On the 5th of September, at the 1999 NBL Grand Nationals, mild mannered webmaster of BMX Mania, Jerry Landrum, donned the bmxultra.com reporters cap, held Neal Wood at gun point and read him some questions I sent months prior, the result is this fine interview.
here with Neal Wood at the 1999 NBL Grand Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky,
USA. Neal you seem pretty excited, what happened today?
Neal: It's the 99 Grand Nationals and I finished 2nd behind Dale Holmes, my room-mate, who's also English. Also, there was a three way battle between me, Danny Nelson and Christophe Leveque for the Huffy Road to Glory Series, and uh, I won that, so I win a brand new Kawasaki KX250 motorcycle.
bmxultra.com: Not bad, I know it's been a long time coming, and you certainly
are a deserving person and one of the nice guys of BMX and it's nice to
see you win.
Neal: Thank you very much.
bmxultra.com: Neal, thanks very much for the interview, and I just want
you to know that I am a very big fan.
Neal: Thanks for that, Shane, and I hope you enjoy BMX as much as I do, I love Australia, I'm comin' out to Melbourne in October, I'm not sure where, not so much to ride, but to just hang out.
bmxultra.com: How, when and where did you get involved in BMX?
Neal: England...1984...BMX was pretty big. For Christmas, me and my brothers all got BMX for Christmas. After that, I just started racin', local track, I got third at my first race. It was just the 13 year old class, there was no Rookie class, just all 13 year old kids in the same class. I was hooked from there on, I've never stopped racin', my brothers both quit about seven years ago.
bmxultra.com: What make and model was your first bike?
Neal: I'm probably one of the luckiest kids in the world, I was readin' BMX magazines before I got my BMX bike for Christmas, and I won a frame and fork. I had two bikes, I had a Mongoose Wire Wheel, they never built it in American, it was an English Mongoose. I also had a Trident, made in the USA, that I built up with me bank account savings. I put CW bars on it, and a Suguino stem and red Araya 7X.
bmxultra.com: What was it that made you move to the US to race?
Neal: I got offered, voluntary redundance from my job. I'd been working for five years as an engineer and was offered voluntary redundance from my job, which meant that I was 21 years old I had full qualifications as a...I have an O.N.C. degree in engineering and they gave me about fifteen thousand dollars (laughs) so I came to America to spend it, started racing and I started winning money and couldn't spend the money, so I just stayed here, got sponsored and the rest you know.
bmxultra.com: What were your original plans, to stay indefinitely or short term?
Neal: I was just here for a three month holiday. I stayed with Todd Lyons in Ohio, just hangin out for five weeks, then went to southern California for the rest of the stay. I got back to England with no plans to return, but it was cold, I couldn't get a job, I couldn't get any money, and I didn't want to spend the money that I'd been given, I wanted to invest it. So I invested it all, and went back to America. I struggled in the beginnin', I've lived in a four bedroom house with ten guys, eatin' ramen noodles for weeks, but, yea, it's definitely worth it now.
bmxultra.com: You started out at S&M and moved on from there, right?
Neal: I was three years at S&M. Chris was, Chris Moeller was great to me, and still is a great friend, and I can't thank him enough for what he did for me. It was a business move from there, and it's worked out for me in the end, DK is a lot bigger company, well, probably not, but is much more concentrated on racin' and it's helped me be more of a professional. I'll probably work at S&M again, stickerin' frames again, y'know? (Laughter all around) I'd love to help Chris by workin' in his machine shop, that'd be kind of a dream after BMX.
bmxultra.com: What was racing like in Europe?
Neal: Exactly the same, really. Only smaller, instead of 40 guys at a race and 20 could win, there were 10 top pros at a race and 2 or 3 could win. It also differed as to the weather. BMX tracks are built different in England, they're not built out of clay like they are over here, they're built out of crushed stone. So when it rains on them, they're built like a pyramid, so that when the rain comes down, it runs off to the sides and you end up racin' on damp stone all the time. There's no carving turns in England.
bmxultra.com: What was your biggest moment in European racing?
