Flashback: Have you ever ridden in the Honda big rig?

Flashback: Have you ever ridden in the Honda big rig?


My name is Tom Gildea. I’m the ‘truck driver’ for American Honda’s Motocross racing team. Our team for this year is Sebastien Tortelli, Ezra Lusk, and Kevin Windham.

Many fans see the riders on the weekends, but not too many people get to see what goes on behind the scenes. I’ll try to share some of that with you via photos, and with words.

The truck that I drive is called ‘The Big Truck’. And close behind is a smaller truck we affectionately call ‘Little Pete’ (as in Peterbilt Trucks). It’s driven by Mark Hough.

Let’s start with some facts on the bigger truck:

  • Turbo-diesel engine, 850 cubic inches, 500 horsepower
  • Motor holds 10 gallons of oil
  • Weighs 80,000 pounds
  • Transmission has 10 gears (5 low and 5 high)
  • Fuel tank holds 280 gallons ($400 to fill it up!)
  • Gas mileage – 5.3 to 6.1 miles per gallon.

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The motor of the big rig, and inside the trailer. Notice the Honda van loaded in the rear.

You’ve got to be a motorcycling enthusiast to have any of the jobs ‘behind the scenes’ because it’s seven days a week. For me, driving is the easy part! Each and every day can be something completely different. An example is the Monday after the Daytona supercross. Both the motocross and road race teams shot TV commercials at Daytona International Speedway. Start time was 5:45am.

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All of these are shots of Honda’s TV commercial shot at Daytona on the Monday after the Daytona supercross

Typically, on Monday we finish the prep work on the bikes for the next weekend, and do any ‘extra’ things with the team. (Such as the TV commercial at Daytona shown above.) Tuesdays & Wednesdays are normally set aside for driving to the next event. Thursday is devoted to the truck itself, working on it, cleaning and polishing, especially all the chrome. On Friday, we set up the truck and pit area, and there is always more cleaning and polishing of the truck. On Friday nights we get groceries for the team for the entire weekend. On Saturday we finish setting up our pits, including the frame and awning. Next we prepare all the autograph materials and posters, and then make everyone lunch. After that come the practice riding sessions on the track. We videotape the practices, and then review the videotape. After the racing is over we clean the pits, pack the truck, and finish up around midnight.Sundaysare a prep day for the bikes.

DRIVING THE TRUCK Flashback: Have you ever ridden in the Honda big rig? - Photo 6 of 11 There are many things that go into driving a big truck. Everything has to be carefully planned out, whether it’s stopping to eat lunch or parking for the night at a hotel. Also, there are daily log books, and you have to detail every thing you do, including any stops, mileage, and exit numbers. I have to inspect the vehicle every morning and every evening when I turn it off.

When trucks have to pull over at weigh stations, that’s what we call a ‘scale house’ or ‘chicken coup’. The Department of Transportation operates those. The first thing they look for is the overall condition of the truck. Then you run across their scale, and that will weigh each axle. Most tractor trailer rigs that are out on the road are 80,000 lbs. That is the most it can weigh. On top of that, they’ve got a law and each axle can only weigh so much. You can only weigh 12,000 on the front axle, which is called the steering. You can only weigh 34,000 on the 2 drivers, which are the wheels on the back of the tractor. And you can only weigh 34,000 on the back 2 axles, and that gets you a total of 80,000 lbs.

There’s a real sense of camaraderie between all of the drivers, and there are quite a few new drivers this year. Pro-Circuit and FMF have new drivers. Suzuki has a new driver. George (Kawasaki), Pat (Yamaha), Rudy (Yamaha of Troy), and Brian (Chaparral) have been driving for a while. Those guys I know the best, because we’ve been out here the longest. Most everyone else is new. This year our little truck (Little Pete) got a new driver – Mark. He’s a motorcycle enthusiast from the word ‘go’, and he’s driven a truck all of his life. He is easy to get along with, and is plenty happy just following me around the country or driving in front of me. He’s new to it and he’s never been to a lot of these cities, but he’s definitely got the job under control. He knows what to do.

We spend a lot of time on the road …. we all try to help each other out. A good example is George with Kawasaki. He helped me back up my truck up at Daytona so I didn’t have to get out to look where I was going. When you are in the truck and on the road, it’s maybe the easiest part of the job, you can turn on the CD player, look at the view, and there’s not too much detail work. We get to see and experience a lot crisscrossing the country, …. sunrises, sunsets, shooting stars, …. even animals.

