There’s nothing light about Red Bull GRC Lites. Although this spec-class of Ford Fiestas doesn’t have the Supercar Division’s horsepower, fans still enjoy intense on-track action and gutsy performances by the drivers. GRC Lites is a proving ground for drivers and race teams. This is the place within the Red Bull GRC where dues are earned and can sometimes be a school of hard knocks. However, glory can be yours if you’re tough enough to see it through; and they don’t get much tougher than California-native, Geoff Sykes. In 2013 he earned a second place finish at Charlotte Motor Speedway but this season, trophies have been an elusive quarry for him. Despite the struggles he’s faced along with the DTV Solutions team, Sykes remains fully committed to this sport. His positive attitude is one of the qualities that are making him a fan favorite.
When you walk the Red Bull GRC paddock, you can’t help but notice the difference between factory-backed teams and those that are not. The people responsible for their own preparing their own race cars are commonly referred to as privateers. Factory-backed supercar teams have big trailers, technical teams and top-of-the-line equipment. Sykes’ team which includes his Dad, Jeremy operates on a much smaller scale but has been competitive all season long. They’ve received invaluable support from his sponsors: Sony Action Cam, QuickJack by BendPak (Shop-Equipment/QuickJack), Midnight Oil Motors and RallyPro at The FIRM. I hung out with Geoff in their modest trailer on race day at Daytona International Speedway. It was a welcome respite from the Florida heat and Geoff was brimming with infectious energy. As we sat down to talk, I noticed the usual things you’ll find in a racing trailer like tools, fuel cans, Sykes’ racing helmet and well-known red fire suit hanging in the corner, but there was also photography equipment carefully laid out on a table. In addition to being a racing driver, Sykes makes his living in the film industry, so this interview actually went into “Shoot The Shooter” territory. Still I’m really happy to have met Geoff and welcome you to get to know him better too.
MLAS: Which love came first: racing or photography and video production?
Geoff Sykes: You know, they actually both came at the same time. Video production turned out to be a job and a career I followed and racing was always a hobby; and then basically I went to film school, kept doing racing, auto crossing, club events on the side. Then once I graduated and started working I basically worked to pay for racing. So at that point I did a lot more club racing, a lot more track events and then 2011 decided to start wheel-to-wheel competition while splitting my time working, you know, pretty much full time in production.
MLAS: I know that you won last year’s USTCC GT championship (which was great). How long did you compete in that series?
GS: I did one race in 2012 with US Touring Car Championship at the Sonoma WTCC event that they share and I really got hooked in with them at that point. I love the way that they put their events together. They’re tied in with big organizations like World Touring Car Championship and so after that one race I was hooked and we decided to jump in for a full season in 2013, and I think it was the best decision I could have made.
MLAS: What first drew you to racing?
GS: You know actually it was my Dad. He’s always been into racing. We used to go to the NASCAR races, Long Beach, IndyCar races as a kid so I remember that growing up. I never did any real karting like a lot of the people I race against do. I didn’t get involved in racing until I was sixteen and I actually starting doing it in my Dad’s street car. So my Dad pretty much got me started in the whole thing. Once he got his BMW M3 and we started Autocrossing it. I went out for my very first Autocross event as a sixteen year-old, fresh driver’s license, and ended up getting second place in the race against guys that have been doing it, you know, ten, twenty years or so. So at that point I kinda knew I had something. I was hooked right away and it’s all history from there.
MLAS: Are there any drivers you admire or look to for…
GS: Yeah! I really look up to Tanner Foust. He is the main reason that I got into rallycross specifically. You know I used to go to the X Games events as a kid, and when rallycross became a sport in that. You know X Games was something I never thought that I’d compete in as an extreme sports athlete but once they added like rallycross, even still it didn’t seem like anything I’d ever get into but you know watching the guys like Tanner Foust, Travis Pastrana, watching them go at it. It just looks like so much fun. It’s a mixture of a little bit of everything. All sorts of racing mixed into one.
The other drive I really look up to is Michael Schumacher. I mean look at his entire racing career, you know? I pray for the best for him right now. Growing up, Michael Schumacher was the biggest name in motorsports. When I was watching the F1 races with my Dad, going to the streets of Long Beach and all that stuff – it was always Michael Schumacher.
MLAS: It’s funny you should mention Michael Schumacher because our Facebook fans noticed you look very much like him!
GS: (laughing) Tanner calls me Schumie.
MLAS: Considering that the Red Bull GRC drivers have such different backgrounds, besides this are there any other types of motorsports that you have your eye on?
GS: Yeah, I still want to get into Touring Car racing or any sort of road racing! Unfortunately I think I’m a little old to do an open-wheel racing program but I would love to. I would love to get into a Formula racing program and stick with the road racing because I know that’s where my real talent lies and the rallycross has always been a real challenge for me. But I don’t really see myself getting into any more off-road specific type stuff other than the rallycross.
MLAS: You have a very cool day job, and if you could, describe what you do for our readers.
GS: Well the cool thing about my job is it’s different. Every job is different. It could be a commercial one day. It could be an action sports thing another day, a music video. It could be a corporate gig with a computer company. So it’s always new people, it’s new products, new everything; and I basically, I show up on set. I work in the camera department. So I set up the camera, I do lighting, I basically set up the shot. Everything you see, we set up and my favorite jobs are the ones that involve cars. So when I work on the Mother’s products commercials, when I work with Rockstar Energy and Tanner and Bucky Lasek, and I get to work on their projects – I love that type of stuff! Like I said, it never gets old.
