- The Washington Times - Friday, August 21, 2009

Football always ran in the blood of the Gibbs men. So did the need for speed. They all liked to go fast.

Joe, the dad, knew early on he had coaching in his future (the cars would come later). For big brother J.D., it was racing. Coy Gibbs, though, kept wavering.

Football. Racing. Back to football. And back again to racing.

As head of Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross, which is the two-wheeled branch of the family NASCAR business and in its second year of operation, Coy finally is in a comfortable spot. “I love it,” he said.

“I love football, the fact that there’s training and the athletes work out,” said Gibbs, 36, a former Stanford linebacker. “I was always in the weight room. I also love working on race cars. But I was frustrated that, on the training side, some guys would do it, some guys wouldn’t. But here, you’ve got a bike you can work on and you’ve got an athlete that needs to train. It’s the best of both worlds.”

Gibbs’ world Saturday will include Budds Creek, Md., a tiny crossroads town in St. Mary’s County and the latest stop on the pro motocross tour. Among those riding for the team might be rookie phenom Josh Grant, who suffered a broken right foot in the X Games less than three weeks ago. “He’s a tough kid,” Gibbs said.

It’s a tough sport. A typical competition entails two practice runs that set the field at its 40-rider limit, followed by two races, or motos. Each lasts about 35 minutes, often in extreme summertime heat, as the riders - relatively unprotected compared with their steel-encased NASCAR brethren - navigate twisting, unpredictable courses over rough terrain. Jumps and bumps - or “whoops” - on the course make life even more interesting.

“There’s a tremendous strain on the rider,” Gibbs said. “You can’t sit around all week and expect to do well. You have to train your guts out. Guys have to dig down deep and suck it up. It could be over 100 degrees. That’s probably back to my football roots.”

Gibbs, a lightly recruited linebacker at DeMatha Catholic High School who was not very big and not very fast, ended up starting four years at Stanford. He led the team in tackles as a senior. He played for Dennis Green and Bill Walsh.

“I got a couple of earfuls from [Walsh],” Gibbs recalled.

Ignored by the NFL, Gibbs left Stanford after his senior season in 1994, before graduation, to join Joe and J.D., who had just started a drag racing team. As a “diver,” he said he spent the entire time on his back working under cars.

“The worst job in the world,” he said. “My dad said I was the only kid in the world who went to Stanford and became a mechanic.”

Gibbs went from diver to driver. He drove cars and trucks for eight years and had moderate success. But he felt it “wasn’t happening” and told his dad he was thinking about coaching. “I am, too,” Joe replied.

“He was kind of bored,” Coy said.

Joe tried to talk Coy out of it.

“I told him it was an extremely tough deal,” Joe Gibbs said, “the long hours and the grind that goes along with it.”

Yet when Joe Gibbs returned to coach the Washington Redskins for the second time in 2004, Coy came along. He was given the title of quality control assistant, a fancy name for an entry-level job. “I coached the copier,” he said.

He assembled playbooks, caught passes from quarterbacks and played racquetball with owner Dan Snyder. He also acquired his dad’s legendary work habits, often working 20-hour days. Eventually, he got to break down game films.

“A great experience,” he said. “But I didn’t think it would be the right choice for me in the long haul.”

He also realized how much he missed racing. When Joe Gibbs retired after the 2007 season to get back into racing full time, Coy returned to the team’s base in Charlotte, N.C., where plans were in the works to expand the operation to motocross. All the Gibbs were bikers - even Joe, who rode motocross bikes as an assistant coach at Arkansas in the early 1970s.

“Both boys had a huge interest in it,” Joe Gibbs said. “That’s how we got into NASCAR. It fit in perfectly with us because it’s a younger demographic, and a lot of sponsors are looking to penetrate that.”

The main sponsor of Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, embraced the move. Yamaha is another chief sponsor. No Fear, a company well-known in motocross circles that makes clothing and sports drinks, has a “strategic partnership” with Gibbs. Coy was the point man with considerable help from more-experienced hands.

“Coy was working on it for a good year,” Joe Gibbs said. “He started from scratch.”

Coy said motocross is booming in the 18 to 34 male demographic.

“In this economy, where sports are dropping off, we’re growing,” he said. “In the past 10 years, the amateur ranks has doubled. We can track these kids.”

The Gibbs motocross team is the only one also involved in NASCAR.

“We’ve got a unique situation,” Coy said. “We’re running a small little motocross team, but we’ve got the leverage on the NASCAR side. We work with the same sponsors. Motocross is important to Toyota. We also get the engineering expertise. … Typically, a team might be based in California and a rider might live in Florida. We all live here in Charlotte.”

The setup has worked out well for top Gibbs rider Grant, who joined the team this year and stood second in the standings before the X Games (now he’s sixth).

Besides the name, Grant said he was attracted by “how professional everybody was and how they have all the tools you would need to be on top of your game,” he said. “With us, everything’s in one spot. It’s definitely made things a lot easier, riding and having time to do your work and practice.”

• Bob Cohn can be reached at bcohn@washingtontimes.com.

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