The motocross course looks like a child’s fantasy — something a 6-year-old might build in a sandbox for a fleet of toy cars. It has steep hills that launch riders into the air and flying over ravines; it also has sharp descents that send them airborne again, as if propelled from a ski jump. It has hairpin turns; wide, sweeping turns and tricky, off-camber turns. And it rises and falls throughout, snaking in and out of tree stands and back around.
Built of sand and clay, the track lends itself to multiple racing grooves, or “lines,” enabling riders to battle side-by-side. And it’s physically grueling, demanding complete concentration, total commitment and masterful bike control, lap after exhausting lap.
Saturday’s field will consist of former world champions from Europe, such as Marvin Musquin, 23, a tall and lanky Frenchman who competes for the handsomely funded Red Bull KTM team. It also attracts a handful of local racers, known as “privateers,” who tune their own bikes in hopes of qualifying.
The fastest 40 riders in qualifying earn spots in the two races, known as “motos.” Each moto lasts roughly 35 minutes. Riders line up 40 abreast behind a metal starting gate. The moment the gate drops, the bikes rocket into the first turn. That’s the most dangerous moment, when 40 riders jockey at full speed to squeeze into a tiny piece of real estate.
Their four-stroke engines let out a fierce roar, like 100 lawnmowers mowing a single lawn.
“It’s pretty silent for me,” Grant says of the din at the start. “You’re so in the zone, you can’t really think of anything else.”
‘Keeps us going’
With no pit stops (barring calamity, like a blown engine or flat tire), it’s virtually impossible for a rider to gain ground on the leader, which makes the opening laps critical for establishing track position.
And with no radio communication, the only way a rider knows what’s going on is by reading whatever message his mechanic scribbles on a pit board and holds up as he passes by each lap. The message might be his lap time or number of laps remaining; or it might suggest the rider take a different line around the track.
That’s the job Coy volunteered to do when J.D. raced at Budds Creek in the 1980s.
“He was horrible,” Coy jokes about his brother, whose third-place, Class C Amateur trophy from his best Budds Creek finish is displayed at Joe Gibbs Racing’s Huntersville, N.C., shop. “So I’d write stuff like, ‘YOU’RE DEAD LAST!’ or ‘PLEASE QUIT! YOU’RE EMBARRASSING US!’
“It was a blast!”
A father of four, Coy says he and his wife have spent the last few years of their lives chasing their children around on BMX bikes. The kids have PW50s, too — tiny motorcycles just 28 inches tall, with half-gallon tanks and roughly one-tenth the horsepower of the Yamahas, Hondas and Suzukis ridden by the pros.
It’s too soon to tell if there’s a budding stock-car or motocross racer among them. Then again, they are Gibbs.
“It’s definitely competition that motivates our family,” Coy says. “It always has. It keeps us going.”