AURORA, Ill. – Just two months ago, Westerville, Ohio native Jeff Gibson was the featured subject of the weekly AMA Arenacross Series Interview. Four races into the season he jumped out to an early 18-point lead heading into his hometown race in Dayton, Ohio.
Now, six rounds and 10 races later, Gibson has captured a series-leading five wins and despite a pair of rough outings, is a perennial front-runner. He has helped push his points lead to 48 and now is just two races away from capturing his first career AMA Arenacross Championship at this weekend’s season finale in Highland Heights, Ky.
Gibson received the opportunity to be a member of the powerful Mahindra Tractors/Tuf Honda team just prior to the start of the season. He joined series legend and preseason title favorite Josh Demuth under the Tuf tent as the team ventured for its third straight AMA Arenacross Series title.
Flying under the radar as the season kicked-off, the relatively unknown Gibson quickly asserted himself as a top competitor with his stellar early-season run that boasted seven consecutive podium finishes. A veteran rider in the supercross ranks, Gibson never achieved great success in the big show, but definitely feels like he has found a home in the intimate atmosphere of the AMA Arenacross Series.
Not to get ahead of ourselves here, Jeff, but coming into the season finale this weekend in Highland Heights you look like you have a very good chance to wrap up the title. How does it feel?
It feels good, you know. I’m actually really excited for the weekend. But like you said, you can’t get ahead of yourself. It isn’t said and done until it’s over and it won’t be over until Saturday night. I just want to put in another strong weekend and do the best I can like I always have been every other weekend.
How would you rate your performance this season? It’s your first real shot at the AMA Arenacross Series and aside from the obvious, how do you think it’s gone for you?
Actually, I’ve really enjoyed it. With the Team Faith devotionals, the Mahindra/Tuf Honda team and the way we work there, it’s been an awesome year. I’ve learned a lot. Learned a lot about myself, my faith, and everything. It’s just been an awesome year. I think (AMA Arenacross) really suits me. It feels like a home to me there and that’s what I really like.
Has this season been what you thought it would be on the competition side?
You know, definitely everybody’s fast. It’s definitely tough and I knew it was going to be tough going into it. I just tried to keep an open mind about everything, take it one race at a time, and just try to do my best every single time I was out there. I can’t expect to beat this guy every round. I can’t expect to beat that guy every round. All I can expect out of myself is to ride the best I can. That’s what I try to do every weekend.
Tuf Honda is going for its third title in a row with its third different rider. That’s a unique accomplishment. How has it been riding for a team that’s a proven winner?
You know, I’ve been friends with (Team Manager) Dave (Antolak). He’s always been trying to get me to ride for them before and this year I knew they were going to have a good team and a good bike. I just wanted myself to do the best that I can because they’ve had the two championships before, almost three championships with (Brock) Sellards the year before that. I knew that the team was going to be good. I didn’t doubt them at all. I was just hoping I would do the best I could for them.
Throughout your training and throughout the races, what has been the key to your success this season?
I can’t really say exactly one certain thing. The whole year has just kind of gone smooth for me. With my sickness last year then being well this year, it kind of boosted my confidence and got me riding well. I got good results those first couple races and kind of started a snowball effect in a good way there. What’s really good is our bikes are phenomenal. Our bikes are the best out on the track. There’s just no certain one thing. It’s the combination of everything. My mechanic has done an awesome job. We worked really well this year. The way I did my program is I spent one week in Texas with Billy Whitley and Paul Carpenter and trained down there. I’d come home for a week and spend it with my wife Chanel at home and take care of things. It just been a good year and everything’s worked well for me.
Did you think you would walk away with the most wins in the series when it ended?
I was never really sure. I tried to have no expectations. I didn’t expect to win the championship. I didn’t expect to win the most races. I just wanted to have fun racing and that’s what I’ve been doing.
You had a pair of down races there earlier in the season that broke your podium streak and slowed your momentum a bit. What was it that helped you bounce back from that and not lose track of what you had already established?
Well there were two races I was out of the top five, but I was riding really well. In the first one I was leading with two corners to go and got taken out. That was kind of out of my hand, but you learn from those mistakes. I honestly left the door open and you just need to learn from that. The next week I tried to bounce back and I think I was overanxious in the first corner trying to make something happen when I should have played it smart like I have all year. I was trying to make it happen to fast and went down. That was my own fault. But that weekend I thought that was the best I felt on the track all year long. I think I was riding really well that night and I just got a little overanxious.
In all of your accomplishments as a professional motocross rider, where would an AMA Arenacross Series Championship rank?
Number one. The best accomplishment I’ve ever had or will have shall I say. Hopefully will have (chuckles).
Can the fans expect you back next year?
Yeah this is definitely my home. I feel really good here. I want to come back next year and just try to maintain. Do the best I possibly can. I really enjoy the AMA Arenacross Series right now. I like where I’m at.
After 11 rounds of bar-to-bar excitement, the 2009 AMA Arenacross Series comes to a close this weekend at the Bank of Kentucky Center in Highland Heights, Ky. Gates drop on Friday, March 20 at 7 p.m. followed by a second night of racing on Saturday, March 21 at 7 p.m. The exciting season finishes on Sunday, March 22 with amateur day beginning at 10 a.m.
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