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Trainer Talk with Gary Bailey

by Racer X Virtual Trainer


Simply put, Gary Bailey is a legend in the sport of motocross. Gary is known as the Professor and for good reason. His pursuit of knowledge of how to make a motorcycle go fast in the dirt is second to none. The Professor is the original American motocross coach having taught motocross for over forty years all over the world since 1969. Gary not only does group schools but also has been the personal coach and mentor to some of the top riders in the world including Travis Pastrana, David Bailey, Jeff Stanton, Justin Barcia, and his most recent student rookie standout Cooper Webb.

Gary is also a regular contributor to this website with a feature called Trackside. In Trackside, Gary tries to not only tell you how to go fast on a motorcycle but also the why-to of the how to go fast. I recently called Gary to get his feedback on how his star student, Cooper Webb did in his pro debut.

The teacher and the student hard at work long after the checkers have dropped.

Virtual Trainer: Gary, thanks for taking the time to sit with us and share some of your knowledge on motocross. Let's start by giving us the 411 on what you are up to these days with your schools and privates.

Gary Bailey: No problem, Tim thanks for having me on. Let's see, where do I start. What am I up to now that I am retired. Or semi-retired as I should say. I'm busier than ever that is for sure. I basically work with a few individuals now that call me from time to time to work with them when I have the time. I get really busy before the nationals and the area and regional qualifiers for Lorettas. I'm actually doing much less than I was before I announced my semi-retirement but then it seemed like my phone started ringing off the wall. It seems like I am busier than ever so I guess that is good news bad news. But actually my main focus of about 5 or 6 months ago is Cooper [Webb]. I still help a few guys here and there but most of my time is spent with Cooper. This summer I will be traveling with Cooper to all of the nationals.

How much time do you actually spend with Cooper. Do you all work together every day?

Well to start from the beginning, I started working with Cooper about 9 years ago. We started together all the way back in his 60s days. In the beginning we would spend as much time as possible. He lives in North Carolina so it wasn't too far for his parents to bring him to Virginia for a coaching session. I'd say in the beginning we were working maybe once per month and sometimes once every two months for two or threes days at a time. Then as time went on we would work together when his parents thought he needed a little help. But the past year we have been working together as often as possible. Every time he is in California we spend as much time as possible. Sometimes its once or twice a week and sometimes its as much as three times in a week. Basically from the very beginning our goal has been to create as perfect a rider as we possibly can. And in order to do that you obviously have to know what is perfect. And what is perfect to me, is and always has been the guy that is winning. For a while it was Jeremy McGrath and in my opinion he was as perfect as it gets. Now perfect is Ryan Villopoto. What I try to do is look at the fastest guy on the track and figure out what makes him faster than every one else. Ever since way back in the 80's I have been studying video footage of what the fast riders are doing and compare them to the rider I was coaching. I'm a stickler for detail and the video footage allows me to slow each frame down and study exactly what a rider is doing in each section of the track. I'm a stickler for finding out what it is each year that makes one guy so much faster than the rest. I like to study that and figure that out. I think that is one of the things that separates me from the rest of the coaches in the business. Film study is critical in my opinion and I try to do as much as I possibly can. I have been filming for a long time and have a pretty substantial library. You can be sure that when I am at the track, I am filming and studying riders. To me it's the only way to study the details of what a rider is doing. And I am all about details.

Speaking of details, I know that you are big fan of NASCAR but not necessarily because of the racing but more because of the way the race teams are run. The attention to detail is second to none the way those teams test and set up a race car.

Yes, for sure. I love the NASCAR analogy. The amount of attention to detail they spend is incredible. And NASCAR racing in my opinion is a lot like racing a motorcycle. I know they are going around in circles vs. lots of ups and downs and turns and jumps in dirt but still there are certain things that translate no matter what you are racing. It's all about forward momentum. There are a lot of similarities actually like if a car is pushing in a turn it's loosing momentum. Same for a motorcycle. You are scrubbing speed. Wheel spin is also the same thing. Can't spin in NASCAR to go fast and you have to have enough throttle control on a motorcycle to not spin the rear tire. All of that is about forward momentum. In motocross we accept mistakes because it's on dirt and the track is changing and all that. But I don't necessarily agree with that. I feel like the guy who makes the fewest mistakes is the guy who is going to end up on top. Same deal in NASCAR. Look at Ryan Villopoto. How many times do you see that guy make a mistake? You don't and it's because he is way more perfect than the rest of the field. Everything he executes is much more perfect than everyone else right now. That is why he is dominating. Going fast on the motorcycle is all about control and not making mistakes.

