BLAKE WHARTON INTERVIEW: THREE-TIME 250 SUPERCROSS WINNER TO HONDA SALESMAN
Blake Wharton’s professional racing career began with earning a 250SX Main Event win at the St. Louis Supercross in his 2009 rookie Supercross season while riding a Geico Honda. He also landed on the top step of the 250SX class in 2012 and 2013 while riding for the Rockstar Suzuki team. Unfortunately, the Epstein-barr virus, serious injury, and the drying up of sponsorship money all contributed to the Texan, Blake Wharton retiring from racing near the end of 2014 at only 23-years-old. The 3-time 250 Supercross Main Event winner took some time away from racing while he pursued his passions for music and traveling. Wharton knew he would ultimately return to his first love; but he didn’t know when or how. In 2018, the perfect opportunity arose. Blake signed on with the IB Corp. Yamaha team to race the 250SX West division and was poised for his next step in racing. Unfortunately, once again, injury derailed his season early. This time he tore the ACL ligament in his knee. The 2019 season was not much better as he again was sidelined after tearing the ACL in his other knee. Blake was thinking of another comeback in 2020 but then his plans changed. We recently reached out to the now 29-year-old Blake Wharton to learn more about what he’s been up to.
By Jim Kimball
YOU FIRST RETIRED IN 2014 DUE TO EPSTIEN-BARR AND THEN YOU CAME BACK TO RACING AND RETIRED AGAIN DUE TO VARIOUS REASONS, RIGHT? Yes, that is really most of it. 2013 was a good year in Supercross, and I had some good rides throughout the year. I did have Epstein-Barr but did not realize that until a little later in the season. About halfway through outdoors, I was not able to continue on, especially at the current trajectory of where my results were going. Epstein-Barr is a little easier to manage with Supercross, but it was just ill-advised to continue going through the summer, especially where I was finishing. I struggled and took the rest of the year off at that point. I went into 2014 without a ride or anything really solidified. So, I got a late start, with just trying to put a deal together, to be competitive. Then Justin Bogle who was on Geico Honda at the time had injured himself, and so there was a ride that became available. I got back on the board with the Geico guys which was a good start to build myself back.
WHAT HAPPENED THEN? We were pretty short on time before we had to go racing, so I did not have a lot of time to prepare. Fortunately, I still had some good speed, of course the Geico team was good and the bike was great. Things were looking up and I was finishing in the top five, which was okay. But then I tore my meniscus ligament in my knee, and that was the final straw. I actually did some racing later that year in Brazil. It was not anything that was phenomenal on my behalf, but it was an interesting experience. I liked hanging out down there and got to know some good people. At that point, no rides were being offered to me.
YOU ARE ONLY AS GOOD AS YOUR LAST RACE. That is what they say, and it definitely seems to be true in this industry. But, I believe that it does not matter what sport you are in, every sport is very, very competitive in this way.
“It is a fine line balancing the work you have to put in to compete at a high level while still keeping it fun. It is possible, but it is a challenge.”
I AM SURE THAT IT BEAT YOU DOWN MENTALLY AS WELL. It is a fine line balancing the work you have to put in to compete at a high level while still keeping it fun. It is possible, but it is a challenge. My brother and I had been racing since we were 8 and 7 years old. We pushed hard for many years. We had a lot of intense years, a lot of strong years, but it can add up over time. Ultimately, those little tears in the meniscus or ACL, tear a little easier as you get older.
LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU HAVE BEEN DOING THE LAST COUPLE OF YEARS. I got to be just a young person, and experience what that was like. When you race from age seven on, you do not have the traditional young person lifestyle with the high school sort of experience that most kids get. So, I was doing some things that I did not get a chance to do. I was playing music in a band and going to school. I started writing for Racer X during that time and developed a bit of a passion for that. That time was definitely a good time and a fun time. I was able to break away and do some things that I had not gotten to do. Ultimately, I wanted to come back to racing. It was just a matter of when, and how it would be possible.
