Gene Naumec was a well-known privateer who raced the supercross and national motocross events from 1989 through 1996. Originally hailing from New England, Naumec moved to Florida when he was a teenager to be better placed for pursuing his career as a racer.
Naumec was fast—his top finishes include two titles at Loretta Lynn’s as well as finishing sixth overall (twice) in the 500cc nationals. During his career, he enjoyed semi-factory support from BSY Yamaha (Beach Sport Cycles, a Yamaha shop in Florida) as well as Kawasaki’s Team Green program.
While Naumec never had a factory ride or made the podium at a professional event, he was part of the show, and sometimes was the show! Naumec was known for being a colorful guy, and was also one of Brian Swink’s best friends, who had a knack for making the most of many situations. We caught up with Naumec recently to see what his life has been like since his pro career ended.
Racer X: Gene Naumec, thanks for making some time for us. What are you up to, man?
Gene Naumec: Well, I am sitting here on the phone trying to hide out from these guys who work with me, so I can talk to you. But yeah, I don’t really ride that much anymore. I’m really just working in the construction business full time. We do framing and flat roofs, and specialize on multi-family apartment complexes. That’s the main deal that our company does. I work on the framing side of things, and pretty much run the jobs. I’ve been with this company a few years.
So where are you based, and what about your family life?
Well, I am pretty much in Dallas all the time, but I live in Texarkana, which is about three hours away. But all of our work is here in Dallas. So my company has some rental places where I live short term during the week. I go home once or twice a month. And, as for family, I’m not married, and I have one 21-year-old son. His name is Louden Naumec, like the town in New Hampshire. I was married, but we got divorced in 2000, which was, what, fifteen years ago? I just never remarried.
You were a New England guy, but you left early, right?
Yeah. I grew up in Connecticut, but you know, if you live there and you want to ride over the winter, you can’t. So every winter, I would go to Florida to race. I started going down when I was 12, and we stayed for a month, then two months, then three months. Then, by 1990, I had moved down there and never really came back to New England. That’s how I ended up leaving New England. The racing back there was always really good with the NESC, but the wintertime, that was tough. So, at first, we lived in camp grounds. But then in 1989 my dad got a house in Brooksville, and I was able to build a track there, and that was it.
You raced at Loretta’s from 1983 through 1991, and you won two championships. What are some of your memories of the ranch?
Well, it should have been three titles [laughs]! But, yeah, I was racing down there since I was a little kid in the 7-11 class. Growing up, I had Damon Bradshaw and Jimmy Button in my classes as well as a ton of other fast guys, like the Swinkster [Brian Swink]. You know, my family was a racing family. We hit up all of the amateur nationals back then, and it was just a good time. But, yeah, I won the Open A class in 1990 and 1991. And in 1991, I was all set up to win the 250 A class as well. I think I was going into the last moto tied with Phil Lawrence, but then my bike seized in the final moto, and that blew me out of that win. Man, that is the one title that still bothers me today. I should have won that sucker—that was my year. But that’s how it goes at Loretta’s; you have to have three good motos, and I only had two. Tommy Clowers beat me and I got second overall.
Well, you still got two wins in there—that’s not so bad! Tell me about the transition to turning pro.
Well, I turned pro in 1990 really. But then in 1989, I did one national and scored just enough points to earn national number 98. So then in 1990, I did a handful of races, mostly just local stuff, things like the Tampa and Charlotte Supercrosses. I also did Foxboro as well. Hey, are they bringing that race back?
I don’t know for sure, but it sounds like they might be from the rumors. [Edit note: It was announced yesterday that Gillette Stadium will host Round 15.]
Well, if so, I’m coming to that race. Man, I’m going to get on a plane and fly back for that; that’s going to be cool. But, going back to your question, I was hoping for the factory contract, but I never got a full-blown one. I had some talks with Kawasaki at the time, but it never came together. Coming up as a kid, I was always a Team Green guy, but then after I turned pro, they had to find a reason to keep me around. So they told me and Mike Craig we had to race the Mickey Thompson Ultracross series under the Team Green flag. So, that was cool. They kept up my support.
What were those Ultracross races like? I know they had good TV packages.
Yeah, it was a strange series; everything was inverse. So if you won a heat race, you started in the back row of the main event. And if you won the main event, you might not have earned the most purse or points. So a win didn’t really mean you got all the perks of a win. They paid the purse and awarded points based on how many riders you passed. So when I won a heat race, I got last pick for the start. But if I passed my way up to third, I might have more purse and points then the guy who won it. It was strange, but fun. Back then we had a couple really fast guys going for it, including Mike Craig, Larry Brooks, Lowell Thompson, and Lance Smaill.
I remember Larry Brooks on the Öhlins Yamaha hitting the side of the peristyle and crashing down that hill.
