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Countdown to EnduroCross: Interview with Team SRT's Cory Graffunder

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Team SRT’s Cory Graffunder hails from Canada and is a veteran of the EnduroCross series. Graffunder’s best result last year came at the final round in Ontario, California where he scored a third place finish and ended the season in sixth place overall. We caught up with Graffunder to hear his thoughts leading into the 2017 season.

What made you decide to move to SoCal? “I had kind of plateaued as far as my riding and racing career in Canada. I started to look for other bigger events and wanted to challenge myself. I sort of started to get into the extreme enduro series. I did Erzberg and that was right around the time I found EnduroCross as well. So I started racing EnduroCross a little bit and actually got picked up by Husqvarna when it was ran through Zip-Ty Racing in 2010. So when that happened, I thought, I should look into moving down here [in Southern California] and being closer to the team and just being able to do the testing and all of the stuff that was necessary for me to become better. It was going to be easier if I was down here, so I decided to make the move and it’s kind of stuck ever since.”

You’ve raced a two-stroke for the last few years. Why do you prefer a two-stroke over a four-stroke? “I actually raced a KTM 350 [four-stroke] for a full season right when they came out and everybody was racing them. They were the bike to race and everyone had them. I absolutely hated it. I committed to race it for the whole year and looking back on it, I probably should have changed sooner. After that season, I was really unhappy with how it went and how everything was working. So I decided to make a drastic change. I grew up on two-strokes my whole life and I really enjoy them, so I said, ‘Let’s just do it.’ Cody [Webb] had just won a championship on one, so that seemed like a logical decision for me to make at that point. So I just said, ‘Let’s change direction; let’s go down this road and see what happens.’ I was really happy with it. It was a little bit challenging at first to learn how to be as precise with it on the EnduroCross track, but I think it suits me, it suits my style a lot better, and I’m just really happy with it.”

Is there anything a four-stroke does better than a two-stroke for you on the EnduroCross track? “I think there’s a couple of places, especially the new bikes with how much the four-strokes have improved. I think I’m definitely still beat on power and being able to put the power to the ground. At the start, I think I’m at a little bit of a disadvantage, too. Also, any type of big jump that’s tight out of a corner where you really need to get on it and not have any wheelspin. I think those are the places where a four-stroke would be better.”

With Husqvarna coming out with the fuel injected two-strokes, is that something that you think you will test and potentially race? “I am definitely really interested with the fuel injection on a two-stroke. I used to work at a KTM and Honda dealer and they sold Bombardiers as well, which is Ski-Doos in Canada. This is like, six, seven, or eight years ago, they had fuel injected two-strokes. When that came out, they were just dominant. They were so much better. When I saw that, I figured it was only a matter of time before two-stroke dirt bikes have it and it’s been years and years and years. We keep hearing rumors about it every year and it seems like it’s finally here. I haven’t really heard too many opinions on it, yet, but I think it’s going to be great. There are pretty much only pluses that can come from it. The only bad thing would be weight. It will probably be a little bit heavier than a carbureted system, but it’s the way of the future and there’s just so much more you can do with it. I think it’s going to be way better, for sure, once they get it sorted out.”

You achieved three top-five finishes in the last three rounds last year, which was an improvement over your results in the beginning of the year. What were the reasons for your improvement in those last three rounds? “I think it was really just circumstance. I think the whole season I rode fairly consistently and the same speed. I don’t feel like anything happened from the start to the end of the year, but I think it was just circumstance - getting good starts and riding smooth. I don’t really feel like my speed changed too much, but I think that was about all that made the difference there. Maybe just being more consistent.”

How beneficial is it to be tall in a sport like EnduroCross? “Oh man, it’s pretty big. There are even points where I feel my legs are too short, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for really short guys out there. It helps in any rock turn. It helps if you mess up in the Matrix a little bit, even if you have to dab for a second just to get pointed in the right direction. If I couldn’t reach that log at that critical moment, it would probably spell disaster.”

