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Between the Motos: Coy Gibbs

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Joe Gibbs Racing MX team owner Coy Gibbs has been around a lot of circles at the top of a couple of the biggest sports in America, and since 2008, he has run a motocross team in the AMA Motocross and Supercross championships. We caught up with him this week to get his take on the sport, how it compares to football and NASCAR, and some of the strategies and philosophies his team employs for this edition of Between the Motos.

  • Coy Gibbs showing off a guitar his team is giving away.
Racer X: As still a relatively new team in the AMA Supercross and Motocross paddock, do you think in some ways it was a little easier on you guys to deal with the new Yamaha YZ450F because you just basically started from scratch not too long ago with the last model?
Coy Gibbs: For us, it’s been really difficult, actually. We got the bikes really late, and we’ve been pretty much pinned ever since. Some things, we’re still waiting on, and we’ve got a decent handle on it, but if we had a year under out belt already, it would be a whole lot easier. I don’t see how it is any easier than anybody else’s situation.

I just thought since you’ve been through the process recently...
Yeah, you’re right that we’ve been through the process. We know where to get the parts and pieces, who’s making what, and things like that, so that makes it easier, but having the bike here so late made it really tough.

You’ve obviously got a background in football, and the other side of Joe Gibbs Racing is a NASCAR team, so drawing from those experiences, what do you think of the injuries in our sport? We just saw Justin Brayton lay himself out at Daytona, and it sounds like he’s going to be okay, but with that, and Josh Grant obviously being out right now, what does that do to your job as a team owner?
I think it’s a nightmare! Obviously, it’s the part of the sport that no one likes... I feel like when we do have a problem, though, we can handle it better than anybody. I guarantee we can, just because we’ve got the resources at the Cup shop, where we’ve got rehab guys coming in, and a nurse that’s there a couple times a week. We’ve got two training guys there, and a gym, and a full rehab center in the Cup shop. Plus, with all of the connections we have in the NFL, it’s only a phone call to figure out who’s the best guy for this particular injury, whatever it is. I’d be shocked if any other team has these sorts of resources. But it’s still hard because it’s a part of the sport that people have to deal with, and we have to deal with it every year. Sometimes it’s just bumps and bruises, but they’re hurt a lot. It’s tough to keep people healthy.

In football, if Peyton Manning spent half of every other season on the sidelines hurt, people would be freaking out about how he is fragile, but in motocross and supercross, that’s almost the rule, rather than the exception.
Yeah, and the personality of the rider comes into play on that. If someone is willing to step it up and ride above their head to win, you’ll probably see more wrecks. And then if guys don’t keep up with their physical training, it probably puts them in more of a risky situation. There are guys who get hurt constantly, though. People talk about guys who get hurt a lot, but I mean, look at what they’re doing for a living! (Laughs) They’re not doing the brightest thing in the world, probably, for the body...

  • Coy's father, Joe Gibbs (left) talks with Ricky Carmichael (right) at High Point last year.
Yeah, but the funny thing about it is that if it wasn’t dangerous at all, most of the people who do it would be doing something else. Motocrossers have a personality type where they want to take risks, and risks only exist when you can possibly get hurt.
Yeah, that’s true.

In NASCAR, they are working to make the sport safer, but generally it seems that it’s to stop guys from dying, because there aren’t a lot of broken hands or things like that in NASCAR. So how do you think NASCAR would handle a situation like this, where so many stars are so often sidelined?
That’s the difference between car racing and stick-and-ball sports, for sure, which is that when a driver is hurt, it’s probably pretty catastrophic. Sometimes, they get the bruised ribs or something like that, but usually it’s something like they have to put a shunt in his head because it’s swelling, or they pass away. That’s a whole different ballgame. Moto’s kind of its own thing. It’s such a nightmare, physically. They take huge risks. Obviously, though, the fans love it, and we love watching them ride, and we hate when they go down, like when Grant [Langston] went down last weekend. We just pray for him that everything’s going to be moving, and that he can heal up and come back out and do it again.

Is there anything your team does to help with mental conditioning? Talent only goes so far...
I guess that’s the big debate. We try and surround our riders with everything and everyone that they need to win, but if you’re trying to tell me that you can train someone to be mentally tougher, I don’t know if you can do that. I wonder sometimes if it’s not something you have from birth, or don’t. I have it in my family; I have four kids, and some you can beat with a two by four and it wouldn’t bother them, but if you say something to them, they’ll start crying. Other ones, you can talk to them all day long until you physically grab them, and they don’t care. I’ve seen it in football, too. There were guys I played ball with whose parents were professors or something, and you look at them like, “Good god, how did this animal come from these two sweet parents who were probably overprotective and nurturing?” It’s a big debate. What we try to stress is that, as a team, we’re backing you. If you’re giving 100 percent, no matter what the result is, we’re there for you. If you’re not trying, then we’ve got all kinds of issues. And the other side is whether or not they’re prepared. If they go into the season feeling prepared, it’s good.

  • Josh Grant is one of the riders who is willing to ride a bit over his head, and it bites him sometimes.
So it’s more about physical training...
Obviously, it’s a really fine line between overtraining and wearing yourself out, and undertraining. It’s a hard balance to find. Everybody’s probably a little bit different, but we always want to be on the side of undertraining, rather than overtraining. It’s a long season, and fortunately supercross is first, because it’s not as grueling.

