Larry Pegram - One Track Mind

Racing down the track at Phoenix International Raceway, Larry Pegram is closely tailing a bike. He pulls to the outside to pass, but he overshoots it and falls behind, leaving him trailing for the next two laps. But then, the opportunity opens up once again for a pass - he takes it. And just as he’s about to swing around, his opponent’s motor explodes, leaking oil all over the track. Pegram hits the oil, slides out of control, and slams into a wall. For many, it would have been a career-ending crash, but his family tradition is never giving up. And to Pegram, family is everything.

He is the owner of a superbike team, but Pegram doesn’t race for money or fame. In fact, he feels the business aspects of his career are weighing on his enjoyment of the sport. He has a true passion for racing, and nothing could stop him from letting loose on the track. He has ridden bikes since he was 5 years old when his parents urged him gently to pursue his passions. But Pegram didn’t need pushed to ride his bikes. He finished school a year early to go pro when he was only 16 years old. He was on the fast track in motor sports, but his unfortunate accident in 1993 put him in a 10-year losing streak. In 2009, however, he shocked the superbike world by beating an undefeated opponent, breaking out of his rut.

Now, the father of two daughters is the star of Discovery’s HD Theater reality show, Superbike Family. The show puts a real human touch to the fast-paced world of superbikes. And that human touch is everything - family is always number one for Pegram. Because when the day comes to an end and the kickstand is down, the greatest compliment he has ever received has nothing to do with his racing abilities - it was heartwarming reassurance that his daughter was best in her class in kindergarten and that whatever he and his wife were doing at home was working.

Q & A » » » » » »

How did you get into the sport? Did you get into it from an early age?

Grandpa raced motorcycles. Dad raced motorcycles. I started riding when I was three, and racing when I was five.

What was the first bike you ever owned? Still have it?
Indian 50. No, I wish I did.

Were your parents supportive of your desire to ride?
Oh yeah, 100%. It was like my dad never pushed me. He was never that little league dad. He would always say, "Let’s get a fishing boat this year and go fishing." And I was like, "Naw, we’re going riding." They were 100% supportive, but never pushy.

Did you ever ride BMX?
I did everything. I rode BMX, raced motocross, flat-track, all kinds of racing, go-karts, anything. Anything involving racing, I did it.

When did you break your first bone? Did you ride with a cast?
In fourth or fifth grade, I was riding a dirt-bike and I fell off and broke my arm. Yes, I kept riding.

Do you get a lot of speeding tickets?
No comment.

When pulled over, what do you say to get out of a speeding ticket?
God, I don’t know, somebody needs to tell me because I never get out of them. I even got an FOP card and they laugh at me, "That ain’t gonna help you at that speed, son."

In what ways do you feel that you could improve as a racer?
I think that you’re always improving; there are always things you can do better. Physically, I’d like to get more flexible, because I’ve had a lot of injuries. Mentally, if I was able to focus a little bit more on just riding instead of running the team and riding, I could probably get better.

What is the most important quality that a rider can have?
For a rider, it’s being able to calculate risk. I think that’s what it is. Everything we do is a risk, and we try to minimize it as much as possible so that you don’t fall off or make a mistake and go slower. So I can say, "So, if I do this, 98% chance it’s all fine, 2% this could happen," and be able to process that really quickly in a situation.

Who, in another profession, could you say has that same type of real-time decision making?
I think any kind of race car driver or whatever, and the guy that crashes a lot, maybe he’s fast, but he crashes a lot, is the guy that maybe couldn’t process that risk or processed it and said, "I don’t care, I’m gonna go for it anyway." I think probably the same thing with any athlete, really. The other guy is trying to stop you from doing it and being able to figure out the best way to accomplish it without being stopped, basically.