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Tom unloads the Honda van from the big rig

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Tortelli & Windham’s bikes inside the truck
OUR TEAM We have 3 riders and 3 mechanics. I like all of them. Each mechanic is different, each rider is different. Their sense of humor is different, their work ethic is different. They are all fun and they all match good together. I think we’ve got the bikes, mechanics, and the riders to win, they just need to believe in themselves.

Mike (Ezra’s tech) and I are the closest, because we’ve been together the longest. Alley (Kevin’s tech) has been like a breath of fresh air, because he is the joker, the light hearted kid from down south. But he knows his stuff, he knows how to get his job done. Shane (Sebastien’s tech) has been on the road for a long time with various teams. He was a good rider in his day too.

This is Ezra’s third year on the team, so we’ve been through a few wars together. He’s quiet, and he’s very confident. Kevin is happy-go-lucky, definitely a prankster, and probably the most natural of the 3 as far as riding ability goes. Talent wise, Ezra’s darn good, but he has to work and work and work at it. Probably a lot like they said Jeff Stanton was. Sebastien, he’s very quiet, he keeps to himself. He’s strong, with a real good work ethic. He’s good at motivating himself to work and train hard. He wants to be the very best.

I think all three of our riders are capable of winning, and will win outdoors this year. It’s going to be interesting! Keep in mind though, our riders are all very young. All of them are just now starting to come into their own, and it takes different things to motivate them. I like all of them. They are human, and all have their strong and weak points.

MY BACKGROUND I’m 44 years old, I just got married in October of last year. I have a home in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. I love the desert, and water sports, … boat racing, fishing, and water skiing. I met my wife in Lake Havasu, and that’s where she was raised. It’s a unique place. It was nice to find somebody who had lived there and knew what it was all about. Although my hobbies are fishing and water skiing, I bought myself a new little toy this year …. the 2000 model Honda S 2000 … the little convertible.

I enjoy the outdoor races more, because that’s what I did when I was younger. I like being out in the country, it’s green, it’s trees, it’s out in the open. The trucks get a lot dirtier, and there’s definitely more work involved though. I enjoy going to Washougal because of the weather and scenery, and it’s a change of pace after leaving the corn fields of Troy. I enjoy Southwick because of the countryside and scenery too. But it’s also a lot of work because it’s a sand track, and sand causes havoc with the inside of the truck’s trailer, and all the equipment.

I started in motorcycling a long time ago, working at a Honda dealership in California. I was young, I didn’t even have a driver’s license when I started working there. I raced buggies, helped crew on off-road cars, and was a co-driver in a few of them too. I raced motorcycles (motocross and desert). When the Honda Odysseys came out I got involved in starting up that type of racing at Corona Raceway with Ron Crandle and some of the other folks at Honda. We did it as fun, and it really blossomed, especially in southern California. Next thing you know the 250R was going to come out and thru my association with Honda, I was asked if I wanted to ride one of the 250 3-wheelers in the Baja races. That began another type of racing for me, because 3-wheeler races in the desert were brand new. That was 1981 thru early 1984. As my racing career wound down, I picked up wrenches and started being a mechanic. Later, I ended up going into the Power Equipment division when the 3 wheeler program folded at the end of 1986. It was a rough time for me personally and I ended up leaving the company, but on good terms. I stayed in contact with a lot of the folks, especially Wes McCoy, Chuck Miller and Bruce O. I went to Lake Havasu City, and started a whole new life style and my own business there. When Honda decided to put a semi together to shuttle the motocross team around, the team manager was Wes McCoy. He called and asked me if I was interested in helping to make the truck a reality. Then I started working with him getting the truck and trailer built on paper.

Officially we took delivery of the truck in September of ’96 to start getting it ready to go. The start of the ’97 season is when we put it on the road. I enjoy my job a great deal. It’s a lot of hard work, and at times you don’t get the thanks you think you deserve, and we all spend a lot of time away from home. It would be great if I could find something that my wife could do …. I know she wants to travel along with me a little bit or least be able to. We’re working on that right now, maybe it will happen and maybe it won’t, but every chance we have, both of us get together, either I’ll fly home or she’s flies out.

I’m fortunate that in Lake Havasu City anything and everything I need to get the truck worked on in the off season is there. I’ve been allowed in the past to take the truck home and work on it and get everything done there during the off season. Whether it’s painting, fabricating, or repairing awnings, I’m able to do that at home. I can sleep in my own bed and spend some time around the house doing those kind of things, since I’m gone most of the year. It’s all working out very well.