Yeah, so the guys can sort of work themselves into it...
I mean, you still need to be in shape, but yeah, it’s not until after probably Jacksonville that the guys had better start pounding it to get in shape for the outdoors.

It’s a very long season, too, so that makes it tough...
It’s ridiculously long.

NASCAR’s longer, but it’s not probably as physically demanding, so...
You’ve got to figure also, like in football, you’ve got to remember that in the pros, you’ve got Monday off, and sometimes Tuesday – if you win – and then you come in with a hard practice on Wednesday, and then Thursday’s kind of a half-speed thing, and then Friday’s a walk-through. You’re not out pounding yourself three to four times a week like our guys do. It’s extremely long. It’s a hard, grueling series.

Guys like Kevin Windham would be completely burnt out if he had to work out constantly. His personality is just that way. But because he doesn’t do that, he’s had a long career.
You’ve got to be smart in the way you train. It’s got to be short, quick, fast and get out of there. You don’t want to be doing it four or five hours a day because you will burn out and it makes it no fun. If you can’t have a life, it’s not fun. Some guys need that, mentally, probably, to feel like they’ve done everything they can do, but they’re probably hurting more than they’re helping.

  • Josh Grant at Anaheim 1 press day.
That’s true, and I think on the mental side of it, that might be part of it to go to the race knowing that you did more than anyone else.
Some guys can eat Doritos, sit on the couch all week, and come out and pin it, though. Whether you can make a guy tough or not, that’s always a big debate. In football, you can have a big guy who looks great, and he’s just soft, and you can’t figure it out. And I’ve played with some guys in high school who were just huge, then played against them in college, and they were terrible, and then all of a sudden in their Junior and Senior years [in college], they came alive and started killing people, and now they’re playing in the pros. Sometimes they do switch. Usually, it’s the big, fat, huge guys that are kind of babies, and then they just turn it on, and some guys are just nice guys and don’t ever figure it out. And then other guys are nice guys who are unbelievably gifted, and they play in the pros, but normally it’s one guy who looks like a Greek god, and one guy who looks like a pile, and the guy who looks like a pile has a heart 10 times the size as the other guy, and the pile goes and plays 14 years in the pros, still looking awful.

I wrote a column to that effect before, talking about champions in sport, and it’s usually the traits that no one would want to teach their children that make them champions. They have to be selfish, greedy, arrogant, not play well with others, be a sore loser... So it almost has to be innate, because no one teaches their kid to be like that.
In football, we call it “athletic arrogance.” That’s what you’re looking for. You want them to be cocky, but not too cocky. You need to have that air about you that you’re the baddest dude in there, but you still have to be somewhat grounded...

  • Justin Brayton is a new edition to the team this year, and he's solidly sixth in points - and was fifth until his DNF this past weekend.
Yeah, you have to know that you need to work when you need to work. You can’t think that you’re somehow entitled to your position in athletics. Ricky Carmichael could win by 10 seconds and be pissed off that he didn’t win by 15. I don’t think you can teach that to a rider.
Yeah, and you have to figure out what’s motivating them. Is it money? Is it cars? Is it girls? The great ones, they’re self-motivated. They want to be number one. Period. Why? I don’t know. The money’s great, and whatever comes along with it, that’s great, but their number-one motivation is that they want to be number one. In football, number one you’re looking for someone who is tough. Second, how smart are they? And then third, how physically gifted are they? That’s how they rank them. Any time there are character issues that show up, and they go all the way back to like seventh grade, it’s going to be a problem, even if he’s a big star. They’re spending millions of dollars to get these guys, and you don’t want to deal with the hassles. And you don’t want to deal with someone who’s dumb, either, honestly. And when I say dumb, I don’t care about book smarts, but athletically, are they complete morons? On the football side, I think people would be overwhelmed with the amount of knowledge these guys need to have. It’s staggering. On the motocross side, are they smart enough to stay out of trouble? Can they show up at the right time? In our sport, 50 percent of it is about what we’re doing for our sponsors right now, because we’ve got an autograph signing here, or something else there, and that’s important stuff. That’s a lot of it.

  • Veteran Michael Byrne has been solid in filling in for the injured Grant.
I think people get that backward sometimes in the pits, too, because they talk about how small the logos are on the bikes, and how hard they are to see when the bikes are on the tracks, but really the sponsor exposure comes in the pits, when fans are coming around and getting autographs and things like that...
On the NASCAR side, I’ve seen companies that don’t even have logos on the car do a great job marketing that car – selling their product with it. As a whole, you’ve just got to go out there with two riders who are going to give it their all, regardless of their athletic ability, and then try to represent their sponsors well in the public. That’s a big part of it right there. As far as the guys who have “it”, well, some guys have it, and some guys don’t. We always tend to go with the rookie or the younger guy because you don’t know where his potential’s going to tap out. It’s more exciting for us than a guy who is sort of pigeon-holed in like fifth, sixth or seventh, because that’s a guy that I don’t get excited about the potential for them.

There’s also a pretty unique pressure if you hire a top guy who wins all the time, because if all of a sudden they don’t win on your team...
I could handle that! I mean, I think it’s huge pressure to inherit a guy who has won a ton of championships, because if anything goes wrong, they’re not going to point the finger at him! But that’s fine. You just have to have some good backing and a big pocketbook to land a guy like that.

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