Author: Craig Perronne Photos: Bink Designs/Boyd Jaynes/High Rev Photography
The relationship between father and son can be an interesting and sometimes extremely complex one. Some sons follow in their father’s footsteps, learning as much as possible from them before going on to run the family business or somehow carry on the family legacy. Others choose to rebel against their fathers as much as possible, trying to forge their own paths in life completely separate from their family. For most, it is a bit of both as we both learn from our fathers and our own unique experiences.
No matter what path we pick though, our fathers somehow shape and mold us. Even for those who try, or want, to deny it, we are our fathers’ sons. This doesn’t mean that we will grow up to be exactly like them, but their DNA, teachings and experiences are undeniably a part of us and have an effect. Sometimes this can be subtle, other times it can be more profound.
With over two decades of short-course experience and another 10-plus years on a dirt bike before that racing in both Supercross and motocross, Johnny Greaves is a formidable driver in Pro 4 with 80-plus wins and numerous championships.
One perfect example of this is the well-known Greaves family, led by patriarch Johnny Greaves. His accomplishments, race wins and championship victories are numerous and many. So many in fact that we wouldn’t have the space to rattle them all off in this story, but he is the winningest driver in short-course history with more than 80 wins. It is a number that is constantly growing, and the latest tick on his huge and lengthy resume is claiming the hotly contested 2013 Traxxas TORC series PRO 4X4 title.
The other half of the Greaves racing family is Colton “CJ” Greaves. Still only 18 years old, CJ first made his mark on the Super Buggy class at just 14. He quickly went on to win the championship in his debut year, making him the youngest driver ever to win a TORC short-course championship. He also drove in the Superlite class before moving out of Super Buggy and into PRO Light. In 2012, CJ stepped into the extremely competitive and fast PRO 2WD class, quickly making history by taking a win in his debut race of the year. The victory made him the youngest driver ever to win a PRO 2WD race.
At just 18 years of age, CJ Greaves already has five years of short-course experience behind him and competes at the top level of the sport. A unique mixture of his father’s insight, CJ’s early motocross experience and his ability to remain cool under pressure have helped make him instantly fast and a threat in any class he competes in.
The OG (Original Greaves) CJ’s story starts with Johnny, who was also first brought to the track by his father. “I started racing motocross not at a super young age compared to today, but at 10 years old. I raced amateur until I graduated high school, and then went pro racing Supercross and motocross. The amateur part of it was my dad and I going to the track. Once I graduated, I went out on my own and would load up a box van and head out with a friend or another racer,” recalls Johnny.
Timid behind the wheel is not a phrase one would use to describe CJ. While he says he likes to let the race come to him, he is not afraid to charge in and mix it up when needed either.
While Johnny’s first steps into the dirt were the result of heading to the track with his dad, his transition to short-course racing was almost by chance. “When I was just getting out of high school I had heard of Crandon, but it was still the long track through the farmers’ fields, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I knew of the Riverside event and the Mickey Thompson races, but that was the only type of off-road racing I had any clue of. None of that was affordable, so I did motocross,” reflects Johnny.
“What happened is when Crandon went to the short track, they invited motorcycles and ATVs to race early in the morning before the big races. They put up something like $2,000 to win, and back then on a motorcycle that was a good day. I went up and cleaned up on everyone in every class I could ride. Because I had a lot of Supercross experience, I was doing tricks off of the bigger jumps. Cliff Flannery and some of the guys from Crandon told me they would give an extra $100 every time I did a trick over the big doubles. I was racking up money at it and then watched the off-road races after that. It was pretty primitive back then, with the trucks all having frames and the buggies being very basic. Shortly after that I traded a dirt bike at the track for a 1600 buggy. I took it home to where I had a motocross track and tried to use it on the track and that didn’t work at all,” says Johnny laughing. “I figured out I had to learn more about it, and that is how it all started.”
One of the greatest father and son bonding moments in the history of mankind occurred when Johnny and CJ battled each other for the win at the Amsoil Cup during TORC’s Labor Day stop at Crandon. CJ crossed the line just slightly ahead of his father in one of the most epic Cup races seen at Crandon.
Like Father, Like Son CJ Greaves’ path to short-course racing follows a similar trajectory to his father’s, but at a much younger age. “Back then there weren’t Trophy Karts, and kids involved in off-road racing wasn’t even dreamed about,” shares Johnny, “so we focused on motocross. He was already racing at the age of three, but we didn’t start really doing anything serious until he was five. He got really good on a 50cc and won a lot of the amateur nationals, so we started chasing that dream. We did that for a few years and he was really talented at it.”
CJ’s years of racing motocross were, however, cut short by something extremely positive: his dad’s talent behind the wheel. As Johnny’s short-course racing career began to take off and his program became bigger, it was simply too hard to focus on two completely separate forms of racing. “My career really started taking off and there really wasn’t a way or the time to do both,” shares Johnny. “We kind of got lucky though, because by then the youth stream of off-road racing took off about that same time. We didn’t do Trophy Karts or anything, but kept him riding motorcycles until he was 13. Then, we put him in the Superlite series because they allowed younger drivers at the time. At 14, we put him in a Super Buggy.”
Surprising probably to many is that CJ hadn’t really planned on following his father into short-course racing, at least not at such a young age. “Short-course racing wasn’t really in any of my plans,” comments CJ. “It was always there as an option, but I was really set on motocross. My dad got a Super Buggy one day and said, ‘Hey we got this and you are going to drive it.’” With that, CJ’s focus turned from two wheels to four, and his short-course career began in earnest.