You have coached a lot of riders over the years. Do you find there is one thing that most riders struggle with?

To me it's lack of attention to detail. Everything to me comes down to the details. Most guys today are trying so hard to go faster instead of first figuring out how to go faster. They just keep trying and trying and trying and most of the time they are doing the same thing over and over again. Instead of the rider trying to figure out how to be more efficient to go faster, and I see this day after day, week after week, and year after year at the tracks, is that riders keep trying the same thing over and over to go faster. To me this is the biggest downfall of both professional and amateur riders. And it's nothing new. I've seen this happen over and over through the years. The NASCAR analogy is again a great comparison. You cannot just try to drive the car harder. The cars are so equal you have to set it up better, you have to pick better lines, you have to have better throttle and brake control. You have to pay better attention to detail than everyone else. And the same is true in motocross. I've know Travis [Pastrana] for many years and coached him when he raced bikes so a know a little about him. His downfall so far in NASCAR, in my opinion, is that he had the attitude that he was going to drive the car harder than anyone else out there and that would work. That works for Rally and that is why he is so successful there but it doesn't work in NASCAR.

I've been pretty critical of the sport of motocross that each team does not employ coaches and trainers. Every other sport from football, baseball, and basketball to golf, tennis, and surfing have coaches. But for some reason motocross teams do not do it that way. What is your opinion on rider coaches. Should teams employ them?

Well, I think there are several reasons. Let me say this. I am the guy who shows up at every race whether its professional or amateur with my video camera. I film and take pictures every single time I am at the track. I cannot remember the last time I was at a racetrack without my camera. I never coach a session without filming my rider. And I think I am the only coach who does this every single time. I learned this a long time ago from watching football. Football teams film each other to study player moves, team plays, tendencies, and stuff like that. I learned a long time ago that this is the best way to study how to go faster on a motorcycle. The other thing is most of my students are amateurs. And it's normally not the rider who comes to me for advice it's the parent. There are a few amateur kids wo want help but most often it's the parent who wants help for their kid. What happens is once they become an A class rider living a little more on their own and a little more independent from mom and dad they now suddenly don't need it. I've had so many riders that I have worked with all the way through their amateur career and as soon as they turn pro they stop the coaching. And these are riders I was pretty tight with. So I've gone and asked these guys why they stopped with the coaching. And they say that since they turned pro they don't think they need it any more and their buddies are in their ear telling then they don't need coaching and that Gary Bailey dude is old and doesn't ride any more and what does he know any way. So a lot of it I think is good old peer pressure. The rider's who have stuck with it longer into their pro career are the riders who not only see the importance of it but who have seen the improvements and believe in the coaching.

I get all of that on the individual side of coaching. But what about on the professional team level?

Well, here is one outlook from a factory team that I know of. Not going to name any names and this was a few years back but their opinion was that they pay their rider enough money if they want to be the best then they need to take that upon themselves to hire the coach and trainer if that's what they feel they need. Here is another scenario that has happened. The team hires the coach and uses him for two weeks, gets all the info they need, agrees with the coach and then the rider just doesn't care. So in that case the team says that if the rider is not going to listen and doesn't care then they are not going to waste the money on the coach. So first the teams don't think they should spend the money and then the riders don't want to spend the money because at this point in their career they think they know everything! Here is what we are dealing with. We are dealing with bunch of guys who really think they know everything!

But what about the veterans of the sport who should know better. I've even asked a few of them and they all say, "What does Gary Bailey know about going fast. He hasn't ridden since the 80's and what does he know about a 4-stroke!"