Are there any downsides to being tall in EnduroCross? “Maybe a little bit now. EnduroCross has been evolving a lot in the past few years. It’s become a lot more jumpy and a lot more Arenacross-style. In that type of racing, anything that’s heavy weighs you down. The more like a jock you are the better, but it’s not fully in that direction. It’s not Arenacross and it’s not Supercross. We still have the really difficult sections. I think it’s still an advantage all-around to be tall.”

The EnduroCross tracks have become progressively jumpier over the years. Do you like that or would you prefer the tracks to be more technical? “I definitely liked it more when it was harder. I grew up riding off-road and got into motocross later in my career so at heart, I’m an off-road guy and I really like the difficult stuff – that’s what I would prefer it to be. It doesn’t always make for exciting racing, so I understanding the transition into a little bit easier sections and more jumps. It’s definitely something that I’ve had to learn over the years and it is fun. They build big tire jumps and doubles and it’s pretty cool to be able to jump 40 feet off of a tire.”

You mentioned the tracks were harder in the past. So you feel the tracks have become easier to a certain extent? “Definitely. Not just in the fact that they’re overall easier. The sections are easier and the rocks are a little bit easier. They’ve become a little bit more standardized as well. Like the Matrix for example, they’ve kind of gone to a three-three, or a one-three-three, or a basic layout that they go to every race. It’s kind of like in Supercross where they have a 75-foot triple or the rhythm lanes. We kind of have that same thing in EnduroCross. So you get those obstacles down and they become easier. You show up to the track and you look at it and you think, ‘Oh, that looks the same as the last round’ and it’s easy to ride because you’ve already figured that out.”

Have you done anything differently to prepare for this season than in the past? “No, nothing different at all actually.”

What is your favorite EnduroCross obstacle? “That’s a good one. I think I do really well in the Matrix. When they’re easier and most people can get through them, I don’t really have that much of an advantage. I feel like when they have a really oddball layout or something that really challenges the riders, I feel like I can always find a way through it and have a little bit of an advantage in a section like that. But typically, just anywhere that’s really hard, like any big step. They had a couple of rounds last year where we had k-rails in them. Anything big like that, I feel I have an advantage there.”

What is your most memorable race? “There’s so many [laughs]. Actually, probably the last round [in 2016] in Ontario. I came away with a third there, which was a really big achievement for me because I had just raced the Baja 1000 the day before and had driven all night to get there and had also been sick before it all started. I was basically running on reserve before the weekend started and had two huge races to go to. By the time I got to Ontario to the EnduroCross, I was like, ‘Alright, just see if I can just make it through this night’ [laughs]. I wasn’t really setting my goals very high at that point, but I ended up having a phenomenal ride. I got a great start and somehow just put consistent laps in. I remember the first time out in practice; I was like relearning how to ride a two-stroke. I had just gotten off a 500 the day before, so that was a pretty good way to end the season and I definitely won’t forget that one.”

What is the most difficult part of EnduroCross for you? “That’s a good question. It’s almost hard to come up with anything. I’ve been doing it for so long that it’s become familiar. I have it down. I know exactly what happens when, what’s expected of me, how long the races are, and what the tracks are. This year is going to be a little bit different with the format change. That’s something that I’m really looking forward to just seeing how the night plays out, if it flows well, and if the crowd receives the new program well. That will be a challenge just getting used to the new format. Everything else is just my job – go out there, put my helmet on, and go to work.”

If there was one thing you could change about EnduroCross, what would it be? “I think like we talked about earlier, bringing back some of the more difficult tracks would be really cool. I’ve always had the cool idea of replicating one of the original EnduroCross tracks in Vegas because there’s plenty of photos or videos of the tracks. If the guys could try to rebuild it as close to that as possible and let us go on it now, it would be cool because I thought they were great tracks back then and it would also be cool for the fans to see how we’ve evolved as riders compared to what we were 10 years ago.”