If there is anybody to have as your dad and to learn the ways of short-course racing from it would be Johnny Greaves. The winningest driver in the sport, he added yet another championship to his immense collection by taking the 2013 TORC PRO 4X4 title.
Instant Speed Like his father, CJ is extremely fast behind the wheel of a short-course racer, and an instant threat to the competition. However, his speed doesn’t come from decades behind the wheel like Johnny. Rather, he shows an almost uncanny ability to climb into a racer in any class and instantly be fast with almost zero learning curve. “His first time in Super Buggy, I had bought it and had it in my trailer on the way back to Wisconsin. We were at the Las Vegas race and I had to get it out of the trailer to get to the rest of the stuff in the trailer. The officials came by and said he should race it. He had only driven it in a field before that, but he went out in the race and led it all until one turn from the finish when Larry Job drove past him and he got second. His first Pro 2 race he won right out of the box,” recalls Johnny.
While some have been mystified at CJ’s almost instant prowess behind the wheel of a short-course racer, Johnny explains his take on CJ’s speed. “All his years of growing up around Rob Mac and all these guys he looks up to, and watching them and me go through everything, all those years you wondered if he was paying attention. Bottom line is that he was paying really close attention because he gets into vehicles and drives them like he knows what he was doing, like he had a lot of years of experience in them already. Even when he was young he would come up to you out of the blue and start talking about a race and somebody’s truck. Like when was 10, he was saying things like, ‘Did you see that guy’s truck? His compression was too soft and he needs more rebound.’ He would talk about that stuff. From growing up around the shop he knew what every piece was and what they did and was able to relate it to what he saw. Now it is really easy to tune a truck for him because he understands every component already.”
For Johnny, CJ’s talents go beyond just growing up around the sport and having a deep knowledge of it before even getting into it. “Probably his biggest asset, and where he got it from I don’t know, is his ability to stay calm. He doesn’t get rattled, or let people bother him or anything like that. It is rare to see him upset, worried about the race or nervous about anything.” A calm, cool approach is usually not associated with an 18-year-old racing driver, or even many older racers.
Quiz CJ about his speed and he is quick to credit his time spent in his early youth on two wheels. “Just doing motocross you get the basics in line choice and figuring out what is fast and what is not pretty quickly. Going from motocross into off-road I had a lot of that figured out already and it was just learning the vehicle itself,” explains the younger Greaves. Of course, another huge benefit of being raised racing motocross was that CJ was already used to the close-quarter combat and intensity. “I was always racing something when I was younger, so the pressure of short-course really wasn’t anything different. I was used to it already.”
With only just five years in short-course racing, CJ has obviously yet to catch his dad in victories and championships but with his talent behind the wheel anything is possible. Currently both of them combined are rapidly adding to the family’s trophy case and will probably need a much larger one.
Growing Up Greaves Growing up with your dad as the winningest driver in short-course racing history can bring with it a lot of pressure. People naturally expect you to be fast and critique your every move if you are not a huge talent behind the wheel. Rumors begin to swirl about how you are not carrying on the family name. Doubters and detractors can quickly jump aboard even if you are just slightly off the pace. This amount of pressure can cause anyone to crack, not to mention an 18 year old.
When asked whether he feels additional pressure to perform because of his last name, CJ remarks, “Not really. My dad always supports me however well I am doing. We are always trying to give each other tips, but I just run my race and do what I have to do. There are people who expect that and think that you have to be good, but my dad never puts that pressure on me.”
Some think Johnny was somehow magically able to transfer all of his short-course knowledge to CJ when he was growing up through some sort of Vulcan mind meld. Others believe CJ spent months of intensive training in a secret classroom somewhere with Johnny running through days of footage and studying a classified book of short-course techniques written by his dad. While it is true Johnny helps coach his son, it is not the intensive process some might envision. “When we test, I kind of just let him drive. I watch and critique or help him with anything I can see. Actually, he does things probably a little bit different and better than I have seen some of the best people I have watched drive those trucks,” explains Johnny about the low-key testing sessions with his son.
Growing up with a fast father has its benefits too, as Johnny has been able to hand down a few bits of wisdom from his many years of racing to his son. When asked about what was the best advice his father has given him CJ replies, “Stay confident in your team, the people behind you, and always be thankful for the support you have. Also keep a level head and don’t get out there with the cockiness because it isn’t needed.” Indeed words of wisdom from both a veteran racer and a father, and ones CJ tries to adhere to.
The Future Is A Bright One Indeed, the future is bright for both members of the Greaves clan. At 47, Johnny is still at the top of his game and continuing his winning ways, finishing off this season with the TORC PRO 4X4 championship in his Monster Energy-backed Toyota. While he continuously adds wins to his record, some of those might come a bit harder in the near future. “We definitely have big things coming for next year,” shares CJ. “We are building a new Pro 4, and I will be doing a couple races in it in 2014. Hopefully in the next year or two you will see me strictly in Pro 2 and Pro 4.” With CJ going toe-to-toe against his dad, things will get interesting in the next couple of seasons. Will CJ one day be able to surpass his dad as the winningest driver in short-course history? With the huge amounts of talent he possesses, the support of his dad and the rest of his family, he is definitely off to a great start.