GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Bryan Buckhannon

Tuesday Toolbox: Bryan Buckhannon

Thursday, February 11, 2016 | 10:40 AM
Thursday, February 11, 2016 | 10:40 AM

Two years ago, GNCC introduced the “4x4 Pro” class for the 10am ATV race. This was a long debated move with uncertainty for how it would be received. However, with the 2014 and 2015 seasons behind it, the 4x4 Pro class has turned into one of the most competitive and most exciting classes to watch! Byran Buckhannon is the two-time champ for this class. gave Bryan a call during the off-season: Bryan, congratulations on another championship season in the Pro 4x4 class!
Bryan Buckhannon: Thank you! It was a hard-fought year.  

That’s very true. It looks like you won 3 races on your Can-Am, but your Polaris competitors Michael Swift and Kevin Trantham both won 5 races each. However, you were on the podium 100% of the time! Your worst finish was 3rd place! That’s amazing consistency! How does one do that?
It’s a combination of having a great machine, good mechanics and keeping a cool head! In Florida, no one knows really how they stand. Everyone works their program in the off-season. We were the defending champs and felt strong. 3rd place was a good start to the season and then we won Georgia. But as the races moved further north, we started having problems with handling. Even though we were on the podium every race, it certainly wasn’t a given. There were many races I had to dig deep and just keep pushing knowing that if I could be consistent, then the year-end goal would work out. We were in it for a championship, not a one-race-trophy.  

That’s a champion’s perspective! You’ve had some experience with that!
[laughs] Yes, I’ve been very fortunate! We’ve been racing a long time and have 6 Open 4x4 Championships to go along with 2 Pro 4x4 Championships. We’ve learned a lot along the way. But the greatest lesson is perseverance. I remember my first year with Warnert Racing. It was 2009 and we were doing great in the Open 4x4 class. We had won the first 6 rounds and then hit a kicker at Somerset (which was round 7 that year). The quad rolled over on my leg and crushed it! I sat out the next two rounds and then the whole summer break with a broken leg. Scott Kilby went on a roll and won everything and closed up the points. I was able to return and it came down to Ironman. I won and ended up securing the championship by two points!

Bryan raced his first GNCC in 2005 with the hopes of racing against the great Mike Penland!
Bryan raced his first GNCC in 2005 with the hopes of racing against the great Mike Penland! Photo: Ken Hill

So the lesson is “Never give up?!”
Exactly! There are a lot of life lessons mirrored in racing!  

You’ve been doing this a while. Our record books show you first entered a GNCC back in 2005?
Yeah, I was just an enthusiast who liked going fast on my [Honda] Rincon 650. GNCC came to Summersville, WV, which isn’t too far off. I wanted to race against Mike Penland and so I went out there not knowing at all what I was doing! As it turned out, I had a slip on exhaust and that pushed me into the modified class, do I did not end up racing against the man who started it all! But, I had a good time. I placed third in my class and that inspired me to enter a couple more.

That Mike Penland! He’s had a target on his back for a long time!
I have so much respect for him for all his contributions to the sport. He’s been at it a long time and our class wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for him. So, “Thanks Mike!”  

Did you ever get to race him (Mike Penland) heads-up?
No, I never did! I mean, we’ve been on the track at the same time, but always different classes. I’m fine with that. I think it’s just as well!

Bryan claimed the first ever 4x4 Pro in 2014, and backed that up with a 2nd title in 2015.
Bryan claimed the first ever 4x4 Pro in 2014, and backed that up with a 2nd title in 2015. Photo: Ken Hill

So 2005, you showed up. Looks like you switched the Rincon for a Kawasaki the next year?
Yeah, 2006 I did a few more races on the green machine. Can-Am was coming out with new stuff that year and I found myself at a distinct disadvantage. I’m a little guy compared to the Scott Kilby’s and Broc Parker’s of the world! That Can-Am had power steering and I did not! I could hardly hold on for two hours, let alone run at full-out race pace. So by 2007, I knew I was hooked! And I knew I needed that Can-Am. I made the switch and it was that year that I finally got my first win at Snowshoe. I think I ended second in points to Rick Cecco and then got my first championship the following year.

That’s quite the learning curve!
It’s been a good time for the sport. I mentioned Mike Penland and his contribution to getting utility racing started. When I first came to it, we just called it “Utility” Mod and stock. And then there was 4x4 Open, Lites and Limited. And now we’ve progressed to having a Pro Row! It’s absolutely amazing how the sport has grown. Manufacturers have supported it and helped it along. Can-Am was a driving force for a long time. It’s nice to see Polaris back in the game. Overall, it’s very good for the health of the sport.

Yes, it seems like there was a lot of discussion about creating a Pro class. That finally happened and it’s been a good thing. One of the rider’s meeting discussions at the banquet this year was moving you guys to the afternoon. Obviously, that is not happening in 2016, but you are the reigning champion – what are your thoughts?
I was for it. There were actually a handful of us that were advocating for the move. However, at the banquet, some people brought up good points I hadn’t considered. Namely, the afternoon tracks are so much rougher. The speeds get a lot faster because there aren’t as many riders on the track and there isn’t as much lapped traffic. So the machines will need to be that much tougher and that requires money. It’s already an expensive sport and we don’t want to deter participation because of cost. Now that we’ve talked about it, I hope people will take this year and develop the proper equipment so that maybe next year we can make that move.

You utility guys can really move some traffic out of the way! Anybody on the front row you’re looking to punt?
[laughs] No way! In the morning, we are the fast guys on the track and sometimes it’s dangerous because we are coming up on inexperienced riders so fast. That would not be the case in the afternoon! Those XC1 guys are certainly faster than we are. I think we might have an edge in a really nasty, muddy race. But other-than-that, we wouldn’t see those guys!

For 2016 Bryan has his eyes on another 4x4 Pro class title. Can he make it happen?
For 2016 Bryan has his eyes on another 4x4 Pro class title. Can he make it happen? Photo: Ken Hill

You’ve made racing your life. When I called and got your voicemail, your message said “Tucker Rocky.” Is that what you do for a living?
Yes, it is! I’m a dealer rep for them and sell parts to the dealer network. I’ve been doing it for about 14 months now. Previously, I owned a race shop for about 10 years. I ended up selling it to my teammate, Tanner Bowles. So now I sell parts to my old shop! It’s a great fit for me. So many of my sponsors distribute their parts through TR. For example: TR owns the MSR gear brands and MSR supports my racing, so it’s pretty easy to represent them.

Well Bryan, thanks so much for taking time to talk to us.
No, thank you! This is my second Tuesday Toolbox. So much has changed and the sport has evolved so far. Since we last talked, GNCC has created the Pro class and brought together the fastest riders from all the classes. The sport has grown and gained respect. All of us really appreciate all that GNCC Racing is doing!

Who else would you like to thank?
I have some great sponsors behind me: Can-Am, QuadBoss, DJR, Kenda, BikeMaster, EVS, Spyder Grips, MSR, Fasst Co., 100%, Tireballs, XC Photo, ATV Riders, Advanced Auto Parts, ATV Parts Plus, Swampfox Motorsports, SSI Decals, Stafford Racing, BNR, Cecco Racing, Big Gun Exhaust, Brent Carb Sports, Beckley YMCA, Burning Rock Adventure Park, Rath Racing, JBS, Lazer Star Lights, John Rogers, David Jessie and also my family and friends for all they do!