250 Words: Grant Langston

250 Words Grant Langston

December 29, 2011 11:00am
Two-time AMA National Motocross Champion Grant Langston is about to enter the team manager ranks. He’s heading up the newly-formed Ohlins USA/Langston Motorsports KTM team. As a Lites team, GL could choose which coast to race, and he elected to start the team in the East, which gives them more time to prepare.

How does Langston enjoy his new gig? We asked him.

Racer X Online: What’s going on today, GL?
Grant Langston:
Just running around, making calls, doing a lot of things.

I guess that’s life for you now. So how did this even come about, you becoming a team manager?
I have to back it up a little bit. Ohlins had approached me when I was riding for the J-Law team about running there suspension, but I told them I had a concern. You have to start at the bottom, you can’t go into supercross racing with minimal data and experience. And the guy, his name was Stacey, I think he was actually a little offended by my comment, but later on he went home and thought about it and it was kind of true—at one point Yamaha owned Ohlins, but they used Kayaba for their off-road stuff and used Ohlins for the street market. So now they’re trying to get back to their roots. When I retired, Stacey called me and asked if I would test for them, and I said sure, because they really are good guys. And I suggested maybe helping out some amateur kids and some privateers, and they did that while I did some testing. He said they were getting close to building a team. Stacey had met up with a guy named Scott Witt, who is a very successfull business man from Florida, and he’s into the sport and races the Vet class. They started helping out some privateers who were struggling, and Scott got hooked. They wanted to build a team, and they asked if I wanted to become team manager. And yes, I was interested. I always have been. But I told them, if they thought I was just going to sit behind a computer and answer emails all day, they were wrong. They were hiring someone with expertise on racing, but as I said, I was pretty inexperienced as an administration guy. They told me they wanted a hands-on guy, and we made a deal. But then it was like, “How do we start?”

Big things are expected of Les Smith next year.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

I knew we needed personnel. So at first I felt like I was acting like a lawyer and an agent. But we started getting a staff together, and then we worked on getting sponsors, and then getting good bikes and support. Scott ended up buying the Blackfoot Canada race truck. It’s a very nice truck. The whole team just keeps evolving. I try to surround myself with good sponsors who I would want, for example we went with Mitch Payton and Pro Circuit. Mitch was excited because he had always wanted a KTM team, and I got KTM because we had just started selling KTMs at our Langston Motorsports shop. We put together a lot of good deals. My biggest thing is I wanted to look professional. Obviously everyone wants to win, but that’s hard to do in the first year. We have Les Smith, Taylor Futrell and AJ Catanzaro. They’re all young, they have talent, they have won at the amateur level. I want to think with my guidance we can get them to another level. Right now they’re testing in South Carolina at Club MX, but they have come out to California on two different occasions to work with me. We’re into the stages now where we are working on things like team shirts, credentials, all of that stuff while the guys are back training.

Where did you come up with the riders you have?
Well, AJ was sponsored by Ohlins with their amateur program, and we all felt like he was a good kid and he deserved a shot. Taylor was someone we all wanted, and Les was, too. Les and I clicked right away, partially because he reminds me of me. Everything from the food he eats, his bike setup, everything. Then we pulled in some mechanics, some that don’t have that much experience, and one who does have some race experience. But even me, I’m new at this. I’ve had to learn new things, and get more involved on the technical side than I was before. It’s been a lot of work, I’ll tell you that, but I love racing, and when you see the product coming together, it feels good.

I know there has to be a line drawn between team manager and riding coach.
Absolutely. At first you just try to get them comfortable, work on their riding style, and also what it takes mentally to get to the top. Like, I told AJ, you are working hard, but you could do even more. But then there are days where I can’t even go out with them, because I’m driving around getting parts, or getting contracts signed, whatever.

Any goals as far as results, or is this just a learning year?
Well, the riders have expectations, and as a team we want them to perform. The first goal would be to have all three guys in the top ten on the east coast. And someone like Les, who has more experience, could be a top-five type guy. And for us, it would be a dream to have someone on the podium. Maybe that’s not realistic, but you never know in Lites class racing, you could get a good start, and there could be some carnage, so you never know.

I’m a competitive person, so of course I have expectations, and I try to make them believe that I can do it. They have to believe in themselves in order to get there. It’s a fine line between doing the things you need to do to believe it’s all going to pay off.

Taylor Futrell is hoping to rebound from a sub-par 2011 season under the guidance of Langston.
Photo: Andrew Fredrickson

Have you enjoyed this?
Absolutely. I wanted to do this when I thought I was going to retire. In 2011 I got more involved in a lot of little things, I got more involved in our dealership, and in running our export business back to South Africa. I did some coaching. But I really wanted to do something like this. And it’s a perfect fit for me because it’s lower profile, so I can come in and get my feet wet and learn. But also, when I call people, I get calls back and people say, “Hey GL, we want to be involved with you and help you out.” I know how it is when you start a new team, some people are probably wondering if you’re really even going to make it to the first race. They don’t say that, but you can tell they’re thinking it. But I think after this first season, we may have some of the big guys calling us, instead of us calling them. For 2013, we’ll have bigger and better goals, and I’d like to believe this is something we’re going to do for awhile.

The post-racing thing has been tough on a lot of people so it’s good to see you’ve found a place.
You know what it comes down to? I love racing. Like it or not, it’s in my blood, it’s all I know, and I think I’m opened minded enough to ask the questions I need to learn what I don’t already know. I’ve talked with Mitch a lot, asked him a lot of questions. It helps, and I really do enjoy it. It’s been busy. I never imagined myself sitting with a laptop at 11 pm and finding parts numbers and ordering parts, and that’s the not so fun part of it. Like, just to get the handlebars done, you can’t just get a sponsor and order bars, you need to find out which bend each of your three riders like. Then you find out the mounts maybe don’t work with that bend, so now you need to figure out ordering mounts. And then the colors, will it work on the bikes you have? All of this just to order handlebars! But I think once we get to the races, it will be good, and at the same time, when you see all of these parts progressing, it’s enjoyable.