It may be a bit bold, but I assume most of you reading this have been shaped by motorcycles in one way or another. An often apt phrase would be, “Motorcycles defined who I am. It’s my life.” I cannot say any different, as corny or cliché those phrases are.
Motocross has permeated everything I know: my friends, my hobbies and interests outside of the sport, the music I listen to… even the way I think. When the world becomes harsh, confusing, or unsympathetic, I find a familiar position and backtrack towards not only the motorcycle itself, but the rules that surround it. I think about the lessons it taught me and the places I’ve gone because of it… all to help me better understand the world at large.
A friend once told me, “Motocross is a microcosm of life. If it wasn’t hard, it wouldn’t be like life.” I thought nobody could appreciate the sport the way he did. I thought nobody could appreciate the sport the way I did. That was my belief, until I spoke to Mason Rader.
Discussion includes: Visiting Pastranaland, growing up in small-town North Carolina, GNCC vs. Motocross, finding appreciation for a small spot in a small sport, navigating by map in 2019, Vurb Offroad, and what the next generation of filmmakers might be missing, among other things…
World of Echo: I normally don’t lead with a person’s latest work, but you’ve been doing some cool stuff lately. What brought you out to the Pastranaland compound in Maryland a few weeks back? Or is that under wraps?
Mason Rader: I can’t say much, but it’s a project that the folks at Racer X are cultivating here over the next few months with a couple of riders. It’s something you’ll see within the next month or two, for sure. It’s a cool project, a special project. I think it’s going to be exciting. There’s not much I can say about it, but it is cool, and Travis does ride in it.
That’d be quite the tease if he didn’t!
[laughs] I had some people from my hometown saying things like, “Oh my god, that’s Travis Pastrana’s house! Who are you filming?” I’m like, “…Travis! Who else would I be here for!?” That’s my town in a sentence right there, that’s our intelligence level! [laughs] We’re doing great!
You’re from North Carolina, right?
Yes, I live in a place called Taylorsville, North Carolina. That’s “Taylor – sville.” Usually nobody has heard of it, it’s a pretty small spot on the map, but I like being around here and using it as a home-base. I’m not a full-time nomad.
Taylorsville is small, but is it famous for anything? Any crazy quirk or fun fact?
Not a thing! Taylorsville isn’t boring to me, per se, but if you ask most people around here they’d say there’s not a lot going on. It is a small, boring town, from a historical aspect.
That’s just north of Hickory, NC, right?
Yes, that’s correct. I’m in Hickory a lot because, unless what you need is available at a Walmart, you’re probably not going to get it in Taylorsville.
So how does a guy from small-town North Carolina end up at Travis Pastrana’s pad? Was that your first time to his place? Were you tripping out?
You know, I had never been. Like any other guy my age  though, I grew up watching Nitro Circus on MTV and what not, so to see it all in person was unreal. It still hasn’t sunk in yet, and I’m not sure that it ever will. That was a really cool experience to be able to be there and reflect back on where I’ve come from, and the fact that not only was I invited, but I got to film too. That blows me away.
I will say that I wasn’t starstruck though, but I think part of it is the fact that Travis’ personality is very inviting. He feels like a normal person. A lot of these riders in the motocross world have an ego and they bring a bold presence to the room and Travis, while he’s certainly bold, he brings such a normal vibe. There’s no way to be starstruck because he has the power [to hold an intimidating presence], but he doesn’t.
It was really cool, so cool even that my buddies and I were talking and they joked that I peaked! They said, “This is it! It’ll only be downhill from here!” I peaked at twenty-one. I’m ok with it, I guess!
I also grew up on the Nitro DVD’s. I’d probably agree that’s the pinnacle! If anyone told me I was going to Travis Pastrana’s house, I’d tell them to stop messing with me.
That’s how it started out, really! I got the call last-minute to be a part of that project, and I couldn’t believe it.
