GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox with .... Paul Whibley

Tuesday, May 13, 2008 | 12:00 AM

New Zealand’s Paul Whibley is the ultimate journeyman off-road racer. After spending time in Europe, he’s raced the Can-Am Grand National Cross Country Series here for the last three years and has become a real title contender. After riding Hondas for Scott Summers for two years, Whibley switched to the FMF Suzuki team this year to campaign their new RM-Z450, and over the weekend he delivered the bike’s first win at the super-muddy Wiseco John Penton GNCC. So how exactly did a New Zealander end up racing and winning in the U.S.? Here’s the story of Paul Whibley.


Paul Whibley.
Photo courtesy Team Suzuki.

Paul, how does it feel the week after a win?

It’s pretty awesome to win, yeah, but my ultimate goal is a championship and there’s a long way to go.


Well you’ve been pretty good at every race this year.

Yeah, but I had a bad race at Loretta’s, at least a bad race from my perspective. We had a few weird things go on there.


Yeah well I heard at Loretta’s, you ran into a rider while pulling into the pits, and then he came over and attacked while you were pitting!

Yeah (laughs). It was pretty crazy.


Did you all hit the ground?

Yeah, I guess he got up and he was mad, so he shoved us. I hit the ground, and the bike fell down. The fastener was sticking out of the top of the gas cap, so gas was spilling everywhere. We were all on the ground for a few seconds.


So you took off and you let the team deal with him?

Yeah. I was so focused on racing that I didn’t even see the guy, I just got up and got back into the race. I guess the team had a word with him.


So you ended up sixth there, and that’s not where you want to be.

No, my goal is to be top five in every race, and then hopefully win as many as possible.


This past weekend was one the weirdest races ever. You’ve raced all over the world, and you think this is one of the worst you’ve ever seen?

Yeah. I can only think of one other race that was this bad, it was one of Paul Edmondson’s Fast Eddy Cross Country races in England. Same thing, we had a big thunderstorm just before the race began, and there was water everywhere. The track deteriorated pretty bad, but it wasn’t as bad as this one. But the same thing happened there as happened here. First, they had to cut the race a half hour short because it was so bad. And then, Eddy was leading it and everyone expected him to come around and win, and then I got into the lead on the last lap and won! It was just like this one.


Yeah that’s the same thing that happened here. Do you have any idea how you got the lead on the last lap this weekend?

Not really, the track, people were just going everywhere. At that race in England, I think Eddy stopped for goggles, because he was obviously faster than me, but I just kept plodding along and got into the lead. Sometimes that works out.


The goggles thing, this weekend, a lot of riders weren’t even bothering to get them. What was the story there?

The goggles would last about a half a lap for me, and after that I could ride faster without them. The biggest problem for me was the gloves. They kept getting wet and I couldn’t hold on. So every lap I would have to stop for gloves and goggles. And Shane (Nalley, Suzuki mechanic) would pressure wash the bike during the pit stops. That was good.


Yeah you guys were pressure washing during the race. Who came up with that idea?

Shane did. Before the race, he said he planned to do it. It was cool.

This could end up being the photo of the year.
Jason Hooper photo


You were in the lead at the beginning. That has to be the first time you ever led a race on the first lap.

(Laughs) Yeah that’s not my style. I didn’t get arm pump like I normally do, but my arms were tired just from holding on so tight, because everything was so slippery. I was just kind of conserving the bike, and I don’t even know how I got into the lead. I got an average start, and I think some of the other guys might have been going too fast, because I was just trying to play it safe and then I was in the lead. Guys must have been drowning out or crashing, because the ruts were filled with water.


Well, it’s funny how it works, when you came through the finish on the first lap, we all knew you were in the lead, but I guess you didn’t!

Yeah (Laughs). I was in the pits getting new goggles and gloves, and they said I had a nice lead on Josh (Strang) and Jimmy (Jarrett), and I thought “Cool.” But I didn’t know I was in the lead, I just thought I was ahead of those guys! Sometimes it’s a no brainer when they say you have a good lead, but I didn’t get a very good start and I didn’t think I passed that many guys, so I didn’t work out that I was in the lead.


Then you lost the lead when a fan pointed you the wrong way?

Yeah. I guess the trail was blocked, so a guy told me to go another way. I ended up off the track and losing a lot of time. Same thing happened to Knighter, he ended up with me, and we were just riding around trying to figure out which way to go!


That’s what’s funny about these mud races. You hear stories about guys talking during the race, like you’re not even really racing against each other.

Yeah, well, I think Knight had caught up to me and went the same direction, and then I ended up turning around and riding back toward him. Then he yelled “Over here, Whibs!” and went back where we came from.


And you didn’t know what position you were in?

Not after that. On lap two, when I stopped, they told me I was in the lead. But another strange thing, Glenn Kearney went past me, and I thought “Okay, I’m in second now.” But I talked to him yesterday, and he said he was a lap down at that point. And it was only the second lap! So I guess he was having some bike problems or something.


