Interview: BRM | Photos: Supplied
Just like his father and brother, Damon Rees came from a motocross scene, but he’s now one of the names to watch in road racing. Competing aboard a CBR600RR in the Supersport class, there are big plans ahead for Damon, which we were able to find out when we caught him off the bike…
Damon, how did you get into racing?
Basically, it came about from injury. In 2011, I broke my back while racing motocross. That saw me taking some time off, as I had to recover and go through some rehab. But, once I had all the rods removed from my back, I was straight back on the dirt bike. In that year, I was beating myself up. Every week, I had to go back to the chiropractor, just to get straightened up, as I kept hurting myself on the moto. Whether I crashed or not, I was always hurting.
But it wasn’t as simple as jumping on a road bike, was it?
No, it wasn’t. Given the injury that was still hurting, I took some time off, going to spanner for Tony. That’s really what sparked my interest in road racing. Of course, I’d given it a go when I was a young fella, but I didn’t have it in me. When I was a small dude, Tony chucked me on a big ass 600 that Sam Smith had won the Supersport championship on. He definitely threw me in the deep end! It kind of scared me off it a little bit. But, once I had that spark, I went and bought myself a CBR500, fixed it up – as it was a crashed one – and turned it into a track bike. I then did a club day on it and decided it was for me. Although, by the end of that day, I’d already outridden the 500 and knew I needed a bigger bike. So, the next day, Tony and I went out and found a second-hand CBR600 that had done 86K on the clock, which we rebuilt from the ground up as a track bike.
It replaced the passion for motocross?
It did. But there are times that I miss going out on a dirt bike ride. But, in the summer, which isn’t the greatest time to go ride a dirt bike – ‘cause it’s hot, dusty and never really the right conditions to go ride a dirt bike – I am amped to go to the track and ride my CBR. I am a motorsports kid, having grown up in motorsports family, so I am pretty happy racing on the tarmac
Other than the ride on the CBR600, had you ridden a road bike before?
I had ridden a Yamaha TZ125, which Marty van Boomer lent me to have a go on, which I rode at a track day. I enjoyed it, but I’ve never been much of a two-stroke guy, so it didn’t really do it for me. I’d always loved watching road racing – Superbikes and MotoGP – and had always really wanted to do it, even when I was 15. But going out and doing it was another thing entirely… at the time, anyway.
The speed is something you have to get your head ‘round. At that age, I wasn’t ready for it. Personally, I think it was the right decision to walk away from it and come back when I was 18, ‘cause I was far more mature.
Do you feel that road bike riding is something that you have to graduate to?
I reckon it is. If you grew up doing road racing, like the Europeans that have little kids on pocket bikes, it is something you can grow up doing. But, in New Zealand, well, that isn’t the norm. Sure, there is bucket racing, but being in Whakatane made that a bit tougher.
Like most all-round bike guys, I feel that motocross definitely helps with bike skills. Going from a dirt bike to a road bike, Mitch and I have felt that nothing really worries us, as we’re used to bikes moving ‘round and we’re less stiff than others who are learning to race on the hard stuff. You’ll find that people who grew up riding on the dirt are more comfortable on road bikes – just like Sloan “Choppa” Frost. Saying that, while some areas are similar, it’s still very different and it has taken some time to adjust.
Which year was your first full season?
That was 2014, when I was racing aboard my Honda CBR600RR, which was stock. Even with stock suspension, I did half of the Suzuki Series, but I sat out the street races – Wanganui and Paeroa – as I wanted to wait ‘til I was bit more mature on the bike. At the time, I was still learning, which included a few crashes. Obviously, crashing isn’t ideal on a street circuit.
For that season, I did Hampton Downs, Manfeild and went straight into the Nationals. The first round went really well for me, seeing me qualify on the second row, which is pretty good for the rookie season and I steadily progressed from there.
But, the next round at Timaru, I snapped my AC joint off and that made racing a lot harder… my arm was dangling from my shoulder.
That was a lowside, which saw me sliding along towards the dirt, which I hit feet-first. As soon as my feet hit the dirt, I was launched up and over to come down on my shoulder, doing a real number on my shoulder.
I was planning on sitting out that round, but I went to the physiotherapist, got it strapped and went racing. Yeah, I could barely lift it above my shoulder, but I still could put it on the ‘bar and hang on. I’m glad I did, too, as I left that round with six points. That’s six more than I would’ve had, if I’d sat it out. I couldn’t move my arm much, but it was worth it. I’ve done rehab on it, so it’s a lot better, especially when it’s strapped, but I still notice it on left-handers.
That was at the second round, but I still did the third and fourth rounds, at Taupo and Hampton Downs. I finished the season in ninth, which is pretty good, considering such a field and my injury.
It was steep! But I did a few winter races, such as the Hamilton Motorcycle Series (at Hampton Downs), which definitely helped with my confidence. In fact, I ended up winning that series. Sure, it didn’t have all the top riders, but it really helped with my confidence.
From there, we worked on a better bike, starting with K-Tech suspension. And Honda also came on board, giving me a parts budget, too, as well as the HRC ECU and loom – all of that work definitely helped with power and handling. In turn, it made a massive improvement that helped with confidence, too.
That is your current race bike?
It is, but I have just purchased another bike, which is a 2009 CBR600RR. We’ll build that one up from the ground again. So I’ll be racing a new bike for the upcoming season.
That is just in time for the new season, too?
It sure is. At the Burt, I’ll be racing Teretonga and the street race. I’ll leave Mitch to do the Supercross and Tony to do the hillclimb. Personally, I’m not much of a fan of the hillclimb, so I’ll help out Mitch at the Supercross, which is running at the same time as the racing at Bluff. Along with the Burt, we’ll do the full Suzuki Series, Paeroa Battle of the Streets and the Nationals.
How are you finding the street racing?
I love it. I did Wanganui in 2015 and this year’s Battle of the Streets. In Paeroa, I finished second behind Shane Richardson, but I beat Dan Mettam. I was pretty happy to beat him, as he’s been doing it for a while and he’s a pretty good rider. But Shane was on fire that day. Really, he made us all look silly. But it was awesome to finish second overall for the day.
The street races are pretty special, especially with the crowd right there and going full noise down the main street of Paeroa – it’s real rush!
But, going into it, I was nervous. My heart was racing and I was freaking out as I got into my leathers. That’s mainly ‘cause you hear so many people being negative about that kind of racing, but it isn’t all that bad. You just have to ride to your limits. You just don’t push like you do on a circuit, you don’t push the front or hammer the throttle – you’ve got to be smooth and consistent. Honestly, once I was out on the circuit at Paeroa, I wasn’t even nervous. I felt really natural and I loved it.
You’re on the same team as Mitch and Tony, but do you have any personal sponsors, who keep you racing?
I have one: Johnny Hepburn of Timaru Metal Recyclers. He helps me out with costs, along with lending me a hand at the track, changing tyres and helping in the pits. Back in the day, he was teammates with Tony, so he also helps out with input on the race. He’s a good person to have on our side.
We know it’s early days, with a full season of racing ahead, but what’s in store for Damon Rees in 2017?
At this stage, I will be going to Superbikes. This year, I aim to win Supersport and the Suzuki Series. Then, in 2017, Honda has a new CBR1000RR Fireblade coming, so the three of us will be racing that.
That’s all three Rees boys in one class?
Yeah, it sounds interesting, doesn’t it?