Gary Bailey is one of the pioneers of the sport of motocross racing in the U.S. Bailey began winning AMA nationals in the early 1970s, and later parlayed his racing experience into the nation's top motocross racing school. Bailey also was an early designer of supercross courses. He has designed the Daytona Supercross course from the beginning of that race in the early 1970s. The stepfather of motocross great David Bailey, Gary trained David as well as numerous other national champions during their formative years of learning the sport.
Bailey was born on Oct. 6, 1943 in the Los Angeles suburb of South Gate, California. His grandfather, Tex Bryant, owned a motorcycle dealership and Bailey earliest memories involve being around bikes. As a kid, Bailey hung around the shop bugging his grandfather to let him ride the bikes in the shop. At the age of 13, Bailey got his first motorcycle, a 1955 Triumph 200cc Cub. From the start, Bailey became involved in racing. He started in scrambles and desert racing. In the 1950s, before motorcycle racing became so specialized, Bailey recalls his brother and himself riding their bikes to the events, racing them, and then riding them home again.
In the early '60s, Bailey began winning a lot of the lightweight scrambles races. By the mid '60s, Bailey had moved up to the bigger bikes and dabbled in dirt track and TT racing. About that time, motocross came onto the scene in the U.S. and Bailey went back to his first love of off-road riding.
Bailey's first motocross bike was a 90cc Hodaka. The sight of Bailey, all six feet and five inches of him, racing a little 90cc motocross bike earned him the nickname of "Spiderman."
"I never knew why they were calling me 'Spiderman' until I saw a couple of pictures of me on that Hodaka," he said. "I looked like a giant on that thing."
Bailey found that his height actually gave him somewhat of an advantage.
"In those days, the bikes had very limited suspension travel and I think having long legs worked to compensate for lack of suspension."
Bailey was around when Edison Dye brought over top European stars to compete against America's learning motocross racers.
"Those guys (the Europeans) were just flat out fast," said Bailey. "They would run into a berm full blast and use the berm to turn the motorcycle. It was kind of a rude awakening for us. These guys were lapping us and making us look stupid. I knew it was time for the American riders to do our homework."
Greeves distributor Nick Nicholson approached Bailey about riding one of the British motocrossers. Bailey rode the Greeves from '68 through to the early '70s. He won a Trans-AMA support race in Lewisville, Texas, in November of 1970. It was during this time that Bailey had a chance to race in Europe at international invitational motocross races for the first time.
In 1969 at a motocross race in LaRue, Ohio, some of the European riders were scheduled to teach a motocross school the day after the race. The promoter came to Bailey to ask him if he could teach the school. The European riders had cancelled at the last minute. Bailey told the promoter he knew nothing about teaching, but the promoter persisted and Bailey found himself in front of eager students ready to learn all they could about the emerging sport of motocross. He just spent the entire day explaining to the students everything he did to prepare for, and then actually race, a motocross event.
"A funny thing happened afterwards," Bailey said. "Everyone came up to me and told me how much they enjoyed the class. And I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty interesting.' "
Back in Southern California, Bailey decided to begin teaching motocross schools. His first school was held inside Ascot Park late in December of 1969 and more than 100 students showed up for the first class.
"I was in a panic," remembers Bailey. "I didn't know what I was going to do with that many riders."
The Bailey MX schools were a hit. So much so, in fact, that Bailey decided to take his school on the road. He purchased a trailer, had it painted and hit the road.
"It was a little rough once I left Southern California," recalls Bailey. "I was one of the top riders in California and everyone knew me, but back East they didn't know Gary Bailey from Adam and a few times only five or six riders showed up. If it hadn't been for the money I was earning from racing, I would have never been able to keep doing the schools."
Bultaco came to Bailey with a proposal he couldn't refuse in 1971. And though he hated to leave Greeves and the relationships he had built there, the Bultaco offer was too good to ignore. With Bultaco, Bailey earned an Inter-AMA win in 1971 in Orlando, Florida, and two AMA 250cc motocross national victories (Washington, Indiana, and Talladega, Alabama) in 1972. Bailey was one of the early supercross riders, finishing fourth in the series in 1974. These accomplishments came at a time when his racing days were winding down. By the early 1970s Bailey was already focusing most of his attention on his schools.
By 1974 Bailey, then 30, decided to give up racing to concentrate fully on his schools. Bailey proudly mentions that in 30 years of competition he broke only one bone, and that was a knuckle on his hand when another rider ran him into a fence post.
From 1970 to 1975 Bailey lived out of a motorhome traveling from school to school across the country. Some of the biggest names of the sport came through Bailey's school. David Bailey, Damon Bradshaw, Ron Tichenor, Sebastien Tortelli, Travis Pastrana and Ryan Hughes are just a few of the riders that Bailey has worked with over the years.
At the same time Bailey was racing and running his schools, he was helping run the first stadium motocross races. He was building the tracks inside Ascot Park and was asked to build a motocross track inside Daytona International Speedway, something he continues to do. The AMA Supercross track at Daytona is considered by many riders to be the most grueling on the circuit. In the first years of supercross, Bailey also laid out the tracks in Houston and Dallas.
"My brother and I wanted to do some motocross races inside the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1970, before Mike Goodwin did it, but the money they were talking about was way out of our league," recalled Bailey.
Bailey also worked as mechanic for his stepson David Bailey in the early days of his pro career and as a race promoter of outdoor nationals in the late '80s.
From 1970 to 1999, Bailey figures he's taught more than 800 schools with thousands of students learning from his years of knowledge. When inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999, Bailey was still going strong conducting schools and designing tracks. He calls Axton, Virginia, home.