“He made, you know? As he always does. He made it look good. He made it look easy. But that jump was frickin’ huge. I’m sure driving towards that jump at 105 miles per hour it looked like a toothpick. And it wasn’t steep – it was only angled at 10 degrees – but at 105 miles per hour it probably looked like a Supercross triple jump.”
This was Jeremy McGrath, seven-time Supercross Champion and member of the Greaves Motorsports Monster Energy/Toyota Off-Road teammate, making sense of it all a few minutes after Johnny Greaves – the most prolific driver in close-course racing history – had lofted his 3,800-pound PRO 2WD truck over a mind boggling gap of 301-feet to set a new World Record.
It all began on blustery Friday morning, December 18, 2009, when the Greaves Team, working out of a drafty barn nestled on McGrath’s ranch on the FAR outskirts of San Diego, California, switched out a 500 gear to a 488 gear to conjure up enough top-end out of the 351 cubic inch, 800-horsepower Toyota NASCAR Camping World Truck Series engine to push the beastly Toyota towards the heavens – and more importantly – over a 180-foot gap and towards the 300-foot mark.
It didn’t come easy for Greaves and the Toyota as variables such as wheel spin, revolutions per minute, traction, wind and peak horsepower at the peak time (at the peak of the jump) all had to be factored into a certain ad hoc calculus and tweaked with before the Wisconsin native finally, after several attempts, came up aces high at the 301 mark. An hour later and in a small ranch house, we spoke with a happy and admittedly relived Greaves.
Johnny, it’s been about an hour since you touched down with a new World Record of 301 feet. How do you feel? Do you feel happy? Do you feel like you’ve pulled off a huge accomplishment? What’s going through your head? I’d have to assume it’s a different feeling than winning a race?
Yeah. It’s a whole special prize in itself. You know it’s a whole special prize in itself. You know, it’s all that stuff. I was relived. I didn’t want to stop until I got it done. I really thought we were close enough to get it done. At the same, I didn’t know how many times you could push that button! So, I was relived to finally get it done and I’m totally pumped. I was beginning to think we weren’t going to get it today. I just said, “All right. A couple more shots and this is all she’s got.”
It took you a number of attempts to set the record. What was happening? I know Shaggy (Toyota engine tech) showed me the telemetry of the engine after each jump and we could see the RPMs and overall powerband of the engine was all over the place…
Yeah, what really helped out was that he showed me that when I short shifted that I got my speed up so much earlier and it gave me the speed at the ramp. Before, I was gaining the speed right at the bottom of the ramp and I needed that five miles per hour going up. I was 104 miles per hour at the bottom of the ramp and then I was able to easily able to pick up that one more mile per hour. We needed to be at 105.5 miles per hour and that’s exactly what I hit it at and we got exactly 301 feet. It’s pretty cool when you can work with a group of guys that can tell you “this is the ramp we need and this is the speed we need” and it’s done.
Does this accomplishment feel different from, say, winning a race?
Oh yeah. This is something that, well, who is going to take it away? Nobody for a while. You know a race is a week-to-week thing and it’s great and championships are great, but this is going to go in the record books. It’s super to have this kind of accomplishment.
You went 260 feet while practicing on Thursday. When you woke up this morning, did you feel confident about things or were you nervous at all?
I was a little bit nervous. I woke up and I was going to go ride down there and look at the ramp and talk about what we need to do, but my brother was already in Jeremy’s horse barn tearing the truck apart and getting the gearing right and I was like, “All right, it’s on!” I knew the hardest thing to deal with today was that we moved the ramp back 80 feet, so there was very little room for error or to be able to ease into it. Yesterday I could ease into it. I think the first time I hit the ramp, I hit it at 75 miles per hour and flew 200 feet. But I still plenty of cushion. Today the gap was 200 feet, so anything less than 95 miles per hour and I was going to auger into the face of the landing.
This morning, when you came at the jump at 95 miles per hour and in a wail of 9,200 revolutions per minute – the Truck sounded like a Formula 1 car – to make your first attempt, you lifted a little. How was that first jump? We’re just sort of feeling it all out?
We had a plan. Yesterday we didn’t jump with the hood on because they really act different with the hood. So on the first jump, I definitely lifted. I wasn’t even trying for anything but to get across and get the feel for how the truck was going to react. After two jumps, I really got the feel of how to get the truck to fly and rotate right and how much throttle I needed in the air to keep it somewhat flat with the ground.
So, like a motocross bike, you were using the throttle up in the air to keep the truck balanced. Is that why you used the P2 truck as opposed to the P4 truck?
Yeah, you can really manipulate the flight of the truck with the rear wheel – just like a dirt bike. I’d actually hit the jump and rag the brake a little bit and get it to flatten out. Once I got the feel for that, then I was like, “All right, I’m good. Wide open!”
After you nailed a couple of jumps, were you like, “I think I can do this if I can just time it up right”?
There was a little bit of wind and when we caught the tailwind just right, it would give me that extra three feet each time. The last time I went, I was like, “This is everything she’s got” I got on the road just right, got my speed up just right and was at 105 and a half when I left that ramp. It rotated right so the front wheels would land first and it worked out.
Right from when you dropped the truck in gear, can you explain how the final run went?
Yeah – I don’t even know how long the road was, it had to be three-quarters of a mile long – but the dirt way back in the woods was so soft that first gear was just like “WAAAAHHHH!” I couldn’t get hooked-up. So then I short shifted to second to try to load the power and try and get hooked up. So I just short shifted and just let it eat in third as long as I could. That’s what I did. I had to keep the powerband up over 7000 RPM because these motors like to stay up there. But man, that’s a long way to stay wide open.
What did the jump look like when you were heading at it, pell-mell, at 105 mils per hour?
It looked like a house in front of me. And then when you’d hit it, you were up there so high that I couldn’t even see the ravine or the valley until the truck started rotating down and where the mark was. I knew, “Okay, I’m getting close to the mark.” It was cool. Originally I didn’t want the truck to be that high in the air, but once we did it, it looked so cool I was like, “It looks so cool, we’ve got to be that high.” For anyone to appreciate it, that really shows the distance and the height.
Has any obstacle you’ve come across in racing compared to this?
No. Thrill-wise, this was the greatest thrill. It’s almost scary because it was kind of getting god to me, you know? (Laughter). But I kept saying to myself “You’re not going to get away with this for 10 laps!” So I finally said, “Let’s get it over with and hold it wide open and do it.” It’s the greatest thrill I’ve ever had. You can’t believe how long you’re in the air and just up in there in this massive truck floating through the air.
What if what you did today sets off a jumping war, would you go out and do it again?
I think so. Maybe next year or something. Now I’ll be able to sleep the week before because I’ve done it. I’m not a stuntman or a jump guy, but Monster gave me the opportunity to do this and I took it.
You’re 2009 TORC racing season was pretty up-and-down. Does the record make up for some of the off-song results?
You know I’m the type of guy that likes to win a lot and I had one of those seasons where I didn’t win much. I won three races. But I go back at it and we had a lot of races where we could have won, but we had a new truck. I kind of just wiped that slate clean and this is like my new beginning. This is the beginning of 2010, so look out boys!
photos by Simon Cudby