Who, What, Where, Now!
Behind the Wheel with Gary Poole
Local motorcycle racer shares his love for the sport
Our recent “Wheels” issue was dedicated to tapping into the passion people, especially local people, have for wheeled sports. And while it’s easy to focus on the wheels associated with popular sports like mountain biking, we knew that would be far too limiting.
As Hailey resident Gary Poole tells me, “Open up anyone’s garage up here and there’s a bunch of crap.” Maybe there’s a few mountain bikes. You’re way more likely, however, to find an odd combination of other wheeled conveyances: dirt bikes, road bikes, roller blades, roller skis, fly reels, skateboards, Triumph’s and rusty Pontiacs. As the foundation for so much summer activity in the Wood River Valley, including yet not exclusive to mountain biking, the wheel had be thought of broadly; why limit its lovers to chain-crankers?
Read between SVM’s single track tales and you’ll find the stories of off-road race car driver, Double-D and the 4th Annual Sun Valley Road Rally, photos from the Ketchum and Hailey skateparks, and even a bit on an entirely different type of wheel: the botanical garden’s Tibetan Prayer Wheel. And now, as a web extra for the “Wheels” ssue, SVM would like to also include Poole, who is a seasoned motorcycle road racer, in our chronicle of all things wheel-related.
A native Australian who grew up in England, Poole landed stateside, and in Sun Valley of all places, on a whim in the early `90s. “I’d heard it was a cool place,” he plainly says. Not surprisingly, Poole decided Idaho was cool enough to stay, moving to the Valley permanently in 1993 and forming Poole Painting and Finishing some years later. Yet what began as your quintessential story of a ski bum trying to make life work in paradise, quickly turned into a different narrative.
Shortly after jumping hemispheres for good, Poole took up competitive road racing on his motorcycle, which is basically the type of crazy sport that anchors programming on the Speed Network. As much as adrenaline junkies try to prop up the intensity of their respective disciplines, Poole’s hobby undoubtedly stands as one of the most thrilling addictions out there.
Racing 1000cc sportbikes, as Poole does, is similar to motocross, only the course is flat pavement and the max speed on straightaways is a whopping 180 mph. Competitors must qualify individually for a position along the starting grid, but the race itself is done in mass. “At turn one at the start of the race, you’ve got 30 guys diving into the same spot doing 120. It’s insane,” Poole laughs. When I asked him how it felt to be so ridiculously exposed, surrounded by so many and without any sort of protective metal encasing, he merely smiles, “It’s awesome.” As a skier and a biker, I could relate on a base level; it’s often on those physical thresholds that we feel most alive. At the same time, Poole’s capacity for the extreme would seem to far outstrip my own. Wasn’t racing motorcycles, like, really dangerous?
But when I asked Poole whether this perception matched reality, he made an interesting point, likening road racing to another fringe sport he also enjoys: paragliding. For both, he argues, “If people don’t do it, they lack a conception of what it entails. So they think it’s dangerous and it’s not. The guys doing it are smart, sensible and come from all walks of life. They know what’s going on.” According to Poole, “Crashes happen a lot. It’s just a part of it. But you’re in such a safe environment, as opposed to being on the street. Usually what happens is your ass gets really hot because you’re sliding off the bike.” Poole’s worst injury, after almost a decade of competition: a broken collar bone. Moreover, he couldn’t recall any of his friends faring much worse.
The Utah SportBike Association, organizer of the racing series in which Poole competes, also sets strict qualifying standards that weed out the accident-prone and foolhardy. For instance, riders can’t move up in a category until completing a certain number of races without crashing and new riders are sometimes even given a special jersey to alert the other racers of their inexperience.
If inexperience, then, is racing's greatest danger, Poole is probably as “safe” as they come. He's a regular podium finisher at Utah's Miller Sports Park across both endurance and sprint events (he was both the Endurance GTU and Overall Champion in 2010) and is able to stay sharp at 44, when the sport's average racing career is less than five years. Although he never competed before moving to Idaho, Poole told me, “I’ve always had bikes. As a kid being brought up in England, my dad was really into bikes. He would take me to Brands Hatch Donnington Park, Silverstone, places like that.” A lifelong wheels fanatic, who still rides dirt bikes and even occasionally mountain bikes, he’s just another lover of wheels and the joy they bring us.
“Road racing is just another part of it - two wheels and fun,” concludes Poole, who won’t be competing this summer (too time consuming), but doesn’t want to hit the brakes just yet either. He's going too fast.