Interview and photos by Jamey Blunt March 10, 2011
Just days prior to his departure for another season of racing in Europe the opportunity presented itself for an interview with Speedway champion Greg Hancock. Greg was going to be testing at Perris Raceway in Perris California on their beautiful new ¼ mile oval and graciously agreed to sacrifice some of his valuable time.
Q. Greg when did you start riding motorcycles?
A. 1977 would have been my first official year on motorcycles. Riding Speedway, I did ride a little bit prior to that on little motocross bikes and stuff, a little YZ-60 a hand me down from my brother but other than that 1977 was my first real year.
Q. How old were you when you started speedway?
A. Seven years old, I was seven years old.
Q. Why Speedway?
A. You know it was pretty easy for me really and I'm grateful for it even today that my dad took me to watch speedway. He was going since we were kids to Friday nights at Costa Mesa. It became a routine thing that we did on Friday nights and the first night I saw the junior kids pull out on the track, guys like Kelly Moran, Shaun Moran, and Lance King coming up and that was it for me. From that day I never stopped tugging on my dad's back pocket. It stuck with me, that's what probably kept my away from getting too crazy and staying away from drugs and alcohol.
Q. Where and when was you first division one pro victory?
A. The first division one pro win, I believe was at I.M.S. If not it could have been Ascot Park. I can't remember the exact date because everything changed quickly, I was able to skip third division and went straight into second division then to first division, but I believe it was either I.M.S. in San Bernardino or Ascot Park.
Q. How many time United States Champion?
A. Eight times U.S. National Champion.
Q. Are you going for nine?
A. You never know. (Laughs) If it's in the cards, the trouble is my European schedule gets in the way of the U.S. Championship. I have contracts I have to adhere to in Europe that make it really difficult, I mean that's where I get paid and the World Championship is there and that's why I'm there.
Q. Out of the eight U.S. Titles which means the most?
A. Ya know, still winning the first title was probably the greatest feeling to do it because that's something I watched Mike Bast so many times do and of course Kelly Moran and Bruce Penhal and Bobby Schwartz all those guys who were my heroes. It was like I joined that group of legends. Right not far behind it was winning number seven where I equaled Mike Bast record of seven. Mike was a huge inspiration from day one, I attended a lot of his junior speedway schools and of course I watched him win a number of if not all his national speedway titles too.
Q. On the periodic table of elements what is the symbol for lead?
A. Good question. I'm a speedway rider; I just get the lead out.
Q. What was the first year you went to Europe?
A. 1989 was my first season I signed a contract with a team in England.
Q. Where was your first win and when in Europe?
A. You know the first win is hard to say because it's a league race, but more than that I remember winning my first five one they called it because you have four riders in a race where two riders from each team ride in a heat. So I remember the first time we got a heat advantage together with one of my biggest heroes ever which is Erick Gunderson. I was paired with him at that time and we made the start against Calvin Tatem and I don't remember who the other rider was but Erick won the heat and I was second right behind him and I'll never forget he was miles in front of me waving his hand in the air like yea we're doing it but he never helped me he was gone! But I really remember that one.
Q. What's your favorite track in Europe?
A. That's easy for me; it's a track in Poland called Legneau. That's one where we have a grand prix every year now and by far it's probably the best speedway track ever that I've found besides Long Beach California. It's still here but it's no longer with us.
Q. How many time world champion?
A. Only one time individual and I have four team titles, so five world championships all together.
Q. Out of all the championships, which means the most?
A. The individual world championship by far that was the biggest goal. Winning the National title is always is one thing to do but as soon as I made the step to go to Europe there was only one reason I went there and that was to be the best and emulate the guys who made America proud and that I looked up to so standing on top of the podium with the world championship trophy was I can't explain it, it's not like having kids but it's working hard to achieve something you've always wanted and then you get it.
Q. Your most memorable race ever was?
A. Well between the individual and my first world pairs title where I went in as a reserve for the American team and after two heats I was put into the meeting and ended top scoring for the meeting and in a run off with an English rider Gary Havloc for the title for the world championship pairs event. It was me and Sam Ermalinko and Sam asked if I wanted to do the run off and I was this young kid that came in as a reserve rider and I'm like yea sure. I won the run off and that was my first world title together with the guys, I remember that like it was yesterday. Because you don't think about it you just do it. Of course winning the world championship there's nothing that really beats it.
Q. What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?
A. Good question, it must be around about I'm guessing 42 miles per hour.
Q. How do you still stay motivated having nothing left to prove?
A. Ya know for me it's the desire to win and riding the bike, it's not just for fun for me I do get a ton of fun out of it and that's why I keep doing it too but I just want to win ya know and when I get on the track it's kinda like a drug I get out there and I know I can beat everybody on the track so that's not the issue, the issue is doing it and every time I ride a speedway bike I learn something new and when I go away I think about what I did today and I could do a hundred laps but I still learn something.
Q. Who's the best Speedway racer ever and why?
A. For me it's an easy one, on talent, on pure raw talent without a doubt it's Thomas Golaub your current world champion. I don't know anybody that can do what that guy can do on a speedway bike and make it look like it's nothing. But at the same time he can look like a pile of bird bleep ya know but that's when he's off his game. To ride a bike there's no doubt about it that guy's the most talented he hasn't had the head for it in the past like some of the other riders but I would say him.
Q. Who was your hero when you started out and why?
A. Bruce Penhal without a doubt was my biggest hero I mean he was American Speedway. It's the way he did it, his flair; he's your typical Southern California surfer guy. He did it against all odds, he just went out there and made it happen, he had a good attitude, he knew how to talk to the people and it was so easy for him. I looked up to him he always had the time for me I attended his schools and he sponsored me a little bit so without a doubt he was the guy I looked up to most for the motivation. For learning how to do everything I do on the bike I have a long list of guys from Bobby Schwartz to John Cook that were there during my early years and then I had a lot of heroes once I got over to Europe too.
Q. How many more years do you see yourself doing this?
A. That's hard to say I never put a number on it. I go until the day I wake up and think I can't do it anymore. That's pretty much how it sits.
Q. Do you think President Obama should be given the individual world championship having never ridden a speedway bike, much like he was given the Nobel Peace Prize for doing nothing?
A. Anything to get some publicity into our sport might be a good thing.
Q. After you do retire what do you see Greg Hancock doing?
A. Well that's after I retire, I can't say, I've gotten involved in quite a few things over the years and I've learned a lot from good and bad businesses so I have ideas but right now it's still speedway. So I prefer to stick with that and not get distracted.
Greg's final comment:
"I love to get sideways!"
Exhaust - Prodrive
Carburetor - Blixt
Cams - Tornado
Valves - GM
Valve Springs - Kaufmann
Piston - GM
Crankshaft - GM
Clutch - Neb
Engine Oil - Redline Oil
Fule - Methanol
Air Filter - K&N
Chain - Regina
Sprockets - Talon
Gaskets - GM
Spark Plug - NGK
Ignition - Selectra
Handlebars - Domino
Levers - Magura
Grips - Domino
Triple Clamps - Joker Machine
Fork - Stuha
Shock - Bitubo
Wheel Hubs - Talon
Wheel Rims - Excel
Tires - Mitas
Graphic - Troy Lee Desings
Seat - Selle Dalle Valle
Cables - Motion Pro
*Thanks to other Sponsors*
System Edstrom (Sweden)