GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: JoJo Cunningham

Tuesday Toolbox: JoJo Cunningham

Tuesday, November 23, 2021 | 1:50 PM
Tuesday, November 23, 2021 | 1:50 PM

Football? Wrestling? Racing? Decisions, decisions…

I think the only ones who might not agree JoJo Cunningham made the right decision MIGHT be a few of his competitors. But even they will admit the sport is better with him in it.

Even his coaches in wrestling and football understood the decision. While I’m sure they’d rather have him on their team, they’ve got to sit back and take pride in seeing what JoJo has been doing in off-road racing. And he’s just getting started!

Cunningham earned the 250 A GNCC National Championship this year. Photo: Ken Hill
Cunningham earned the 250 A GNCC National Championship this year. Photo: Ken Hill JoJo, thanks for joining me today. Let’s jump right into it, go way back, and tell us how all this started.

JoJo Cunningham: My dad rode in the pro class when I was little. So I grew up around this. Racing started as just a fun thing. I was supposed to be the football and wrestling star locally. But I decided to take a turn to motorcycles. So, it quickly went from going to the races for fun to the mindset that I could make a career out of this.

I’d say you’ve made the right move. Capturing a championship in a very stacked class. How did the 2021 season work out for your expectations?

Season went really well. I honestly didn’t plan on capturing a championship this year. The first couple of rounds were tough. Things started clicking for me as the season went on. I tried to keep a good outlook on the year, knowing I’m not going to go out and win every round, but I’m always going to be competitive. Only finished off the box a couple times, so no complaints there.

I believe you’re the Top Amateur guy this year too, correct?

Yeah, I believe so, we’ll know at the banquet officially. I know Will Sievenpiper was right there with me too. He had a great year too.

Photo: Ken Hill
Photo: Ken Hill

Let’s back up to football and wrestling. How did that transition take place? Also, just guessing, you had to be a Running Back or Defensive Back, right?

Yup, I was a Running Back the whole time. Never the biggest guy, but I got the job done. It consumes a lot of time, that’s for sure. I didn’t really think I could make any money racing, which was why it was really just for fun. Back then I was always at football or wrestling practice. Between that and the games and meets it consumed a lot of time. Wrestling was the main gig. But once I hit the Supermini level I thought, wow I really have a shot to do well in racing and make a career out of it. So that’s the focus now.

So the bike wins out. I think I speak for everyone at the GNCC when I say I’m glad it won out. How did you coaches take the decision?

Yeah, they were bummed. They’d been following me from grade school anticipating my role in high school on the team. They were supportive though and I appreciate that.

It’s obvious what the goal is for you, long term. But let’s put it down in writing. What’s the goal?

Make a career out this, 100%. This is my second full season on a big bike. I never expected to be where I’m at this year. Winning the 250 A Championship this young feels good. Going to see what I can do in the class next season and eventually move into the XC2. I’m with Babbitt’s Online Monster Energy Kawasaki at least the next couple seasons and that’s been great. It’s interesting the last time I did a Tuesday Toolbox I mentioned I’d like to be riding dirt bikes for a living after high school, and here I am.

Cunningham was a frequent rider in the center of the Top Amateur podium. Photo: Mack Faint
Cunningham was a frequent rider in the center of the Top Amateur podium. Photo: Mack Faint

How’s it been on the Kawasaki?

It took some getting used to in the beginning. But maybe two months in and I got the feel of the four-stroke it felt right. I love the bikes and the team is great to me. I show up to race and I’ve got a brand new bike there waiting for me. Wouldn’t change anything about the bike or the team.

Shifting gears a bit, You come from a family of races, talk about that.

Yeah, I’ve got two brothers Dakota and Wesley. Dakota’s in middle school and Wesley is in grade school. We’re all kind of built the same and carrying ourselves the same way. But I would say Wesley is the next dare devil. He’s faster than what me and Dakota were on 50’s. If I’m not winning championships in XC1, I think he’ll be the guy.

Who do you personally look up to as a rider? I know DQ (David Quillen) mentioned awhile back, you remind him so much of Kailub Russell. And I have to agree with that, 100%.

Yeah, I look up to Kailub quite a bit. Ever since I started riding, I’ve known who the guy is. I live about 15 minutes from his grandparents place, the John Penton property. I’d say Thad Duvall as well.

Photo: Ken Hill
Photo: Ken Hill

What’s the offseason looking like for you as far as training, staying home or headed to Florida?

I’m super excited about this winter. I’ve never been down south for a whole winter and that’s the plan this year. Staying down in Florida for the next three months or so. In the past it was just hitting Florida up here and there, but now with the opportunity to be down there training all winter, it’s going to make a huge difference for me when the 2022 season comes around.

250 A Class, it was stacked this year and I gotta think it’ll be even more competitive in season. Who are the guys you circle on your list that stand out as the guys you have to make sure you finish in front of?

Bubz, Landrum and the list goes on. I know some guys will be moving up to that class too. It was already stacked but it’s only going to get deeper. We have four different winners last season and probably more coming next season, so I have to work hard to make sure I’m on top.

Outside of racing and training, what do you do for fun?

Ride. Man, I really don’t party or anything. It’s all about getting seat time, training, and riding. It’s all about the motorcycles. Going to my little brother’s school sports, that’s something different.

Cunningham battled through the Ironman GNCC conditions this year. Photo: Ken Hill
Cunningham battled through the Ironman GNCC conditions this year. Photo: Ken Hill

You’ve got a girlfriend. Better give her a shout out man.

I do, yeah. For the longest time all I heard was stay away from the girls because it holds you back. But I’ve got the best one out there. We’re still young but for the most part she’s all about it. She wants me to go racing and she supports me 100%. In fact most days she believes in me more than myself.

All about finding the right girl. All those folks saying don’t do it, well look at Kailub, Thad and Stew. All wifed up and doing well. What about training with Rory Mead?

He gets on me a bit about the food plan; I love eating junk food. But he makes sure I work it off and that makes it easier on Rory and easier on my suspension guy. It’s been awesome working with him. The man can do just about anything he puts his mind to. We have a goal and he will stop at nothing to make it happen for us. He’s been a huge difference maker for me.

Love hearing that! JoJo, thanks for joining me today. Who would you like to thank?

Kawasaki, Race Craft Engines, Kyle Kilbarger, Team Babbitts, Alpinestars, Acerbis, Maxima USA, Carl Vanniekerk, Moose, EBC Brakes, Estes Motorsports, MotionPro, Far Offroad, Bonzi Suspension, Hinson Racing, Monster Energy, NGK, VP Racing Fuels, Ionx Coatings, Renthal, Throttle Syndicate, Unifilter, XC Gear, Ryan Holliday, Doug Douchette, Denny Bartz, Hedgie, AP Design USA, Works Connection, Bel Ray, DID, Parts Unlimited, Dunlop, Rob Fox, Evans Powersport, Pro Circuit and Gear Wrench Tools.