Transparent | Josh Grant Clears The Air.
This article was originally printed in our September 2016 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
By Michael Antonovich | Photos by Mike Emery
A dozen years of racing has left a mark on Josh Grant. Since making the jump to the professional ranks, the Southern California native has become known for his incredible skill on a motorcycle that seems almost effortless, and that’s landed plenty of rides with top teams in the pit area. Now under the Monster Energy Kawasaki tent and running near the front of the 450 field each week, Grant has reached one of the highest points in his career at 30 years of age.
All of this comes after a streak of unfortunate incidents both personally and professionally. On the track, injuries kept Grant from showing his full potential during what should have been his best years. Away from the track, he experienced a complete personal disintegration after his mother stripped over a million dollars from his bank accounts to support a gambling habit. The mismanagement of his funds forced Grant to liquidate all assets and put him in an unshakeable depression, which he stated was complete with suicidal thoughts. With the support of his close circle including wife, Ashley, and sons, Wyatt and Easton, Grant was able to emerge from the dark times with a new approach to practically everything, and he’s willing to share his opinions without fear of repercussions.
This is your 12th year as a professional motocross racer. Has it been what you expected, what you always thought it would be, or is there more to it that you never thought about until you experienced it?
As a kid growing up and racing, I didn’t know what to expect when I turned pro. It was all new. At that point I don’t know if the media was as present as it is now, but you really didn’t know what was going on. I kind of expected for it to be the way it played out—I had fun and was serious at times.
For a lot of kids, they see it as this great thing that always has success and fame, but that’s not all there is to it—there are setbacks and injuries.
There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that you don’t realize. We all know that it’s a dangerous sport and that it’s risky, but as a kid looking in, all you see is the races and the Saturday-night lights. You never take into consideration what the stuff behind the scenes is really like, and you won’t ever know until you experience it.
You can’t take some rookie kid, like Austin Forkner, aside and tell him what to expect. They really need to experience it themselves, and maybe they might not listen in the first place.
You don’t know what their future holds—it can go countless different ways. Everyone expected Mike Alessi to be the greatest thing to hit Earth after he won all of those amateur titles, but really it didn’t even matter because look at the choices that he’s made and the way things have played out for him. Even Cianciarulo has the same kind of story. Sure, a kid may haul the mail and is doing good now, but who knows what will happen when he gets on a big bike or hits the premier class.
Is there anything you wish you could change about those first few years, or do you feel it all happened for a reason?
I think it all happened for a reason, but looking back on it I wish I had the mentality that I do now when I was on a Lites bike. That would have changed a lot of things in my career; maybe it could have meant some more race wins or whatever. I still did great, won a lot of races, and battled with Ryan Villopoto when we were at the pinnacle of that class. I wish it would have went a little differently, but at the same time I’m glad it played out the way it did, because I’m the way I am now due to the setbacks, injuries, and all of the other shit that I went through. It helped me out in the long run.
The last four years have been awkward in not knowing if you’ll get support to race, then to have something work out at the last minute. What do you think is the cause of that?
I just think it’s the times, because the industry and the platform we have isn’t very settled. There aren’t a lot of rides out there, and with the way the system works, it pushes all of the Lites guys up so fast like how Wil Hahn had to move up. It doesn’t keep the elite guys up there for very long because the new, fresh kids are coming up to race the 450s. It’s changed quite a bit.
When you turned pro the economy was great, there were a lot of non-endemic sponsors that put in money, and everyone seemed to be paid well, but from 2008 on things really tapered off. From your point of view, does it feel like the money is coming back, or are guys still worried about how the next paycheck is going to come?
I’m not in the situation where I’m making a million bucks like Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, or the other guys. That’s just the way things have worked. It was possible in 2008 and 2009, but back then I didn’t have a family to support either. Right now I think there are only a few other guys who have kids really. Andrew Short and I are the oldest guys in the class with kids, and it’s weird to say that I’m the only 30-year-old in the top 10 racing dirt bikes with two kids. It used to be the opposite with guys like Kevin Windham and John Dowd. You could be older in the premier class and have younger kids in the Lites class.
Do you feel that the bar gets raised in difficulty every year and makes the sport even more suited for younger riders?
It’s getting like that, but some of the younger guys don’t have the experience, and that seems to end up biting them because they don’t know what to expect with a long series or whatever. You have to figure it out on your own.
You’ve talked about only caring about riding during your last years of high school and that everything you did was focused on racing. Have you pursued a GED or anything since then, or are you waiting until your professional career is finished?