I hope this has given you a little insight into what goes on behind the scenes and what some of us do. Keep in mind, there are 16 other big rig drivers out there too. See you on the road, or at the races!

OTHERS SPEAK Mark Hough: I work for Honda too, I drive the ‘little’ truck. We do the hospitality and the suspension out of that truck. I love my job, and I’m a dirt bike enthusiast. The best thing about my job is that I get to travel and I get to go to new places. Tom’s a good guy. We get along great and we work as a team.

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Mark Hough

Shane Drew – Sebastien Tortelli’s mechanic: Tom and Mark do a really good job. Mark is new to our team, and came from a motorcycle background as an enthusiast and takes real good care of the truck. Tom and Mark are happy and hard working, which provide a great work atmosphere for the team.

Cliff White – Honda Team Manager – All the people are key people … it doesn’t matter if they drive a truck or race the bikes. Everybody has an important role to play. As far as I’m concerned, our people are the most responsible and mature in racing. and that includes everything involved in transporting a million dollars down the highway. I know I can always depend on Tom and Mark to do their job. I’m always confident everything will be ready when we get there. That includes any situation that comes along, whether it’s a blizzard, something happens to the truck, or anything else, … I know they will do whatever is necessary to make it happen. They are 100% dependable. and they can chip in any time we need anything extra, to help work on the bikes or anything. They’re always ready to make it happen. Others behind the scenes include Ron Wood, who heads up our testing department. He does all the testing, including building all the test bikes. Back in the race shop we have Brad Chapman who handles all of our parts. That includes our race team, the FMF race team, and the Factory Connection team. We have a fabricator who works with our team and the road race team. He can make the most beautiful part out of nothing. His name is Tom Jobe. Everyone behind the scenes is important.

Dodie Gildea – Tom’s wife: Tom loves his job, and Honda treats him very well. January through May he only has two weeks off. And then May through September he has another one or two weeks off. Right now we have decided not to have kids. Our home is in Lake Havasu (Arizona) and I spend most of my time there.

Jim – Driver for FMF Honda: My home is in Apple Valley, California. This is my first season. Tom knows the ropes, and he has been a great help to me, guiding me into cities and hotels. He’s been doing it for long time and he’s a great asset to me. Driving a truck is something I have always wanted to do, it’s like a dream come true. I worked in the building trade for many years and after that I wanted to drive trucks and see the country. If I had my way I’d have a big long nose Peterbilt (laughs) …. and with the endless washings and polishing of these trucks, I’d have pavement and concrete all the way ….. no dirt or dust anywhere (laughs)!

Gary Christopher – Senior Manager of Motorcycle Press Relations and Motorcycle Sports / Rider Education: Tom and Mark, like so many of the support team, do so much work that the fans never see, and they don’t realize the kind of dedication that these guys exhibit everyday. The riders deserve a lot of the spotlight as they should, but these guys are the people who make this possible. I think what they don’t realize is that there are hours and hours of late nights that these guys are up either building the bikes or traveling to the next race. There is a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that the show goes off in a way that is spectacular and exciting for the fans. In Tom and Mark’s case, not only are they doing the support work at the races and they have to be responsible for maintaining their transporter and making sure that those things are really spiffy and clean and make a nice presentation to the public. So they’ve got lots and lots of work to do during the week so that when they roll out on Thursday or Friday to a supercross location that Honda is seen in the very best light and that the trucks are immaculately clean. That they are properly stocked with parts and equipment to support the team technicians. It’s really an amazing amount of work that goes into what they do and I think the thing that really impresses me the most about these guys and again what the fans don’t see so much is that there’s no way that money alone can be the motivation for what these guys do. If they don’t have the passion in their hearts for racing, there’s no amount of money that’s going to compensate then for really what they sacrifice to make the show go on. I was in Pontiac a few weeks ago. It was bitter cold, there was snow all on the ground, so these guys are having to set up their pits with 8 inches of snow around. It’s cold, they’ve got to do all their prep work on the bikes, they’ve got to try to make the transporters presentable in conditions that are horrible. and you never hear them complain about it, they just go ahead and do what it takes to put the show on. It’s really impressive. I just thought that I had respect for what they do until I had lived with them a little bit and experienced some of those conditions that they work in and it’s phenomenal. I can’t thank them enough for the dedication they show.

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Kevin Windham & a fan

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Mark Hough, Dodie & Tom Gildea

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