GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Allen Gravitt

Tuesday Toolbox: Allen Gravitt

Tuesday, September 1, 2015 | 1:30 PM
Tuesday, September 1, 2015 | 1:30 PM

During a recent interview with Kacy Martinez, she mentioned her mechanic, Allen Gravitt. Allen has been around the off-road racing scene for a long time, so we thought we would catch up with him and see if he had any interesting stories for this week’s Tuesday Toolbox! Hi Allen, are you hard at it?
Allen Gravitt: Well I’m at it, but I don’t know if I’m working all that hard.

What are you doing?
Right now I’m at my job. I work for a nail and staple supply company here in Georgia. Just before the opening round in Florida every year, I get a call from Jeff Russell saying, “Hey, I’m over at Aonia Pass. Can you bring me a couple boxes of staples?” [Laughs] It’s one thing I can do to help the GNCC community out!

You’ve been at this off-road racing thing for a while. What got you started?
When I was 8 years old, my family bought some land off my grandma just outside Sugar Hill, Georgia. We had a lot of family in the area and when you connected the properties, we had a couple hundred acres. My dad and uncle bought dirt bikes and started riding for fun. Dad got me a Yamaha Mini Enduro 60, then my cousins got bikes. There were 4 of us all the same age. We would go out and ride for hours!

AG has been at it for quite a while! Here he lines up on the right, next to the infamous David
AG has been at it for quite a while! Here he lines up on the right, next to the infamous David "Hollywood" Cripe (Kailub Russell's former XC2 class mechanic) at the 1991 Alligator Enduro. Photo: Allen Gravitt Facebook

That sounds awesome!
Yeah, those were the days! You could go about anywhere. Today, it seems so much land is getting shut down, but as a kid it was fun to go explore and ride.

So tell us about your first race.
My dad and uncle started racing enduros, but I never could because I was too young. Back then, enduros required headlight, taillight and operators license. I wasn’t 16 yet so I couldn’t get a license. Well finally, somewhere around ’79 I think, the promoter of the local enduro in Cochran, GA decided to do a mini enduro on Saturday. By then, I had a DT125. Problem was, it came with electric start, headlight and taillight. I didn’t want all that junk on my bike, so I stripped it down. Unfortunately, all the wiring was housed in the headlight and I made a mess! It took my dad two days to sort through all those wires and get the bike running. And then, just before that mini enduro, something shorted and melted the whole wiring harness and I didn’t have a bike to ride! So my uncle loaned me his KTM 250. On the way to the track, my dad was talking about the course and said, “You can burn the first check.” I thought he meant, “It’s okay to go too fast and ‘burn’ the first check!” What he meant was, “You need to be careful so you DON’T burn the first check!” But since I thought he meant “go for it,” I went for it! I came blasting into the first check, sliding the rear wheel. I remember hearing the checkpoint worker calling out, “He’s hot!” I stalled it, and my little 13-year-old legs couldn’t get it kick started. The worker had to start the bike for me. I burned that check by two minutes! And because of that, I did not place well at all that day! My two cousins raced that one with me. They are both girls, so I had to ride home knowing I got beat by the girls in the family!   

Must not have affected you too terribly bad in the long run. You now wrench for one of the fastest girls on the planet! 
Oh yeah! Kacy’s great! I like working with her. She can tell what’s going on with the bike and give feedback. That really helps get things dialed in. I used to wrench for Maria Forsberg. I had agreed to be her mechanic, but never met her until River Ranch that year. We had the chance to test suspension during practice day at the track. She had stock valving and lighter springs. After her first couple laps, she came in and said, “It’s good!” I said, “Maria! Come on. I’m watching you. It’s not good. Tell me what you need!” Then she admitted it was too stiff. I turned a few clicks and sent her back out. We got it good enough and later got her suspension done. She was also a pleasure to work with.

You wrenched for Grant Baylor for a while, too?
I did. I started working with him when he rode 250-A. His big brother, Steward was racing and their dad was taking care of both bikes. Antti (KTM Team Manager) came to me and asked if perhaps I could help out. So then I was working for both Grant and Maria. I had help from Woody Bramlett, though. He would take Maria’s bike home with him, prep it and then we would both go over it at the track. I would see the start of Maria’s race, then go to the truck and finish getting Grant’s bike ready. He was young! He was racing with older kids and I think he was intimidated at first. I told him to use his size to his advantage and don’t let anyone push him around on the start. He would be slow to get going. Usually a mediocre start and then he’d pick up the pace toward the end. I told him he’s causing me to grow gray hairs. Go fast from the beginning and lead the way; it’s a lot easier! And he came into his own. He started getting better starts and leaning into people when they pushed him. After a couple guys found themselves on the ground, no one came into him anymore!

Allen's racing background includes multiple top 5 overall National Enduro finishes, 1 Florida Trail Riders enduro championship and a record combined 16 SETRA Hare Scramble and Enduro championships.
Allen's racing background includes multiple top 5 overall National Enduro finishes, 1 Florida Trail Riders enduro championship and a record combined 16 SETRA Hare Scramble and Enduro championships. Photo: Kenny King/Courtesy Allen's Facebook

You were with him through his XC2 days, right?
Yes. He clinched the 250-A title and then it was time to move to XC2. Antti came to me and asked if I would wrench only on his bike since he was moving to a pro class. Woody was doing a good job with Maria, so I came to Grant’s bike full time. At the beginning of the year, I thought maybe he could get a win or two and possibly be in top 3 by the end of the year. Boy, he blew away my expectations! He won several races and clinched the championship his rookie year, and then did it again last year. He’s really come a long way!