Honestly, my only focus has ever been motorcycles, and that’s kind of what has put me in the spot that I’m in. I’m not saying that you should go ditch school and be a professional rider—not at all. The way that I went about it was not the right way and I realize that. I wouldn’t want my kids to be in this position.
One thing I hear from a lot of guys who race now is that they’d never let their kids be professional racers, that they’ll do anything they can to sway them into something else. That’s not the case with you because you already have bikes for Wyatt and Easton.
I’m not one to say that my kids will never ride or race, but I’ll tell them what I’ve gone through. Wyatt has lived it with me for the last five years and maybe he won’t remember as much, but at the same time I look at it like this: If he wants to race motorcycles and all that, then sweet, but if not, then I don’t give a shit. He can play baseball or something.
When the Jeff Ward Racing deal folded and Chad Reed’s offer came, how far in advance did you know there was something coming up? And did you pursue other options to be safe?
You have to put all your focus on one thing, because that was the only option for me at the time. Everyone landed everywhere else. I signed my contract with Chad at Monster Energy Cup in 2014 but had already been riding and testing the bike for a couple of months. It came down to knowing if we had the money to go race with them, and it worked out. It seems like every year it’s the same story—it’s last minute and wondering if there’s a deal or not, and there are 10 guys that want the same ride. In the past I’ve shown that I can come off of the couch after having not ridden for five months and come back to get sixth at Daytona. I just have a little bit of an edge, and I’ve always used that to my advantage.
Is that all thanks to natural talent?
Yeah, talent gets you a long way, but at the same time you have to work. When I wasn’t riding I’d still go out and ride my bicycle, because I wanted to be with my friends and didn’t know what I was going to do and it cleared my head. I still worked out, so I wasn’t just a bum around my house.
I think there’s a misconception that you don’t train, that you just show up and ride the motorcycle.
You have to at least work a little bit. I’m not going to say that I’m out there on the same f—king Ryan Dungey or Ken Roczen program—I’m not even close. Those guys are a lot younger than me and haven’t had the injuries that I’ve had, gone through the shit that I’ve gone through, been depressed, or held a gun to their head. They haven’t been to that point, and that’s just the way it is. I’m really strong mentally, and I think that’s what pushes me through.
Depression is something that many people will experience in the their lives. To be open about that is unusual in our sport, especially because racers rarely admit when they have problems.
That’s because they’re all f—king full of shit.
I feel that it takes more courage to say, “Look, I’m f—ked up.” than to keep things pushed down.
That’s what happens. It’s not the ones who are open about it; it’s the quiet ones. I’ve been that guy and was that way for five years. I never said anything until the Intersection movie came out, because I felt that was a good way to expose what I’ve gone through to people who supported me when they had no idea. It was like getting it off my chest. Everyone has problems, and it’s about how you deal with them.
How did Ashley and the kids help out with all of that?
When I say things happen for a reason, I mean that we had Wyatt for a reason. The things that we dealt with were heavy, and I needed Wyatt and Ashley to get through them. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know what would have been my future. I had something to live for.
It’s a big deal to admit that. How did you overcome the problems?
I got through it by doing everything I could to keep my mind off of it. I’m really good at brushing things to the side. Some people say that’s not the right thing to do because you have all of this pressure, but I’ve dealt with that too and anything that could have gone wrong went really wrong. It’s about learning how to manage that kind of stuff. I was in bad shape for a couple of years, and the only things that got me through were my wife and kids.
You and Ashley are very supportive of each other like a team within a team. Is that a necessity when your life is in the spotlight?
“Life in the spotlight” is a very shallow term for motocross. A lot of people think that racing is a huge thing and that it’s all that life revolves around. When you take a step back, you see that it’s a pimple on the world’s ass and not that way. You’re not in the spotlight—more so a spotlight in a community that’s really not a big deal. It’s about how you treat yourself and with other people. Ashley and I have a way about us where we like to have fun with our personalities and aren’t so serious—not stale chips.
The public has a polarizing view about you. Either people love how talented you are and the way you say what’s on your mind, or they think you’re a waste of talent and that you bitch all of the time. Is this something you pay attention to?
It doesn’t bother me one bit. I know what makes me happy, and that’s riding my dirt bike and being with my friends and family. The ones who know about me are the ones I care about.
Do you think people have an accurate perception of you?