As most people familiar with TP know, the backflip question is always there. Were you approached to do a backflip at any time?
I was told multiple times that I’d probably be peer-pressured into doing one, but we were pretty quick with the shoot that day. Luckily I don’t think Travis had enough downtime to sway me into trying a backflip. I thought about it though, I really did. I figured if I got asked, what better time to attempt a flip than under his instruction? I think I would’ve went for it. I would’ve been terrified, but I think I would’ve. Looking back on it now though… maybe I wouldn’t have! [laughs] You can’t under-rate a backflip, it’s gnarly!
Who else was on the crew that day?
Andrew Fredrickson was there shooting photos and writing. Dustin Williamson, from Racer X Brand. “Wheels” (Jason Todd) was there helping out on story as well. I didn’t realize I was going to be the only video guy on this project until I got there, though. That was a bit of a shock for me, to be doing the whole shebang. I was freaking out for the first twenty or thirty minutes, but it worked out perfect.
In my research I found that you’re a bit of a late bloomer as far as motocross competition goes. Most people get into the sport pretty young, but you started racing in 2016?
I’m a late starter, a not-very-fast racer, and I just have fun with it. 2016 was the first year I actually raced a GNCC, before having just ridden around and watched the races on TV. I never really raced myself too much. I raced a lot of local stuff, but on a national level I didn’t race a bunch of stuff. I would still do it today if I could, what with my schedule and all, but that’s part of the reason why I got into video. I’ve always loved riding as an enthusiast, but I knew early on that I would never make a career out of it. I thought about what I could do that would keep me around motorcycles and that’s where it all started for me when it comes to being a videographer. I’ve only done some local races and a few sprint enduros.
So your family, are they involved in the sport?
My Dad, Brent, for years as a child he always wanted a dirt bike and never got one. His parents were scared that he would get hurt. Once he got older and had kids, he got me the bike he never had, an XR 70. I had other bikes too: an XR 80, a KX 100, and then I jumped straight to a 250. I missed a couple years on minibikes, I just jumped right over them [laughs], but he finally got himself a dirt bike a few years after I started riding.
Brent and Mason through the years.
We’re relatively new to it all, but we love it. We get to ride together now… we even rode just the other day. When I go ride with my buddies, he’ll come along and I just love it. He’s not a drag in any way. I love having my Dad around when we go ride. It’s fun.
In a number of cultures it’s easy for parents to be pushed aside once kids reach adulthood, but I think something amazing about motocross is that it seems to defy that cultural norm and brings families together. Especially so in the bond between father and son.
We’ve always talked about that, my family and I, and it was brought up the other day even. My Mom was at work and someone asked her about us, to which she replied, “They like to ride dirt bikes.” The person who questioned my Mom was shocked to learn that we rode dirt bikes, considering how “dangerous” they are and the amount of injuries we must’ve gone through. My Mom shot back, “You wouldn’t believe how many positive stories you’d hear, moments that happen so often they don’t get retold. You’d be surprised to hear how much fun they have.”
There’s still misconception out there, that motorcycles are harmful and terrible, and I’ll tell you for certain that’s not true. I’ll tell you that the group of friends I have now, I wouldn’t have without dirt bikes. I hang out with one person from my town, everybody else I see on the weekends. Those are the people that I depend on more than the people I’ve grown up with since the first grade. I would call upon my racing friends for help if I was in a struggle before I would call anybody in my town. I feel like racing families and communities have a stronger bond. I can’t explain it, but I guess it’s just the dirt bikes that bring people together. I guess it’s because our sport is so small that we have this tight-knit bond.
“Selling dirt bikes doesn’t make the world turn. The fact that we can make a career out of it is amazing.”
In your travels, do you find that the sport gets smaller and smaller the more you’re exposed to it?
