RACER X | Privateer Derek Kelley Breaks Into Top Ten at Thunder Valley National

RACER X | Privateer Derek Kelley Breaks Into Top Ten at Thunder Valley National

Our very own Derek Kelley had a solid ride last weekend earning his way to a 10th in the second moto and a 12th overall on the day. The team over at Racer X sat down with him and got his thoughts on the first few rounds of the season, and what it was like on race-day at Thunder Valley.  



Privateer life in the 250 class is not easy in this sport, as the factory teams are sporting a lot more horsepower, which really shows outdoors. That’s why a lot of privateers choose to race the 450 class, where the field is a little more equal. That’s also why Derek Kelley’s ride at Thunder Valley sticks out, because even on a privateer 250 at elevation, he rolled to really strong 14-10 results for 12th overall. He was 11th overall at Hangtown, a career best, but Thunder Valley’s second moto represents his first career top ten.

Kelley rides for the AEO Powersports KTM team, and also runs his own side business called TruFusion Recovery Products https://trufusionsports.com/. He’s working hard on and off the track and now it’s coming together for him. He recently appeared on the MotoXPod show twice to celebrate his strong start to Lucas Oil Pro Motocross. Enjoy the chat from Jamie “Darkside” Guida, Scotty Thompson, and TJ Smith.

How were you feeling after the first two rounds?
Derek Kelley: I feel good. It’s really nice to start the season with some gusto, man, and four solid-ish motos. I usually start pretty slow with some DNFs and stuff. Just keep improving.

Yeah Pala, 14-19 for 16th, and Hangtown 12-11 for 11th.
Yeah, I’m stoked on the Hangtown weekend for sure. It’s my first time riding up close to that top ten group, and it’s definitely a learning experience, for sure.

Anything different you’ve done this year training or preparation wise that’s contributing to it?
It’s definitely a whole package. Being on the AEO Powersports [team] they have a really great group of people and great equipment. They have a really great bike and I’m on a really good program with those guys. And I’ve been healthy for a little bit now. You look at it like you need one big thing, but it’s really a bunch of little things that have to come together.

Last year at Hangtown I remember you under the TPJ tent. Teddy Parks does a great job helping privateers out, but you’re still probably responsible for a lot more stuff than you would be at AEO. I would assume that you have more support?
Yeah, the cost is still there, I have to cover my costs, my travel, my lodging, my mechanic. But it’s a team effort. We have spotters, we have suspension techs that help us. So, we’re not just going out there and putting in laps and winging it. Ted Parks is awesome, he helps with travel so you don’t have to drive to the races if you don’t want to. He will get your bike there. TPJ is a whole lot better than going out of the back of your van. There are just different levels. This is a step up from TPJ for sure, but it’s not quite a factory program yet, but it’s a whole lot better than anything I’ve ever had.

You’re the first non-factory supported guy in the standings. Does that give you some confidence or did you expect to be that guy?
I just want to be the best I can be. I’m just stoked that I’m riding strong, but I’m not riding 100 percent yet. There are definitely things I need to polish up. I’d love to be in the top ten, for sure.

So, what’s your inner monologue that gets you through a 30-minute moto? What’s going on in your head during a race?
It’s changed through the years. This is my third year racing the outdoor nationals. My first year, on a 450, yeah, I was barely making it through the motos! I was getting arm pump on the fifth lap and just scraping by. In my second year I started, toward the end, being able to get through the whole 30. This year, it’s almost like you can just focus on your riding the whole moto. You take it corner by corner, not even lap by lap. You find the best lines and carry the most momentum you can, and by the time you know it you’re getting the two-lap card. That’s what’s helped me a lot. Focusing on technique. Not just getting through the moto but riding the best I can.


After his strong ride at Thunder Valley, the MotoXPod boys called him again for a fresh update.

Bro 12th! What’s up?
Yeah, first ever top 10 in a moto.

Not bad! You and your teammate Josh Varize were nose to tail in that second moto. You were looking good.
Yeah, we’re the dream team, for sure. Nice to have him on the rig for these rounds.

You guys seem like you get along pretty well.
Yeah, he’s a good kid, super grateful. I appreciate having him around the rig, for sure.

Anything in particular this weekend that worked for you? The track? Elevation? Are you just a bad ass who is in shape?
I just keep plugging away. Nothing special in particular, the bike is working really good. I’m used to going up there and having a turd, so having a pretty good bike up there, it worked out. I’m gaining every week and I’m stoked to keep improving.

Did your trainer give you any pointers for the weekend?
Nothing in particular. Lots of fluids and things like that, but we didn’t do much different. I don’t usually struggle with altitude or anything like that. Approached it like a normal race.

What did you think of the track changes they made?
My opinion is, I appreciate them slowing it down. I did not appreciate that hill last year, coming down it, anyways. The new section was really tight and it kind of was like barrel racing at one point, that S-turn where you went back and forth. So, there’s room to improve a little bit, but I think that, overall, from a racer’s standpoint, I enjoyed it a lot more than having to go fifth gear wide into super gnarly breaking bumps.

So, I was really impressed. You were riding really well, I was watching you every lap. You just keep taking steps. Next would be top five.
[Laughs] Like I said, I just keep plugging away. I don’t say I’m going to go out there and say I’m going to get a certain place. Obviously I want to do good and top 10 is pretty solid.

How was hitting that big triple out of the bottom the first time you went for it?Oh man I wasn’t even close! It was muddy as hell before it, so coming up to it was tough.

Did you make any changes after practice when you learned how slick it was?
I mean, there’s not much you can do when it’s that muddy. I stiffened up the forks a bit because I thought it was diving, but that didn’t have anything to do with how slick it was.

Second qualifying, the track looked a lot better.
Yeah, in second qualifying it was solid. But it felt like a mud race all day long. A 90-degree mud race! I came around on the first moto site lap, and after that first triple step-up thing, there was literally running water. There was one line through that whole corner just because of how muddy it was.

Hey, my question for you is, when you’re starting inside that top 20, and you’re battling everyone, you’ve got roost all around, how long is it until you take that first breath?
I’ve definitely gotten better with breathing through the years. Take me back to 2020 and I probably didn’t even breathe until the third lap. It’s definitely gotten a lot more manageable, and now I can focus on taking different lines and stuff like that. If you hold your breath for the first few laps, you definitely get arm pump.

Do you have to consciously tell yourself to breathe?
No, it’s definitely something I work on at the practice tracks. When I get down to the line, I really try to breathe and stay calm and relaxed because I have a bad habit of, when I try to charge really hard, I get really tight and stiff and override the bike. It’s hard!