Talk about not getting any respect... Whenever we hear someone utter Rodney Dangerfield's signature catchphrase, we can't help but think about our old friend "Vertical" Joe Dryden. A pro stunter from back in the day (we first became aware of Dryden more than five years ago, when he was riding with Vertical Outlaws way up in Maine), since then Dryden has become one of the most skilled stunters in the country thanks to years of dedicated practice, personal sacrifice and hundreds of hours spent building his rep at stunt events around the country. Despite his dedication, though, Dryden seldom saw the spotlight-something he never let us forget, always calling us to harass us and ask us why it seemed like every other stunter but him was getting his picture in the magazine! Dryden was never in the right place at the right time, it seemed, and he never got any respect.
Until now-success, and plenty of big-time recognition, is finally coming Dryden's way. Thanks to sponsorship by big names in the stunt game like Icon, H.A.I. Bike Shop, Spy Optics, Full Throttle and MotoHeaven, stunting is finally paying Dryden's bills. He's also booking some big-time international shows, including last year's historic Black Sheep Squadron event held on the military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Multiplex event in Tokyo, Japan, this past May, and a two-month, multi-nation European tour this fall as part of the Monster Jam Europe extreme sports extravaganza. Heck, we've even started running his photo with some regularity in the magazine-what more could a guy ask for?
Speaking of Europe, Dryden was also on the short list to perform at this year's Burns Day stunt spectacular in France alongside a few other top American stunters, including Chris McNeil, Kyle Woods, Eric Hoenshell and Jason Britton. Unfortunately, that event wasn't meant to be (shades of Dryden's hard-luck past rearing their ugly head?). The riders got word that Burns Day 2006 was cancelled just minutes before they were to board the plane to France, sitting in the Atlanta airport. Suddenly, we had no story and a bunch of pages to fill, and Dryden had a few unanticipated days of free time on his hands. Maybe we could make up for all those times we overlooked his talents in the past, and give him his own profile-sounds like a plan!
So instead of flying into Nice, France, we retreated back to Dryden's adopted home of Orlando, Florida, where he recently relocated from Maine in order to ride and practice year-round. Our first stop with Dryden was his "other job," working the counter at the stunter-friendly H.A.I. Bike Shop. When he is not on the road competing and doing shows, Dryden can usually be found at the shop helping customers hook up aftermarket performance and stunt equipment for their own rides. "I've been working here for about a year," Dryden tells us, "and the owner, Mark Weeks, is really cool about letting me come and go when I have events to attend." After arriving at the shop, Dryden gave us the rundown of what to expect for the rest of our time with him. Along with the usual work all day/ride all night routine, Dryden was also going to get some fresh ink at a tattoo shop in Jacksonville, and give us the opportunity to see him perform at a Monster Jam show in Fort Lauderdale. Sounds like he had things covered.
After shooting the breeze for a while, it was time to close down the shop and follow Dryden out to the local stunt spot for practice. Upon arrival we caught up with some familiar faces from our last visit (see "O-Town Hustle," Super Streetbike, July 2006) while Dryden unloaded his freshly painted bike. "I haven't had any seat time on this bike in a while," Dryden said as he suited up and rode off. After watching a handful of passes, it was hard to believe he hadn't ridden the bike in what he claimed was "a few months," but the locals assured us the bike had been down for a while getting new paint and other mods in preparation for the trip overseas. He seemed to ride the bike effortlessly, throwing down some long stoppies into 180s, coaster variations, and combos all over the bike. Between riding sessions we were able to snap some pictures of the bike while Dryden hydrated-the temperature was an evil 80+ degrees, even at 11 o'clock at night. After a three-hour riding session, we headed over to Dryden's house to call it a night.
Approaching Dryden's pad, everything seems suburban-normal from the outside, but once you open the front door you quickly realize that the house is pure bachelor-pad design. The living room looks like a strip club (complete with a pole), and there is bike-related decor in every room of the house, including a living room with a dozen helmets and trophies, a well-stocked tire rack in the kitchen, and a garage that looks like it should be connected to a service shop, not a house. Joe shares the house with two fellow stunt riders, though it seems like someone is always squatting on the couch, too.
So how does a guy who grew up in a small town in Maine, population a handful, end up at the top of the stunter food chain in faraway Orlando, Florida? "I've been riding dirt bikes since the age of 6," Dryden says, "but the whole sportbike thing came about purely by chance. Around six years ago I was at a powersports shop with the intention of buying a new snowmobile; they didn't have the one I wanted, so I was looking around the shop and walked through the sportbike section. It was spring, so things were warming up; I figured a bike would be something fun for the summer. I ended up rolling out of the shop that day on a used Yamaha R6. After riding around for a while I stumbled upon the stunt scene online. I met Teach [Chris McNeil] on one of the online message boards. At the time he was living close to me, and we decided to meet up at a local shop and go for a ride. Teach pulled up rolling a stoppie and went right into some burnouts. I had played around with power wheelies, but had never seen someone control the bike like him. We hit the street and headed to one of his practice spots. I had never seen someone rock a long wheelie until that day. After that, I was hooked. I started practicing from then on.
We had to wait till the next day to find out how Dryden landed in the Sunshine State, during the three-hour trek to his favorite tattoo parlor in Jacksonville to see Dee Peacock at his shop, Peacock's Tattoo. During his early days stunting in Maine, Dryden connected with many people who would play key roles in his future, including Shannon Baker, a fellow stunt rider who also owns the custom sportbike shop Kickstand & Wheelies in Wells, Maine. Dryden ended up spending a lot of time at that shop, so much so that soon he started working there for pay. It was at K&W; that Dryden met the members of Vertical Outlaws, the team he joined in Maine, and traveling with them to events down in Florida was his first exposure to the Sunshine State's burgeoning stunt scene. In 2004 Dryden decided to spend the winter in Florida to get some more practice, and that winter has now stretched out to two years.
After Peacock put some fresh ink into Dryden's carcass, we continued on to Fort Lauderdale for the Monster Jam monster truck show, where Dryden and fellow Florida stunters Mark "T-Neck" Martinek and Jesse Toler were slated to perform. Although the show took place at an indoor arena with a polished concrete floor that proved a less-than-ideal riding surface, the riders put on a great show that got the crowd going. One of the highlights was Dryden filling the indoor arena with smoke thanks to a sixth gear standstill burn performed with the assistance of the remains of one of the crushed cars. The show is a warm-up for Dryden-by the time this story hits newsstands Dryden will be midway through a two-month tour around Europe with fellow Florida stunt master Aaron Brunelle, performing at the overseas Monster Jam shows.
After watching Dryden, T-Neck and Toler knock out three Monster Jam shows over a two-day span, we headed back to Orlando to part ways. One of us was headed back to a dreary office-the other on a grand tour that would include stops in Paris, Zurich, Antwerp, Milan, Stockholm and other great European cities. Who's the one who doesn't get any respect? Not Vertical Joe Dryden. Not anymore.