THEN YOU MADE A COMBACK IN 2018 RIGHT? Yes, I came back actually in 2018. I had a good start to the year and ended up getting signed by the I.B. Corp. Yamaha Racing team. I worked with Ryan Hughes, and Jamie Ellis, and some of the guys that I had worked with when I rode for Rockstar Suzuki. The bike was really good, and the team was really supportive of the venture. So, we had really good bikes. Yamaha was really good in the 250 class. Unfortunately, at round three, I tore my ACL, so I did not really get much racing back under me. I ended up finishing the race with a torn ACL in my knee, but obviously knew something was wrong. I did not get to do anymore racing, and that just put me behind going into 2019. I got a late start, and then had to switch teams because the I.B. Corp Yamaha Team did not want to go racing any longer.
WHAT WAS 2019 LIKE? I wanted to give it a shot, I had to. I got together with the Ti-Lube Honda guys. The new Honda was a good bike, but we needed more testing time. I needed more time to get my knee where it needed to be. I did not really feel like I got to where I needed to be in 2018, so of course I was going to be behind for 2019. I had a couple of good rides, but unfortunately, at round four this time, I tore my other ACL. Some of that was just old injuries catching up. It was unfortunate, and I had to pull out of both seasons, 2018 and 2019 early. That was a good strong window for me to make a comeback, and it just did not work.
I UNDERSTOOD THAT YOU WERE GOING TO RETURN IN 2020. I was planning on doing it and was looking forward to doing it. I was training and working out, but things were just not lining up the way I needed them to be. Some of the changes that I felt that we needed in 2019 with the TiLube guys we were just not able to get. This is not an easy industry for teams or for sponsors, it is a tough industry. You know, you have to be one of the top teams to really get the big money. It is either $7 million dollars a year to go racing, or you got $300,000. There is not a lot of middle ground, and there are very few “B teams” around. You just need a big check written from a big sponsor to help pay for everything, the testing, traveling and all the different parts it takes.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE GOING ON NOW? The past year, I was working and living down in Beaumont, Texas, with my dad and brother. But more recently I moved back to Dallas and started working at Al Lamb Dallas Honda. It is a well-known dealership, and particularly known in flat track and land speed racing circuits. I only recently started, but I had been in talks with Al for some time. We actually used to go do our Geico Honda autograph signing over there for a couple of years. I got to know them a little bit back then and got to see the dealership. I have been doing sales with the guys there. Obviously, we have an array of different products to sell being a Honda dealership, and I am familiar with the product as well, so that is good. There is a lot of history and experience there, and it is a good fit for me.
YOU HAVE BEEN DOING SOME TRAINING SCHOOLS WITH JOHN SHORT TOO RIGHT? I had heard about John some time ago when he was coming through the amateur ranks. He was working with my trainer at the time. Of course, he improved each year and became quite a good Supercross rider. Last year in 2019, we were actually training together a good bit. We were riding his track and taking some kids to his track. My mechanic from last year, Cody Gilmore, is his mechanic currently. Cody is a former racer himself, so we are some Supercross guys making it all happen over here.
AT THIS POINT YOU ARE DONE WITH SUPERCROSS OR DO YOU THINK THERE COULD BE ANOTHER RETURN TO RACING AT SOME POINT? No, I am okay with where I am at now. I have no real desire to go back to racing. Of course, I would love to stay involved in some way with riding. I have some trips planned for later this year at some pretty unique motorcycle locations. We will go and discover racing in the least likely places, or places with no motorcycle culture. So, I’m looking forward to that. I have also had a lot of good riders come through here and stay with me for a couple of weeks at a time. I will still be involved with racing projects. Being at the dealership, I have a little Honda CB 300 R bike that I ride.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT YOU WANT TO TELL THE FANS AND SUPPORTERS YOU HAVE HAD THROUGH THE YEARS? Well, stop by Al Lamb Honda and see me if you guys have any questions regarding a Honda, or Honda products. Then of course, I am doing my training on the side, so feel free to reach out to me to see if there are any questions I can help with. Then, with my story telling, I am looking forward to expanding upon that, and shedding light on other motorcycle communities. The best way to reach me is through social media. Fortunately, we can connect pretty easily, so Facebook or Instagram is usually the best way for me.