On Tuesday, January 8, 2008, NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs retired as the head coach of the Washington Redskins. This was his second tour of duty with the storied franchise (he won three Superbowl championships in the first stint as head coach from 1981 - 1992). Gibbs, in his words, had a more important agenda. He felt like his family needed him and he wanted to spend more time with what he called ‘the most important thing I’m going to leave on this earth.”
So while one chapter of the Gibbs story in professional sports was closing, an entirely new and dramatically different one had opened up three days earlier a few thousand miles away from Redskins Park in Anaheim, California. Joe Gibbs son Coy, CEO of the fledgling JGRMX Toyota/Yamaha supercross team, was sitting on the tailgate the team’s 18-wheeler proudly looking out at the new racing platform he and his colleagues had created. It was the end result of nearly two years of work, and here they were in the pits at Angel Stadium getting ready to make their racing debut on January 5th. Like the family’s NASCAR Sprint Cup championship-winning organization, this sport requires its participants to come to terms with horsepower and gasoline rather than wear cleats and deal with a ball. That was just the kind of challenge Coy was looking for. Soft spoken, pragmatic and insightful, Gibbs shared some observations about supercross and just where he felt the new team fit into the grand scheme of things.
Racer X: Coy, coincidentally, I had met you for the first time here at Angel Stadium last year in the Knothole Club. Where were you at that point as far as creating this race team? Were you just taking a look around at things?
Coy Gibbs: No, we were probably a little farther along than that. We’d been working on it for about a year and a half. I hooked up with David Evans and we kind of hit it off and we started going down that path. I was still coaching at the time.
Who were you coaching for?
I was coaching with the Redskins.
No kidding. What type of coaching were you doing?
They call it Offense Quality Control. That means I coached the copier and didn’t do much coaching. Actually, I did a lot of video breakdown and things like that. But David and I hit it off and I was coaching, so I needed somebody to really help me get things off the ground because I knew even going into this season that I was going to be way behind. So I just started from there and by the time we got to the race last year, I was pretty much planning on doing it. I came out here and met some guys and tried to figure out who to hire and get the right guys on the team, which I think we’ve done.
Really, it was drag racing. We went to drag races all the time. Anytime he had time off from coaching, we were driving somewhere to a drag race. We just kind of grew up doing that and we loved it. We raced bikes when we were younger. We had bikes our whole lives, but then football came around and you get worried about your knees and you start backing down on everything but playing football. I don’t know… It’s been a love of his and you see it so often that he just kind of passed it on to us. I take my kid everywhere — take him to races. You can just see it at a young age. They just gravitate to it and then love it. It’s just fun to do as a family.
I remember when your dad first went professional car racing, he first started in the NHRA. When he did, he said something to the effect of, “I wanted to do this to spend more time with my boys.” Was that true?
Yeah, it was. The NFL is a hard life. We didn’t see him growing up. At a certain age, that was it. We got to see him a month out of the year, and usually during that month, we were going to drag races or something. Yeah, it is unique because it’s a family business. We really race because love it. I mean my brother [J.D. Gibbs] probably makes about a third of what our crew chiefs make. So it’s not really a money deal for us, it’s just what we love to do. We love to be competitive. We just grew up being competitive.
Why motocross? Was it your idea for Joe Gibbs Racing to start a program in supercross?
My brother has been talking about it for years. He’s been talking about it for about eight years. My brother NEVER calls me and he’s called me five times in the last two days.
So he’s really into this, huh?
I guarantee he’s so bummed right now that he’s not out here. I thought he might jump on a plane and come out.
He’s back in Charlotte. He’s got a lot on his plate with the Cup side and son has been sick for a year and a half and they’re fighting that. But he’s been calling me non-stop, so it’s kind of funny.
So he’s into it, too?
He raced a little bit coming out of college. He would go to Budds Creek. He was terrible. So that’s how we got into the cars. My dad was like, “Why don’t we put some roll bars around you? You’re just destroying yourself.” We’ve always been around it. I always read his motocross magazines when he was done with them. He’d buy them and I’d read them. Really, for us, what it does is open up another demographic. It really hits a younger demographic.
So there’s a business component to the supercross team, as well?