I hear you’re joining the ranks of reality TV stars with your new show Superbike Family. What is the purpose of this show?
For me, it’s a couple things. For one, it’s probably trying to educate the general public about superbike racing in the comfort of their own homes, so they don’t have to watch a race on TV and go, "What the heck are they talking about?" That, and also to get our sponsors more coverage and to grow the sport.

Do you think your job in the reality show world is to explain to people what you’re not, as much as what you are?
It shows that I’m just a regular guy. I’m not some nut job that jumps on a bike and runs down the freeway at 100 miles an hour. We race on closed race courses with all the safety we can have. And to show that, from my end, it’s a deal where I do a lot more than just race a bike, you know, being a team owner and everything.

Do you think that your show could have a positive impact on the sport of motorcycling? How so?
Of all the comments we got from everybody on the show, one of the best comments was from a guy, a race enthusiast, actually a mechanic for one of the other teams. He said, "My wife hates racing, and we were watching your show and a commercial came on, so I turned the channel and she said, 'Hey! Turn that back on. I wanna know how it ends.' So now my wife is interested in your show, even though she doesn’t particularly like racing."

Do you watch any reality TV? What’s your favorite show?
If it’s a contest, I kinda like it. But you know, I don’t watch the ones where it’s just a bunch of people fighting, drama, stuff like that. But I’ll watch The Apprentice or something like that, something where they have to do something to win. I guess I watch Fantasy Factory, fun stuff like that, too.

How do you juggle your racing commitments with your family and raising your two daughters?
Riley and Sophia. It’s nice because since I own the team and run it, the shop is by the house and my office is in the house, so I can spend a lot of time with them. Even if it’s five minutes at a time, I can come down and have lunch with them and do that. My wife, Heather, is great and does 90% of the leg-work on the deal. I get to have all the fun with them, and she’s doing all the day-to-day stuff. I make a point out of never missing anything when I’m home. If I’m gone, obviously I do, but I go to all the soccer games, gymnastics and recitals. I’m at every single thing, every single practice. For me, especially now that I’m getting older in my career, I know that there’s something other than racing motorcycles in life. Kids will make you realize that real quick. I spend a lot of time with my girls, there’s no doubt about that.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your girls?
Just hang out with them. We wrestle around. Or we play Wii, now that they’re getting old enough that they really want to do that. I got Riley a go-kart now so she’s really starting to get into that. Sophie is only two, but I got Riley a four-wheeler a couple years ago. She hasn’t really been into that and I’m kinda glad, because I don’t really want her to get into any of the racing stuff. She said she wanted one, so I got it, but she hasn’t been interested, and I certainly don’t push it.

What was your worst crash?
In ’93 when I first started racing superbikes, when I went from dirt to road racing, I fell and broke my femur, my knee and my hip all in one wreck. So that was the worst one. The hip’s been a big problem for me all through my career, and I had a hip surgery done in 2004 to fix it, so that’s kind of rejuvenated my career. I was getting to where I couldn’t really move anymore, and had that surgery done and started winning races again.

There was a race where you fell and broke your ankle and then raced the next day. Explain.
It was at Fontana. It’s been two years ago now, 2009. I crashed on Saturday, knocked me out pretty good, got a concussion and had a broken foot and some other things. We came back the next day and I raced and got third. And then we went back there last year and won the race, so that was a little bit of redemption.

You used to be with Ducati and now you’re with BMW?
Yeah, I spent the last four years with Ducati and then I was with them on and off a few years before that. The last year with Ducati we did good, we finished 4th in the championship and won one race, and they just basically kinda pulled out our superbike race in the U.S., so we’d been talking with BMW. They got a new superbike, the S1000RR, that’s really, really good. They wanted to get into racing the superbike in the U.S., so we became their team, basically.

