If you look up on your wall at the 2008 Racer X Calendar, you will see privateer hero Gavin Gracyk, riding his Cycra-backed Honda CRF450R at the ’07 Glen Helen National. We picked that photo for this month because at this time last year Gracyk was a very hot commodity. He was fresh off of a fairytale AMA Toyota Motocross season where he finished ninth overall in points aboard his privateer Honda—his best finish being a sixth overall at Southwick. He then signed with the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull 250F team to ride the West Coast Lites supercross series, but before that series was even over, Gracyk was already signed up with the upstart Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha team—a team that the hard-working Gracyk would surely flourish with.
Well, before Gracyk even got to race his new Yamaha, his season took a drastic turn for the worse at the season-ending Las Vegas East/West shootout, which you're about to read about.
Fast forward to today. As riders and teams are already hard at work on the 2009 season, 24-year-old Gracyk is currently without a ride. We talked to the likable Ohio native for today’s Sponsorhouse.com Privateer Profile.
Racer X: Gavin, what’s up? You hanging out in Blissfield, Ohio?
Gavin Gracyk: Oh, not much. Actually, I don’t live there any more. After my dad passed away my mom moved down south of Columbus now. But today I’m actually still in North Carolina. I’ve been real busy the past couple days. My apartment lease is up tomorrow, so they gave me the weekend to move out. I’m going to head back up to Ohio to spend some time with my mom. She hasn’t been feeling the greatest lately, and she doesn’t have anybody else, so I’m going to see her.
Other than that, I’m just waiting to hear back from some people. I’ve been talking with different people, just trying to put some stuff together for the 2009 season, but nothing seems to be coming together as quick and nice as we hoped they do.
Oh, dude, the last couple years have been. I was sitting down thinking about all kinds of stuff lately. It seems like the odd years are up—’05 was good, ’06 was bad, ’07 was up, ’08 was down. I don’t know what that means for ’09, but yeah, it’s been tough.
Well, to refresh some readers, you closed out the 2007 nationals as a consistent top ten finisher as a full-blown privateer, and then you inked a deal to ride supercross in the west for Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull team on a 250F. You had some top ten rides, but it probably didn’t go as well as you had hoped…
No, not really. When I signed with that team, I tried to get Troy [Lee] and Bob [Weber] to let me ride a 450, but it was a 250F team, so his sponsors were all about them using the 250F.
Did you have any offers to ride a 450?
I didn’t. So I took the Lites ride because I wanted to race, but it was hard for me to get down to the weight I needed to be so I could compete with other riders and other equipment. I’m just more suited to the 450. Sometimes in a life-or-death situation that power will save you.
Did it affect your confidence going from battling Andrew Short and Kevin Windham outdoors to mid-pack in Supercross Lites?
No, every race is a learning experience, right? I didn’t think it was weird. A race is race, whether it’s McGrath on your right and RC on your left, a race is a race.
Before the SX series even ended you caught a major break and were signed to the Joe Gibbs Racing motocross team. How did that opportunity come about?
That was just a blessing. I got a call from Jeremy Albrecht and I was down in Georgia, actually, trying to get ready to ride a 450 in supercross on the east coast. I had a little crash and knocked some teeth out, and that’s when I got a call from Jeremy. I was riding at Millsaps’ track. Jeremy gave me the call and I drove up there to North Carolina. I put in a couple pretty hard weeks with testing, and things started moving fast. I was feeling really comfortable and confident and then I had a little mishap there in Vegas.
So before you even finished out the season you were already riding and testing the Yamaha 450?
Oh yeah. We had that big break from supercross, and I started riding that Yamaha, and I was on that thing for a couple weeks, and then I went back out on the 250F, and it was a night-and-day difference. It took me a whole day out on the Honda track to get used to it again. After being on a 450 Yamaha outdoors, I had to switch back to a 250F and ride supercross. I was just trying not to kill myself.
What happened in Vegas?
It was coming into that Monster Alley thing. It was real tough for me just getting used to riding that bike again. That whole week I didn’t ride a 250F. It was kind of a bad decision, but it was a decision I was making because my goals and focus was on the outdoors. So I kind of sacrificed, and it hurt me for Vegas. I felt like a goon all day, and I was coming into that Monster Alley, and someone snagged a Tuff Block and spun out, and it caught the side of my boot and pulled my toe out and wrapped my ankle all the way around back to the swingarm. So what I ended up doing is tearing the deltoid ligament, which is the main supporting ligament in your ankle—the hardest thing to tear in your ankle.
