Going into the 2021 it was no secret that Brycen Neal was going to be a contender. Social media chatter, conversations back and forth between people at the track at round one, you could feel the buzz around Brycen. As the checkered flag flew at Big Buck, Neal backed up the hype with an opening round win. A mechanical failure kept him off the box in round two and four, but make no mistake, he was in the fight. Refusing to lay down and quit Brycen came out with back to back wins in round five and six. Then, round seven happened. Somehow, he still managed to come through in fourth, but it was clear Brycen was hurting. We know the rest of the story, out for the season. Leaving us all to wonder, what if?
I’d be doing a disservice to my fellow Rocky fan, Brycen, if I didn’t include a quote from the film, Rocky Balboa…
“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’ll beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. 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!”
GNCCRacing.com: To get us started, let’s go way back to the beginning. What got you started riding and eventually racing ATVs?
Brycen Neal: My mom and dad got me started on a pw50 when I was about 5! My dad rode all his life, and his dad before him as well so they surprised me with a bike. I raced dirt bikes. Did motocross until I was about 9, then I wanted a four-wheeler because that’s what my dad started racing GNCC on. So, then the rest is history!
What was your first GNCC like?
Well my first GNCC that I raced was actually the inaugural Youth Atv race in 2004 at the Ironman! It was super muddy and sloppy, and they started us in the pit field section (not the official starting line today) The racetrack was short, and it was over too fast because I was having so much fun it was like a blur lol, I think I finished 4th overall that day!
Let’s talk about last season. Going into 2021 you were a heavily favored contender. Through the first few rounds it seemed like feast or famine, but regardless, three wins in seven rounds of racing in a stacked XC1 is impressive. After you got the news of the season ending injury, what has your road to recovery looked like?
Yeah looking back now it was pretty well feast or famine, I had 2 races ripped from me with mechanical issues but every race we was either leading or in 2nd fighting for it which was one of the goals for every race heading into the season. But when I found out I had a lateral torn meniscus (bucket handle tear) and then the news that I’d been training and riding for over 10 years on a torn ACL. I knew I had to get it fixed asap and start the recovery. Stew Baylor reached out to me and gave me Ben Greenwoods number whom Stew worked with in 2020 after his knee surgery during Covid lockdown which he recovered from and went on to have a killer last half of the season. To this day I’m so appreciative and respect Stew so much for putting me in the right direction because I wouldn’t be the same guy today if it wasn’t for him and getting to meet and work with Ben Greenwood! Ben’s from Australia and he’s raced and competed and has been training for a good while now! He is super smart and calculated and he was super supportive, and we have developed a great friendship. For the first 6 weeks after surgery, no weight bearing at all whatsoever, so I was on crutches. Then I started walking in the pool and got walking back down and this is when Ben and I started working. It was hours and hours of stretching, slow progressive strength workouts that built me up and prepared me for the next step. It took me every bit of 6months to reach the point where I was ready to get back on the machine. I guess I’m glad that it happened when it did because I was able to take my time and recover the right way with time and not have to rush back into it so quickly. Then at the end of October I flew out to Nevada and met Miles Brazil who owns and operates Regulus Performance. He had his eyes on working with Ben for years and they decided to partner up and I was given the opportunity to fly out and put my knee through tests and get evaluated for the winter ahead because it was time to step up the training regimen and get ready to get back on the machine! I’ve been working my tail off ever since I got hurt, it’s been a long journey and I’ve learned so much about myself and things I can do to make myself and my program stronger.
You stayed pretty quiet after July on social media. Finally, last month we got a video of you riding for the first time since surgery. It’s no secret you’ve been training, but like everyone says, that seat time is important. How do you feel heading into 2022?
