On Tuesday out at Perris Raceway, there were many fast pros and amateurs out on the track taking advantage of the fantastic weather we’ve had this passed week. One unexpected number we recognized, was a large #8 on the back of some grey/blue MSR gear. That’s right, Grant Langston was out there spinning some laps and soaking up some rays. The friendly South African native gave us a few minutes of his time to let us in on what he has been up to, the situation with his eye, and his thoughts on the future.
Interview and Photos by Bayo Olukotun
Grant, we are out here at Perris Raceway on an sunny Tuesday afternoon. Can you tell us a little about what you have been up to?
Yeah, obviously I still enjoy riding. I probably enjoy it more in the sense that when you are not having to pin it all day everyday and do motos and stuff, just to come out with friends and make it fun like when you started. The riding is really enjoyable. Don’t get me wrong, I still miss the racing aspect of it, especially when I go and watch the races and I’m not down there. But for me just to go cruise around and have fun, I still enjoy that a lot. I’ve been busy with a lot of business stuff, so I haven’t been riding as much as I’d like to, and definitely not training like I use to. All of a sudden you get this belly developing, so I definitely don’t want to be in that category. But it’s a fun way to get exercise at the end of the day. I love the sport, I love riding, so it’s nice just to come out and have some fun.
So is the training aspect and preparation something that you miss? It has been such a large part of your life, was it something that you found comfort in?
As far as training as in physical training, whether it was the gym, cycling, running, or whatever, I always used to feel like I hated it because you had to do it. But when you don’t do it then you feel guilty, like you are slacking off. I think, with that side of things, I’ve done it my whole life it’s weird to not train because when you are not fit, you don’t feel that good about yourself, put it that way. Everything is harder, you ache more, and it’s not a good feeling. But, the riding aspect, I just miss it. I still like to go out into the hills with the guys when it rains, or go out to the desert. It’s not motocross all the time, it’s just riding. Whether its trail riding, desert riding, cliff jumps, whatever it may be. When you are on that bike, I think for a lot of us, it’s in our blood and you can’t just walk away. Whether I have one eye, blurred vision, or a sore back, I will still plan on riding when I’m an old man. When there is no pressure to be the fastest guy and you put your ego aside, you can have a great time.
Absolutely! Can you talk about your transition to what, as I understand it, is more of a PR role that you have with Yamaha? Although they are leaving the window open for you if you do have the opportunity to come back?
I think so. We have discussed it a little bit, and we will definitely cross that bridge when we get to it. But mainly just try to be involved, promote Yamaha in a good way, and help the guys out. Especially now that Sean Hamblin is on the team, I’ve been going out to the test track and try to help out wherever I can. Sometimes I feel like I don’t do enough for them, but I guess if they need me they’ll let me know. But I enjoy it. I’ve done some of the PR events in different parts of the country, media stuff, going to the races; a little bit of everything. Its just weird sometimes to step back as a professional racer, and be involved in and around the sport, between Langston Motorsports, importing and distributing in South Africa, being an agent as well, etc.; doing everything but racing. It’s different but it has been an enjoyable learning experience. But ultimately, as someone who mentally wasn’t ready to retire, I still have a little bit of that burning desire that I wish I was out there. It could always be worse, and if I can’t be out there racing at that level, then at least I can be involved with the sport and help in any way I can.
That’s a good way of looking at it. I had a chance a few years ago to check out a South African National at Pietermaritzburg, outside of Durban…
Some of my old stomping grounds.
Well, I was very impressed with the speed that some of the riders have. You had mentioned your role as an agent, so are you trying to help some of the younger kids transition over to the GPs in Europe or to come here to the States?
Absolutlely. One thing I would love to see is, I think for a South African kid to make it, the odds are really, really low. There are a few guys that have made it, if you look at Albertyn, Rattray, and myself, I think one thing we all had in common was fight and determination. We had to fight for everything we were ever awarded throughout our entire careers. But there is talent. There’s a kid who is on 80’s right now who is pretty impressive. But more than anything, just to be able to bring back knowledge. I think for them, the biggest thing is the intimidation factor. They watch all the guys on TV who I’m racing against all the time. They’ll say, “So you know James Stewart?” and I say, “Yeah, I race against the guy, of course I know him.” “Does he talk to you?” and I’m like “Of course!” They are just so star-struck by guys like McGrath, Carmichael, Reed, and Stewart. So if I can help make their lives easier, or put in a good word, or give them help with an opportunity it would be great.
I just think for the sport in general (it is important) no matter where it is. There’s probably some kid in South America or Russia, that’s really talented, and if he had the opportunity, might be the next big talent. There are a lot of countries in the world, but everyone looks in the same places. Naturally the US, and then Europe, but there is talent out there, and if you can pave the way for those guys, get them on the right track at a young enough age you’ll see more uncovered talent than ever.
So your family has a big presence in South Africa with Langston Racing.
We are a big distribution company down there. We sponsor a couple teams, some of the fast guys, but even just underprivileged kids, whose parents couldn’t afford to race if we were not helping. We also sponsor different events, helping with track preparations, things like that. When you are busy those things are not your priority, but now that I’m not zoned in on racing all the time, it gives me the opportunity to work on these things. But I don’t really have any set plan because I feel that I am a little in limbo and I am getting my feet wet in various ways. But what Langston Racing is doing is probably something that I will become more involved with in the future.
As you mentioned, you feel that you are in limbo. Obviously your fans miss seeing you out on the track and are wondering what is happening with your eye; what’s the recovery time frame, or is it an ongoing, day-to-day situation?
Well, what I have is so rare that they don’t have a whole lot of facts about it. A broken arm, they’ll tell you six to eight weeks and you can go race. For me, with radiation they said normally it’s about a three-month process. They had to do the radiation to kill the melanoma, because if it spreads, which it has a very high chance of doing, it could go to your brain, your organs, and ultimately kill you. There is no guarantee that the eye or the vision will ever improve. At this point, I think I’m flying back next week to see the doctor in Cleveland and they will reevaluate all of the tests.
I have waited a while now with no improvement whatsoever, so it gets a little disheartening. However, I made a promise to myself and my family that I wouldn’t go out there and risk it until my eye was 100%. I think I’ve made a lot of silly mistakes in my life, coming back too early, or deep down knowing it probably was not the best decision, but you do it anyway. If I’m out there struggling, frustrated, crashing because I didn’t see a hole, or shadow or a rut, I’m not going to be having fun. If I’m not having fun, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to be frustrated every weekend, not running where I believe I should be. That is not what I want to do. Like I said, if can’t race at 100%, but I’m still healthy and can ride at 80% and still have fun, then that is what I’m going to do.
You seem to have a very good attitude about your situation, looking toward the positive side of things.
There’s no point sitting around and pouting about it. I have always said, my whole life, everything happens for a reason and what’s done is done. There are guys who have dealt with dangerous things; serious injuries and the like. I have my health, my family, friends, and fans. When people tell me they miss me out there, part of me gets a little kick out of it because its nice to hear those things, and I always think, “man, I wish I could go out there.” But we’ll see. If nothing changes, as a professional I think I would have to call it quits. But my doctors have said its even taken up to a year for peoples’ vision to correct. What people don’t realize is that the majority of the those with melanoma of the eye, their vision never improves, it just deteriorates because of the radiation. Your eye is such a delicate part of the body. Any form of cancer treatment is a pretty potent form of treatment, and they do it because your life is more important that your vision in once eye. So the radiation is the best decision.
Grant, thanks for speaking with us and have fun out there on the track today.
Thanks a lot.