Because that is what I do every single day! My time is consumed with studying film and figuring out, like I said before, how one guy can go faster than another. I would ask those same riders this. Does the coach of the Miami Dolphins play any more? Chances are it's been 15 or 20 years since that coach played but he still knows more about how to make a player and team better because it is his job. Same goes for me and you can print this word for word. I pride myself on knowing that if James Stewart or Chad Reed came to me tomorrow and said they wanted me to make them the best they can be my answer is matter of factly, yes I can. Yes I can because I know the top ten guys so well from studying them every day that I already know what each of those guys is not doing that Ryan Villopoto is. That is what I do 8-hours a day every day. I study and learn. I look at every piece of Go Pro footage that comes out of all the riders. I study line selections, I watch every single detail of the riders. So I don't need to get out on my motorcycle and be the fast guy to know what makes guys like RV faster than the rest. I can see it on video because that is what I do. You know since 1980 I have not watched a single motocross or supercross race live. I am always filming so the only time I get to watch is when I get home.

Gary graded Cooper's moto 1 start at Hangtown an A-. Moto 2 was different story with barely a C.

Well, I can honestly say that before I met you 8 years ago I used to think that you were a little full of it when you would call yourself the professor. But I have seen you work and you wear me out! I can say without hesitation that you have earned the title professor.

I can literally sit in front of the computer for 8-hours a day and study film. Sometimes I drive my self crazy going back and forth over a film trying to figure out what it is that a certain rider is doing. You know, another thing that I have heard before is that when I coach it's my way or the highway. It has never been my way. It's always been the way of the guy who is going the fastest. My techniques have changed so many times over the years I can't keep up. I've had guys come to me and say they came to one of my schools 5 years ago and now I'm telling them something different. And I always ask them if they are riding the same bike from 5 years ago. Dude, things change and I am always discovering and changing my techniques to reflect what the fastest guy on the track is doing. It's never been about me and my way.

Well to me there is also something to the intangible that some people just know how to go fast. And I am convinced that you are one of those guys. I have first hand experience from the time I jumped in your razor and tightened the harnesses for a little ride around your property. I've been around enough forms of racing both 2 and 4 wheel to recognize when a guy can drive. And dude, you certainly can drive!

Cooper's first start I would give an A-. But dude, his second start I couldn't give it a C if I wanted to. It was horrible.

Let's move back to Cooper for a bit. Where do you think he ranks in the big picture vs. all of the top riders you have coached over the years. Is Cooper Webb a franchise rider?

Well let me say this. There have been a couple of guys that have stuck with me. My son David, when he started out nobody could have a clue as to how bad he was. I saw something in David, oh probably the first couple of years that we were together. I could see something in him that just wasn't about the riding but also the focus. He would help me with the schools and stand there and listen to every word and absorb it. He was focused on learning and never got bored with that. Once David learned what I was teaching him he never wanted to give that up. So to lead into Cooper, as long as I have been working with him he has always been very focused on what I am trying to teach him. I can see his brain working when we talk and things are clicking. I could see this focus clear back when he was doing more group sessions. The other thing I could see in Cooper is when I told him to do something he went out and did pretty darn close to what I told him. And if he didn't get it right, he would listen and do it again until he got it right. There was never an attitude or disagreement or anything like that. He would just focus and go out and do it. So the answer to the question is yes, I think Cooper has the talent the focus and the intelligence to be the best. Another thing that I see in Cooper that I don't see in some of the other top riders is his self discipline. If you are going to be the best you have to be self disciplined. Someone can only motivate you so much. The rest has to come from within. David was self disciplined. Travis was self discipline. I would guess that Villopoto is self disciplined. Stanton was disciplined. And there are a few guys who I have worked with that just didn't have that big self discipline. And I have been telling Cooper this for a long time and I think he is finally just now fully coming around to understanding this, and that is if you want to be the best in the sport, you have to put 100% of everything you have into it. The girls have to wait, the distractions have to wait. And I know it is tough for a kid at his age to have that kind of focus and discipline but it's what you have to have to be the best. And Cooper has that. And it's because of that focus and dedication to be the best that I told him last year, I'll drop everything I have going on and focus on his pro career if that is what he wants. As long as he has that and wants me around, I'll be his coach.

Gary has had Cooper's back in over 100 amateur national champoinships.

What does his report card look like so far?

Dude his report card for Hangtown was a solid B+. In the first moto our goal was to go out there and get a true feel for where we stood. I didn't want him to get out front and then run out of gas and fade back. I was glad to see that he was able to run up front and still have something in the tank towards the end. I was very happy with that. His start in the first moto was almost perfect. The second moto not so much. On the second start he did the typical mistake that most guys out there make. Honestly, most guys except for the top few are horrible at starts. Cooper's first start I would give an A-. But dude, his second start I couldn't give it a C if I wanted to. It was horrible. The whole technique went to hell in a hand basket. And I was telling him that he can absolutely not make this kind of mistakes at this level.