Neal: I won like five English titles, I never won a Euro title, never won a World title, but probably my first ever English title. We were staying in a trailer and my parents were paying for everything, I fully thank them for that, they've been behind everything I've ever done in BMX, they fully support me.
bmxultra.com: Do you miss England?
Neal: I miss my parents, and I miss bein' an uncle. I had a niece sixteen months ago, and I had another one, and there's a message on my answering machine right now, and I think I could be one again, right now! So, I got to call tomorrow, cause it's too late now to call home because of the time difference.
bmxultra.com: You've really adjusted well to the U.S. haven't you?
Neal: Most of my friends in England were BMXers, so it's not that much different here, most of my friends here are as well, so it's not that much different. Hangin' out and BMXin', it's about life, y'know?
bmxultra.com: Why do you think that chromoly is so much better than alloy
when it comes to making quality BMX frames?
Neal: Well, I ride every day, and I don't want to have a seperate bike. It's proven that if you ride an aluminum bike, you ride it for six months and it's going to break, and a good chromoly bike is going to last you a couple of years, y'know? I've ridden the exact same DK for seven or eight months now, I just painted it before I came here in my garage.
bmxultra.com: So, who are your sponsors, Neal?
Neal: DK, 1-800-COLLECT, Maxxis Tires, UGP, FOX clothing, Tektro Brakes, ATi grips, Champion Nutrition, Power Bar, Profile, Stained Skin Tattoo Shop in Columbus, Ohio, they really do hook me up, and are probably one of the best sponsors I've got. Oh yeah, I can't forget Paint Can and S&M. Chris gives me handlebars and forks.
bmxultra.com: What kind of music do you like?
Neal: Updated Rockabilly, I like Punk music, Hard Core, anything that you can't buy in a normal record store!
bmxultra.com: What do you think of Neal Young?
Neal: Isn't he that old English guy from the 80's?
bmxultra.com: No, he's that old American guy from the 60's.
Neal: Well, I don't know him, I don't know anything about him.
bmxultra.com: Do you check anything out on the web? What are your favorite
Neal: I haven't seen much stuff yet, probably music stuff. I'm not the best guy to ask about that, Robbie Miranda says I don't even know how to press the start button!
bmxultra.com: At what age do you think a pro rider is too old?
Neal: I'm 28 and I'm the fastest and having the best year of my entire life, so.....Five? Five? Really? Sorry, I just found out that I got national number five, I had thought that I got six, but.....what? How'd that happen?
Brian Foster - They just totalled the points, and you got fifth, good, huh?
Neal: Yea, really! This is the highest pro ranking I've ever gotten. Now, sorry, are we still on the age one? The age question?
bmxultra.com: Yea, at what age do you think a pro rider is too old?
Neal: Y'know, I'm not going to tell you that I'm the cleanest living guy in the world, because I'm English and I drink the occasional beer, but I train every day, I eat healthy, I get good sleep, I watch what I do, and I don't abuse drugs or anything like that, so, why not into the 30's, y'know?
bmxultra.com: What do you think about Eric Rupe and Harry Leary runnin'
AA and A pro?
Neal: Exactly, those guys are racin' against 17 and 18 year old kids who are turning pro, and they're still competitive. It's the best job that I've ever had, and I don't want to lose it any more than I would a good job in an office, so I think I'll keep at it.
bmxultra.com: Race til you drop, right?
bmxultra.com: What's with all the body piercings?
Neal: I used to live near a body piercing studio in England, and I don't conform to rules anyway, I'm a nice guy, really, but I really do pretty much what I want to do, and at the time, eight years ago, that was the way to go, y'know? Nobody, had the nose piercings, nobody had the tounge piercings, nobody had the ear piercings, so that's what I wanted. Now it's run of the mill, but I like it. I'm not a pretty guy without it.
bmxultra.com: How does your training differ from when you are racing every
week to when you are not?
Neal: When I have breaks, I think that I'm one of the hardest trainers out there. I do the gym, sprints, trails, everything. When I'm racing a lot, I go to the trails, do my sprints and relax. I let the racing do the training then.
bmxultra.com: Neal has to take a minute to talk with a friend.