Well Jason Raines told me the same thing. I guess he was following you on the last lap trying to make a pass, thinking he was going to make a pass for position, but it turned out he was a lap down at that point.

Yeah! I talked to Jason after the race, and he said, “Hey did you see me behind you?” And I thought, “No, I didn’t.” I think he was so muddy that I just didn’t recognize him! I didn’t know who was who. It was crazy.


Whibs in drier times.
Photo courtesy Team Suzuki.


Was it fun, or was it torture?

It was tough, but I didn’t look at it like I would be busting my butt for a good result like in a normal race. Yeah you’re going to get mud in your eyes, yeah you’re going to get stuck, yeah you’re going to be wet and cold, but you’re not really attacking like in a normal race.


And this one proved those new fuel-injected Suzukis run.

Yeah the bike worked perfect all weekend. It never sucked in any water or anything.


Everyone says that bike is smaller and more compact than a typical 450. Is that why it’s proving so effective in GNCC?

Well, I rode a Honda last year, and that bike had a really aggressive power delivery. It was good, but maybe too aggressive for the woods. The Suzuki, it has good response with the fuel injection, but it also has a good, controllable power delivery, and it actually works really well for off-road.


In a muddy race like this, it doesn’t get hard to start?

No, the cool thing about these bikes is that even when you do tip it over, it keeps running. They have some sort of sensor that will shut the bike down after awhile, but in the races, if you just tip over, they don’t stall. I’ve probably only had to start it once all year.


Last year it was you and Scott Summers working together, now you have a full team. What’s that like?

It’s a nice bonus. I have people to train with and ride with and test with.


Where do you live?

We were all in North Carolina for awhile, and now we’re all near Jimmy Jarrett’s house in Ohio.


Are you living with Fritz, the Smith guy?

Yeah that’s right.


So you just end up living wherever the racing takes you?

Pretty much, yeah. We’re pretty mobile. We just put everything in the van and go wherever we need to go. In fact, this is the first year I had the van, so this is the most I’ve had here.


You’re like the ultimate racer. Year round, New Zealand or in the U.S. you seem to be racing. Do you do like 50 races a year?

Yeah, I added it up, and few years ago, I raced a race every weekend. For here, the racing is intense, and I find the racing is the best form of practice. When I go back to New Zealand, it’s kind of fun racing. I’ve been pushing it racing over here all year, so when I go home, all I want to do is relax and ride my bike.


You don’t ever wake up on a Sunday morning and say “Oh man, I don’t feel like packing up that van, getting my goggles prepped, and going racing.”Â

I’ve never had that yet. I just get up on Sunday, and that’s race day. So we race.


Ben Townley told me that in New Zealand you used to race everything, supercross, motocross, whatever.

Yeah. In New Zealand, you were not allowed to race off-road until you were 18. It’s not like that now, but that’s what it was when I was younger. I always wanted to race off-road, but I rode motocross and supercross until then.


Yeah, BT told me no matter what race it was, you might show up.

Yeah! I’m pretty rusty on the jumping right now since I haven’t done it in a long time. In America, there’s an off-road race somewhere almost every weekend.


So how did you end up here?

One year, I think it was 2000, I won the New Zealand cross-country championship, and then the Australian Four-Day Enduro was held in New Zealand that year. I finished second behind Stefan Merriman and beat the rest of the Australian riders. At the time I had never even thought about international riding. But after that everyone started telling me to try it. So I managed to get a ride in Europe with a Husqvarna team, and did three seasons in Europe racing World Enduros.


Didn’t you show up and race a few GNCCs?

Yeah, the year after that four-day, I came over, and Scott Summers helped me out because I had been a Honda guy back in New Zealand.


Whibley is now second in GNCC points.
David Scearce photo


Was that your ultimate goal, to race in the U.S.?

I always wanted to race here, but in those two races I did back then, I didn’t get the results I wanted because we had some problems. So I didn’t get any offers here, and I had to go back to Europe. But I always wanted to race the GNCC, because that’s my style. I prefer a three-hour race over a sprint.


So you can’t compare your results in Europe. Knight dominated over there, but this is a different type of racing, and you would have a better shot at beating a guy like him over here.

Yeah. I did pretty good in Europe one year, I finished sixth, and my best finish in one day was a third. But here, I seem to be pushing a little closer to the front of the pack.


Man, you’re a long way from home.

Yeah, but I like it more over here in American instead of Europe. The language barrier makes it easier, and the culture is more like it is in New Zealand. I do miss home, though, and I look forward to getting back there at the end of each year.


Here’s the big question. Do they have a lot of mud over in New Zealand?

They do. People always associate Australia with New Zealand, and a lot of Australia is pretty dry and dusty. New Zealand is a lot greener. So as a kid, me and my mates would just go out in the mud and mess around when it was all slippery.


Well, your teammate Josh Strang is Australian, and he was able to do okay in mud.

Josh likes mud, he’s not scared of it. I guess not all of Australia is dry and dusty.


Anyone you want to thank?

Yeah my girlfriend Kathrine who is a big help, and everyone at the Suzuki team.