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By: Terri Stevens
Photos provided by: Scott Griffin

ATV community’s outpouring helps family of teen rider killed at Gatorback

Zak Griffin #23
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 today.

“It’s just astounding, the outpouring and outreach that the ATV community has done,” says Griffin.

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 drive him.

“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 the drive.

“They were making sure that I was making it home,” he said.

Zak Griffin with his collection of trophies
Zak Griffin with his collection of trophies.

On Sunday, Griffin received a call from friend Gary Cooper, who was at the race in Florida.

“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 at Gatorback.

Zak and Scott Griffin prepare for a race.
Zak and Scott Griffin prepare for a race.

“He’s an astounding, well-spoken gentleman,” says Griffin.

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 here.’”

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
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 seventh overall.

“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 says.

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 to race.

“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 http://sequads.com/forums/thread/3147.aspx. 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
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.


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