Monday Conversation: Grant Langston

December 28, 2009 10:18am | by:
Driving up the 5 North towards Monterey, California, my right had on the steering wheel and my left hand barely balancing my Blackberry (with speakerphone on) and my tape recorder, I was trying my best to develop a new journalistic technique while interviewing Grant Langston. (2000 125cc World Champion, 2003 AMA 125cc National Champion, 2005 East Region Supercross Champion, 2006 West Region Supercross Champion and 2007 AMA 450 National Champion.) I wouldn’t advise doing this sort of thing, and the California Highway Patrol, had they caught me, likely would have locked me up and thrown away the key, but I had a deadline and the work had to get done, then I had Christmas to celebrate with my family.

Interviewing Grant Langston is never any sort of hardship. In fact he’s one of the most genuine, well-spoken and just plain friendly motorcycle racers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. Which made talking to him on Christmas Eve all the better. After a lengthy injury and health-induced hiatus, the South African-born rider has been back on the bike, and come Anaheim, on January 9, 2010, he should be ready to go racing. Happy, excited and keen to get back in front of the fans he cares so much about, Grant got us up to speed on his master plan for 2010 while I kept my eyes out for the CHP.

Racer X: Grant, how have things been going?
Grant Langston: Obviously, from a medical standpoint and a physical standpoint, I’ve been away from racing for a while. I’ve had radiation treatment to my eye. I broke collarbone last year while out riding and then this year I had my knee reconstructed. For the most part, it’s been going from doctor to doctor. But for the last couple of months now it’s just pretty much been focusing on riding; preparing for Anaheim; trying to get team things together; and sponsorship deals together. And with the economy and everything, it’s just made things a little tougher and things are taking a little longer to happen. Yamaha also had a late release. So all us, as well as other Yamaha teams, are behind. Really, I’d like to be ahead on testing and development, but the silver lining is that the bike is good out of the box so I do believe we’re going to have a pretty good package by the time we get to Anaheim.

Last month I watched you practice at the Yamaha test track. While there you told me you were trying to put a team together, but that a lot of things were still up in the air. How did the team finally come together?
Basically what happened was that I have a partner named Gene Houston and he had actually met Sean Hamblin earlier and we just sort of got him to talk that his dream was to have a race team and things like that. You know I think he was a little nervous about going in too big, too deep, and too quickly. To make a long story short, we basically discussed about how he wanted to get his feet wet, so we had a conversation with J-Law Racing. I think we found out during the conversation that a relationship could be good for both parties. They have an existing team in which all of the infrastructure is in place. Gene didn’t have that and time was ticking so they sort of formed a partnership and I think it’s going to make things easier on both parties. So basically, we’ll have two parties under one tent. With the economy and sponsorship dollars harder to find, it was probably the best decision for everyone. We have four riders now (Langston, Lawrence, Hamblin and Ryan Newton), a good shop and we’ll be on good equipment. I hope that everything runs smooth because ultimately we want people to see that it’s a well operated team that can be successful. I think JGR [Joe Gibbs Racing] has shown that and that’s my goal too. It’s to prove that you don’t always have to be on a factory team to get results. I’m looking forward to the new challenge.

Do you think you’ll receive the necessary equipment from Yamaha to be competitive?
Yes I do because we are getting help from Yamaha and GYTR. I believe that alone gives us a foundation. We’re going to have some good people and some good sponsors involved. They’ll all give us a lending hand. Like I said, this Yamaha is so new that for a lot of people they are just learning the bike. And for suppliers, they’re still testing and developing different parts and things that they believe will be better. Let’s say this all started a month or two ago, but it will continue on. There’s our team, there’s JGR, there’s L&M… Everyone is going to continue to develop the bike and the good thing is, with Yamaha being involved, everyone will have very similar opportunities to get their hands on similar equipment.

Now you’ll be teamed with Jason Lawrence. Have you guys been able to talk at all yet?
You know, not really because of his situation. (Note: Lawrence was released from jail a few hours after this conversation took place). It’s been difficult. I did try and go visit him one day, but I guess there was a riot at the jail. And obviously just to qualify things, Jason was not involved, and the jail was in lockdown so I wasn’t able to go. But I will probably be seeing him this week. So I actually have not seen Jason face-to-face pretty much since he’s gone in there, but we’ve had communications. I wanted to try and see him today, but he had his court date with the judge about his early release.