Christophe Leveque - I would just like to say that Neal Wood is not a good rider, he is lucky and his skills are very weak. I think that this weekend, he was very fortunate and if I had been riding well, he would have been in last place! He has too many tattoos and I think he is a scary guy.
Neal: Christophe Leveque is talking shit on me right now, but after I buy him about three beers tonight, he will once again be my friend.
Brian Foster - Hey, Neal, see what I found in the
Neal: Oh, man! Where'd you find that?
BF - In the dirt, stepped on it!
Neal: I lost my right eyelet, I have a half inch hole in my ear that it goes in, the right eyelet. I lost it after the quarter, and Brian Foster found it after the third main. Sometimes they come out when I pull my helmet off.
bmxultra.com: How do you feel about the trend to squatting heavier and
heavier weights and more gym work. It seems that some are in the gym more
than on their bikes?
Neal: I don't squat because of my back, but I do leg press and I go heavy on the leg press. If I do a heavy gym, and I know that this is a Christophe Leveque thing too, I ride my bike and do trails in the afternoon. I don't want to be classified as a meathead power rider. I do work on my power and I do work on my strength, but I do want to be known as a skilled rider.
bmxultra.com: And you could not handle a track like this one this weekend
if you were just a power rider, could you?
Neal: There's no way, the third straight on this track is one of the best pro sections that we've had all year, it's a huge step up and a huge double, if you don't feather your brakes and get backside, you'll never clear it. If you went too fast you'ld never clear it.
bmxultra.com: Did you have any trouble with it?
Neal: Touch wood, wait, I am Wood! I've got one more lap and I've made it over that thing every race this weekend.
bmxultra.com: Cause you got skills.
Neal: Uhhh, I don't want to say that, you said it!
bmxultra.com: What's your opinion on crank length, there seems to be a trend to 185mm
with smaller gears like 44/16. Is it because the tracks have bigger and
more jumps now?
Neal: 185's are too long for me, I used to use 180's all the time, uh, you got to build up, I put 182's on and I do sprints with Dale Holmes, and I didn't tell him, I didn't tell anyone, and my sprints, judging by myself were exactly the same, so I knew I could use 182's. The next day I put 185's on and he was pulling me at the end of the sprint. We call it choppin' wood, and you can't spin. So 182's are my limit, you just got to try it out. 44/16 - 182's is the Christophe gear, the Alan Foster gear, the Robbie Miranda gear right now.
bmxultra.com: I read somewhere that you really enjoyed racing in Australia.
Why is that? What was it that you enjoyed most?
Neal: People. We raced like the week before the Worlds and the worlds. The track at the Worlds was crap, the week before was great, friendly people, hangin' out, y'know, I'm English, you're Australian...I had a good time, I had a great time!
bmxultra.com: I must admit, you rode extremely well here, what did you
think of the tracks?
Neal: Like I said before, the one we raced on was a bit of a power track, a bit boring, but there was some rhythm involved. Dale Holmes did a bit of a good battle there, me and Dylan Clayton as well. And uh, it was fun, it was fun to race.
bmxultra.com: Will we ever see you back on Australian soil?
Neal: Yes you will, in October.
bmxultra.com: What was the deal with cruising around the track at Melbourne
after the Worlds abusing the locals? Some kind of tradition?
Neal: I'm Neal Wood, I'm punk rock. I might sound like a nice guy, but you won't want to meet me in a dark alley.
bmxultra.com: What does the future hold for Neal Wood?
Neal: Carry on as I am doing, riding for DK. There's a Neal Wood, DK bike comin' out, in a couple of weeks, made by a company, made in England called Pashley Cycles. So that's something that we'll be workin' on, me having my own production bike, in a signature model. Keep ridin', keep promotin', I love this sport and I want to be involved in it as long as possible. And I hope to meet you one day.
bmxultra.com: You're certainly having fun at it, aren't you?
Neal: Yes, I'm having the most fun ever, doing what I want to do, when I want to do it.
bmxultra.com: Well Neal, thanks from bmxultra.com.
Neal: No problem.
Note: All the images seen above (and many more) can be downloaded from the DK Bicycles website at www.dkbicycles.com.
Interviewed: Sep 1999