I don’t necessarily see the sport getting smaller and smaller, I understand how small the sport is, but I will say my travels have given me greater perspective. One thing that I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who are in the industry, bash the industry. Yes, the sport’s small, but it works! How crazy is that? How lucky am I for this to be my full-time job, filming dirt bikes? It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside to think that.
The more I travel, the more perspective I gain with each trip. You talk to people, you learn, you experience. You may think, yes, the sport’s small, but then you take a look around and say, “Hey, this guy’s from Germany. This guy’s from France. This guy’s from here, there, and we’re all here at the same point in time!” It’s big in that way.
You realize the sport isn’t huge, but it’s big enough to sustain itself.
I was just talking to Jason Weigandt at Southwick about how small the sport is, and about how there will always be people to bash the sport. You have to understand how lucky we are to even have what we have.
A Southwick remaster from MRader.
The point Jason and I came to with our conversation was that the sport does not make the world turn. Dirt bikes do nothing beneficial for the world. It contributes nothing helpful. For example, you can look at NASCAR and make the argument that they help sell cars that get employees to their jobs, thus having a positive impact on society. Dirt bikes? Selling dirt bikes doesn’t make the world turn. The fact that we can make a career out of it is amazing. The fact that there’s enough people to fill the semi’s, enough racers to fill the gate, enough people interested in the sport for there to be media necessary to cover it, it’s insane. You’ve got to be grateful for that.
I’ve never thought about it in that sense. It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own thoughts about the sport, since it means so much to us. Not often do we look at dirt bikes as entirely unproductive, when it’s hard to think of life without it.
That’s what I don’t understand about egos in the industry. The first lesson you’ve got to learn is that you mean nothing, especially as a media guy. What I mean by that is that without the riders and their talent, we’d have nothing to document. Without bikes being sold, there would be no sponsored riders or races held. If you look further down the chain, without the one before us, there’s no need for [media]. Being that the industry itself doesn’t help the world turn, we are truly just living in a daydream over here. You’ve got to look at it like that.
I don’t mean to say you mean nothing in the sense that you’re a leaf in the wind, you just have to know where your feet are. That may be a little harsh, but that’s how I see it. I’m grateful for what I’ve done, but I understand my place wouldn’t be here if not for all of the things before me: the racers, the bikes, the track owners, everything. There’s a lot to be thankful for.
“Kailub Russell, Steward Baylor, and few other guys all play poker every Friday night.”
You cover motocross on occasion, but primarily work in enduro and GNCC. We just got done talking about how small motocross is, now let’s dissect an even smaller subset of the sport. What are you thoughts on the off-road scene?
There’s respect in all forms of motorcycling. I respect motocross. The jumps those guys do and the speed they carry, that’s super gnarly. Personally though, I think it would be harder for pro motocross guys to come race three-hour GNCC races than it would be for GNCC racers to compete in motocross. You could argue either point all day and night, though.
I will say that, from what I’ve seen, the GNCC world is a lot more family-oriented, even morseo than moto. I think in motocross there’s this separation between the teams in the pits. At GNCC’s, you’ll routinely find the top competitors sitting around a campfire together on Saturday night before the race on Sunday. I know that Kailub Russell, Steward Baylor, and few other guys all play poker every Friday night. The following Sunday they’ll race each other bar-to-bar for a paycheck.
Most of these guys also train together at Aldon [Baker’s] and live together, but these guys are all from different states, have different interests, and they come together every weekend to go racing. They’ve been friends for years! GNCC and motocross are the same in a lot of ways, but different in just as many. There isn’t as much bad blood at GNCC events, it’s a very friendly environment.
Stew Baylor, by Mason Rader.
One of the first things I noticed about GNCC racing when I first attended was the amount of people present, and the diversity within the crowd. There are elite pro and amateur level athletes at every event, alongside enthusiasts in jeans and long-sleeve t-shirts. And that’s not to imply those in jeans are goons, it’s more to illustrate the fact that they’re going out there with all they’ve got. It’s admirable.