Before you were mechanic for top riders like Kacy, Maria and Grant, you were a pro racer. What were some of your own career highlights?  
Well, I finished inside the top 5 overall points for the season in National Enduros. I got a 2nd overall at the Houston Enduro the year it rained so hard that only 6 guys finished without houring out. I chased Mike Lafferty at the Cherokee Enduro and finished 2nd overall there. I guess one of my favorite accomplishments was before the GNCC Series, back when it was the 100 Miler. I raced the Blackwater 100 and got 1st in 250A and 3rd overall! That was a fun race. I’d always heard stories of Blackwater, but was focused on enduros. Rod Bush was president of KTM at the time and called me and said, “You need to race this! I’ll take care of the bike and everything, just get there.” So Hollywood and I struck out to Davis, WV. He was the pit guy and I was the racer. I remember hauling through a fast, dry section and Larry Roeseler came by me like I was tied to a fence post! I thought, “Man! There’s no way!” But when I got in the woods, there was a downhill section and an oak tree had fallen. There was Larry, all tangled up in the oak branches! I stopped and asked if he was ok and he told me to go on. So I did, and won my class that day, beating Randy Hawkins. He wasn’t pro then, but I’ve got lots of Randy Hawkins stories to tell! 

We will put that challenge out there for our readers: Stop by the KTM truck and ask Allen for Randy Hawkins stories! (And then stop by Yamaha and ask Randy for Allen Gravitt stories!) So have you done any racing recently?
I did the Little Brown Jug Enduro last year. I’m thinking about going back over there next weekend and do it again. Depends on the weather. Last year, it was blazing hot on Labor Day weekend in Cross Anchor, SC. The KTM guys all had a bet going for how many sections I would complete. I pulled in to the truck and asked Antti how many sections he had bet on. He said, “I bet you would do the whole thing!” I groaned and said, “Now I gotta do ‘em all!” I got off the bike, drank some pickle juice and when back at it! Finished them all and won the +50 class.

AG still occasionally finds the time to race and claimed the 50+ A class win at last year's Little Brown Jug Enduro.
AG still occasionally finds the time to race and claimed the 50+ A class win at last year's Little Brown Jug Enduro. Photo: RidePG Photo Archive/David Scearce

Ummm… pickle juice?
I've been at this a long time. There’s nothing that works better or faster at getting rid of cramps than pickle juice.

There’s challenge #2 to our readers! So what transitioned you from being racer to mechanic? Obviously, you’ve worked on bikes all your life and have come a long way from disassembling DT1 headlights. How did you end up on this side of things?
I guess it was the Perry Mountain 24 Hour Challenge in Maplesville, Alabama. Our team varied from year to year. We had guys like Russell Bobbitt, Cory Buttrick, Mike Brown, Stew Baylor, Nate Kanney, Kailub Russell and more. But it was that first year when we put together a team that I didn’t like how the bike was prepped, so I stepped in and started doing it. After that, KTM wanted to put serious effort to that race and so I said, “Here’s what it would take to do the bike.” By the last time we raced, I decided to NOT be a rider because I was so busy managing and wrenching that I didn’t have anything left for riding! Then Hollywood called me one day and said KTM was going to add a female racer and would probably need a mechanic. I sent Antti an email and now here I am!

Pretty cool stories! I’m sure we could go on all day. Any standout riders from back in the day that you’ve seen grow up?
Oh there’s a lot! But I remember the first time I ever saw Mike Brown. I went to a local SETRA race in Tennessee out near where he lived. At signup, they told me there was a motocross kid who asked if anybody fast was going to be there and they told him I would be there. I didn’t think anything of it. Probably just a kid who was too full of himself. I looked down the starting line and saw someone on a DR350. Pretty heavy woods bike. Nothing to worry about. The green flag dropped and I pulled the holeshot and was leading the race. We got to an open section and that DR350 came by me so fast I could barely read the jersey, “Brown!” Well, we got to the woods and there were some little saplings. He slowed down so much I thought he stopped! I actually ran into the back of him and yelled, “Go!” He looked at me as if “I AM going!” I passed him, and then he just railed me in the open. I got him in the woods again and said to myself, “The only way I’m going to win this thing is to gap him in the woods so he can’t catch up in the open.” I put my head down and made some space. I didn’t see it, but I guess he popped out in the open and went to let ‘er eat and that DRZ just bucked him on some whoops and he launched the bike down the side of a hill! Twisted the frame up and just destroyed the bike! I was talking to him about that race years later and he said, “Oh! That was you?! Yeah, that kid at the local shop wasn’t too happy when I returned that bike. I had borrowed it. It had about $5,000 in the motor but it was worthless when I took it back!”

That's good stuff! Thanks for taking time to talk with us today. Anyone you’d like to thank?
Of course the FMF KTM Team, Antti, my wife, my beautiful 16 year old twin daughters, Hollywood, Showtime, Chef Johnny and just everybody out there! It’s a great sport to be involved in. I’ve been blessed to be able to enjoy everything that dirt bikes offer!