Main image courtesy of Simon Cudby.
A compelling story. That’s one of the main driving forces in sports, including racing, and everyone loves a good one. Cody Gilmore has a good one too—after overcoming cancer he got back in the saddle and worked his way into becoming a main event regular in the 450SX Class. But that’s not what we’re here to talk about—this interview is dedicated to Gilmore’s next chapter, racing big, heavy V-Twins on pavement in the relatively new Bagger Racing League [BRL]. If there’s one thing moto fans love, it’s when MX/SX racers are successful in other forms of racing, and so far, Gilmore has been resoundingly effective in his first few outings in the BRL, despite having very little time on the bike. We rang Gilmore this week to find out more about his new endeavor, and what it’s like going from dirt and knobbies to big, heavy Harleys and triple-digit speeds.
Racer X: Dude, every time I’m on social media it seems like I see you on a podium somewhere holding up what looks like a UFC belt. What is happening?
Cody Gilmore: [Laughs] Yeah, the league I’m racing in, Bagger Racing League, has those belts for trophies and I won a couple.
How many of these have you raced?
I had a local type race to get a license to race the series, but I don’t really count that. But in the Bagger Racing League, which has all American bikes, like Harleys and Indians, I’ve been to two rounds, but the first one in Milwaukee was a double-header. So three races, really.
So you’ve raced three races, and you’ve won two?!
Yeah. The one I lost I led until the last lap, two corners to go, and I washed the front end. That was pretty dumb. I should have won that. Ten laps in and two corners to go. I was not pumped on that one.
What exactly is the BRL? It’s pretty new.
It’s all American-made V-Twins, so it’s pretty much Harley Davidson and Indian, then there’s Buell, which has a Harley engine. There are four or five different classes. The main Bagger GP Class has a bunch of pro road racers in it. There’s also a Big Twins class, and the Lightweight Twins class, which I was in, which has like Sportsters and stuff.
It’s quite a leap to go from whoops and rhythm lanes to tossing around V-Twins. What attracted you to this kind of racing? It seems like a wildly different sport than supercross.
It wasn’t in the plans! I did do a couple of those hooligan races which were popular for a while out at Sturgis and stuff, and I raced with some good flat trackers for fun. Then this Bagger Racing League started I think about two years ago now. I’m friends with Rob Buydos, who runs it, and he was always putting it in my ear to come race, but I never really made anything happen. I’d actually had a few teams reach out and ask me about it, but nothing ever really happened. Then this year we were out at this motorcycle show called Born Free in California, and Alex from Sly Fox, which is a performance bagger company and has different parts and stuff, I met him, and he has a pretty rich motocross background too. He’s worked at Thor and Parts Unlimited and everything, and he was like, “Hey man, let’s get you on a bagger.” I was thinking nothing was going to happen, people have already tried to make it happen before, but the next day he called and lined it up with this team in Wisconsin, Suburban Motors, which is a Harley Dealership right outside of Milwaukee. The next day he had Icon sending me leathers and helmets, Drag Specialties started helping me out, and he set it up for me to get the license. He did everything right away so there was no holding back after that. A few weeks later, the same weekend as Millville, we were on our way to Wisconsin to get after it. There was definitely a learning curve though, that’s for sure!
Is there any crossover at all between supercross and this kind of racing?
I think, any time you’re on a motorcycle, there’s crossover. Especially if you’re lucky enough to race supercross, I think that translates to other things better than a road racer racing supercross right away. [Laughs]
What about race craft? I’d have to think the close quarters of supercross would equip you better in being aggressive when you need to be.
I think so, but at the same time, this so much higher speed. The race craft, as far as setting up passes and being creative, is the same. But you can’t overdo stuff. You can’t come in super tight and think you’re still going to make the corner like you can on a dirt bike. On a dirt bike you can still slam it in there, or into a rut, and still make it happen. You come in too tight in road racing and you go flying off the track, and you might be taking someone with you. You have to kind of be more methodical and think about it more. There’s a lot happening at high speed, and the main thing for me was learning how to trust the tires. I found the limit in Milwaukee too, that’s for sure. There was a pro superbike racer from Canada, and he was in our class. I smoked him the first day but the second day he was on my ass the whole race and man, I was pushing, and I found the limit on that front tire—she washed! I was leaned over, and I didn’t even know I’d crashed until I was sliding across the pavement. All of a sudden, I heard my helmet grinding across the pavement and it was like, ‘Oh shit, here we go.’
I guess banging and throwing elbows would be a bit more frowned on in this discipline.
[Laughs] Yeah, I don’t think they’d be too happy with that. For the most part I haven’t seen anything too crazy. In Daytona the track was crazy fast. The first two in Milwaukee were much tighter, but in Daytona you’re pretty much wide open the whole time. With that high-speed stuff, the passes come more from drafting and that type of thing. You’re definitely setting things up a lot sooner than you would on a motocross track.
Is it sketchy being in traffic at those speeds?
Yeah. For me it is because I’m still getting used to everything, but the guys who’ve been doing it probably don’t think twice about it. For me it’s a learning curve. Learning a whole new kind of racing and being comfortable at high speeds. You watch the Bagger GP class and you’ve got guys like Danny Eslick and [Michael] Barnes, who’ve won the Daytona 200 multiple times. There’s Benny Carlson, who’s an awesome sport bike racer. You’ve got guys who, they ain’t thinking twice about anything. It’s pretty cool watching them on the big baggers flying around. They’re throwing down really fast lap times. Some of the tighter tracks, the Harleys have a lot of bottom end, and those guys are ripping them around just as fast as they are their sport bikes.
Daytona is crazy though. The Bagger GP Class, some of those bikes are close to 2000cc’s, and I’m at 1200cc’s. I’m wide open. You shift into your high gear and go as fast as you can. There’s a dude in the GP class, he’s the champion from last year, he runs a turbo, it’s legal. That turbo just completely blew the doors off the other guys going down the straightaways and stuff. That dude was probably going 175 mph, 180 mph, with that turbo and just passing dudes down the straightaway. It was pretty crazy.
Well you’ve won two of three, and right away, so you’re obviously well-suited. You’ve got to be thinking championship at some point. You have to be.
This year I was a few points out of winning the championship and I didn’t race the first round, which was in Utah. That was pretty cool. We had Carson Brown racing on our team too.
That guy does everything!
Yeah, he’s in everything. He missed one round also, and we both ended up tying in points. I got second, he got third, and another guy ended up winning. Next year I think I’m moving up to a different class, I’ll probably be on a bagger next year or the Big Twins. Next year I’ll definitely be letting it hang out a bit more with some of the elite guys. Getting into the main GP class, that’s a couple years off. There’s going to be more of a learning curve. I just need to get out on the track and get laps in. For me, just showing up at three races and qualifying the day before, pretty much all I’m doing is getting used to the event on the weekend and getting used to the track. I’m not really working on my technique or anything yet. I need to do that. I’ll be able to be competitive in whatever class I’m going to be in next year. The lap times are looking good on a bike with less horsepower, so if I can get on a faster bike and get the speeds up a little bit more we’ll be in good shape for sure.
It should be cool to keep getting out there and mixing it up and learning a new sport. I quit racing supercross in 2017 and really didn’t ride dirt bikes much after that. I was kind of over the whole deal and I was getting hurt quite a bit toward the end of my career and I needed a break. This thing popped up and it’s a cool way to get the blood back flowing. It’s cool to still have something to look forward to on the weekends, and to have something to try to get better at. Every time I go out, I feel like I’m getting better, you can see it in the times. Getting better is a good feeling.