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NAME: Mark DeGross
RACE #: 35
RACE CLUBS/SERIES: WMRRA/OMRRA/AFM/CVMA/AMA
CURRENT BIKE: 2016 Yamaha R1
CITY/STATE: Bend, OR
QUOTE: "Your actions speak so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying."
Mark DeGross, a KYT sponsored rider and owner of 2Fast Trackdays and Instruction in the Pacific Northwest definitely has stories to tell. An old salt in the club racing scene, Mark has persevered through decades of ups and downs in the motorcycle and racing industry. He’s been a racer, club president, club number-one plate holder, and in the dirt many times. His grit and determination have inspired his peers and competitors, myself included.
I’ve known Mark for almost ten years and have witnessed firsthand the old adage, ‘you can’t keep a good man down.’ No one I know compares to Mark’s ability to ride clapped out bikes, ripped up leathers, and god-awful tires. He’s a modern-day track warrior, hard as nails. He seems to have endless energy. Even during his roughest patches, he never said an ill word about anyone or anything. His positive attitude and optimism make him a joy to be around. And he’s incredibly fast… for an old fart.
It is a privilege to know and ride with Mark. I’m happy to introduce him to the KYT ant army as our first interview in our KYT Featured Riders blog series as we sit down and chat motorcycles.
How did you get into riding motorcycles, and at what age?
I think the first time I threw my leg over motorcycle was probably… I had to be 8 or 9 in Anderson, California. We lived there for a short while. My dad had a little XL175 enduro and I think I got to ride on the back of it. I always wanted a motorcycle but my parents didn't let me have one—probably pretty wise—it kept me off of them for a while. I bought my first bike in junior high at the age of 13 or 14 years old. It was an XL125 that wasn't running and for one of my class projects I rebuilt the engine and then started riding it.
How long have you been racing?
I got my race license in July of 2001 up here in the Pacific Northwest with WMRRA, the Washington Motorcycle Road Racing Association. I had a motorcycle all through college and then sold it for my wife's wedding ring (womp, womp). Later I got a RC51 in fall of 2000 and decided, wow, I need to learn how to ride this thing! I hadn’t been riding in so long. So, I went down to Jason Pridmore Star school in Parhump, Nevada–loved it–dragged me knee for the first time. Then I came back up to Washington and took Mike Sullivan’s school at Spokane Raceway Park. He grabbed me by the shoulders and said “you go pretty good, you might enjoy this stuff” and basically roped me into racing. I owe it to Jason and Mike; those are two great mentors of mine. But yeah, July of 2001 is when I first started racing.
Do you work in the motorsports industry? If yes, for how long? If no, what do you do?
When I first started racing motorcycles I actually was working with my dad and our business of aerial photogrammetry. My degree is in chemical engineering. I got accepted for a PhD in molecular bioengineering and decided not to go through with it, but worked as an engineer for years.
As I got more into racing, I decided to start a track day company, 2Fast Motorcycle Track Days, in 2003. Supporting three kids and a wife on an engineer’s income wasn’t quite going to cut the mustard. By 2015 I went full time with 2Fast. So, for the last 8 years I have been running my track day business full time. It's been very fulfilling, very fun. I have worked off and on with odd jobs doing a few things to supplement my income—mainly working at Mtech in Bend, Oregon, running the front desk for them. Right now, I’m working full-time with 2Fast. My track days are in the Pacific Northwest at the Ridge Motorsports Park, Pacific Raceway, Portland International, and Oregon Raceway Park.
Who is your racing hero?
I just can’t answer that with one because there are so many. And on top of that I didn’t even get into racing, and into watching motorcycle racing until I was 33 years old. My heroes were all football, baseball, wrestling—those are the sports I grew up playing—and ended up playing division one football for University of Washington (Go Dawgs!). The guys that caught my attention in 2001 were MX guys—Ricky Carmichael, and Bob Hannah, James Bubba Stewart, and those kinds of guys.
Through my charity event with 2Fast—the Seattle100—I got to meet a lot of pro road racers in person, and saw the class acts they are—Jason Pridmore, Danny Eslick, Josh Hayes—love his grit, determination, and his drive to win—Jake Zemke, another class act. I still see him and Josh Hayes from time to time. And of course, Mat Mladin. He was such a force. He came to the Seattle100, and what a great guy. With my football background, the things I found I admired most about certain racers is their grit, determination, and overcoming adversity after injuries or being down on points. There are endless stories in motorsports like that. After all that blah, blah, blah, if I have to put it down to one racer… (drum roll), how do you not pick Valentino Rossi?
Who or what do you think is the next big thing in motorcycles/racing?
You can go down a rabbit hole on this. Currently I’ve been pondering how Americans—not so much Europeans—spectators don’t really appreciate the speed and athleticism that the top riders have. From the spectator standpoint, if they could get VR headsets for watching MotoGP, or motorcycle racing in general, it could have a profound impact on the sport in America—in turn bringing more participation into the sport. It’s tough to say, but that’s my two cents.
