Checking in with Gary Sutherlin

Former WORCS and West Hare Scrambles champion Gary Sutherlin decided to make some changes to his program during this year’s short offroad offseason. He was set to take on the 2016 Hare and Hound, WORCS, Big 6, and WCHS series when an injury forced him to miss the opening rounds of each series. We recently had a chance to catch up with Gary to find out when we can expect to see him back at the races.

Gary, you had a great offseason with some changes to your program. Tell us about the changes you made to your program, such as moving to Arizona.

As a racer we are always trying to find an edge and a way to better ourselves and our programs and with the closing rounds of the 2015 season I made the choice to move back to Arizona and start working with Destry Abbott and his DA8 training facility. I had found myself in a rut in California and was ready for a change and a fresh breath away from So Cal and put myself with a program I knew could elevate me to the next level. The DA8 elite program isn't just focused on physical success, Destry really focuses on the mental aspect along with form on the bike which for me it was a no brainer to make the move from doing his online program to actually living in Arizona and working closely with everything he has to offer. Having such a fun group of guys at the gym to workout with every day and ride with really has made my program much more enjoyable and makes those rough days a lot easier. 

So things were really going well and then came the accident. What exactly happened that day? 

Everything was going amazing on and off the bike and I felt better than I have in a long time. It honestly was a fluke thing. I was out with Destry, Coop, and four other guys after a rain riding corner tracks and doing a fun little loop. We were almost done with the ride when we saw a group of guys we knew and after chatting with them for a few minutes I started up a wash headed home for the day. About five minutes later I realized no one was behind me and decided to wait. Meanwhile Destry had looked back before I stopped and noticed no one was there and turned around and got the group. After waiting for a couple minutes I decided to turn around and head back.

That was the last thing I remember until I was waking up with my head in the sand hearing the kid that collided with me head on screaming. I looked at Destry and asked what was going on and he said “you were in a head on, are you okay?” I was shocked looking around thinking ya, I'm okay. Well in a foggy blur I somehow rode my bike back to my house where I finally convinced myself to go to the Hospital to see why my left side was hurting. After getting to the hospital I was told I had lacerated my spleen at a level 3 and they transported me to a trauma hospital to further evaluate. After spending three days and Christmas in the hospital I was released to go home.

But then 12 hours later I woke up to crazy stomach pains and tried to take some meds thinking it was just the healing process. Until about three hours later my stomach was growing and I starting getting dizzy and seeing what looked like shooting stars. So I made the call to go back to the hospital and I’m lucky I did, because when I got there my blood pressure was 100 over 40 and after a Cat Scan the doctor came in and said it had opened up and I was bleeding out. At that point they rushed me to ICU and were able to put three coils and a plug in my spleen to stop the bleeding without having to remove it. After another three days in the hospital I was finally released to go home.

And how have things been coming along since with your recovery? We understand you should be cleared to begin riding again soon?

Honestly this has been the toughest recovery I have ever had to deal with. The first thing was getting my blood count (hemoglobin levels) back up. An adult is supposed to be around 14 and after my accident and bleeding out I was all the way down to 8.4 at one point. With a broken bone it’s so easy to say yes it feels good or no it’s not ready, but when it’s internal I get stomach pains, sharp pains and you start wondering did it open up or am I okay. The always wondering question, “is my spleen alright” sucks but the last couple weeks has been a huge improvement, so I’m excited to get back going. If all is good my release date is around February 9th.

Once you feel you’re ready to return to racing what will your focus be? Will you still race both WORCS and Hare & Hound events?

My focus is to come back 100 percent and winning, not 80 percent and third. I really never had a shot at the WORCS title all year because two rounds at the end of the season conflict with Hare and Hound. But I do plan to race Hare and Hound, WORCS, Big 6, and WCHS when I'm back racing. Last season I had 15 races and 15 podiums with two thirds being my worst, so I really want to come back swinging and try and better that for the 2016 season.

In both the 2012 and 2013 Hare and Hound series Kurt Caselli missed two rounds and still won the title both years. And last year Ricky Brabec missed two of the eight rounds and was only 13 points back from winning the title. Even though you missed the first round, you could still come back to Hare & Hound and win the title. Will that series become your main focus?

Actually both Ricky and I came into the last round last year having a chance at the title after missing two rounds each and unfortunately he got the better of me that day and got second in the series, which was about a two-month joke of texting back and forth about who was getting second. Cycling together screaming RB2 and GS3 and vice versa. At this point the Hare and Hound is my only chance at a title this year, so yes it is my (and KTM’s) main focus. What Kurt did those years was amazing and anything he did is hard to come close to matching; but I know it’s possible and that I'm on the right team to help make it happen!

