By: Terri Stevens
Photos provided by: Scott Griffin
ATV community’s outpouring
helps family of teen rider killed at Gatorback
Zak Griffin #23
News of the death of Zachary Scott Griffin
spread quickly throughout the ATV riding and
racing community. Known as “Zak,” #23, the
16-year-old died in a tragic accident Saturday,
March 11th, while racing in the Youth Production
class of the ATVA/ITP/Moose Racing National
Motocross Series Round 3 at Gatorback Cycle Park
in Gainesville, Florida. Zak’s father, Scott
Griffin, says before he could even make it back
to the track from the hospital, a flood of
sympathy and support began, and it continues
“It’s just astounding, the outpouring and
outreach that the ATV community has done,” says
As he prepared to return home to his wife,
Patricia, in Palmetto, Georgia, Griffin says
people at Gatorback offered to take his dog,
race trailer and truck to his home while he flew
back. A ticket was waiting for him at the
airport, Griffin was told, and they would get
him there. Another said he had a private plane
waiting to take him home. Others offered to
“They didn’t care how they’d get back down to
Florida,” Griffin says.
Against their urging, he decided to make the
drive himself. Many of his friends from the
Georgia ATV Riders Association heard about the
accident, and his phone rang non-stop as he made
“They were making sure that I was making it
home,” he said.
Zak Griffin with his
collection of trophies.
On Sunday, Griffin received a call from
friend Gary Cooper, who was at the race in
“He said, ‘Man, you aren’t going to believe
what happened at the track.’”
An impromptu auction was held with items
donated to raise money for the Griffin family.
Helmets, tires, shocks, hats, t-shirts and more
were offered and bought by those at the track.
“He said it was like a never-ending thing,”
says Griffin. “People just kept giving. They’d
buy it, then put it right back up for auction.
It blew me away.”
Griffin said he was amazed that the people
would come together like that. “Zachary was a
Youth Production rider,” he says. “It wasn’t
like he was a Pro that was out there and
everybody knew him. These people didn’t know
him, and they were reaching out.”
Griffin says $13,300 was raised that Sunday.
Because they ran out of time, yet still had
items to auction and more wanting to donate,
another auction would be held the following
weekend during Round 4 at Echeconnee Off-Road
Park in Georgia.
Griffin felt compelled to personally thank
those he could by attending the race at
Echeconnee, even though driving through the
gates was one of the hardest things he has had
to do. His wife went with him, and was able to
see the compassion from this racing family.
“It is a big family,” he says.
Every quad they saw at the race had a 23 of
some form on it. “I’ve never seen so many 23’s
in my life,” Griffin said.
A friend from Alabama had memorial shirts
made for Zak’s friends to wear, and they offered
one to national pro champion John Natalie Jr.
Natalie communicated with Griffin through an ATV
forum, offering sympathy and support, and spent
about 30-45 minutes talking with them at the
race. When given the t-shirt, Natalie offered to
wear it during his sight lap, which he did.
Griffin was impressed with Natalie’s kindness,
and said Natalie had even auctioned his trophy
Zak and Scott Griffin prepare for a
“He’s an astounding, well-spoken gentleman,”
Griffin also talked to a few other pros,
including Joe Byrd and Keith Little, saying they
were all “just great.”
Griffin says his wife talked with Debi
Bartosek, whose son, Matt, died after a crash in
the 2003 ATV Winter Olympics, also at Gatorback,
and Debi gave her a pendant of an ATV with an
angel on it.
All of the support is helping them get
through these difficult days, Griffin said.
“It’s helping us heal a little bit.”
Griffin says he does not have a total from
the auction at Echeconnee yet, and he was only
able to say a few words of thanks to the crowd.
“I had to keep it short and sweet,” he said.
“I could feel the lump coming up in my throat. I
just had to walk away from the auction. I was
seeing someone pay $150 for a signed t-shirt,
then turn around and give it right back.” Then
someone brought two pit bikes and someone else
said to auction them off.
“I thought they were joking,” he said,” and
the guy was like ‘that’s why I brought them over
Although medical and funeral expenses are
beginning to come in, Griffin said they want to
try to put the money raised back into the ATV
community, and are considering ways to do so.