MLAS: We have a lot of photographers on our team so feel free to geek out and talk about equipment because… (laughing)
GS: Well my favorite thing to use right now is the big cameras. You know the Red Epics, the Aerial X’s – the really high-end cameras. Personally when I’m filming I use a Canon 5D in video mode and I think the technology for one, I mean when I was in film school, film was actually just phasing out so I actually learned on film for the very end of my film school career and of course, had to learn all the digital stuff. But I’m fascinated by it and I’m fascinated (about) where it’s going to be in the next few years. The technology curve is just jumping up like exponentially and like I said, out of all the departments in production, I think I’m in the coolest one. I mean it really doesn’t get much cooler than the camera department.
MLAS: I agree, except when we’re interviewing and can still sit behind-the-camera.
GS: That’s actually something another kind of transition I’ve been going through. I’m so used to being behind-the-camera and now half the time you know when I’m working I’m behind the camera and half the time when I’m racing, I’m in front of the camera. So there’s a lot going through my mind when I’m on camera because I’m always thinking about what’s the shot look like? Is the lighting good? So all that’s going kinda through my head , so it’s kind of funny but honestly I wouldn’t change it. I definitely would like to make racing more of a career and still do film. You know if I could switch the roles and do racing as a career and film as a hobby, that’d be awesome!
Along with the film being a hobby and the racing being a career thing, in the past couple of years I’ve been transitioning into precision car driving for motion picture. So that’s one thing I’m actually chasing right now. I’ve done certification courses. I’ve actually done a few gigs. The thing that’s most appealing about doing stunt driving is that I have the camera eye from working in the camera department and I’ve got the car control from racing. Just seems like a perfect fit for me to get into something like that. So that’s actually something I’m pursuing on the film side of things that actually kind of meshes with the whole racing background.
MLAS: Your film experience shows in your Instagram account, which is very enjoyable. Do you believe that interaction with fans via social media is important for drivers and maybe in this day and age, crucial?
GS: I think the fan interaction is entirely crucial to the sport and keeps Global Rallycross and all these other racing series running. You know we’ve got a lot of series coming from the ground up like Robby Gordon’s Supertruck series, Global Rallycross and it’s basically based on the fan interaction and it’s guys like Tanner Foust, the Ken Blocks that I pick up my stuff from. So I think that I kind of have a nice mix. You know I learn what works for them and kind of see what their tags and (how) their fan interaction works and I add my cool photography. So Instagram, out of all my social media platforms, Instagram is definitely my favorite by far. It allows me to be the most creative and so I’ll tend to share all my Instagram stuff across all my social media platforms.
MLAS: We (like to) ask drivers this question: which track is your favorite?
GS: Wow! We’ll start out with rallycross but I do have a favorite road racing track. My favorite rallycross track that we’ve raced on so far goes back to last year at Bristol Motor Speedway. I think that was the best mix of everything. We had the huge bank. You could go into that thing full throttle and the car just catches. You come off the bank, into the dirt gravel section they made in the middle of the track, back onto the bank and then we had the biggest jump and the smoothest jump we’ve ever had. That by far was the best, and the fan interaction at that one was amazing because they had never seen anything like that at Bristol, and Bristol is a huge motorsport community as well. It might be a small truck but it’s a huge motorsport community. We had people there until they were kicking us out at night; and that was the most fun I’ve had at a rallycross race so far! As far as the touring car races go I actually haven’t raced much on the east coast because we’re west coast-based so I hear there’s a lot of tracks out on the east coast I want to try like VIR; but my favorite on the west coast is probably Laguna Seca.
MLAS: You kind of answered this before but what would be the summit for you as far as goals go in your racing career?
GS: That’s a great question. Like I said, I’d love to do a formula racing series. I want to do some more international racing with FIA. What’s worked for me in the past is basically taking step-by-step every year. You know I always tell people “Don’t jump in over your head. Don’t do something that you’re not going to do well in. Take your step and take your time to get there.” But what I’d be happy with is just advancing my career year-by-year and eventually getting to do some FIA races. I mean even NASCAR. NASCAR is huge in America. You know I think that would be a fun thing to try. I’m open to a lot of things right now. I’m actually very young in my professional racing career and open to a lot of things. I didn’t’ see rallycross as an option two years ago until I saw the guys and got to interact with guys like Tanner Foust. So it’s interesting, things are changing so much. New series are popping up and there’s Formula E now. I think that’s an awesome series! It all basically comes down to me performing well and getting the support from sponsors to take me to the next level.
A Final Word
It was a real joy to meet Geoff and his Dad, Jeremy. They’re good people and passionate about what they do. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for the twenty-nine year old racer/filmmaker. You can meet Geoff in person at the Red Bull GRC finale in Las Vegas, at The LINQ Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas on November 4-5, 2014. Tickets are still available at http://rbgrclv.com/. Two-day tickets start at USD $55 and $25 for kids aged six to twelve. There will be a delayed TV broadcast on NBC, Sunday November 16th at 1:30pm EST; and again on NBC Sports, Thursday November 20th at 1:30am EST. Don’t forget to connect with Geoff via the following social media links: