Barber: Local motorcycle racer Jayson Uribe now on fire front lines
Calls in the middle of the night rarely deliver good news, and this one certainly didn’t. Jayson Uribe was in San Jose when he answered his cell phone. It was dispatch at the volunteer fire station in Deer Park, telling him that a large fire had begun to spread in the rural community on the lower flank of Howell Mountain, just east of St. Helena.
“My station called me at 3:15 a.m.,” Uribe said. “They’re like, ‘We need you back right now.’ I hopped in my work truck and boogied back to Napa County, got in the engine and went out. It was a bit rough. Nobody really expected this to be so aggressive.”
A lot of the logistics that surround fighting fires are hard to navigate. Driving home with a combination of speed, urgency and safety? That was not a problem for Uribe. He’s a seasoned motorcycle racer who has ridden at the highest levels of the sport, often at Sonoma Raceway, which is more or less his home turf. Over the past couple years, Uribe has begun to swap one fulfilling, hair-raising pursuit for another.
If Uribe is relatively new to firefighting, riding motorcycles is all but reflexive at this point. He first got on a dirt bike when he was 2 or 3, and was racing Supermoto road courses by 7.
Uribe grew up in Angwin, the small town at the top of Howell Mountain. His father, Allan, ran an electrical repair business, Rock and Sons. In fact, he still does, and Jayson works for him. The Uribes had a neighbor who rode motorcycles professionally.
“I went to watch him do a little practice day, and ever since then I was hooked,” Jayson said.
As it turned out, the boy was good. Like, really good. Uribe achieved at every level, often against older kids, and often at Sears Point. “The big track, I wasn’t allowed to go onto until I was 16,” he said. “But I’ve done thousands of laps at the kart track.”
Uribe’s first big break came when he was 12. He and a friend went to a large racing tryout called the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup. For amateur riders, it’s a major pipeline to professional racing. The friend did well enough to draw interest from a race team. Uribe didn’t. But a few weeks after that, he bested that same friend in a race.
“Literally the next day I got a phone call asking me drive,” he said.
Just one problem: That race team was in England. Some of the European circuits allowed kids to ride professionally at 12. At that time, the minimum age in the U.S. was 16. So he and his mother, Rebecca, moved to England for parts of the next several years. They’d spend about half the calendar ― their American passports limited them to 180 days a year in the United Kingdom, in 90-day increments ― based in Nottingham.
Much of Uribe’s young life, in fact, has been constructed around motorcycle competition. A traditional high school schedule wasn’t conducive to racing, so he home-schooled. He tore through classwork as if accelerating out of a turn, and graduated at 15.
Uribe stayed in Europe. He got sponsors, scored his first international win (and a track record in his class) at Circuit de Ledenon, joined a Spanish team, finished 11th overall in the FIM CEV Moto2 European Championship in both 2016 and 2017, then returned home to race in the U.S., in the MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.
Uribe also started work as a part-time instructor in the advanced racing school at Sonoma Raceway ― in an actual car, with four tires on the ground ― and as a correspondent for the Bonnier Motorcycle Group, and as a consultant with Google on the company’s autonomous vehicle program, and of course as an electrician.
That’s a lot to juggle. But Uribe had one more itch he hadn’t been able to scratch. He was always interested in firefighting.
“I’ve always found a reason to not do it,” Uribe said. “Either I was gone, or I was in school or whatever it was. Then 2017, the Tubbs fire hit and that was kind of my motivation to say, ‘OK, let’s actually do this.’”
During the deadly Tubbs and Atlas conflagrations, Rock and Sons turned its attention from electricity to water, helping to supply fire teams. Uribe got a closer look at the firefighters’ commitment and spirit of teamwork, and wanted a part of it. So he went through the Napa County Fire Department’s six-month academy, graduated in June 2019 and has been working with volunteer-staffed Station 21 in Deer Park.
The crew might have gotten more than it bargained for this summer, as the LNU Lightning Complex burned a massive area of the North Bay starting in mid-August, only to be followed in short order by the Glass fire.
The latter hit close to home for Station 21. Cal Fire believes the Glass fire started off of Crystal Springs Road at the base of Howell Mountain, and spread in multiple directions from there. It laid waste to residential areas, leapt across Napa Valley and destroyed landmark winery and resort buildings.