So really you are just going to take things one race at a time, with a goal to win regardless of what series or race it is, and whatever happens beyond that happens.

Yes, winning is the main goal in whichever series I'm coming back to and also just getting my name back out there and being at the races. It’s funny, I heard a rumor the other day, where people were saying I quit racing. Hahahaha! It just goes to show how cutthroat the industry can be sometimes and why you need to have fun racing and achieve the goals you set out for yourself.

Changing gears, you grew up in Montana. Tell us about growing up there, how you got into racing, and how you eventually ended up as a top desert and WORCS racer.

Good old Montana! I grew up in a small town and really didn't get into riding until I was 11 years old. I got my first dirt bike (a KDX80) on Christmas when it had snowed four feet that night. I’ll never forget revving that bike up in town not realizing it had a clutch, jamming it in gear and recklessly riding it down the alley jumping off and letting it crash into a snow bank over and over until my mom heard me and was super mad that I was riding it in town in the snow. After that nothing else was on my mind but that dirt bike and finally getting it on dirt at my uncle’s farm, where I thought I could pop a wheelie (no chicks present or cellphones) when all of a sudden the grip came off and I crashed into his manure spreader. After that crappy experience I moved on to racing flat track and then eventually motocross. All through high school I worked at a bike shop and raced myself into the pro class with ambitions of making a career out of it.

But with injury and money I decided to go to MMI in Phoenix, Arizona where I met Destry and his long time mechanic Jonny where I started working for Jonny at his personal shop. After a year or so Destry and Jonny convinced me to try an offroad race and I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere, the people, and the more offroad style tracks. It was awesome. 

At that time halfway through the season Ricky Dietrich was climbing his way up the points standings in the pro class and with a Kawasaki contract coming he was searching for a mechanic, and after Jonny heard, I was able to meet Ricky and finish off the 2006 season with him where he won the WORCS championship. Halfway through the 2007 season Ricky made the move to California and I decided to stay and pursue my own dreams and career racing. I went to work doing glass for Coyote Glass for the next four and a half years working 40 plus hours a week and nipping on the tails of the factory guys. Along the way PJ from Valcom Motorsports, and longtime friend Andrew Campo, gave me as much support possible introducing me to sponsors and helping me get to good money races and really sticking behind me through thick and thin.

With the Industry crashing and rides becoming non-existent I had a sponsor who finally gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. Wes at NTS, Inc. did the one thing I had dreamed of since that one Christmas morning: he gave me a chance to put up my work boots and strap on my riding boots and fully focus on what it takes to win at a professional level. I’ve never been shy of hard work or getting the job done so with this chance I realized this was it, it was make or break and within two years I won an AMA West Coast Hare Scramble Championship and the WORCS championship.

In addition to be being a top offroad racer, you are also a dad. What’s a typical day in the life of Gary Sutherlin like as both a professional racer and a dad?

I get up at 5:45 to 6:00am, get myself some coffee and breakfast while I watch a little Sports Center to get my day going in peace and quiet. Then it’s wide open time getting Emerie up, dressed, fed, lunch made and whatever negotiations I have to make with her, haha. She has been going to a preschool since about two which has been the best thing for her to get interaction with kids her own age and also learn and prep for kindergarten. With her in school that gives me roughly eight hours to ride, go to the gym, work on bikes, and also do whatever other riding things like emails, etc. The moment I pick her up it's her time riding her strider, doing puzzles, building forts as I chase her around playing mister mom, cleaning the house, doing laundry, bath time, dinners, etc. She's at every single race and is on every single podium with me, being the first one to tell me “that’s not a first place medal.” The memories we are making are amazing and I couldn't be more thankful to be able to spend so much time with her and enjoy this part of our lives around the offroad industry.

Thanks Gary for taking the time to answer our questions. We look forward to seeing you back out there. Any last words you’d like to share or people you’d like to thank?

I have to thank all the sponsors and people that have helped me over the years. The little companies from my hometown as a kid that would give me a 100 dollars to pay for entry fees that season. It’s a long hard road to achieve the things you want and you can't do it alone and I appreciate everyone’s awesome support over the years and through this little setback this season. Can’t wait to see you all at the races.

2016 sponsors:
KTM, Bonanza Plumbing, DA8 training, Seat Concepts, Bell Helmets, Troy Lee Designs, Eks Brand, Renthal, FMF, Dunlop, Acerbis, B.J. Cecil Trucking, Motorex, Motion Pro, GPR Stabilizers, Rekluse, VP, WP suspension, Cyclery USA, Medzone, Twin Air, Alpinestars, and IMS.

All photos courtesy of: KTM USA/Simon Cudby.