INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: HEATH VOSS
Heath Voss had a long career, marked by several bright spots, including a stint at factory Yamaha and the 2004 FIM THQ World Supercross GP title. In fact, winning that title earned him a spot at Yamaha, alongside Chad Reed and David Vuillemin in 2005. He was re-signed with Yamaha in 2006. Voss hung it up in 2010 after wrecking his knee at the Houston Supercross. After retiring, Heath’s name quickly faded into obscurity. That’ll happen when a racer is no longer lining up to the gate.
I went to Heath’s house in Mico, Texas, in the fall of 2005. We spent a few days together, shooting photos, going water skiing and talking about the sport. Voss was soft-spoken and amiable. Here he was, a factory Yamaha rider, yet he acted like an old school pal who worked on an oil rig. Believe it or not, Voss hasn’t seemed to change in the past 12 years. Find out what Heath is up to, and what he thought about racing at the highest level.
By John Basher
What are you up to these days?
I have a helicopter business. I do charter work and a lot of hog hunting, where I fly hunters around who shoot pigs. I also do utility work with the helicopter. It’s something I’ve been doing since I quit racing in 2010. I grew up around aviation and the business side of things up in Minnesota, so it was kind of a good fit doing what I’m doing now.
Do you still ride motorcycles?
I do, although not on big bikes. I’ll go riding with my kids on pit bikes. We do that daily. My son is eight years old, and my daughter is five. I still have my property in Texas. My cows eat the grass where the motocross and Supercross tracks still sit. I have a pit bike track, so I’ll ride around that with my kids. We also have some trails.
Do your children know anything about your racing career?
They do a little bit. My kids are into all sorts of different things. We’ve been to a few Supercross races. They like racing, even if they’re not interested in doing it. They know that I was a former factory Yamaha rider, but that doesn’t mean very much to them.
Do you follow the racing scene?
I still watch all of the Supercross races. I’ve been missing the outdoor rounds, but I pay attention to what’s going on.
Would you change anything about your career?
I’m not really sure what I would change. I enjoyed my career. Looking back, I probably would have done better if I had lived where all the other riders were, so that I could ride with fast guys. I moved to Texas because it’s where my family wanted to be.
What years were you most fond of while racing?
I had my best results from 2003 through 2005, and then I did okay in 2006. In 2009 I started to go downhill, and I think it’s because I was getting older. I didn’t have the same drive and willingness to take the chances. It was a hard decision for me to retire. I broke my knee at the Houston Supercross in 2010, and I ended up needing a couple surgeries. At that time I was barely making the main events. Still, motocross was all I ever knew, and all I ever wanted to do. It was a sad day when I realized that I needed to retire. I didn’t think life would go on, but it does.
What was it like being teammates on factory Yamaha with Chad Reed and David Vuillemin?
All those guys were awesome. I always say that motocross racers are the most awesome people on earth. In the flying business everybody complains about safety. In motocross, no one complained about things. When you live the life as a professional racer, you think it’s the norm. There’s a certain mentality, but it’s really not that way in the broad view of humanity. Motocrossers are pretty unique. It was an honor to be around the guys I was, and also to be racing with them.
You were at Yamaha when racers were making the transition from two-strokes to four-strokes. What was that like?
I was a bit scared to ride four-strokes, because they weren’t proven and had issues. I never knew what was going to happen on one of them. Two-strokes–at least the Yamaha YZ250–was an awesome bike. It was so fun to ride. I loved being on the factory team and having access to all the one-off parts. It was amazing what the staff could make in terms of parts. Now that I’m in the aviation business, I look at a lot of the parts that plane companies make, and they’re junk compared to what motocross engineers make. We always had the best of everything in racing. Parts were new, and not old junk that was overhauled.
Yamaha is back with their factory program after many years away. As a former Yamaha racer, is it good to see them revamp their efforts?
Absolutely. It’s amazing how well Chad Reed has done. He’s a pretty amazing person. Being as old as he is and still winning races is something else.
Are you happy with your career?
Yes. I was very blessed to race for as long as I did. I raced professionally for 16 years. I was very fortunate that I didn’t have any major injuries during that time. For me, it was tough when Ernesto Fonseca got hurt. I always raced with him. Then another friend, James Marshall, also got paralyzed. He used to come over and practice with me all of the time before he got hurt. Seeing those guys get hurt so badly took quite a bit of the fun out of what I was doing by racing. I began thinking about risk versus reward.
Do you want your kids to race motocross?
They’re both really good riders. They listen to me and have good form. I will say that I have to cut deals with them in order to get them to ride. My daughter has been riding since she was three. I jog through our neighborhood while she rides next to me, and I have to buy her a Build-A-Bear every time she rides [laughter]. I always have to cut deals with my son. When I was a kid I would do anything in order to get a dirt bike and ride. My kids are different than how I was.