As inspiration to all garage-based tuners, tweakers and mechanics, Chuck Graves shows SSB how he created his own factory-backed race team and aftermarket parts company.
Tucked into its own little corner of California's porn capital is Graves Motorsports. If you own a Yamaha, you'll likely recognize the name. Even if you aren't keen on the blue and white, you've likely come across a Graves logo during one of your perusals of the Web in search of sick custom bikes and controversial forum discussions.
But how did company owner Chuck Graves move from a fruitful career as a roadracer to an aftermarket parts supplier and race team owner? We headed up to Graves' Van Nuys-based facility to have a word and check out how Graves Motorsports' trick parts make it from his backyard to our bikes.
Graves was always a tuner kid at heart, and he found himself working on his own rides more than he rode them. He remembered when the tuning bug bit him, "Back when I had my first bike, a $25 Honda 50, I made a top triple clamp out of wood with my Dad's tools. I broke it minutes later going off a jump, but I was into making stuff that I thought would work better as a kid."
Years later, Graves was setting lap records at Willow Springs while throwing some wrenches around on his bikes too. But as his side work fixing bikes grew, he had less time for racing. A brief period with Kerker exhausts and Dynojet helped further his technical knowledge beyond the hands-on stuff, and his expertise as a mechanic continued to grow each year.
It was the AMA's Formula Extreme series that Graves developed a passion for, because the "anything goes" tuning allowance left the door wide open for someone daring and knowledgeable. But as more and more rules were imposed, he lost the motivation to build. Until 1998, that is.
Yamaha's R1 hit the scene, and Graves took immediate notice. The ever-growing list of rules was hindering Graves' ability to tune his FX bikes, but the new R1 was just what he hoped for. "The bike was exactly what I thought it needed to be-small, light and powerful."
Graves continued to compete in the Formula Extreme series with good success, but just as his annoyance with the AMA rulebook became overwhelming, the Superstock class opened up and seemed like the obvious route. Now there was a place where the parts his company had been making for several years could really perform and bring out the best of his bikes. Graves expressed a bit of frustration about the confusion around his race team and the parts he was now making available to consumers. "I always wanted to bridge the gap between race products and the consumer, but a lot of people either thought Graves is part of Yamaha or an actual dealership. We're neither, though. Graves is a race team and an aftermarket-parts provider. After spending so much time developing parts, I wanted to share them with everybody, and that's how the aftermarket side of it really started to grow."
From a scrappy kid in the garage to an established racer with a stack of personal trophies to a factory-backed race team, Chuck Graves has truly come up through the ranks. And like the many garage-based builders who are developing go-fast parts or bling bits for their own rides, there might be bigger and better opportunities just around the corner.