MXA INTERVIEW OF THE WEEK: WIL HAHN
Like many of his peers, Wil Hahn’s motocross career has been a series of highs and lows. Even with a handful of devastating injuries Wil soldiered through to capture the 2013 250 Eastern Supercross Championship. He took the title at the Las Vegas finale in dramatic fashion by riding with a broken hand and beating Marvin Musquin. Moving up to the 450 class in 2014 and racing for Geico Honda, Hahn struggled initially, but he logged a fourth place in Atlanta. However, just as soon as Hahn found his place in the 450 ranks, he disappeared due to a spectacular crash at the St. Louis round that sidelined him for the rest of the year. Regardless, Hahn impressed the folks at Monster Energy Kawasaki and they signed him for 2015. Unfortunately it was a disastrous year for Hahn and the Monster Kawasaki factory program. Will 2016 be better? We caught up with Wil to see how he’s doing and what his expectations are for the upcoming year.
By Jim Kimball
Wil, what’s your training program like with only a few weeks to go before Anaheim 1? I’ve been doing a little bit of everything. We are still doing some testing with the new bike, because the chassis is so different. As far as training, I do feel like in the past I may have done too much and peaked too early in the season. Back when I was racing 250’s we always trained hard so we would be prepared for the West coast, but then if I raced East coast I was almost ready too early. More recently I have been trying to find the happy medium of being prepared, but without burning myself out too early. It’s kind of tough to fully relax though, because there is a sense of urgency with the hype of the new season. I’ve been blessed to have the right people around to help me find the right balance as we fine-tune the new bike.
Has it been challenging adjusting to the all-new 2016 Kawasaki KX450F? The first time that I got on the new bike I could immediately tell how skinny it felt, along with how much lighter it was. That was riding a completely stock bike, before I got my SR (Special Racer, or factory) bike. Where your knees touch the bike is where you can quickly feel a big difference. The turning is also much improved. For me to jump on the stock bike and notice how much better it felt right away was a huge deal for me.
When did you start riding the 2016 KX450F? I rode the 2015 model for a long time after the outdoor series ended. I think that it was two weeks before the Monster Energy Cup when we got the new bike. I was pretty excited to be racing the new bike at the Monster Energy Cup, but the Thursday before the race I made a bad decision at the test track and hurt my foot. It wasn’t that bad of an injury, but it was bad enough that I couldn’t get my foot in the boot. I could have dealt with the pain, but my ankle was so swollen there was no way to get my boot on! Overall the testing has been great. These guys have won so many titles that they know how to get the bike set up and dialed in pretty quickly.
Has the team atmosphere changed much with the addition of Eli Tomac? We have been doing some stuff together. Of course he likes to spend as much time at home in Colorado. There is that point where the weather starts changing and he needs to be in California. So we have been riding together some, and he really looks awesome on the bike. It’s been pretty easy for us to relate, as he and I were teammates for a while at Geico Honda. We already knew each other and the routines that we have. I’ve known his family for a while, and it’s nice to have the familiarity that we have. It’s been great to have him as a teammate and we can both bounce stuff off each other.
The 2015 season was difficult for you, as well as the Monster Energy Kawasaki team. What do you take from those experiences? Or is it more along the lines of trying to forget all of the bad from 2015? All the guys work hard here for a reason. All of the number one plates on the wall don’t just happen easily. There is definitely a lot of hard work and dedication here. I’m sure that as hard as 2015 was for me personally it was just as hard for them. Not only did they miss out on winning a title, but the results weren’t there all year. After sitting out the Supercross series I was really hungry to get out and race once the Nationals started. Unfortunately I crashed and had a concussion, and since I have had some concussions in the past I felt that it was in my best interest to take some extra time to fully recover. I listened to my doctors and took the proper time off. With a concussion you can be sitting around and feel pretty normal, but then when you exert yourself too much it can really affect you negatively. It was a very difficult time, and the last thing that I wanted to be doing was sitting on the couch. As hard as the team and I worked, it was very frustrating for us all. The biggest goal that I have right now is to be at every race! Since moving up to the 450 class I have not been able to do that. The biggest thing for me is to learn, and you cannot learn if you are not there. I’m very happy to have the support of these guys, and want to show them that.