That’s a great way to say it. Supercross to me, it’s a show. As serious as it can be, it’s just as much of a show as Monster Jam. Then you visit motocross, and you get to see a little bit more of the core fanbase, guys who visit the moto sites every week and listen to the podcasts like Pulp MX. Then you go to a GNCC, and you see the most hardcore fans that crawl out from under a rock with a cooler full of beer! Respectfully, there’s also a lot of GNCC fans who just want to see carnage and don’t necessarily care about the racing, but still. I’ve heard before that the Ironman GNCC attracts more riders and spectators than the Pro motocross round.
I’ve been to both. I don’t dispute that claim at all!
You wonder why people don’t go to both, right? It’s weird. Maybe more people just want to see guys get stuck in a mud hole? I don’t know!
Another aspect of GNCC racing, unlike any other motorsport I can think of, you cannot get any closer to the action than at a GNCC. You can practically grab those guys, and at the amateur level a lot of them do! When dealt with a treacherous obstacle like a hill or mud bog, the spectators become a part of the course, in a way.
You punctuated my point earlier about riders mixing better in GNCC. A great example of this was seeing Kailub come through a muddy section and get stuck. I saw Thad Duvall’s Dad run over and help Kailub get out, and he’s blatantly competing against his son! He didn’t just watch Kailub struggle while his son passed him, he helped him get out of the mud hole. That’s it right there, that’s GNCC.
Do you think GNCC racing is overlooked?
I do, I really do. It’s a lot gnarlier from a professional perspective. Kailub and a few others have really elevated the sport in recent years and push themselves constantly. They really put a lot of effort into it to push their pace for three hours, it’s just unreal. They had heart rates in the 190’s at Florida this year… for three hours! How is that possible? I think it’s overlooked, for sure.
With Kailub running Unadilla last year as well, qualifying twelfth in dry conditions and almost getting a podium in the mud, I think that earned the GNCC community a lot of respect, respect that it hadn’t seen before. I’d just love to see the two cross more, GNCC and motocross. I think it’d help bring validity to GNCC racing.
Obviously more overlooked than the racing would be the folks covering it. The writers, the photographers, the videographers. Do you look towards anyone in the off-road community for inspiration? People making stuff that you think is really great?
Back when Vurbmoto was around, and subsequently Vurb Offroad, I really looked up to Brandon Bolling. He was creating a lot of content for Vurb Offroad at the time, in addition to creating the Driven to Win series with Kailub for Motosport.com. I lived off of that stuff. That’s probably half of the reason I do what I do now, because I loved watching that stuff. That’s who I always looked up to. Sadly he doesn’t work in the industry anymore, but he’s half of the reason why I’m even here in the first place. It’s amazing what he did, because it’s hard. It’s not easy to get around at a GNCC.
I told Tim Cotter this weekend [at Southwick], “You know Tim, it’s a lot easier to film a motocross race than it is to film a GNCC.” If you know Tim, he just did his little grumble and laughed. Moto is nice, man: media tent, AC cooled, Wi-Fi, people bring you food and snacks. At a GNCC, it’s all on you. I leave my vehicle in the morning, and I’m prepared not to come back until I’m done, which could easily be nine hours later. It’s difficult to traverse the terrain at times. I have to bust out a map on occasion, too. It’s not easy to do what we do.
Hearing you say you bust out a map is funny to me. It’s 2019!
Right? I feel like my navigational skills are picking up from it, though! I think so at least, I can only hope. Last year I used to walk everywhere as well, and on a good day I could get around eight to twelve miles a day. Luckily this year we have Specialized Bikes sponsoring the series, and they were fortunate enough to let me use an eMTB [Electronically assisted mountain bike] to get around, so I just throw my tripod and camera in a backpack and start pedaling. Even then, that’s still a lot compared to moto!
