Big John (John Knox), is a very familiar face to anyone who has been around the GNCC series. He grew up in Pennsylvania and has been with Racer Productions twenty-four years now. One of his most visible roles at the GNCC is helping to direct traffic and parking, although as the security director for GNCC racing he has many other roles and responsibilities. In addition to the GNCC series, he also handles security at the Pro Motocross races and Loretta Lynn’s. I finally got the chance to sit down and interview Big John several months ago at the High Voltage GNCC – he is a very busy guy on race weekend!
GNCCRacing.com: How long have you been with Racer Productions
Big John: I’ve been with them 24 years now. A long time!
How did you get started with them?
Well, I started off with them through a friend of mine who had done security for them at High Point. He kept talking to me about it and finally talked me into coming out and working with him. At the time Racer Productions had a crew working for them who I think was looking to get out of the business. So, I started at High Point and by the time we went to Steel City I was one of their supervisors, and by High Point next year I owned the security company.
I know Keith the gate guy also did some security work for Racer Productions. Was he the friend who talked you into working for GNCC or was that somebody else?
No, but Keith and I actually ended up partnering up years later, I brought him into it and we worked the gates together. We started our own company together, but after 9-11 hit we decided we were going to go different directions. Our third partner was serving in the military, and he and I decided we wanted to get out of it and left Keith with the business. That’s when it became his company, Bullseye Security.
What made you want to get into the industry – did you ride or race?
I’m actually a Harley guy from way back when, and I didn’t know the first thing about these guys and I thought they were nuts, riding through the woods on those little bikes - and back then all the bikes were two-strokes. I thought it sounded like a bunch of bumblebees when they were racing… (laughs) So yeah, I’ve always been a touring, Harley kind of guy. So I really had no background in this at all.
Being a Harley guy, I take it you really enjoy heading to the Florida and Georgia rounds since the week between is usually bike week?
Yeah, I enjoy bike week a lot! It has changed quite a bit in the last thirty, thirty-five years, but I do really enjoy being down there. I actually have a house down there in Ormond Beach, so I’m right within two or three miles of where everything happens. It’s a good time.
Where do you like to go touring?
Well, on the Harley, my wife and I mostly just travel around Florida and up here in Pennsylvania. We live in a beautiful part of the country, Seven Springs (Pennsylvania). There’s a lot of whitewater rafting around here, so there’s all these creeks and winding roads. It’s a great place to ride!
Back to your work with GNCC, I’m mostly used to seeing you directing traffic and getting everyone parked correctly. What other responsibilities do you have?
It’s interesting. I’m the Director of Security for Racer Productions but I’m really more of a fireman than anything else. When there’s a fire, I’m the one who goes and puts it out. Doesn’t really matter what the problem is or what needs done. Whether it’s parking, or help at the front gate, or pulling vehicles in and out with a dozer, or a security issue ….. the nice thing about GNCC is we usually don’t have many security issues, and we do bring local police departments in overnight to give us a little extra manpower.
Which GNCC rounds are usually the harder ones to manage? I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess Unadilla (no longer on the schedule) and Ironman….
Yeah, Unadilla was a …. unique place. It’s small and tightly compacted, so it’s a lot of people squeezed into a small space. As far as parking goes Steele Creek is also a tough one. You’re trying to put 20lbs of sausage in a 10lb casing, and that always causes issues here and there. Now Ironman, that is a huge event. But there is also a ton of property out there, having all that room and being able to spread out really helps.
Now, do you also work security at some of the other events Racer Productions puts on, or just at the GNCCs?
Yeah, I work quite a few of the outdoor nationals, actually because of the schedule change I’m here but would normally be supervising my crew that is at Redbud right now. I’ll be at Unadilla, Budd’s Creek, Ironman obviously High Point. And I do some other events too – obviously all the Loretta’s stuff. I used to do the ATV Nationals, but that’s kind of gone off in it’s own direction. Then I also do a couple of the high-profile amateur nationals for other promoters, like Mini O’s and Baja Acres, those kind of events.
Do you have a separate job outside of working security at races, or is this your full-time gig?
No, this is a full-time gig. It’s 30+ weekends a year. I’m very lucky that my wife runs our joint business – rental properties. As crazy as that can get and with how much I have to be away from home for this job… like I said I’m very lucky that she takes care of that. This keeps me plenty busy.
As a racer, I normally only see what happens Saturday and Sunday… but when do you have to arrive at the track, and when do you get to go home?
I’m there usually Wednesday before the event starts, and for GNCCs as long as it’s not a really far one I’m home by Monday. With the outdoor nationals, I can usually leave on amateur day so I’m home a little earlier. And of course, Loretta’s is Loretta’s… (laughs)
In all your 20+ years of working for Racer Productions, what was one of your favorite places to go or events to be a part of?
Well, fourteen years ago I had the honor of being named the head of security for the United States Motocross de Nations team. That’s been the neatest thing in the world for me. The first seven or eight years I did that for them, we never lost! The opportunity to travel all over the world has been amazing, and my only responsibility is to take care of my three riders. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities. I don’t know that I could pick out just one of those events as my favorite, though I will say Russia was absolutely stunning. They were all unique in their own way, and for me getting to go to that event is kind of like my bonus for doing a good job all year.
That’s really cool – nothing compares to getting to travel and represent your country like that! Now you mentioned earlier that with GNCC your biggest job is just putting out fires. What is one of the most interesting “fires” that you are free to tell us about?
Well (laughs) I actually do have a really funny story about that. We had an issue at Powerline Park years and years ago. There was a guy who had a little too much to drink and was causing an issue with Barry Hawk, back when he was still racing. So, this guy decides he just really doesn’t want to leave them alone and I ended up having to detain him. We didn’t really have the equipment or the regulations we do now, so we kinda ended up zip-tying him to one of those folding lawn chairs, which he somehow managed to collapse on himself (laughs). He ended up being removed from the property and arrested and we all thought that was the end of the story. But then it was probably 10 years later, this guy comes up to me at Snowshoe, taps me on the shoulder and says, “I’m sure you don’t remember me”. I confess that no, I really don’t remember him. Then he says “I’m that guy you folded up in the lawn chair at Powerline. I’ve never drank since that day, and I’m married now and have children, and I would like you to meet them! It was kind of an honor, really touching and funny all at the same time.
Speaking of family, can you tell us a little bit about yours?
Of course! My wife and I have three children, a 22-year old son, Little John. Some of you might know him because he’s traveled with me a bit. Then twin 20-year old daughters. Our son graduates this fall with a civil engineering degree, and will be going to work for Coastal Drilling. The twins – one just graduated and is working at an investment brokerage firm, the other is almost done with her degree as a radiology technician. My beautiful wife stays home, lovingly waiting for me …. (laughs) just kidding, she stays very busy managing our business and keep the home and raise the kids. I have been incredibly lucky and blessed to have such a wonderful family.
Well, this has been a great interview, thank you for taking the time out of your day to talk with me a bit. Now, who would you like to thank – usually this is where the riders tell me their sponsors, but with you it’ll be a little bit different.
Well, I would like to thank all of the companies who sponsor GNCC Racing! The industry has been very good to me and I have enjoyed being around the sport. I thank my family for standing behind me and putting up with me when I come home and pretend like I’m the boss (laughs). And I thank everyone who is involved with GNCC racing, especially the Coombs, it really does feel like one big family!