When Brandon Farlow and Skip Soderholm retired from the military, the two former Special Forces soldiers had to find purpose in life.
This is the case for many veterans after they retire.
Farlow started a business in his garage. Almost a year later, Soderholm joined after hearing about the affair when the couple met while playing golf with a mutual friend.
The Red Search Group became the purpose for which the two ex-soldiers put their time, energy, and resources into a venture.
“It’s also a way to give back. We are both very lucky to know where we are in our lives right now,” said Soderholm, the company’s chief operating officer. “Our business is doing pretty well and it’s a way of giving back to the community, and it also gives us a purpose. When you leave the military, sometimes it’s hard to find that. You work at such a high level to be able to find that passion and purpose that can be difficult at times.
The company has worked on Ministry of Defense contracts in the past, but a new opportunity presented itself to the company that was very different from anything a typical contractor would undertake.
Farlow had experience racing dirt bikes, but hadn’t done so in over 20 years. He and Soderholm went with a friend to an off-road motorcycle track and came across a slim 21-year-old professional racer with promise in the sport.
Tyler Stepek had competed in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship in 2021 and worked his way up to claim his place among the top motocross riders in the country, finishing 27th in the 450 class.
When the duo first met Stepek, he didn’t come across as a decorated dirt bike racer.
“We were rolling. I saw Tyler on the track and he was teaching kids how to ride,” Soderholm said. “I was out there riding and I’m not good at all. I walked past him and he was like, ‘Yeah. Yeah. Goes. Good job,” and he supports me and I don’t even know this kid.
Then Soderholm and Farlow met Stepek and realized there were a lot of similarities between them and the pilot 20 years their junior.
The friend who gave the two veterans some experience on Stepek let them know how the driver got to this point four years into his professional career and how he needed sponsorship for his first season on the top tier of the professional motocross circuit.
“I had no idea. We’re a (Department of Defense) company, and that’s our primary market,” said Farlow, the company’s president and CEO. started, I have a bike again, and we’re making innovative GoPro mounts for the bikes we’re about to release. It sort of served as a springboard for us into a new revenue market.
Red Research Group is now the title sponsor of Stepek’s KTM 450 off-road bike, and a new program has been created by the two special ops soldiers to train Stepek’s body and ride before his season begins in May.
Stepek’s rise to the track took a huge bump in 2020: not from the COVID-19 pandemic, but one that challenged him physically after a wreck during a race in the New Hampshire left him without feeling in his arms and legs. He broke two vertebrae in his neck and his future as a professional rider was up in the air.
Her condition improved after surgeries to strengthen and stabilize her neck and restored sensation in her extremities. Riding an all-terrain bike has been a lifelong memory, as has walking since he started riding with his dad at age 5.
He wasn’t going to let this wreckage be the last time he rode a dirt bike.
“The moment it happened, the first thing that went through my head was thinking about the things I couldn’t do because I couldn’t really feel anything,” Stepek said. “Once I started to get my feelings back, within two days I just wanted to ride again. Once you ride, it’s hard to get away from it. It’s so addictive.
He came back stronger than before from his near-catastrophic injury, and the memories of that day in New Hampshire were just an afterthought.
A native of Mount Airy, Maryland, Stepek has his sights set on winning at the highest level of the sport now that he has the wherewithal to fight every time he gets on his bike.
“I finally have my own bike, well, three of them now,” Stepek said. “They give me performance parts for them, good suspension for the bikes, and a great off-bike fitness program. I know this will help a ton.
Whenever he dresses up and rides the local area trails, Stepek turns heads. Motocross experts see what he brings to the track, and it still amazes Soderholm now, just as much as it did to his novice eyes at Tomahawk MX in West Virginia the first time he saw Stepek.
“I said, ‘Hey Tyler, go walk around and show him something.’ And Skip got really excited when he saw how fast Tyler can go down the track,” Farlow said.