How do you wind down after a gnarly day at the track?
It depends. If the girls go, we take the coach, so what I do then is just hang out in the motor home with the girls. If not, I go get some dinner and chill out at the hotel. One of the things I’m trying to do, and I haven’t figured out how to do it yet, is not have my emotions in my life be altered by my performance on the weekend. To be a professional athlete, and be able to say, "OK, if I get 4th on Sunday, and there’s three weeks between the next race, I’m not going to be a complete jerk for the next four weeks." Especially since I’m getting later into my career, I’m trying to be able to say, "Listen, if you don’t win, as long as you rode good, or sometimes you’re mad because the bike broke or something happened, you gotta get mad, but let it go and live your life with your kids." The kids help that; you could have the worst day in the whole world, then you see the kids and everything is fine.

What was the most memorable moment of your life?
Personally, the girls being born, no doubt about it. Professionally, probably 2009, June 7th. That’s when I won the superbike race in Wisconsin at Road America, and I hadn’t won a race for ten years. I went from where I won races and my injuries kept getting worse with my hip, and then I went and got my hip fixed and it took me three or four years to build back up. Then that day we won the race, and we beat a guy who was basically undefeated for a year, nobody could get close to him. I beat him, Mat Mladin, in a heads-up fight. We had a great battle, probably one of the best races. He’s a jerk, he hated me. He was like my arch rival.

Where was the coolest place you ever raced?
Coolest place I ever raced was a place called Assen, in Holland. I raced there in ’99 when I did some of the world championship. It’s a neat place.

What is your dream bike?

I don’t really have a dream bike. I think the BMW right now is the best bike out there. So whatever the best bike is, that’s the one I want to get.

What was the worst job you ever had?
I never had a job. I started racing when I was five. You had to be 16 to turn pro. I turned pro when I was 16, graduated school a year early and have been making money racing ever since.

What is something Columbus needs more than they will admit?
Skinny chicks. No. [Laughter] Too many fat girls in Columbus, man. They need more places to ride dirtbikes. You gotta go way far out of Columbus to be able to ride.

What do you truly hate?

What are you afraid of?

What’s the finest compliment you’ve been given?
Riley’s kindergarten teacher told us this year that whatever we’re doing to keep doing it because she was the best kid in class. Yeah, and I got good hair. [Laughter]

Is there anything you would like to forget in the course of your life?
There are lots of things. A lot of pain. Pain is weakness leaving the body, so I guess that’s alright. So I’m a lot stronger.

Can you cook anything? If so, what’s your best dish?
I can cook anything. I’m a pretty good cook. I like grilling; it’s probably my best thing, making steaks. I do the grilling and [my wife] does the cooking.

Best gift you ever bought somebody?
I bought my dad a van. He had to have a Chevy Astro. It was the only one he wanted, and they haven’t even made them for four years. So I had to find a Chevy Astro van with no miles on it. I found one with 40,000 miles, in brand new condition, that was six years old. I searched the country, high and low. Now he doesn’t put anything in there cuz it’s too nice.

What animal would you be?

Tiger. I am one all the time with my kids. They call me the tiger and get on my back and ride around and say, "Be the tiger, dad!"

Any Tattoos?
Nope. I’ve got enough scars. There’s nothing that I’m set on enough in life where I could say for the rest of my life that’s it. I change too much.

What was the first poster on your wall?
It was that old Farrah Fawcett poster with her in a bikini.

Favorite family tradition?
Never giving up.

What’s more important: speed, power or vision, and why?
Speed is probably most important, because if you have power then you have the speed. With vision, sometimes you have to close your eyes to go faster.

Who do you see as a rising star in the motorcycling world?
There are some younger kids that are doing pretty good, but it’s hard to tell. When they’re fast at 12 or 13, they have to make that next step. There are always those steps, and they each get harder.

What is the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
For me, it was settling down, getting married and having kids. That was a big step for me, but I love it. There’s no doubt that it was the right step. I always knew I wanted to have kids, but I didn’t know if I’d ever settle down. Then Heather gave me a reason. I told someone one time, "If you’ve got an adjustable rate mortgage and it gets to zero percent you lock it in, and she’s zero percent. I’m locking it in."