With great risk comes the potential for great reward, especially in the sport of motorcycle racing, where racers push machines to their limits simply to cross the line first. Although the reward is somewhat fleeting, to those who truly understand it, the taste of victory is a feeling unlike any other.
Tanner Giao understands it.
Giao, a 2010 La Cañada High School graduate, developed his skills in the mountains above Los Angeles. He began riding dirt bikes at a young age before making the switch to street riding in 2012.
“Growing up, I was never stellar at anything,” Giao said. “When the motorcycle came into my life, I had no idea what it was going to turn into. I don’t know if it was natural ability or that I learned quickly, but for the first time, I knew what it’s like to be truly good at something.”
Although he didn’t begin his racing career as a toddler like many of his competitors, he honed his skills in the local canyons, roads and trails of Angeles National Forest, giving him a unique advantage over the rest of the field.
“It was something I was naturally good at,” Giao said. “Now that I’ve won a couple novice and amateur championships, the sky’s the limit.”
Giao began racing in 2015, when, after a year of saving money, he bought his first race bike, a 2006 Yamaha R6, for $4,100.
He continually improved his results, and in 2015 earned the novice championship in the now defunct MotoWest GP series, an amateur racing series held at Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California, that allowed riders to gain experience and accumulate points to apply for their professional racing licenses.
The next year began a new chapter in Giao’s career, when he was picked up by the Hollywood-based Motorsport Exotica Race Team, which won all three Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association amateur championships in the 2016-17 racing season.
“Undeniably the hungriest racer I know,” said Jarred Fixler, owner and founder of Motorsport Exotica. “[Giao] can come in after an atrocious practice session and still be smiling.”
By riding a bike that met stricter regulations that season, Giao was able to compete in numerous classes — SuperSport Middleweight (a class for bikes with only certain modifications and engines no larger than 600cc) and Formula Middleweight (for bikes up to 640cc with few to no restrictions on modifications.)
On the SuperSport machine, Giao won both the SuperSport and Formula championships, giving him the overall amateur points championship last season.
“A short-term goal would just be to go into the next season, join expert, and hopefully get some podium finishes and be up there running with the fast guys,” Giao said.
With the amount of points earned, the Motorsport Exotica Race Team will move up to expert class in CVMA and compete for a shot to ride in the MotoAmerica series, the premier American road racing series, in 2019.
“I just want to see as far as I can go with this and progress as far as it’ll take me,” Giao said.
It might seem as though Giao attained his success quickly, but it’s been a steady stream of hard work, he says. His 10 years of experience dirt biking has given him the ability to ride at the level he is now, and a rigorous fitness training helps him maintain a high level of physicality throughout the race.
Giao worked with a personal trainer last year and now incorporates many of those exercises in his own routine, including Pilates and yoga. He runs several days a week, is a regular at 24 Hour Fitness and uses a stationary bike at home.
Giao also can be found working off the bike as much as possible. He works as a surveyor with Hennon Surveying and a server at Newcomb’s Ranch, a roadhouse restaurant up Angeles Crest Highway.
As with any form of racing, financial support is always sought after. Most of Giao’s expenses are paid out of pocket, and he works primarily to fund his passion.
The biggest change this year is that Motorsport Exotica will be funding and building the bike, as well as taking care of all mechanical issues and work on the bike. Motorsport Exotica is building a new 2017 Yamaha R6 from the ground up that complies with MotoAmerica SuperStock 600 regulations.
“I’m pretty confident going in,” Giao said. “Last year worked out pretty well … and carrying that momentum going forward, we’ve got a good bike, and we’ll be able to compete with these guys.”
– Max Zeronian