What went through your mind when that happened?
Oh, I was just instantly praying. I didn’t know what to think. I was confused, and the outdoors kind of flashed before my eyes.
It was then on to Gibbs Racing and the outdoors, but obviously you were going in with an injury.
Well, I never really got to do many races for them. I had to sit out round one at Glen Helen, which was real tough for me, real tough. The second round I wasn’t even going to do. I was just staying at home resting and trying to get healthy for Texas, but I taped up my ankle and fought through and raced.
At both Hangtown and Freestone you finished out of the points in all four motos.
At Freestone I was in ninth or tenth, just past halfway, and I was going down one of the back straights and crashed. The bike landed on my other ankle. I then went out and tried to race the second moto, and I was in this first-turn crash and my ankle got hit again. It just went from bad to worse.
The next race at High Point you looked a little more like your old self, and you finished 12-11 for eleventh overall.
Yeah, I just never had anything going. I had to get a painkiller shot just to get through that day. It’s amazing how often your feet touch the ground and you don’t realize it. When you have something that hurts that bad, I felt like a knife was stabbing me every time I put my foot down. My leg went numb at High Point.
After High Point you missed more races. What happened?
Oh, I had a little practice crash and dislocated my elbow and tore my tricep. I was just trying something new and it was out of my control. It was just a freak accident.
You missed even more races and then came back and raced Millville, going 16-8. Your last moto with the team was also your best finish.
I wasn’t ready for Millville—I was probably 60 percent. I just bit my tongue and tried to get through it. After that I crashed again in the sand trying to get ready for Southwick, and the bike hit me in the lower back. I was peeing blood, and they told me I had a Grade 2 lacerated kidney. Six is being the worst, so they said that I wasn’t on the verge of dying, but a hard blow and this could go from bad to worse. I was seeing a doctor quite a bit and he told me I shouldn’t be racing.
Looking back, how would you rate your time spent in North Carolina?
Oh man, I loved North Carolina and all the guys on the team. They’re all great people. They want to win, period. I think when it comes to this sport they’re definitely rising to the top.
No, it wasn’t even about that—I never even had a chance. I was just hurt. I didn’t have a chance. I was constantly battling through injury and pain and nagging little things that kept holding me back. And I hurt myself in a way where people saw me out there and I wasn’t 100 percent, but they thought I was riding 100 percent.
If anything positive came out of 2008, you did get on the cover of Racer X!
I did! That was a blessing! I’ll never stop thanking Davey for that. When you’re on the cover of Racer X, it kind of opens some eyes. And being able to not give them more than just that was a big heartbreak for me. I want to show the people who believe in me that it’s worth it.
So where do you go from here?
I’m going to go back to Ohio and spend some time with my mom, and then I’m going to head out to California and try putting something together. If anybody needs a 450 rider, they can give me a call.
In a perfect world you’d get some type of 450 deal for both supercross and outdoors, right?
Yes, I’d love to ride 450 for the rest of my career.
Do you have a bike right now?
Yeah, I have a Honda that I had for a couple weeks before I started riding Yamahas. It’s an ’08 Honda 450.
Worse case scenario you don’t get a ride, where will you be at come January?
I’d love to be racing Anaheim. If I have people helping me, I will be out there racing. But I also realize that I have to pay bills, and if I can’t pay them, I’ll be in trouble. I just have to be smart about it. If I can make it work, I’ll definitely do my own thing.
If a team wants to get in touch with you, they can drop us an e-mail right here and we’ll pass it along.
That would be awesome, thanks.
On another note, how is your old mechanic, Dave DeRosier doing? (Note: DeRosier was hit by a car crossing the street in front of Troy Lee Designs and suffered critical injuries.)
He’s doing a lot better. Every day is a fight, but he’s happy. He’s got a little dog named Axle—we were going through a parts manual picking out names! He’s walking and he’s even doing some bike riding and doing some light jogging, but he’s doing well. Man, people don’t realize what a good mechanic he was. That guy is phenomenal. He understands racing and motorcycles. I had something that worked really well for me that year with him.
Right on, good luck to both of you, Gavin.