ONE PHOTO & ONE STORY: TOMMY HAHN’S BIG BREAK
Motocross isn’t a fair sport, at least not on the highest level. That’s a bold statement to make, and I pray you don’t read too far into it. I’m afraid in this modern age, where so many people are overly sensitive, you’ll get the wrong idea. I don’t think every motocross racer should earn a participation trophy (50cc beginner class notwithstanding). There can only be one winner, which is a huge draw for those who favor true competition. The dog-eat-dog world of professional motocross racing is not for whiners, wimps or softies. Only the best succeed, while the rest face the music. The strugglers survive by cutting corners and making sacrifices in the hope of catching a big break. All, sooner or later, walk away from the only thing they have known since they were little kids with big dreams. There are those who keep an eye toward the future and transition well to life after racing. However, some ex-Pros don’t have a contingency plan. It has to be scary finding yourself lost in life at the tender age of 23.
Motocross isn’t fair. Why? I’ve seen so many talented riders end up broken, deflated and depressed because things didn’t go their way for one reason or another. Timing is everything. My buddy (and MXA Managing Editor) Daryl Ecklund was a hot shot Amateur racer, in line to inherit a Factory Connection Honda ride. He crashed and blew out his knee just before Loretta’s. The ride went to Josh Grant, while Daryl tried valiantly to climb the ladder of the professional ranks. One injury turned into another, and then? Desk job at MXA! Quite frankly, Daryl has found his way. Take another buddy of mine, a on-again/off-again rider by the name of Trent Pugmire. Remember him? Trent was blazing fast on a bike. He was capable of doing great things, but he injured himself at a time when rides were drying up. Fortunately Daryl and Trent landed on their feet and made lemonade out of lemons.
I have no reason to be bitter about the rough-and-tumble career of a professional motocross racer. Very few make it to the top and get paid handsomely. The rest fill the gate and hope to fulfill their goals–whether it’s making the race program, earning a National point, cracking the top ten, or possibly mixing it up with the factory boys. Whatever their aspirations, there cannot be any feeling better than achieving that goal. In that sense there should be very little regret from those who fight for the opportunity to do better. As my longtime friend, and MXA test rider, Dennis Stapleton has told me time and again, “I just love to race. There’s no better feeling in the world.” Stapleton would sign up for a National tomorrow, regardless of the fact that his body is battered and he’s busier than a bully at recess.
“PROFESSIONAL RACING WAS NEVER MY CALLING, AND I’M OKAY WITH THAT. SOME RIDERS ARE BLIND TO THAT FACT. THEY AREN’T CUT OUT FOR THE JOB, WHICH IS FINE, BUT IT’S HEARTBREAKING TO BE AROUND WHEN THAT REALIZATION HITS THEM LIKE A TON OF BRICKS.”
I will never experience the joy of racing an AMA National. I was never fast enough. There wasn’t any hope for me back when I was a pimple-faced teenager, and there’s no hope for me now I never wanted it badly enough. At the end of the day I always chose friends and fun over training and track time. Professional racing was never my calling, and I’m okay with that. Some riders are blind to that fact. They aren’t cut out for the job, which is fine, but it’s heartbreaking to be around when that realization hits them like a ton of bricks. The numbers don’t lie. There are only a handful of factory riders in the 450 class. They are flowed the best parts, get paid well, and can put money away for the future. The rest fight for a much smaller piece of the pie.
Alfred Lord Tennyson famously said, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” What holds true in romance carries over to motocross. Take Tommy Hahn, for example. The photo of the older Hahn was shot at the factory Honda Supercross test track on February 13, 2007 (and was featured on a MXA cover). Tommy had earned a factory Honda 250 ride after showing promise on the Factory Connection Honda team. It was one of the most desirable positions in professional racing. He scored a few podiums in the 250 East Supercross series that year, but his results weren’t strong enough to keep the coveted ride. Hahn’s masterful moment came two years later when he won the overall at Steel City in the 450 class, although by that time he had limited support.
Tommy Hahn drifted in and out of professional racing in recent years, but he decided to give it a go again in 2015. His results have been decent, but not outstanding enough to attract a factory team. Who knows, maybe 2016 will be Tommy’s year. I hope so, because he deserves a second chance at a top-tier ride. Unfortunately, so many others also deserve additional support. Success takes hard work, dedication, a string of health, and luck. Motocross, as I said, isn’t fair.
Be thankful for what you have this Thanksgiving, and remember that life is about more than motorcycles.