An Interview With Scott Summers

Among the off-road community, one very welcome announcement has been BMW Motorrad USA's participation with a factory team in every round of the 2008 Grand National Cross Country series (GNCC) - the most competitive cross country class in the world.

Even more welcome was the appointment of five-times series champion Scott Summers to manage the BMW XPLOR race team. Summers has joined BMW for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 seasons, after racing very successfully for American Honda for nearly two decades. The Ohio-based off-road legend has not only won as many GNCC bike titles as anyone, but he has also paved the way for today's growth in factory support, media coverage and professionalism of this series.

With preparations and testing underway with team riders Gordon Crockard and Glen Kearney - who will both ride the new G 450 X sports enduro in the XC1 class - Summers took time out from his busy schedule for an exclusive interview with Jason Weigandt.

Well Scott, you're putting together a new team. What is happening right now?

Well, I'm in charge of putting together the infrastructure, like buying trailers and trucks so we can operate as a team when the season starts.

How much of the plan behind this team is yours? I know in your Honda days you pretty much knew what worked and did that. Do you have that freedom with BMW?

Well, I think the BMW folks have respect for me and how I've done things. They've let me be in control of most of the decisions. So they're putting their focus on building the best off-road bike that they can make, and it will be my job to run the team and hire the riders. I was really impressed with these guys, and that's why I ended up breaking a 20-year-relationship with Honda. That was very hard to do, but I wanted to be a part of this project.

Yes and that speaks volumes, because I know you've had many offers in the past to leave Honda, but you never did...

Right, even in the very early years I had lots of opportunities. But things change, and this is very exciting. This bike, in my opinion, when it first hits dealerships in America, will render all other off-road bikes obsolete.

Wow!

The future is basically here. There are so many things about this bike that really intelligent people, like Ron Wood - who has been a great four-stroke engine builder for years - or my dad, who is basically an inventor, have wanted to do for 20 years, but the technology didn't exist for it to happen until now.

How hard is that to dial in? BMW had been clear that they're using racing to fine-tune the machine.

Well, I don't think it's going to take much. I rode the bike in Munich a month-and-a-half ago and I couldn't believe it. I expected it to have rough edges because so much of the technology is new. These engineers started with a clean sheet of paper. In the past, manufacturers have chosen to use a motocross platform, and once they've satisfied the motocross and supercross guys, then they try to make an off-road bike work. This is a clean sheet, so they have already focused on making the best off-road bike they can make. That puts us way ahead of where I thought we would be.

So you think the boys can get results on this bike right off the start?

I really do. If the results don't come, it's not the fault of the bike. It's an engineering marvel, this motorcycle.

Well that puts some pressure on the guys you do have on the team. Talk about why you ended up signing Glenn Kearney and Gordon Crockard?

Well, BMW wanted some proven guys. Glenn has been in the States for three years, and he has been 'knocking on the door' - he has come as close as you can come to winning a couple of GNCCs. He has a great work ethic and he's a really friendly guy, so he's a natural selection for the team. And Gordon, he has a motocross background. The GNCC courses have become more motocross-like over the years - and they have to be because of the sheer volume of riders. There are so many riders competing in the series today, that if you made them too technical, you would just have giant bottlenecks. So I knew that about GNCCs, and I knew Gordon - he is one of the few guys to have beaten Stefan Everts when he was in his prime. He has speed that I don't know if the GNCCs have ever seen, so that's exciting. And he also has a trials background, and I figured that would help him make the transition from racing motocross to dodging trees a little quicker!

Gordon came and raced for you on a Honda at the last GNCC last year. How did that go?

It's a whole different world. Our plan initially was to have him come to the race and watch, but the more I thought about it, I realized that was a flawed plan. The best way to learn GNCC is to go out there and ride the track and get an education? I'm glad we did that now.

So what's the schedule for these guys? Are they riding with you yet?

Well, Gordon just did a supercross last weekend, and Glenn is still in Australia. But we are going to get together within the next week to get these guys here and get them on the bike. Luckily, I'm pretty confident about the bike, so we don't have as much work to do as I thought. I would like to get Gordon here a little early just because he needs to practice and race some local races, and get used to riding in the trees. But Glenn knows what he is up against - he understands this game - so I think with a little fine-tuning on the bike he'll be good to go.

You were known as a real innovator on bikes - you made bikes that people wouldn't think would work win races. So if you're saying this bike is good right from the crate, that's a bold statement?

The bike produces great power, it has a really broad sweet spot that gets great traction - it's almost idiot-proof power. I think that will allow the guys to save energy. And because of the design, it has a really low centre of gravity. So even if it weighs the same as what everyone else is riding - and I think it will actually be lighter - but even if it's the same it will feel lighter because the weight is carried so low in the frame.

Sounds like the BMW team is doing their homework. First they figured they wanted to go off-road racing from the start, and then they figured that GNCC was the best series to be in, and then they realized you were the best guy to run the team. It sounds like they did a lot of research, and they didn't just start selling bikes and hoping people liked them.

They did. I think BMW wants to appeal to a younger demographic. You know, they make adventure bikes that just dominate that market. If you're looking for a bike that will be comfortable for 15 hours a day, they have the bike, and it will not break down. But I think they realize that to get some younger riders you should go GNCC racing, and me being the four-stroke guy in the past, it was kind of a natural thing.

How exciting is it to have something new like this?

Well it's exciting, because I have always enjoyed being a part of it. I enjoy making a better 'mouse trap'. I'm an amateur fabricator, and my dad being kind of an inventor, we've had fun coming up with better ways to make a motorcycle work. So this is right up our alley, it's kind of like working with NASA, but now the topic is a motorcycle instead of a spacecraft. This motorcycle has over 20 patents. I can communicate with these guys, but I'm not going to say I understand things better than they do. But there are things I do understand - and that's the human side - and what it takes for training, preparation, and putting a team together that allows the racers to get the best possible result at a GNCC.

So they're not using GNCC racing to develop a bike, they're using you to develop a team and win.

Right. I think the bike is pretty much done. But they're willing to listen, and they're scheduled to start production pretty soon. But I did make a few changes when I was over in Munich, and that's what slowed down production of the first batch of bikes.

You're your own worst enemy!

(Laughs) Yeah well, it will pay off in the long run. We may be a bit less prepared for the first race or two, but we will have a better motorcycle in the long run.

Good luck with the team, Scott.

For more information on the 2008 GNCC series, please visit the www.gnccracing.com website. We will bring you further stories and team details, as well as results from every round of this year's series.