Griffin says he will still go to a few races,
but will probably be more active in cross
country now than motocross. Each year he races
the Maxxis Six Hours of ATV America in Georgia,
and has raced a few hare scrambles and GNCCs.
Although too young to race the GNCC, Zak did get
the chance to participate in last year’s six
hour race. Excited about the new age limit, Zak
tried to find a team to race with him.
“None of the other kids wanted to punish
themselves for six hours,” says Griffin, “so he
was kind of bummed out.”
Regardless, Zak went to pit for his dad’s
team. While there, some friends told him to grab
his gear because they had a ride for him.
Griffin said Zak was excited, and wanted to know
who he would be racing with. He was surprised to
find out it was ATV legend Donny Banks.
Zak Griffin, #23
Since he had not brought his own gear, Zak
borrowed pants that had to be held up with a
rope and a jersey so large the cuffs were taped.
About the only thing he had of his own were
gloves, which happened to be in the truck.
Griffin says Donny Banks ran a few laps, then
Zak, then Donny.
“When he comes back in, he says ‘Zak, I’m
sorry Bud, but it’s yours from here on out.’”
Banks had a sick child at home and had to leave.
“Donny was like, ‘Here you go, Bud, do me
proud.’ And Zachary pretty much maintained the
position. We figured he rode about 100 miles
straight, and didn’t lose a position.”
“Team Bulldog” took third in the B class and
“The bad part about it was he beat my team by
three minutes,” Griffin laughs.
Griffin says Zak started riding ATVs about
six years ago, and after they became friends
with multi-GNCC title winner Mike Penland, he
helped Zak with riding techniques.
Zak got a Yamaha Blaster and wanted to
compete, but was too young to race cross
country, so he joined Georgia’s ATV motocross
series in 2004. Most of the year was spent
learning about motocross and the world of
differences between it and cross country racing,
but Griffin says Zak was consistently placing in
the Top Five.
“He probably would have done better if I
would have had a faster learning curve,” he
Toward the end of 2004, Project Blaster
agreed to sponsor Zak and offer the help they
needed. In 2005, he won the GMQA Championship in
his class. He tried a few nationals, but wrecked
at Gatorback and had mechanical breakdowns in
the others. Most of the national Youth
Production front runners were riding Honda
300EXs, so Griffin bought one and started fixing
it up. Zak then became part of Team VCATV.
Griffin says he does not regret allowing Zak
“The time I’ve spent with Zachary at the
tracks, going to the races, wrenching on the
quads together, cleaning the quads, getting
excited when a new set of tires comes in or a
new set of graphics, wondering what we can do to
make the quad better, faster, whatever it is”
Griffin says. “I wouldn’t trade those times for
anything in the world. Traveling six hours to a
race, and the stupid things you talk about in
the car, and you laugh, and take bird baths out
of a cooler at the track, just stupid things,
they were great times.”
Through various ATV forums, hundreds, if not
thousands of people have expressed sympathy to
the Griffin family. In addition, the Griffins
receive about 50 cards each day from people from
all over the country.
“Some kid put 50cents in a card and sent it
to us, and said that was all he had left out of
his allowance,” Griffin said. “We appreciate all
of the help and outpouring that the ATV
community has given us. Just tell everybody to
keep us and Zachary in their prayers. It’s going
to be a tough time coming.”
The Southeastern Quad Racing Community offers
information about sending messages and donations
to the Griffin family through its website at
The Griffins had asked that in lieu of flowers,
donations be made to charities including the
Lance Armstrong Foundation, of which Zak was an
advocate. His grandpa, Scott’s dad, is battling
cancer, and Zak had “GP Live Strong” on his quad
in his honor.
Zak Griffin, #23
As the Griffins only child, Zak lived a full
and what must have been very busy life in his
short 16 years. In addition to racing and riding
ATVs, he served as co-captain of the soccer team
at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School, plus
played nationally with the Coweta County Cannons
Select Soccer Team. He loved to play the guitar,
and often did so in the evenings at the track
after a race. He won a state championship in
Taekwondo, and placed in a couple of surfing
competitions. He also liked skateboarding and
wakeboarding, hunting and fishing. He had a
multitude of friends, many who have commented on
his perpetual, contagious smile, and in an
online bio he stated that his heroes were his
grandpa and his parents. No doubt, the memory of
Zak Griffin, #23, will live on.