Oh, yeah, Larry Brooks was an animal on that Yamaha. He was a bad dude, and that one was nasty.
You were pretty much best friends with Brian Swink back then. Any good stories?
Oh, man, I don’t even know where to start. Let’s start with this: I was staying at a campground in Ocala—I think it was 1983. That’s when I first became friends with him. I was 10 years old, and he was down there with Eric McClear, who was another fast kid from the Midwest. So we were always friends. But then Swink went and bought that house in Ocala, and I was up in Brooksville. We both had tracks at our houses, and pretty much we were either at my house or his house riding together. His place was really good. But then when we travelled, I stayed with him, since Suzuki or whoever was paying for his room and I was a privateer. We were together all the time. Man, there was always something happening, and it usually wasn’t good! The parties at his house, we are talking like 1995, 1996, or so. We had a lot of characters in our group. Guys like Anthony Paggio, Jeff Glass, and Dave Dye were part of the crew.
I know Dave Dye from his work with MX Sports, but he was Chad Reed’s wrench back in the day, right?
Yeah, he wrenched for Reed and a bunch of other guys. I think [Mike] Alessi as well. But I will tell you this: both he a Paggio got their starts turning wrenches for me. Dye worked for me in 1996; it was my last year as a pro. I don’t know if I called him my mechanic or just helping out my friend type of deal. Paggio was racing back then, but he was really waiting to be a fireman. So one day I said, “Hey, Pag, I am hitting the nationals this summer; why don’t you come help me out?” And so he did. But he said if he got the fireman job, he had to go back home. But then he went onto and worked for Jimmy Button, and then got a job with factory Kawasaki, and then onto Oakley, where I think he still is. I think he’s still waiting for that fireman’s job phone call though.
As a privateer, you must have spent a lot of time driving around the country.
Oh, yeah, that’s for sure. For a lot of my racing, I really remember traveling with Jeff Glass. He was always with me, and when we went up north, we stayed with him back at his crib. That was the apartment above his garage, and that was a crazy place. Here’s one funny story I have: One time with Johnny O’Mara—I think it was 1990 or 1991 at the Unadilla National—well, O’Mara was one of the coolest guys you will ever meet, and for some reason we went to a mall. Well, we ended up staying at this freaking mall for eight hours. We ate, we watched a movie, we looked for some chicks, then we ate again, and just walked around. That was my personal record for being at a mall.
Your results were consistent, but you always seem to shine on the 500cc bikes. Why was that?
Those 500s were good to me for a couple reasons. But the biggest reason was that I was always a bigger guy, and I could ride the 500 better. If you can believe it, I would turn faster lap times on a supercross track on my 500 than on a 250. My weight when I raced was always right around 220 pounds, so I was a big guy. And with the two-strokes, it wasn’t like it is today where the bikes have the crazy torque.
Did you make any money during your career?
No, not really. I made some money here and there, but after expenses and stuff, there was really nothing left over. My parents helped the whole way ever since I was a kid. We were that family, motorhome, trailer—that whole deal. My dad had a Ford dealership back in Connecticut, and that allowed us to race, but without them I wouldn’t have been able to do it.
When and how did you decide to retire?
Well, I had a lot of injuries, and that’s pretty much what made me stop at the end of 1996. I tried to race one time in 1997, but then got hurt in the first race. My last few years I had the support of BSY, and they were good guys who put a lot of effort to my program. But injuries were always an issue. In 1992, I broke both my wrists; that took about two years to properly heal up. That set me back a long time, and then when I came back, I had some shoulder blow-outs. By 1996, I was 24 years old, and I just knew it was time to move on from racing. But I didn’t have a clue what to do—that was the one problem. But I knew it wasn’t working as racer.
What helped you during the transition, and how did you manage to stay out of trouble?
As professional racer, and when you grow up doing it like I did, everyone is all about you and doing things for you. It’s all about your results and your last race. You don’t have much education, because you know, school isn’t important when you’re racing. But I wasn’t making any money and knew that I didn’t want to be 30 and still trying to be a racer…
So I think it’s one thing getting into trouble, and it’s another thing being rowdy and crazy. I’ve done the latter a million times, but enough was enough. I was always able to put up barriers when I knew things were getting out of control. But when I quit, I had no clue. The one thing I did know was that I didn’t want to be in the industry—I wanted out. So I moved to Texarkana and got married. The first thing I did was start selling cars. I rolled into town over the weekend and started that job on Monday. It was quite an experience, but it was okay. I did that for a few years before I went into construction.
It seems like you have managed the transition pretty well.
Yeah. Don’t get me wrong—I still love the sport, but I just didn’t want to work in it. My current boss, we were friendly for a few years, and he pushed me to come in and work with him. Now I’m out here running this framing deal. We have millions of dollars on the line with each job, and it’s a ton of work, and I have about fifty guys that I have to look over.