You and Lawrence being teamed together is a pretty unique situation. However, I’ve always seen you as an open-minded guy. Do you think things will work out okay?
I hope so. I appreciate your compliment about being a pretty open-minded guy. I agree with that. For me, racing right now is got to be fun. That’s why I want to race – I want to have fun. And obviously, it will be fun, but you want to do well because that’s what makes it fun. You do all the hard work and win you win, it pays off. Yes, this is a very unique situation and once in a lifetime opportunity. Yes, there’s going to be some hiccups and things like that like there is on any race team. I’ve learned that no matter what team you race for, it’s never perfect. There’s always something that gets under your skin or upsets you. You know in this case, and I used this terminology the other day to my wife, I said, “Riding for a factory team is like living at home with your parents. There’s a meal on the table at dinner time; your laundry is folded and it’s on your bed; the bills are pay; everything is taken care of and all you’ve got to do is play your part.” Now I feel like I’ve moved out of my parents house, so I best be the one who cooks the dinner and does the laundry! I definitely feel like I’m more hands on and more involved, but at the same time, I do kind of enjoy having that freedom to be able to make decisions. It all brings a different angle to it all and I enjoy the challenge.

And I’d like to work with Jason. I’ve said this to people before, Jason is not a bad kid; he’s just made bad decisions. I think that half the people love him and half the people hate him. But at the end of the day, I would like to think that the kid has a lot of natural talent and hopefully he is going to learn from his mistakes. And hopefully riding and training together is going to help both of us and especially him. And ultimately I would like to see Jason get back to the Jason that we know he can be and win and be competitive.

Now if I have it right, due to injuries and the difficulties you’ve experienced with you eye, you have not raced a supercross since Anaheim I on January 5, 2008…
Yeah, basically it’s been two years. I raced the first three rounds of 2008. I’m about a month away from racing supercross. I haven’t ridden under the lights since then. And I haven’t been on a starting line. You know I have people say, “What are your expectations?” I don’t really know. It’s really tough. Like I said, I’m enjoying my riding and I’m just so excited to be able to get that opportunity to go down that tunnel and be on the start line. For me, that’s a thrill right there. Yes, I have expectations and that is to improve as the season goes on. You know I don’t want to sit here and say, “Oh, you know, I’m going to be in the top seven and then the top five.” Those things are irrelevant to me at this point. I want to just go out, and most importantly, finish 17 rounds of supercross this year. That’s an immediate goal. If I can do that, I’ll just improve and grow stronger as the season goes on. Ultimately, I want to come out and definitely see the top 10. I want to keep working off the that. I’ve always said the winners of the supercross finals are people like [Chad] Reed and [Ryan] Villopoto and [James] Stewart. Beating them is going to be extremely difficult, but if I got on the podium in supercross this year, to me that would be a successful season right there and I would definitely cherish that and be excited.

And I think by the time the outdoors roll around, I think me and a lot of other people consider me to be a championship contender. When it comes to outdoors, I’m expecting podium positions on a weekly basis.

Throughout your career, you’ve certainly proven yourself to be a winner To that end, I don’t thinks it’s very much of a stretch to say a lot of fans are going to be very happy to see you back racing come a few weeks’ time…
Well, people have come to me and said, “Oh man, you’re a great rider!” And that’s a compliment and it’s nice, but the biggest compliment I get is when people come to me at the races and say, “You’re such a role model for my children” or “You’re one of the nicest people we’ve met.” You know those are the ones that really stick to me and make me really appreciate the fans. To me, it means a lot more than someone saying, “Dude, you’re a sick and gnarly rider.” You know any of us that are in the top 10, 20 riders in the world, of course you’re a sick rider, but the other compliments mean more to me. I’ve had an unbelievable amount of support from the fans at the tracks, on the websites, through E-mail. It’s been so overwhelming. I’ve had people tell me, “We miss you! It’s not the same without you! We really want you to come back.” That makes me feel good. It makes me feel that, more than anything, I want to go out there because I know that these guys appreciate it. I want to go out there and give them something to cheer about. They’re enjoying it, I’m enjoying it. It’s a really great situation to be in. I want to enjoy racing again. Not saying I didn’t before, but to have this second opportunity now, I’m definitely going to utilize it and make the most of it. Like I said, I haven’t had this much riding since I was a kid.