I got back on the bike in the beginning of December and it went way better than I expected. I was expecting to be like a fish out of water and far off the mark from where I was. I was actually so edgy heading over in the truck to go ride for the first time in 6 months. Because I had so much worry and build up to this moment that what if my knee holds me back, what if this and what if that after all that time recovering and getting ready for this moment. But then once I got on the bike and I was idling to the woods, it just felt right, and I pulled up a wheelie 3rd gear and started riding it and clicked 4th all the way across the field and I went on to have a good first ride back. It didn’t even feel like I had knee surgery went I got back on it which is everything I worked for and wished for. So since then, I’ve been riding every week and training full force and it feels so great to be back in the groove and be riding and training everyday like I want!
New year, new team. Magna1 Motorsports seems like a solid fit. How did this matchup come about?
It was an easy decision to join forces with Chris Landers at Magna1 Motorsports. Chris has been working his tail off and has a great thing going with the Magna1 Lubricants oil company. He’s put together a strong team of Bike riders and now ATV with Drew Landers competing in 4x4 Pro and myself. On paper the team has a chance for wins or podiums and titles from every rider on the team! Plus Chris, Drew, Chase & I have been great friends and worked together before in 2019 so when we first started throwing the ideas around it just felt right and wasn’t a hard decision. We’ve known since October that this was what we were going to do this and we’re super excited to get the year started in a few weeks!
You and your dad are as tight as they come. Will dad still be helping out in the pits with the new team?
Oh yeah! My dad is my right hand man and my best friend, he’s been off work the past few weeks with the weather and we’ve been in the shop getting things ready to go! I don’t think I’ll ever be able to repay him for all the hours and time we’ve spent all these years burning up the roads, networking, and working in the shop. He loves this sport, and he gives it his all on top of his business, he always has put me in the right direction and taught me so much about life!
I gotta think the goal hasn’t changed, XC1 Championship. What are your expectations moving into 2022?
Goal hasn’t changed. We’ve put in so much time and work on our program, Toby Reed and Pat Kidwell got this bike starting great. We’re ready for round 1!
Last season Hunter Hart stood out with some convincing rides. Devon Feehan as well, with three podiums in the last four rounds. The better question is, did you even watch? I’m sure there was some major frustration knowing you couldn’t be out there. What are your thoughts on the up and coming competition?
To be honest I never sat down and watched an entire race the last half of the year because it peed me off not being there! But from the race I came and watched at Burr Oak, a lot of boys are on the move and wanting more! I remember what it was like for me when I was in their shoes. Keep working!
Let’s talk personal life. Things seems to be going well with your girlfriend, Brooke. We gonna see a ring anytime soon? Gonna break a lot of race mom’s hearts out there!
You’d be surprised how often I get that nowadays! Brooke and I got us a place this past summer, and we’ve absolutely loved it and had a blast being a doggy mom & dad to Ryder! She graduated college and got her job as RN nurse and she’s been loving it. But I may have to do that sooner than later from all the peer pressure I’ve been getting lately…
Who would you like to thank? (Sponsors and people)
I’d like to thank my mom and dad, Brooke, and my sister Jaden for taking care of me through the first couple weeks after surgery! I’d like to thank Uncle Mike Gheen and Pat Kidwell for all the phone calls and coming and hanging out with me and keeping my spirits up! Ben Greenwood and Miles Brazil for taking me in as one of their own and guiding me and bullet proofing my legs and knees, and Justin Fallon, Luke Volborn and Troy Eddleblute for all the help at the races. For sponsors I’d like to thank magna1motorsports, magna1lubricants, CST Tires, Houser Racing, DWT Racing, Elka Suspension, Moose Elite, Parts Unlimited, Waynesburg Yamaha, Wiseco, Webcam Shafts, Impact Solutions, MotoXperts, Custom Fence Supply, Barkers Performance, Hinson Racing, Sunstar, Anti-Gravity Batteries, Tireballs, Mika Metals, Twin Air, Fourwerx, Vision Air intakes, Evans Powersport, DP Brakes, Precision Racing, IMS, Factory43 ATV, Acerbis USA, Cometic, X Brand Goggles, Dirt Works Motorsports, BCCS Kids, Upp Racing, TLO Racing Parts, Tireball Seats, JSR Moto Designs, Lonestar Racing, Works Connection, Jim Hardy