Words by: Dan Lamb – Photo by: Chase Yocom
These “Privateer Showcase” interviews presented by Race Tech Suspension at MotoXAddicts tell the stories of the guys in the trenches week in and week out trying to chase their dream of racing professional motocross and Supercross. While the riders at the front of the pack get the money, the T.V. time and the glory that goes with it, there’s a huge pack of guys just hoping to get a spot inside a factory semi. We tell their stories.
This week’s “Privateer Showcase” interview is with Traders Racing / Yamaha’s Nick Gaines. While Nick is not the type of privateer driving a pickup truck to the races, Traders Racing is still very much a privateer effort looking to take it to the factory boys on a weekly basis. And with riders like Luke Renzland and Nick on their bikes, that’s exactly what they are starting to do during the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
If Nick can keep the rubber side down and just stay healthy a couple years in a row, there may be no ceiling for the kid. Once a young amateur Team Green prodigy, Nick turned pro in 2014, and crashes and injuries have left him swimming against the current ever since. Hopefully he can put that behind him soon and write it off as an early career learning curve, because the Ringgold, GA boy has as much natural ability as anyone on the gate at a national.
Nick once again came into the 2017 outdoor season recovering from an injury. For the first eight rounds, he has been building his confidence and getting acclimated to his new Yamaha, but he finally broke through with the first top ten moto finish of his career at Spring Creek. While some may have been surprised to see the #78 inside the top ten of such a talented field, anyone that has watched him coming up knew it was only a matter of time.
After his career-best moto at Spring Creek, Chase Yocom caught up with him to talk about his day at Millville, his last injury, his transition to the Yamaha after a decade on Kawasakis and more.
Nick, good showing for you at Millville; 17-10 for 12th overall. I believe that was a career-best or at least a career-best moto finish with the tenth in moto two.
Yeah, the tenth is my best moto finish. My second best was in Indiana at my first professional race back in 2014 and I got 11th. Tenth is the best one so far. That was a good second moto, and I’m stoked.
Obviously, you probably had some goals coming into the season, and I’m sure that getting into the top ten was one of them. How excited were you on that second moto?
It’s a big relief. In the off season, we were feeling really good going into Supercross, but unfortunately in the first race I broke my collar bone. I wasn’t able to get it plated because I broke it so close to the sternum, so I had to miss a lot of Supercross and ended up doing the last two. Coming in, I really wanted to keep building and progressing every weekend, and I think we’ve done that. We’ve been very consistent this year, and we’re slowly getting better. I’m really excited about the next four or five rounds; I can’t wait. I just want to get good starts, do what I did that second moto and duke it out with these guys, ’cause that was a lot of fun.
I don’t think some people understand how much all that time off the bike really hurt you. How long did it take for you to get back in the groove from that injury?
I actually went and saw a very good doctor in Tallahassee. I was supposed to be back on the bike in ten days, but I woke up from surgery and he wasn’t able to plate it. It was really hard. I had to take 6-8 weeks off I believe. I took four weeks off just to let the body heal and not doing much and then slowly got back into it. It was a bummer for sure, but it’s going good now, and I’m stoked on motocross. I’m excited, very.
How hard is it when you have something like that on the testing side? Coming into the outdoors had to be a little tougher when your body isn’t at full strength yet.
It definitely is. It obviously messes with your fitness, and I was weak on my shoulder. We’ve really been working hard in the weight room. Luckily, for testing, me and Luke [Renzland] are pretty the same on the setup. Everything they discovered with Bundy [John “Bundy” Mitchel, motor builder] and Öhlins, they just transferred over to my bike. We kept our heads down, kept plugging away, and I’d say at Hangtown, I felt pretty good. I got 13th. It’s been a pretty good year.
How did you like the track at Spring Creek? I saw you out in practice and it looked like you got stuck and they had to dig you out pretty good.
Oh, man, I forgot about that. (laughs) The first practice out there was the worst. I didn’t even finish a lap in the first practice. I went to do a fast lap, crashed, went to do another one and I messed my goggles up somehow. Actually, I over-jumped the big triple, landed in the mud and it just stuck and threw me over the bars. So I was really stressed out going into the second practice just because I thought the times were going to be a lot slower. Luckily they were faster and I ended up with 19th gate pick, so it was pretty good. Unfortunately I got a bad start and wasn’t riding my best the first moto, but it was a good second moto.
You’ve been a long time Kawasaki rider and had to make the transition to Yamahas this year. How’s the transition over been with the change in bike brand and the change in suspension? You have probably been on Pro Circuit suspension for a while before this year.
I believe it was 11 or 12 years on a Kawi, so it was a really long time. When the team told me they were switching to Yamaha, it was different for sure, but this team is so great. I got really comfortable real quick and I was excited for the change. It almost felt like it was a different sport. Just because it was a different machine and I had to learn it. It was a really fun process and we’re still building. The Bundy built motor and the Öhlins suspension is feeling good. We’re still growing and we want to get better.
Obviously you guys aren’t a factory team by any means, but you guys have a great setup and I know that the guys here work super hard. There are not a whole lot of guys out there on Öhlins, so having them give you a lot of attention has to help out.
Those guys have helped out a lot. We actually had the whole crew come out from Sweden for Supercross, so we had six to eight guys out there getting me and Luke comfortable. Now, actually, we have Stacy that is the suspension guy for the team, and he comes to most of the rounds. It’s definitely really good because we have all those guys wanting the bike perform at its best. I think that’s what is really good: we want to grow and they want to grow. Everybody is putting in their best effort, and yeah, it’s been great. I’m really stoked on the Öhlins stuff.
For one of the smaller teams, you’re kind of the “little team that could.” Luke’s had some great results this year, and obviously you’ve been good in the outdoors putting the bike into the top ten. As a team, they have to be pretty stoked on your and Luke’s results, right?
Yeah, Luke has been doing really good. He had some good Supercross finishes, and a couple weekends ago at RedBud, he actually ran third in a moto for twenty-five minutes. Luke’s been killing it, and I feel like I’ve been super consistent. We’re slowly getting better. It’s great having such good guys around me. I just can’t thank these guys enough.
As we get later into the motocross season, do you know anything about next year yet? Will you and Luke both be back with the team or do you know anything yet?
No, I don’t know anything now, but we should know soon.
Obviously you guys would like to stay while you’re in the process of building.
Oh yeah, for sure!
Nick, I appreciate the time today, and congratulations on the career-best moto at Spring Creek. Was the 12th a career-best overall too?
I don’t know. I think I got a 12th last year too.
Well, good luck the rest of the season, and hopefully you can beat that score as well.
Yes sir, thank you very much.