At the motocross track I can see everywhere I need to go, I get my clips, head back to the media tent to upload some footage, grab a snack… get a Red Bull, why not? I do love GNCC, though. You can get really creative with angles in the woods and capture things that people don’t get a chance to see. It’ll always have a place in my heart.
“I filmed [a local race] and my employer said, ‘Hey, we didn’t get a good turnout this weekend…’ And he handed me $20. I thought I was gonna lose it.”
You’ve been filming now for four years, right?
I started filming at the end of 2014 and I made one video. I started full-time in 2015, and by full-time I mean that I started pursuing my little “goon-videos” on a consistent basis! I filmed for a local series where they paid me $100 per round, that was my deal. There was one round I remember being a total mud fest, it was disgusting and hardly anybody showed up. I still did my thing, and at the end of the day when I met with my employer he said, “Hey, we didn’t get a good turnout this weekend…” And he handed me $20. I thought I was gonna lose it. At that point in time I didn’t have the confidence to voice my opinion with this guy, I would’ve just shed a tear over it, probably. That’s all in the past now, though. I’ve learned from it.
So 2014 was the very first time you picked up a camera?
Correct. It was the last race of the season for our local series called, “NCHSA,” which stands for North Carolina Hare Scramble Association. I asked my Mom and Dad to borrow their camera, which I think was a Nikon D5100. They had no problem with it, so I went out and made the worst, and I mean the worst video you could ever see! It’s still on my YouTube channel, you can go watch it right now. I’ve thought about deleting it numerous times, but like many other things, it offers me perspective in my life. It’s bad, though! It’s horrible.
But right around that time  things were really going off at Vurbmoto and videos were coming out very often. I thought that I might be able to make a living off of this stuff, however my parents were a bit skeptical. I went and filmed a different local series the year after and it’s been [growing] from there ever since.
Josh Toth takes flight for Rader’s lens. Photo: Tristan Young
I know how tough it can be to leave old projects out there like that. However, I don’t think this video is all that bad.
Oh, it’s bad! I think at one point I tried to pull off slow-mo on a clip I filmed at twenty-four frames per second… Didn’t have a clue what I was doing! Just point and shoot.
I think it’s easy for kid’s coming up to miss that though, that you have to put yourself out there and just do it. Even people who film for a few years start to miss that, that feeling of putting yourself out there, which is imperative to grow creatively. You just have to try.
That is a big lesson that I think the whole world could benefit from hearing. You have to fail. It’s ok to fail. You’ll learn the next time, and it’s the only way you can progress. It’s like walking through a dark room looking for a wall. You don’t know where you are, you don’t know what’s coming up next, but you’re going to figure it out I promise you that.
In motocross media I see a lot of people starting out who put in maybe a year or two of work, and then they just flop and stop creating. They believe that because they’ve put in all of this time and effort they should immediately be seeing results, or they’re worried because they haven’t locked down a good client. You’ve got to put in more time, those three or four years to establish some validity, and once you get it everything steamrolls from there. It’s so much easier to get work later on, at least that’s my experience.
I don’t think people have the grit, not to say that you need to be a marine to do what we do, [laughs] I’m just saying it takes a little heart and soul. After high school I enrolled in college and would stay up until two or three in the morning doing homework so I could leave for the races on the weekends. I would stay up that long the week after editing videos to meet deadlines. I loved it though, and I had fun with it. I don’t see that effort being put in as often these days.
Four years ago you said you made the, “worst video ever made.” Just the other week you wrapped up filming a project with Travis Pastrana. I think that perfectly accentuates the picture we painted earlier.
I spoke with my parents on the phone that night we wrapped at Travis’ place. That was a point we threw around. “Who would’ve thought that same kid that made that little video would be at Travis’ today?” I still don’t believe it, really. It doesn’t feel like a job to me, even on those days where it feels like you’re never going to get out from behind your computer, I still enjoy it. I’ve met so many people and I’ve learned so much about business and life. I’m so thankful for everything.