had?
Consistent.
J: What are you looking forward to most next year?
One of the things is racing with the number one on my plate. I’ve always had a lot of respect for people who have won titles in the past. I respect a number one when I see it on someone’s plate¿they don’t come easy and they don’t come by flukes. I want to represent it well.
K: Do you like riding your bike? (Long pause…)
Or do you like racing your bike?
I like racing my bike more than I like riding it, but I do enjoy riding it. I ride more than people think. I like to ride road bikes and mountain bikes as well. That’s some of my favorite stuff, believe it or not. Racing is definitely my favorite time on the bike as opposed to riding at the track or riding at the trails or whatever. I like to race.
J: Now that you’re a homeowner, does that add pressure to your racing¿knowing that you have a mortgage to pay?
I try not to think about it very much, but it’s definitely part of the equation.
K: So how much was your new house?
(Avoiding the question) I stretched myself pretty far. I sacrificed a little bit and lived at home until I was 25-years-old. I skipped paying rent where a lot of guys had paid five, six, seven years of rent before I had ever spent a dollar. So I was able to step into a pretty significant place.
K: (Putting the pressure on) So how much did you spend?
(Laughter and a pause…) Four and change.
J: You’ve been racing since you were six. Do you still get butterflies?
Yeah, I do. It’s more of a controlled thing now. I think there are two kinds of butterflies. One is a nervous kind that you’re not really in control of, and the other kind is not letting yourself down; knowing that you have to perform at the level you’re capable of and making sure you do it. You can have total confidence and still have butterflies. I think the day you lose the butterflies is the day you’ve probably lost your competitive edge.
J: Now that you’ve gotten that NBL number one title, is this going to go down as the best season you’ve ever had?
Yeah, it was by far the best. I was telling somebody that the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve turned my weaknesses into strengths. I’ve completely turned the tables as far as what my strengths and weaknesses used to be. This year was the best year I’ve ever had because I was able to put it together in both sanctions, not just NBL. I have more wins and podium finishes this year than probably my first three years as a pro combined.
Are there people you want to thank?
Yes. I want to thank my Dad for giving me the opportunity to position myself to get into the house that I’m in now. I want to thank Todd Corbitt for being my friend and for all the help with my racing¿we have a real tight relationship. Himself, Big E, and all the people at Powerlite were really supportive of me. Dave Cullinan for teaching me how to train and work hard, and for pushing me. And all of the people who support me at Simi Valley¿those people are behind me. After I won the title they were hanging up banners congratulating the new NBL number one pro (laughter).
down as the best season you’ve ever had?
Yeah, it was by far the best. I was telling somebody that the thing I’m most proud of is that I’ve turned my weaknesses into strengths. I’ve completely turned the tables as far as what my strengths and weaknesses used to be. This year was the best year I’ve ever had because I was able to put it together in both sanctions, not just NBL. I have more wins and podium finishes this year than probably my first three years as a pro combined.
Are there people you want to thank?
Yes. I want to thank my Dad for giving me the opportunity to position myself to get into the house that I’m in now. I want to thank Todd Corbitt for being my friend and for all the help with my racing¿we have a real tight relationship. Himself, Big E, and all the people at Powerlite were really supportive of me. Dave Cullinan for teaching me how to train and work hard, and for pushing me. And all of the people who support me at Simi Valley¿those people are behind me. After I won the title they were hanging up banners congratulating the new NBL number one pro (laughter).