His Colorado report card was a lttle better. Moto 1 start off the gate I'll give an A-  and through the first turn a B+. Aggression throughout the race was an A+. From a coaching stand point I was super happy with how he executed through the moto. Very happy with the third place finish but Roczen and Tomac where way out front so we have some work to do. Moto 2 start was a B+. Cooper locked bars in first turn with another rider and came out 38th, worked up to 9th before going down on the last lap. Moto 2 was B material from a coaching stand point. But overall I am very pleased with how Cooper is riding and if he continues to keep learning and riding like he is there is no telling where he will be at the end of the year. But he has to continue to learn and not get content. The top two or three guys are in a league of their own and we need to catch them.

Okay I'm going to put you on the spot and ask. When will Cooper get his first win?

Hmmm, good one. Let me think……If the stars are aligned just perfectly could it happen this year? Yea, I suppose it could. Do I think it is necessary or will I be disappointed if he doesn't win? No, not really. The 250 class is pretty strong this year. We would need a hole shot, a little bit of help from Tomac, Roczen, and Musquin, to get a win. But to be on the podium for an overall, yes I fully expect that by mid-season if not sooner. He just needs a little more speed and keep learning. We learned a few things at Hangtown and Colorado and I think over the next couple of races we will learn a little more and know exactly what we need to do. We learned a lot during practice at Hangtown. And dude, I mean a lot. What we were doing in practice compared to what we did in the race was a complete turnaround. He was quick in practice but after looking at some video we determined his entrance into the corners was off. And we all know that the entrance sets up the center and the exit. So we talked about and fixed his corner entries and picked up some speed.

How much time in between motos do you all study film?

Nonstop. That's all I do. We have a little program that we do. Right after the moto I come back and start breaking the film down. Cooper does his little thing talking to the team manager, mechanic and what have you and honestly I've learned to leave him alone for as long as possible. I don't bug him for a good 30-minutes. Once I've looked at the film and see something I think he needs to see, I get his attention and say hey, Cooper when you get a minute I want to show you something. I've learned that if I jump too soon and start telling him something that I may have seen him doing wrong before he has a chance to decompress and cool off that he won't listen. No rider wants to hear about the mistakes they made immediately after a race. It's not just Cooper. The other thing I do before I offer my analysis is I always ask him what he thought. "Tell me about your race, Cooper. Tell me about the start. Tell me how you think the race went." Then I give him my opinion. And he almost always tells me most of the stuff I was going to tell him so it's much less a negative when I say yes, I agree with that and that also let to such and such. It's not like I walk up to him and throw 15 things at him and say dude, what the hell is wrong with you.

Well Gary, it sounds like you have a pretty good deal going on with Cooper and I wish you all the best of luck this year. Thanks so much for your time. It's always a pleasure to talk with you.

No problem youngster. I always enjoy talking about motocross and coaching.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Tommy Gun May 26, 2013 at 3:27 pm

    Gary should get more credit than most of the guys that pretend that they are trainers. Those guys just regurgitate training principals and sell them as their own. Gary Bailey is the real deal. Listen to him and you might learn something. Yes I took his classes in the late 70s and he was great then.

  2. Gravatar
    Michael Jodhan May 26, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    Hey everyone I am from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean and I am looking for a coach to help me with my riding I'm currently the 5th best in practise in my country and I really need help to prepare for our first national championship in the past 2 years. I am 16 years old and I ride a 2013 KTM SX250F. My parents and I are willing to spend the money for a excellent coach . Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  3. Gravatar
    Joel Younkins May 28, 2013 at 8:59 am

    I think the interesting point in the article is the racers who believe someone who doesn't ride today, or never made it to the pro's are not qualified to be a coach/trainer...When in fact these people are typically better candidates for this position because they can break it down easier for what actually is happening...That's why most pro racers have a heard time explaining on what they are doing sometimes, because they don't have to think about it...I can relate to Gary because I'm in the same position where from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep I think of how I can get my athletes better..
    And don't get me started on the guys in this sport who see trainers as someone to motivate them and push them, this just makes me laugh!

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