What is your favorite track/ride?
I’ve always been a West Coast rider. I’ve been to almost all of them over here—even down to Miller in Utah. We have The Ridge up here in the northwest, which I love. Pacific Raceways is also great. There are some good ones in California, but for the layout, the history, the technical challenge, I have to go with Laguna Seca. By far, Laguna is my favorite.
Man! That’s a tough one! Ha! I’d say whatever bike I’m riding at the moment (laughs). Are we talking dirt? Street? Track? For someone who loves the rush and the pure raw power of a motorcycle, nothing beats a liter bike on the track. Trying to manage the power, balance the power with cornering and maximizing your exits. I think that’s enjoyable. My current ride is a 2016 Yamaha R1. I’ve been able to ride a lot of customer bikes. I do get a chance to ride a lot of bikes. They’re all good. What’s my favorite bike? The one between my loins! Whatever throttle I’m turning, that’s my favorite in the moment.
You have $35,000 to spend on a bike(s), what are you buying?
Wouldn’t we all like that problem? Going back to the last question, I’d certainly be looking at a new liter bike. It would come down to—electronics dictate so much about a bike. All these new bikes have such amazing characteristics. I won’t name names because I don’t want to do any manufacturer a disservice, but I’ve hopped on so many new bikes off the showroom floor and they are so amazingly powerful, yet they are so neutered because the electronics won’t let you do anything. You have to find a tuner that can flash it or a race ECU and harness that has much better electronics.
Once you get an electronics package that is adjustable in the realm you want them to work and they are working in the right spec, it makes a complete difference. A bike that was unrideable before, is now very rideable and manageable. Some of the things I’ve noticed with manufacturers, wheelie control is not subtle—it’s designed more for the street rider, but for racers, it’s horrific. That’s why a lot of guys just turn it off. But with a good tuner, you can get more of a race aspect. The two bikes I really look at are the 2022-23 Yamaha R1 with the GYTR package, and the 2017 and newer Suzuki GSXR 1000. I’ve seen a lot of guys who have switched back to Suzuki after riding other bikes because their lap times are quicker—again it all comes down to electronics and getting the power down.
If you have a monster budget, you can make a great bike out of almost anything, but you need to be able to get the horsepower down to the ground. Out of the box, with $35,000, it’s hard to beat the Yamaha with how easy it’s been to dial in.
Scariest moment on a bike?
That’s an easy one for me. I’ve had a few bad ones, but the worst for me was in 2005 at Spokane Raceway Park. It was a practice session and I had just changed my brake pads. I safety wired the calipers but with the CBR600 and the Nissin calipers, there is a single break pad pin—maybe there’s two, I can’t remember, but I didn’t torque them down. I must have got distracted when someone came over to me and we got to talking as I was swapping the pads out.
Anyway, went out to practice, and when I went into turn 4—a heavy braking zone—probably doing 130-140 mph, I went to grab my bakes and my pads had fallen out of my caliper. At that time, you came off at turn 4, before the new layout, it was track exit. So, I’m entering hot pits at 130 mph trying to use my back brake, pumping my front brakes, trying to get them to come back. They’re not coming back. There’re people walking around, bike stands, and all sorts of junk laying around the pits and I’m dodging trucks, cars—at that time at Spokane, it was a junkyard. I start thinking I might save it as I had been able to scrub some speed. Then I look down and there’s a cement culvert right in front of me. That’s the last thing I remember. Apparently, I did some flips, landed on a chain link fence and broke my femur.
The irony is that I made it so far back into the pits I was literally thirty-yards away from the ambulance. They didn’t even have to drive it over. They took the gurney out the back and walked (more like ran) it over to me. That was by far my scariest moment. The terror of not being able to stop, flying into an area where’s there are people and junk everywhere. It wasn’t pretty. Broke my femur, crushed my calf, almost bit my tongue off, separated my shoulder. Yeah, May 28th, 2005. That was by far the scariest. Not a pretty day.
Best moment on a bike?
It’s going to seem mundane, but to me, it was monumental. I just started racing and had graduated to expert. It was my first win in open GP twins. I was on a RC51, a lot of guys were on Ducati 996s at the time. I remember winning that race. The previous five years I was trying to run a business and failed miserably. I was dejected, demoralized, and felt like I couldn’t win at anything. That’s why some of my favorite heroes are those that don’t give up and keep trying. I was determined to find someplace in life I could win and succeed at something. Man, it was just a stupid little club race. I always joke we put our life on the line and do this crazy stuff for plastic trophies and high-fives. In the whole perspective of life, it’s really not worth it, but to me that first win I got as an expert was huge. I remember crying on the cool down lap thinking, I finally did something, I finally did something I could win at. That was probably my best moment on a bike. I have so many other good ones, but that first win in 2003 still resonates with me.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mark DeGross and 2Fast trackdays, you can find him through his website: https://2-fast.org
Photo Credit: Cali Photography