Welcome to Racerhead. We were going to start off today with big news—very huge news, as the president might say. And it would have probably been a big surprise to many: the 2017 U.S. Grand Prix of Motocross will take place at the legendary North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina. North Wilkesboro is the heart and soul of NASCAR’s bootlegger youth, a 5/8-mile track that sits on a hill just above Highway 421. A purpose-built, state-of-the-art track will go on the infield, Daytona-style, and also go out of the speedway to the hillsides of a natural valley course in a hybrid of motocross/supercross, bringing the world’s best together in a unique Southeastern setting....
But I couldn’t bring myself to commit and pull the trigger on what would have been an easy and obvious April Fool’s joke because of the circumstances as to why MX Sports’ Tim Cotter and I found ourselves standing in the metal bleachers of that broke-down palace of stock car’s good ol’ days. We weren’t there to inspect the place for any race, we were just passing by and decided to stop and check out the abandoned old ghost track. Sadly, we were on the way to Lenoir, North Carolina, for the memorial service of a highly respected father and son with lives split equally between motorcycles and firefighting, family, and faith.
Last Saturday, AMA Pro Motocross and GNCC racer Cody Gragg and his father, Chris, were on their way to the GNCC in Georgia when their motorhome’s front left tire apparently blew out in South Carolina. It happened just as they were approaching a bridge with a divide, and the RV veered to the left and down into the gap that the bridge crossed. Upon impact, it caught fire. Both Cody, 23, and Chris, 53, perished.
After our brief detour into the old speedway, we got back on the road to tiny Lenoir, the Graggs’ hometown. Once we arrived, it quickly became obvious just how well-liked they both were. We parked a quarter-mile down the road from the church where the viewing was taking place on Tuesday evening, and then stepped into a line that was at least a half mile long. Literally thousands of people were there, hundreds of cars and pickup trucks, scores of fire trucks, police cars, and rescue vehicles. Both Cody and his dad were firemen, and their fellow life-savers came out in droves to honor them. Two honor guards stood over their flag-draped caskets all night long. The viewing went hours past the allotted time, and when they finally decided to shut the doors, people were still waiting outside.
The next day, the pastor began the funeral services by saying that this outpouring of grief and respect was probably not matched in the packed church’s lifetime. He talked about Chris and Cody and what they meant to the community, and also what they obviously meant to the motorcycling brethren, because the fireman and rescuers were outnumbered by a huge turnout of riders and racing friends. I know I spotted and spoke with Aaron Plessinger, Kailub Russell, Layne Michael, Charlie Mullins, Mackenzie Tricker, Jason Weigandt, the Burkeens, the Tickles, the Peters, some of the JGRMX team, and even Austin Stroupe, who stood with us in line and chatted for some time on Tuesday night. (Glad to report that he looks and sounds great, but he is still healing up from a broken wrist; he went riding with Kailub Russell the next day.)
Any time you see eight young men in matching motocross jerseys in a church, it’s probably not a good occasion. Sitting up front were Cody’s pallbearers. Some of them would get up and speak, telling funny stories and sometimes just plain sad farewells to Cody, who has a place in AMA Pro Motocross history right now: his 13th in the mud at Budds Creek at the 2015 National on a Yamaha YZ250 is the highest points haul for a two-stroke in maybe a decade. He was also a rising star on the GNCC scene, and just universally liked.
It was a fireman who got up to speak about both Chris and Cody who helped make a little bit of sense out of this double tragedy. He looked at their fire helmets and caskets and said that a fireman’s code is simple: on every call, two go in, two come out. Never leave a man behind or alone. Rely on each other, keep an eye out for each other. He said that that’s maybe why Cody and Chris Gragg left this world together, because they were practically inseparable in life.
The Graggs were taken from the Lenoir Community Church to their hometown of Collettsville by their own fire trucks. With two TV helicopters hovering above and streaming it all live, the procession wound its way away from the church and off into the Carolina countryside to the Globe Baptist Church Cemetery. Here’s a glimpse of how it all looked from a local news’ point of view.
Like the pastor said, that community may never see something that massive again. But that’s the effect that people like Chris and Cody Gragg can have on those they met along the way, be it at the races or around the fire hall. That was on full display when the firetrucks reach Collettsville and the streets were lined with their neighbors, some holding hand-drawn #298 signs, others sitting on their own dirt bikes. And at the end of the procession, one of Cody’s close friends—Aaron Plessinger—got on Cody’s bike and took it for one last ride with the Graggs.
This weekend a lot of families will be at the motorcycle races, whether it’s the supercross in St. Louis, the MXGP in Mexico, Loretta Lynn’s qualifiers all over the country, or just their local track. And next weekend, the GNCC Series picks back up. The fourth round of that series will take place at Steele Creek in Morganton, North Carolina. That’s just 19 miles away from Collettsville. It would have been Cody Gragg’s home race, and his father would have certainly been by his side, as well as his mom Lisa and sister Kasey there in never-ending support. Cody and Chris won’t be on the starting line, but they will no doubt be there in spirit.
Godspeed, Cody and Chris Gragg.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading. See you at the races.