With a friendly smile and demeanor, Stepek also brings a competitive spirit with him to the track. The aggressiveness he displays while riding is nothing new to Farlow and Soderholm after their military careers.
“For me, that’s one of the reasons why I think we did it. He’s kind of an underdog. He had this horrible injury in 2020, he got back on the horse and didn’t let it stop,” Soderholm said. “That’s what I like to see. I have a military background, so I think he has a warrior’s heart and that’s how we can help him improve, to give him that warrior motivation. He’s a warrior on the trail. Giving him that mindset is really going to help his game.”
Like the employees the company hires, Stepek had to go through a board process with those who work at the company. His charm allowed him to work with company employees.
“It’s also very similar to stuff from our military background. Sometimes it takes a lot to impress us. He actually lives in my house for all the physical training, nutrition and everything we have for him,” Farlow said. “He’s a stand-up person and he’s great with the family and great with the kids. You couldn’t ask for a better subject for what we do.
Prepare like a pro
Last year, Stepek’s pre-race preparations outside of track time were limited to mountain biking and preparation for each race. The basis for its preparation was limited. His talent could take him all the way to the highest level of motocross at the Lucas Oil Motocross Championships. To succeed at this level, he had to put more effort into his training.
Stepek will race with bike #93, which is given based on last year’s finish. Receiving a top 100 means a rider is among the best in the world, and the top 100 numbers are split across the supercross and motocross circuits.
With help from Red Research Group, his bikes are serviced in-house in the same space that Stepek works with Farlow and Soderholm to improve his body.
“As we thought about it and got to know Tyler more, we started putting this program together,” Farlow said. “Who Skip and I are, and who is RRG, we don’t do anything halfway. We invest a lot in it, not only financially, but also mentally and in training. It’s quite a program. We already have other guys reaching out to us saying, “Hey, we want to come do things with you too.”
His talent has helped him get to this point, and the training regimen is where he hopes to take his game to another level against the best motocross riders in the world.
Major changes in his life, ranging from daily training to an almost six-hour move, were the changes he expected. But some of the other changes came with his eating habits.
“Last year, before National Race Day, I would wake up and eat a Pop-Tart or whatever was easiest to grab and go. I did a bit of mountain biking before last year’s season and got in shape with every run. In the end, my fitness was OK. Enough to get into the top 20,” Stepek said. “This year, no Pop-Tarts. They put me on a good program.
Workouts at area gyms also helped fuel Stepek’s competitive side, like what Farlow witnessed firsthand in spin classes at Workhorse Fitness.
“It’s great to come in and have a little competition and races to push each other. He’s 20 years younger than me, so he’s a bit faster than me on the spin bikes too,” Farlow said. “It’s great to see the level of push and desire he gets.”
The gains made through the program are noticeable to Stepek.
“I definitely feel strong and mentally, they have my mental side a lot better, like not giving up,” he said. “Some of the workouts can be really tough and riding the bike with Brandon can be really tough. I’ve learned not to give up.
Stepek spent a month in the area living with Farlow and training daily at the Red Research Group when not on the road training at tracks from Henderson to Raeford.
For his next two months of training, he trains at ClubMX in Chesterfield, SC.
On one of their trips to a Devils Ridge Motocross in Sanford, the same Stepek that Soderholm and Farlow saw when they first met in West Virginia humbly helped young riders who fell off their bikes .
“For me, it was really impressive. Here is a professional rider. It’s like a pro baseball player helping out a little league kid,” Soderholm said. “He took the time to get off his bike, stop his ride and help these kids get them going. For me, that’s what it’s all about, giving back to the younger generation.
For Stepek, his selflessness comes from the same feelings he experienced when he was a young pilot in this situation.
“I remember when I started and I was too scared to even go out on the track with older, faster people,” he said. “I want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and knows that everyone is looking out for each other.”
Much like the same desire Soderholm and Farlow had after retiring from the military, that same passion to help the next generation prevails in Stepek as he rose through the ranks early in his motocross career.