Interview: 2009 Arenacross Champion Jeff Gibson

Shan Moore | April 10, 2009

Recently crowned AMA Arenacross Champion Jeff Gibson is the perfect example of a journeyman racer. Over the course of his 10-year professional career, the Ohio native has had the opportunity to race in a vast number of exotic places and venues, all in pursuit of fame and glory – and enough cash to make it to the next race. The 26-year-old from Blacklick has raced everything from World Supercross, to Bercy to Geneva. This year he did the German Supercross Series and several races in Puerto Rico. Gibson even spent two years racing the Canadian Motocross series, while in the same years he was a consistent top-15 finisher in the AMA Supercross series.

But this year, Gibson seems to have found his niche with the Arenacross Series. In the 2009 season, Gibson rode to six wins in the 17-rounds series to claim the title after kicking off the schedule with seven-straight podium finishes.

Gibson arrived in the Arenacross series quite by accident, however. Heading into the 2009 season, Gibson’s options for a ride in the Supercross series had pretty much dried up, so he decided to check out his chances with the Arenacross series, a place he had earlier found success as a rookie pro. After making a quick phone call to former sponsor, Dave Antolak, with Tuff Racing, Gibson got the support he was looking for had the rest, as they say, is history.

You have been lucky enough to get to compete in a wide variety of races. How has that come about?

When you’re a factory guy you get stuck with motocross and Supercross. I’ve never been a factory rider, so I’ve had a lot of opportunities to ride events those guys normally don’t get to, and I’ve really enjoyed doing that.”

You were coming from a much bigger series, the Supercross series, what are your thoughts on moving to Arenacross?

I really enjoy Supercross, but this year, the Arenacross series has been a great experience. It just seems like a good fit for me – a place where I can be who I want to be. It helps that I am doing well, too.

Are you able to make a decent living at Arenacross?

I’ve been doing really well and still making my house payment, so we’ll see how everything goes this summer.

Even though you had some support from some satellite teams, you were still basically a privateer in Supercross. How tough is it competing with the factory guys?

The 450 class isn’t that bad, but a privateer is at a big disadvantage racing against the factory guys in the Supercross series. Our bikes on the Cernics team were really good, but it’s the little details that make a difference. The weight of the bike and the suspension, all that adds up to a big difference.

Is there a smaller discrepancy in Arenacross between the privateers and the factory-backed guys?

In Arenacross, there doesn’t seem to be that much difference between the top guy’s bikes and the rest of the field. Our Mahindra Tractors/Tuff Racing Hondas are really good, and we have Factory Connection suspension, but a privateer can make their bike good, too, and be super-competitive in Arenacross. Also, in Arenacross, the top guys don’t do all of the endless testing that the guys do in Supercross. They put hours and hours of testing in, so in Arenacross, it’s a much more level playing field for the average guy. For instance, my race bike had maybe 30 minutes riding time on it before the first round. That was just to make sure everything worked right. We didn’t really do any testing, we just put it together and ran it and it was really good.

Tell us about how your ride with Tuff Racing came about.

It was a tough year because of the economy. And I didn’t have a good year last year. Everyone was cutting back on their budgets and I was having trouble finding a ride. In 2000, I rode two races for Dave Antolak at Tuf Honda and every year since, he had called me wanting me to race AX. I knew that my results weren’t that good last year and the way the economy is, I called him and he said he wanted to make it happen.

“I think this year was a year that I had to look at how much money I was going to make and what kind of bills needed to be paid at home – I have a wife and a mortgage – and I think Arenacross was just the place I needed to be right now.”

Part of the reason you had a bad year last year was because you were sick for most of the season. Isn’t that correct?

Yeah. It was when I was racing the Canadian Nationals in 2008; I came down with the Epstein-Barr Virus. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I would pull the holeshot and end up getting lapped. My arms were pumping up every time I rode and I just couldn’t move forward. I was going home and running myself into the ground trying to get batter, but nothing seemed to help. It really set me back. Finally, my doctor in Ohio put me on a good detox program and I got over it.

What did you expect to do coming into this year’s Arenacross series?

I had no idea what to expect out of myself this year. I didn’t know even know if I could win a race. I didn’t know if I could make a main. I just tried to keep an open mind and go into it with no expectations.”

Arenacross is known for its tight action and close-quarters racing.

Yeah, banging bars is part of Arenacross, I knew that coming in. With the tighter tracks, you definitely see more of that in Arenacross than you do in Supercross. You have to be really on your toes in AX and you have to expect that stuff is going to happen.

What are some of the other things you like about Arenacross?

We’re traveling so much we don’t really have a chance to get to a steady church. So Team Faith has this chapel service for the riders and a devotional and dinner, which is really cool for the riders – it just makes it feel like a home and I feel really comfortable with those guys.

The atmosphere is definitely more relaxed. In Supercross, you feel the pressure to do well, but it is really comfortable for me in Arenacross, it’s so much more relaxed.

I will be back next year in a heart beat. God’s put me here for a reason and I love being here. 

Shan Moore | Contributing Editor

Moore covers all facets of off-road racing for Cycle News – from AMA Supercross and Motocross to GNCC and National Hare Scrambles events.