How hard was it to make the transition to the 450 class in 2014? At Anaheim 1 there is so much hype and pressure. I never felt like I was in my groove or flowing at all. Then at Anaheim 2 I broke my hand. I still continued to race, but when you are nursing an injury like that it just throws you off. It was more like just trying to get through the night, rather than trying to race. Still, I tried to regroup and when the series moved eastward I was feeling better. Dallas was okay, and then Atlanta went well. At the Daytona Supercross I felt much better, and we really went there to race. I had a very poor start in the main, but still worked my way up to sixth, and not too far out of fifth. That track was so brutal, but I had the endurance, so I really felt good about the National series that year. At St. Louis I qualified sixth in practice and had a great heat race. Then I mis-timed a jump in the main event. The rest is history. I’m sure that everyone has seen that crash more than a few times. It was so frustrating, because I had finally felt that I had solidified my 450 Supercross career. I was becoming a constant top-five threat. What was so cool back then was that I had come into the 450 class under the radar. No one expected me to do that well. However, I had so many complications from my broken arm that it carried into 2015. When I crashed at Anaheim 1 in practice the doctors found some damage from the previous year. It was at least nice that doctors could correct that. My arm no longer hurts, and now it feels much stronger. It probably was not the best situation to find out that I still had arm damage, but at least they found it.
Do you feel the pressure to succeed given that you’re racing for a factory team? I felt some pressure to perform while at Geico Honda, as they are one of the best 250 teams. The same can be said for Kawasaki in the 450 class. I always feel some pressure to do well, but I probably put more pressure on myself than the team puts on me. At the end of the day it’s only natural they want to win. They never pushed me to come back too early. Not once have they told me that I must win. They just wanted me to get better, get back to racing, and improve every weekend. After breaking my back in Supercross I was just so weak coming into National opener at Hangtown. I had only been on the bike for a couple weeks before Hangtown. Just as I was starting to improve and qualify better, I got injured again. That is a part of the sport and the nature of the beast. Some people seem to be better at avoiding injuries, but it’s always going to be there in this sport.
How do you deal with the highs and lows of racing? I’m certain that there are often times where any of us go through some depression or heavy thoughts when we are sitting on the couch. It’s definitely hard to look at the positive side of racing while laying in a hospital bed. I remind myself that there is a reason for it happening, even if I cannot seem to see a reason. I put a smile on my face, even if it’s not always a real smile. I do my best to try and get through the lows so that I can shine when things are going well.
Many racers are very serious and lack the ability to joke around. You’re not like that. Why? When I line up at the starting gate I am as serious as the next guy. Besides that, I realize that I’m riding dirt bikes for a living. It’s supposed to be fun. We are not rocket scientists or doctors curing cancer. I absolutely love what I am doing, and if it’s no longer fun then I don’t want to do it. The day I no longer enjoy this is the day that I will walk away. Everyone takes this sport so seriously, which I guess you have to do to an extent, but I also feel you need to keep things enjoyable. Obviously it’s a job, because we have sponsors to keep happy. Some of us are paid well, but if you don’t keep it fun then you won’t succeed.
You’re friends with a lot of other racers. Is it true that you co-lease a track with Cooper Webb and Cole Seely? That’s true. I did go in with Cole and Cooper on leasing a track. Cole and I have been teammates in the past at Troy Lee Designs and have stayed friends. I’ve known Cooper for a while, and live by him. We are all friends, and when this opportunity came up it sounded great! I think that it’s cool to have friends on different teams. We are all out there to do the same job, and I think that it can be productive to ride with a wide variety of other riders so you can always be learning and pushing each other. I have never really believed that you improve by just doing laps on your own. Obviously we are competitors and want to beat each other, but at the same time I feel that pushing each other will help us all improve.
It seems like your old teammate, Justin Bogle, is following in your footsteps a bit in the fact that he’s moving to the 450 class while racing for Geico Honda. Justin and I often train together, and we have been friends for a long time. It’s funny, because I watched him grow up. He has been building and improving to the point of winning a Supercross title, and now he’s moving up to the 450 class with Geico Honda. Justin is wearing the same gear as I am with ANSR, so we’ve recently been doing photo shoots and stuff. Through all our training together we have gotten to know each other well, and I think we have a lot of mutual respect for each other. We both know all that we have been through. Justin and I know how rewarding, yet how brutal, the sport can be. I went to the hospital with him back in 2014 when he got pretty banged up. I took a photo of him that day, and later sent him the photo with the caption, “Don’t worry, you are going to be a champion one day.” Then he won the title. We can look back and reflect on the good times and the bad times. That was a photo from a pretty dark day, but good came out of it. Justin is a good guy, and I am lucky to be able to call him a friend.
What does your schedule look like these next couple weeks? Well, unfortunately I will not be able to spend Christmas with my family, but they did come out here for Thanksgiving. My brother, Tommy, is out here, along with some great friends. That makes things nice. My parents are coming out for Anaheim 1, so I am pretty pumped about that. As far as Anaheim 1, I feel pretty good about everything. We have the bike in a good spot, and I am starting to come together. We are prepared and there is nothing to complain about. I am not overly focused on the series opener. For me it’s more important to be there at the Las Vegas finale. There is always a lot of hype about Anaheim 1. It’s the same energy and hype every year at the series opener, and that’s awesome. Along with the Vegas finale, I am thinking about round two in San Diego. That will be a better indicator of how the 2016 Supercross series will go. I have some goals that I will keep to myself, other than saying that I want to be at every round.