GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: TJ Fine

Tuesday Toolbox: TJ Fine

Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | 3:50 PM
Tuesday, February 16, 2021 | 3:50 PM

One of my favorite movie franchises is Rocky. Except for Rocky V, obviously. Any true fan knows you just pretend that one didn’t happen. Anyway, in Rocky Balboa, the 6th installment (or 5th, because remember, we’re not counting Rocky V), Rocky has a very deep heart-to-heart conversation with his son. If you want the entire back-story, watch the film. You can’t deny how motivational Rocky’s words are to his son...

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit, it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward, how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits. Not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you!”

I quoted that film because this week’s featured rider, TJ Fine, has that grit needed to keep moving forward. Injuries, minor or serious, are a huge part of what we do weekend after weekend. How we recover physically and mentally is up to us. This week’s Tuesday Toolbox gave TJ a chance to tell his story. 

Fine finished 7th in the 4-Stroke B Lites class last season, and will make the jump to 4-Stroke A Lites this year. Photo: Ken Hill
Fine finished 7th in the 4-Stroke B Lites class last season, and will make the jump to 4-Stroke A Lites this year. Photo: Ken Hill TJ, finally! We’re doing this thing. For starters, tell us about you!

TJ Fine: Thanks Mikey, I’m 21 from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I’ve been racing GNCC for about 3 years full time. I didn’t really start racing or even riding until about five years ago.

Wow, so you’ve only been racing for five years, GNCC’s for three and you’re already up in the 4-Stroke B Lites class in the afternoon? What’s your secret to success?

Yeah, well so far, I’ve pretty much had to go off natural ability. I work full-time and don’t really have a lot of extra time to train and prepare for the nationals. But it’s something I love, so I try to succeed in it the best that I can. I make it work!

I saw on social media, new Honda CRF. Looks like it’s prepper and ready to go racing too! Tell us about the new bike and what’s in store for 2021?

Yeah, I had some bike issues the last couple years. I found myself at the dealership and saw that new Honda sitting there and I thought, welp, let’s give it a try. So I bought it and took it to Florida to ride and fell in love. Since then I’ve gotten it prepped and ready for GNCC and I’m going to be moving up to the A Lites this year.

That’s a big jump into the A Lites! Lot of heavy hitters in the class. New bike, new class. How do you make it work financially for yourself?

I actually own my own business. I’ve been driving a truck since I was 18 and I saved up enough to buy my own. I work 5 days a week, sometimes 12 hours a day and sometimes longer. It doesn’t really give me much time to ride or work on the bike. It makes it difficult but somehow, we make it happen.

Photo: Ken Hill
Photo: Ken Hill

Does owning you own business help free up your schedule to get to the races?

In a way, yes and in a way no. In the past when I worked for someone else, they’d let me have the time off. So that’s never been an issue. Now, working for myself allows me to get to the track, but if I’m racing, I’m not making money driving. So it helps, but also hurts a little if that makes sense.

Everybody’s got their crew they run to the races with. Even if it’s just a couple people. What’s the TJ Fine team look like?

We’ve got a good crew. Usually dad, my uncle and my girlfriend. Thanks to COVID my uncle won’t be able to go this year because of his job. So it’ll just be me, dad and my girlfriend. But I’m also real close with Tyler Braniff that races Open A. Dad doesn’t race but he does a good job pitting me.

Looking at the results from last year, your best round was 2nd place at High Voltage. I gotta think looking at the 2nd place finish and the track being close to home it’s one of your favorite tracks?

For sure! I raced a local the week prior to High Voltage. It was really dusty, and I was winning my class by a pretty good margin until I had bike issues. But yeah, that one has to be my favorite. The conditions, it’s close to home and I love riding in the rocky terrain. That’s my thing! I’m not really a moto guy so that track suits me well. It’s tight and technical.

So, I take it you’re not a huge fan of the Florida or Camp Coker sands?

Well, my grandma has a house down there. We spend about a month down and do some riding. But honestly, what’s the sense in over-training myself in those conditions when we only race in it a couple times a year. At least, that’s the way I see it. I just approach those rides like it’s a race of survival and try to come away with the best results I can.

Last year at round 8 Fine finished second in his class, earning his best finish of the season. Photo: Ken Hill
Last year at round 8 Fine finished second in his class, earning his best finish of the season. Photo: Ken Hill

Let’s talk about some of your favorite memories. I know you’ve got some good ones and some not-so-good memories, but they all seem to have molded you into who you are as a person and as a rider today.

I would have to say my first year provided some good memories. I raced C Lites with no real expectations. Just bought the bike and went racing. I ended up winning a couple GNCCs and several local races. Finished 2nd in the class that year. Then in 2019 the not-so-good memory took place. We were down in Georgia and I broke my femur completely in half. I’d had high expectations for myself that year and that injury, I felt, took that away from me. But I focused on making my comeback. 6 months later in September I was back racing. Raced two rounds and ended up getting a 2nd and a 4th. Obviously breaking my leg wasn’t a best memory like I said, but it was a huge eye opening experience.

Unfortunately, injuries are common in our sport. It’s no secret. Bike or ATV, in the dirt or on the pavement we all know the risk every time we throw a leg over the machine. I think of the saying, “There are two kinds of riders. Those that HAVE dropped the bike and those that WILL drop the bike.” More of a saying for street bikes, regardless, the message is the same. After breaking your femur how did your mindset change?

Yeah, since my own injury I seem to pay closer attention to other guys that have been injured. Even at the Pro level you see broken bones or blown out knees. It really opens your eyes. Do you really want to keep putting your body through the pain and the stress of racing. For me, you either want it or you don’t. I essentially lost everything when I broke my leg. I’m not a guy that comes from money. I have to pay for everything I’ve got. The injury forced me to examine my options. And for me, from that moment, it was a no brainer. I want to race. I want to give it everything I’ve got and give 100% on the track every time I line up. If I don’t have that mentality, I shouldn’t even be racing. I refused to let an injury stand in my way. And here I am a couple years later still racing and making progress into the A class.

Working five days a week for sometimes twelve or more hours a day doesn’t really give you an opportunity to get seat time. How are you able to work in seat time in between races to stay race-ready?

When the days get a little longer in the springtime, I’m able to get a little riding in here and there in the late evening and early night hours. But mostly it’s racing the locals on the weekend in-between GNCCs that I get most of my seat time. Just show up, give it all you can. Leave it all out on the track. Tyler Braniff has helped me tremendously. He’s been racing a long time and I pick his brain whenever I can. I’ve gotten several tips from Tyler and Alex Teagarden as well. We actually had the chance to go down to Russell Ranch for two year and that was very helpful. I try to pick up what I can where I can and then apply that when I’m on the track.

You mentioned moving up to 4-Stroke A Lites this season. What are the expectations for yourself moving up to the A class?

I’m really hoping to finish the year in the top ten. Overall, I’d like to build my speed up and take everything I learn from this year and apply it to 2022. I feel like this season is a building year for me. So, I guess I don’t have real high expectations, but I certainly don’t want to go out there and get beat every weekend. I won’t let that happen, at least I hope not. I’ll be putting in the work.

Courtesy @f680e Instagram
Courtesy @f680e Instagram

Alright, last big question. It’s everyone’s favorite! You get done racing the GNCC, load up and you gotta eat. Where’s your go-to place after a race?

*laughs* Believe it or not, it’s Denny’s. It’s quick and you’re normally in and out. They’re everywhere up and down the East Coast too. You get you gas at the Flying J, load up on some Denny’s and get on the road.

That’s my favorite answer so far. In my opinion you can never go wrong with tasty and delicious breakfast meats. Alright, one last thing. Who are the people and sponsors you’d like to thank?

My dad, uncle and my girlfriend for sure! Also, Kimberly Contracting Service, FCR Suspension, National Cycle Works, One More Load Trucking, Fast Track, Moto Co, Scott Goggles, IMS, Acerbis, O’Neal MX, Sunstar, Dunlop and CGR Roofing.