AMA Arenacross Series Interview: GPF/Babbitt’s Kawasaki Team Manager Josh Woods

To say that the 2010 AMA Arenacross Series has been a year to remember for the Georgia-based GPF/Babbitt’s Kawasaki team would be a severe understatement. The team operated by father and son duo Ray and Josh Woods have had the fortune of watching their two young stars rise to the top of the AMA Arenacross Lites class. After all the years of dedication to helping give young riders throughout the country a chance to compete on a top-level arenacross team, they are being handsomely rewarded.

Last weekend, the team’s second-year rider Daniel Aulsaybrook overcame a four-point deficit in the Eastern Regional Championship to claim his first-career professional title. As the 2010 season comes to a close this weekend in Denver, the Woods’ are offered the same opportunity in the conclusion of the Western Regional Championship as arenacross rookie A.J. Catanzaro carries a 20-point advantage into the final two nights of racing.

Both Aulsaybrook and Catanzaro have been solid throughout the entire season and the GPF/Babbitt’s team has undoubtedly been the team to beat in the AMA Arenacross Lites class. We caught up with Josh Woods to talk about the opportunity to sweep the regional championships this season and what it means to the Georgia Practice Facility (GPF) to achieve such tremendous success.
Josh, talk a little bit about your season. Last weekend Daniel won the Eastern Regional crown and now A.J. has the chance to do the same this weekend in the Western Regional. Is this something you thought the team could achieve at the beginning of the year?

That was the goal we set out for. Our whole idea for putting A.J. out west was because this was his first arenacross (season). In fact, Grand Rapids was his first professional race. So we wanted to get him some experience before he had to start his points race. We tried to align ourselves with the best riders we thought were available and Dano was prepared and ready coming in so we thought he’d be a good choice for the east. He started off (the season) with a bang with a second place right off the bat, but then he struggled for a few rounds after that with some injuries. (However), he was able to rebound and really came through over the last couple races and came alive. He did what he had to do to get the (championship) for us.

What went into selecting these two riders? Daniel got hurt before the season started last year and A.J. was a last-minute decision this season. What made you stick with Aulsaybrook and decide Catanzaro was a good fit for the team?

Well obviously with Dano we saw things that we liked last year with him and his work ethic. Unfortunately he ended up getting hurt and I think he had a real good shot at it. He was just starting to come alive. So this year, he got him down to GPF early and he was ready to go when the season started. We were actually between a couple riders for our second guy and it came down to December before we actually made a choice. There were a few guys we were looking at and a few guys on the fence about wanting to do supercross but didn’t have much going. A.J. just happened to be training here at GPF for Mini O’s and I saw him on the supercross track on a 450. At the time I didn’t really know A.J. but I could instantly tell he had a lot of talent. Things kind of came together. I talked to his dad on the phone along with A.J. a couple of times and everything worked out to where we put him on our practice bike and before we knew it we were on our way to the first round. It was right around Christmas time before he really committed to our program so he didn’t have a lot of time to do training for arenacross, but he learned quick and used the first couple rounds to get his feet wet and now he’s riding like a seasoned veteran.

You’ve been on both sides as a former rider and now a team manager. With that being said, since you really understand what it takes to be successful in each aspect, how difficult is it to achieve what your team is potentially going to accomplish this weekend in sweeping the regional titles?

It’s a little bit of luck and talent. Like I said, the whole package has to come together. Our bikes have been great all season. We haven’t had a mechanical (issue) yet, knock on wood (laughs). Also, the riders have to be fit and stay healthy for the whole season. Things have just come together. In a way there is a little bit of luck involved and things have worked out well for us this season, but a lot of that comes with preparation too. This is our fourth year doing this now so I’ve used all of my knowledge and background that I have to put together the best program we can. My dad, with his mechanical background, builds the best bikes, but we also try to make them reliable. I just think we have a really good package.
But, you know, GPF is probably the biggest advantage we have. Having a place where the guys can train is just a huge advantage for them to have the tracks, do the training and get out there with the guys they’re riding with. We have some of the top supercross guys down here so it’s really just a combination of things. Everything kind of fit together this year and it’s worked out the way we wanted it to.

With a facility and a team philosophy dedicated to grooming young riders into arenacross champions and giving them the best opportunity possible, what does it mean to GPF to achieve such tremendous success this season?

Its awesome because this is exactly what we set out to do with the arenacross team is take some young guys who have the talent and the work ethic to make it happen and help them get to that next level. A lot of people ask me if it’s hard for me to go to the races every weekend to watch and not race and not be out there with those guys. But it’s really not because it’s very rewarding for me to watch those guys and work with those guys and see them get better every week. It’s very rewarding and a lot of fun for me and my dad. We have a great time with this team and working with the guys this year like Dano and A.J.. They’ve done all we could have ever asked of them and they put in the hard work and it’s shown down the stretch. They’ve had a couple bad races here and there, but they’ve been consistent. We also couldn’t have done it without the sponsors making the bikes as good as they have. It just takes the entire package and its all come together this year really well for us.

What is next for the GPF team? Do you make the move into premier class on 450s? I know both riders have taken their chances out there in the Arenacross class. Or do you just keep moving forward and try to defend the titles and maybe bring in some new riders?

I really don’t know what’s next for our team. I would like us in the 450s and keep grooming riders but in a way I’d kind of like to stay a Lites team. Continue down the path that we’re on and maybe come in with some new guys next year, maybe keep one or two. I just have no idea what the future holds. I would love to continue working with young guys and groom them and with the age limit changing as far as getting your pro license (for supercross), I think you’re going to see more and more young guys taking the arenacross route. I think that’s a great step. There are a few guys out there ready to go pro at 16, but it’s a very small few. Arenacross in my opinion is a great stepping stone for them and getting them ready for that. We have some great riders here at GPF that are coming through the ranks right now and I’m pretty excited to maybe work with them in the future.