Amazingly, it all started with socks. Colorful, stretchy motocross socks that John and Rita Gregory – a pharmacist couple living in San Diego – figured might sell well enough to offset John’s growing racing expenses during the late 1960s. The couple sold socks out in the desert and at the track from the trunk of their car, as well as from a glass case in their pharmacy lobby.
The socks sold quite a bit better than expected, and by 1970 the Gregorys had shuttered the pharmacy and were pursuing their fledgling motocross business full-time. The new company needed a name when a business license became necessary, and one was conjured hastily while in line at the county office. John offered ‘TJ’, or Tijuana, where the socks originated. But Rita swapped the letters due to TJ’s seedy reputation. At that moment, JT Racing Imports was born. The couple hired Joel Robert to wear and promote JT socks for the princely sum of $100 and all the socks he could use. The exposure helped. They soon added matching jerseys to the line, and signed Hallman Racing – their first distributor – to sell them. They then added a product that would soon revolutionize the entire industry – nylon motocross pants.
By the mid 1970s, JT Racing’s growth mirrored that of the sport of motocross itself – meteoric. JT now offered all manner of innovative and increasingly stylish MX gear, including gloves, pants, goggles, jerseys, face guards, air filters, gear bags, chest protectors, shoulder pads, casual wear and posters. It’d also signed some of the world’s fastest racers to wear its gear, including 500cc World Champion Heikki Mikkola, USGP winner Gerrit Wolsink and 125cc National Champion Marty Smith. Now, race fans and enthusiasts could not only cheer on their favorite riders, but wear the same gear their heroes wore.
John Gregory said the company’s crazy growth was like “Surviving a crash!” JT Racing soon added Bob ‘Hurricane’ Hannah to its roster, and in the coming years signed such notable champions as Danny LaPorte, Broc Glover, Chuck Sun, Marty Tripes, Rick Burgett, Tommy Croft and Kent Howerton. In later years they’d sign Jeff Ward, David Bailey, Ricky Johnson, Johnny O’Mara, Ron Lechien and others. These champions helped with R&D in addition to racking up race wins and championships, and were featured attractions in JT’s unique promotional campaigns. There was a personal element to the JT team as well. “Being with JT,” remembers longtime JT rider Broc Glover, “was like having a second set of parents – a real family thing.”
Armed with the sport’s best riders, all wearing the most stylish and technically advanced gear available, JT Racing led the way, continually resetting the bar during the late ’70s and following a technological and design trajectory that would ensure its place at the front of the pack for years to come. JT, for instance, launched its own leather motocross boot. It introduced fully personalized head-to-toe outfits for Hannah and Mikkola, the world’s top riders at the time. It debuted new materials and color schemes seemingly every few months. It offered several different glove designs as well as custom lettering. It also led the way on upper-body protection, introducing the Ventilator and Team Screen chest protection systems. Meanwhile, JT riders seemed to win everything in sight, with Hannah, Burgett, Glover, Laporte and Howerton all scoring national championships during this era.
The trend continued well into the ’80s – true glory years for JT Racing. In 1980, Chuck Sun won the 500cc national title. In ’81, Team USA won its first of 13 successive MX des Nations titles, the entire team – Laporte, Sun, Hansen and O’Mara – outfitted in JT gear. In ’82, LaPorte won the 250cc world championship, with Hansen taking the 250cc outdoor and Supercross titles. In ’83, JT introduced the revolutionary V2000 and V500 chest protectors, which Bailey wore en-route to the 1983 Supercross and 250cc outdoor title. Bailey continued his assault on the 500cc national championship in ’84, winning it outright while wearing JT’s radical new ALS-1 helmet.
He repeated the 500cc feat in ’86 while wearing one of JT Racing’s most memorable products – the revolutionary full-face ALS-2 helmet. With its trick venting system and integrated visor assembly, the ALS-2 broke new ground both technically and stylistically.
Other innovative JT products from the ’80s include the Flexon glove, Pro-Tour jersey, Life-Line gloves, Mouthtrap mouth guard, fully vented gear – a first – and a range of wild colors and prints, including Glover’s pink gear, Lechien’s Dalmation and Dem Bones prints, Bailey’s fluorescent orange gear and much more.
Jean-Michel Bayle, the 1988 125cc and 1989 250cc world champion, continued JT’s championship tradition into the 1990s by winning the ’91 Supercross, 250cc outdoor and 500cc outdoor titles – a truly stunning achievement.
Innovation. Style. Champions. The combination had worked flawlessly for nearly three decades, and had transformed JT Racing into the world’s dominant motocross gear company. But things change, and in 2001, John and Rita Gregory sold their esteemed company and retired, sending the JT Racing motocross brand into hibernation for a decade. “When I left JT Racing to work for ESPN in the mid 1990s,” remembers David Bailey, who’d been a designer there after his career-ending crash in ’87, “I sorta thought the brand would soon be dead and buried. Which it was, and for a long time. The latter 1990s weren’t kind to JT’s motocross efforts. But it seems you can’t keep a good company down. This brand is strong, and it still resonates.” Time for the next chapter in the JT Racing legacy.X