I don’t want to take anything away from any other rider out there. But when I think of one of my favorites books, Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins, I immediately think of Johnny Girroir.
“Life is not going to pick us up when we fall. There will be forks in the road, knives in your ****Insert a bad word that I don’t want to use because kids might be reading this*** back, mountains to climb, and we are only capable of living up to the image we create for ourselves. Prepare yourself!”
-David Goggins (Can’t Hurt Me)
If you’ve read the book you know the author, an American Veteran and Ultra Marathon runner, knows a thing or two about hard work and overcoming life’s obstacles.
That, without a doubt, describes Johnny Girroir and the road he took to become the XC2 Champion this season.
GNCCRacing.com: Johnny, thanks for joining me today. You’re a busy guy. We’ve only tried to knock out this interview about three other times throughout this season. Let’s jump right in! Let’s go way back, what got you started riding and eventually running GNCC?
Johnny Girroir: Thanks for having me. Glad we finally got together. I got started when I was super young. My dad got me and my brother a couple PW50s with training wheels when we were about 2 ½ or 3. He’d tie a rope around his back fender, and we’re ride around the yard. Eventually I started racing motocross on 65s and 85s. Switched over to the woods on an 85. I actually raced the 7-11 85 Class at Unadilla. I won that by about 5 minutes, that was my first GNCC. I went back and started racing NETRA Hare Scrambles like Josh Toth and Ben Kelley. Then I started racing J Day in 2012. Won my first championship that year on a clapped out YZ250. The following year I got a ride from KTM and won the championship in 2013 at J Day, then lost in 2014 to Robby Marshall. Went on from there to win in 15, 16 and 17. So I was a 5 time J Day Champion. I dabbled in GNCC a little bit in 2018 when Rob Marshall gave me a ride on Suzuki.
2018 seemed to have some ups and downs for you. But you found some success midway through the season with a couple podiums.
Yeah, it was a very tough year for me. I struggled throughout the year. And emotional I wasn’t ready for the challenge of XC2. I grew up having success with Josh Toth and Ben Kelley. So to see those guys excelling in the XC2 while I struggled really got me down. It was difficult to watch. I was beat before the race even started. That’s not a good feeling and not where your head needs to be on race day. I podiumed two rounds in a row and was feeling good but then I tore my MCL and missed the last two rounds of the year. 2019 I really felt like I was ready to turn things around. I hooked up with Trail Jesters KTM and had high expectations. I managed a podium in the first three rounds and felt like I was ready to compete for a championship. I ended up getting a lung infection and missed the rest of the season. In 2020 I finally put together a Championship contender season only to get hurt with the points lead heading into the last two rounds of the season. It’s been a long road, with a ton of hurdles both on and off the track, but I’m beyond proud that I got it done here in 2021.
So you’re telling me it’s finally sunk in that you’re the XC2 Champion?
Yeah, it was honestly surreal after the last race. But now that I’ve had a week to sit back and reflect it’s pretty amazing to look back and put things in perspective. I’ve had plenty of people tell me GNCC isn’t my thing, I’m just a fast sprinter. Everything in life that’s tried to shoot me down, I refused to accept it. I kept pushing myself and finally rose to the top. I really wish my dad was here to see it, I know he’s watching, and I know he’s proud. It’s such an unreal feeling to dedicate your whole life to something and finally succeed.
How did the transition to the Coastal GASGAS Factory Team help you this year?
It gave me such a huge confidence boost. Being on that team and knowing I’m on the right equipment for me. The team combined with having Kailub (Russell) as my trainer was huge. I know each race I have everything I need to be successful. When I go out there to race, I want to win. Whether I get a bad start, I wreck half a dozen times or I’m down a minute on the last lap, I want to push for the win and never give up.
Alright, let’s talk Title defense. Coming back in the XC2 next season or moving up to the XC1?
I am actually coming back in the XC2 next season. Defend the title and then in 2023 I’ll jump into row one with the big boys.
You mentioned growing up racing Ben Kelley and Josh Toth. I know it was difficult to watch their success just a few seasons ago, but knowing you and knowing them, you’ve got to be proud watching what those guys are doing now. Specifically Ben, out there battling for the XC1 Championship.
Yeah, it’s super cool to see the success we’re all having. I’m a huge fan of both guys. They’re my good buddies and I’d love to Ben win it. Stew is a buddy as well though, I’d love to see him win it. They motive me, I want to battle up front with those guys. I hope to be there at that level one day soon.
I get the privilege of talking to you guys immediately following a race. Throwing a mic in your face when the only thing keeping you guys standing is pure adrenaline. Now I’m not taking anything away from any other rider. But you stick out to me as a guy that legitimately leaves it all out on the track. You give those three hours every single ounce of energy you’ve got. Exhaustion is an understatement.
I appreciate that. It all goes back to my training. When I train, I go 110% just like when I ride. That’s what produces success for me. You will never see me out there during practice just trail riding and slacking off. We do a ton of peddling, strength training, swimming. Whatever it takes. Sometimes I have to slow down a bit. Or at least tell myself to slow down a bit during the race. I find myself out front early with a huge lead, which is good, but then I’m spent. I have my old moments where I’m “J Day Johnny” banging off of trees and sending it through the woods. But now I think I’ve found that balance I needed before. I know when to push and when to slow it down a bit. Doing that helps me go faster longer. But I can guarantee you when I go home from a race, I know I did everything I could to put myself in a position to win.
I have to think, with a guy like Barry Hawk in your corner as well as Kailub Russell training you, that’s only going to help the longevity of your career.
Yeah, two incredible guys to learn from. Kailub found a way late in his career to not just win races but manage them properly. The last couple seasons I’d push too fast too early. I’d get a good lead only to have Mike (Witkowski) and Craig (DeLong) pass me. Kailub has really helped me find that balance.
Alright, personal life. When you’re not racing or training what’s a weekend look like for you?
Oh boy, anything really. I love hanging out and chilling. Just enjoying life with my girlfriend and my dogs. Going golfing, love mountain biking. I haven’t been snowboarding in the last couple years, but I love it. Big hunter, love it. That’s another thing I haven’t done the last couple years. Honestly racing and training has consumed my time the last couple years because it’s something I want so bad. I’m 25, turn 26 next week. I know these are my last 5-8 years to shine and show the world what I’m capable of. I love being outside, I don’t play video games or really watch TV.
Coming back next season for XC2 to defend the title. Safe to assume that’ll be on the GASGAS, correct?
For sure! I love being on the Coastal Racing team. It feels like a big family. It seems to be the most laid back and relaxing team at the track. I’ve found my place for sure.
Love it! Last thing, I know you don’t do it all alone. Who are the people and sponsors you’d like to thank?
For sure, I want to thank my Trainer Kailub Russell, Team Manager Barry Hawk, Mechanic Tyler Barr, Team Owner Denny Patterson, Coastal Racing, GASGAS USA, Bicon, FMF, Seat Concepts, Dunlop, Scott Goggles, Renthal, Shoei Helmets, TM Designs, Live It Xtreme, Hammer Nutrition, Aceribies, HBD Graphics, Trail Jesters, Moose Elite, DP Brakes, DID Chains, IMS, Parts Unlimited, and WP Suspension