Yeah, I think there is. I think it’s a good for our company. NASCAR is so big that they really don’t dip down into that younger demographic. You’ll see a lot of companies go with Tony [Stewart] because he’s a little edgier and can get down in there. But if you want to target that market, this is where it’s at.
Does your dad know about this? Is he into supercross?
Oh yeah. He actually called me last night, too. He called me last night and wished us luck and told us he’s praying for us. It was cool to talk to him.
Coy Gibbs photo: Roddy MacLeod
It was one of those deals where you can’t line up a sponsorship until you do it. You really have to take a step of faith and say “hey, we’re going to go do it.” I mean we don’t even have a fully sponsored team right now. But you really have to show everyone you are serious. Keith McCarty and Mike Guerra with Yamaha have been great. Toyota has been a great partner. So it‘s been fun really tying in with Cup on the motocross side. Toyota has been phenomenal. There are so many things we can do now, marketing-wise. I mean with Keith and everyone out here, they want to see if we are serious about it and see if we are going to be here for a long time. You really have to take a step of faith and just go out there and do it. So it was probably about a year ago that I decided to take a run at this.
photo: Roddy MacLeod
How was building the team? We heard a lot of rumors about the riders and the sponsors you were going to be. Also, how was the industry to deal with?
The industry is different than what I’ve been around. My first experience was in drag racing. I was there from day one when we built our drag team, so the logistics of it I kind of saw. And I went through the whole process when I was racing in Busch (Note: The NASCAR Busch Grand National Series). So the logistics of having great people like Jeremy [Albrecht] and all the guys who know everybody make it really easy. The industry is definitely different, as far as they want to sit and wait and watch. That’s what they do. We get it from everywhere. It’s like, “Well, we’ll be here next year and the next year. We just want to see what you can do.” I definitely got that vibe from them. Which is fine. I understand and agree with them completely, really. We just want to go out here and put a first class operation on the field and see what we can do in the first year.
So, for this first year, are you more concerned with the team’s “fit and finish” and overall presentation?
I’m probably not realistic with expectations and probably never have been. I really, really feel good about the team. I love our riders, they’re great guys. I know they’re in good shape. We really beat on them the last four months and they’ve responded. We’re trying to put all the pieces together, you know? It’s a first year team. Are you going to have difficulties? Yes. There’s no doubt about that. But I feel like we have the character in our team that we can push through those issues. I really enjoy our riders. I think they have great personalities. I think they represent us well and I look forward to seeing what they can do.
How do you feel about your team being based in Charlotte, North Carolina? As you know, virtually the entire motocross industry is situated within an hour from where we sit…
I think it’s a tradeoff. At Joe Gibbs Racing we have a lot of resources. And we’re right there. We’re within a couple of hundred yards of our main shop. So, that tradeoff to being where the whole industry is, yeah, it’s a tradeoff. However, I love North Carolina. I’m not moving to Southern California. My parents grew up here and I went to college in Northern California. I have nothing against it, but I love raising my family in North Carolina. So I’m not moving. It was one of those deals: if we can do it, let’s do it here.
I always go back to what my dad said: “If it’s easy, it’s probably not fun to do” You know what I mean? And this is a hard thing to do. We don’t underestimate that. It’ll be hard to be competitive in this series. We’re definitely not coming in here thinking, “Hey, we’re going to take over the sport.” It’s a long-term deal and we have to build it. I get excited about hat aspect of it. If you could come in here and buy it, it really wouldn’t be that much fun. There are probably some motorsports you can do that in, but here, you can’t do that. What I get excited about is on the car-side, those guys really aren’t athletes. I mean some of them are, but you don’t have to be. But I love working on the cars. And in football, the guys are phenomenal athletes. So it’s kind of a perfect mix for me. You still get a bike to work on and you get a rider to work on and they both have to be running in top shape in order to perform well.
Yeah, that was always my fifth cent theory: Motocross is the ultimate hybrid of motorsport and athleticism…
It is. I completely agree. There aren’t many sports where you get to work on something like a bike and you still have to work on the athletes just as much. They have to be fine-tuned and they have to work their tails off and really put in the hours, and if they don’t, it’s going to show up. Same thing on our side: If the bikes aren’t right, it’s going to show up. I think it’s a perfect blend for me and what I grew up and what I enjoy to do.