They can say I have talent or that I’m a waste, but hey, I’ve won races. I haven’t won a championship, but so what? Not everyone wins a championship in their career. I don’t really care.
People have made it a point to mention your name every chance they get in a negative way. Does that get old, or are you immune to it?
I really don’t care, and it doesn’t bother me at all.
Last summer you got the fill-in ride with Kawasaki, and when we talked you hoped to stay full-time in 2016. It didn’t work out that way, but here you are again with the team. How was it to keep the relationship positive with the team even when you knew you weren’t coming back at a certain point?
The way it played out—I’ll be straight and honest—they hired me to finish out the last five outdoors because Wil Hahn got hurt, and we came to an agreement because Chad didn’t have the team going any longer. Fortunately I was able to get a ride and they had a spot for me to fill. At the same time Davi [Millsaps] ended up getting—I don’t know if he was fired or what—let go from the team and there was a spot open. So it was just really Wil, and when he got hurt they had no one. I was expecting to fill in when Davi was gone and I didn’t have a ride because Kawasaki and TwoTwo Motorsports were working together really well. That didn’t work out, but they ended up getting me anyway because Wil was hurt. Long story short, we killed it at the GP and finished in the top 10 at the last Nationals, and I wanted the spot for 2016. Management changed for Kawasaki, and the way that Wil’s contract was written out was if they didn’t notify him by a certain date he was automatically renewed. Because they didn’t know that and the new management didn’t look into the contract, they thought Wil was done, but it turned out he wasn’t. They weren’t going to pay both me and Wil, and that’s just the way it worked out. I wasn’t mad about it, and unfortunately it didn’t work out for me.
After the GP, I didn’t ride. I thought I might have been done, so I bought my own bike, one I felt like I could ride, and got some help from people to put it together so that it was decent to ride. I rode the hills and Glamis, just off and on every few weeks or something. It wasn’t a big deal. I wanted my buddy to come out here and start a business with me, and he said the only way he’d come out was if I did one more race. It was in the middle of Supercross, I didn’t have a bike or anything set up for it, but he said it was the only way he was coming out. It was kind of a joke, but we decided to race Daytona. We called Howard from Pala Raceway and got some funds to buy things for the bike to get it dialed in to race.
Driving there, we stopped and watched the Atlanta race. We saw Short, Hahn, and [Phil] Nicoletti crash, and they looked hurt. Not even two minutes later I got a text from JGR, who I’d ridden for twice, and a call from Kawasaki asking if I’d race for them. I figured that I’d done all that work during the two weeks prior to the race, so I said I’d talk to them at Daytona, where I got seventh. We worked something out and it was easy, so I finished out the rest of Supercross on Kawi.
This has worked out extremely well for everyone, because you’re battling with guys at the front of the pack. Have you already started talking about staying there for next year, or do you have to wait it out?
Yeah, we’ve already started talking. And that’s what I want and why I’m out here. I want to get that spot, and I don’t feel like I’m done racing. With how things went in the past, you just never know. I’m not going to be a guy who settles and rides for nothing, because that’s not the way it works for me.
**Editors note: Josh’s signed contract after we spoke brings him to the end of 2017.
You’ve wanted to race off-road trucks for quite a while. How close have you come to actually doing that instead of motocross?
I was really close. We were a couple of weeks away from getting a title sponsor for 2016.
Have you driven the trucks a lot or tested with a team?
You just know that’s what you want to do.
I’ve had a truck—I built my own and have been in the desert. I’ve had plenty of experience driving trucks like that, more in the desert than short-course, but it’s something that I feel my future will be. Not just me, but maybe a lot of the moto guys are going to do something like that, too, because it’s the closest thing we can get to moto when we’re older. It’s pretty similar and is the same basic platform as moto.
Was it difficult to sell everything off five years ago to pay off the debts?
Yeah, because I didn’t have that much to sell. When I went through all that, I lost my houses, which I had a lot into, and also my cars, which were leased. I didn’t have a lot to sell except for my off-road truck, which I sold to a friend who is on our team now. I didn’t have anything to stand on, and we had to move back in with Ashley’s parents. Before that I was making damn good money and could have retired by now.
How many more years do you see yourself doing this?
Honestly, three more years is reasonable. I see myself being competitive for another three years, because 30 years old is on the high end already for this sport, especially when you have these kids who aren’t even 20 years old yet and will take the risks. They don’t have kids or someone who depends on them to be there every day. I’d like to get something set up for the future, so three years is good.