An in-depth discussion with the four-time AMA Superbike Champion (2010, 2011, 2012, 2014), Josh Hayes. First published in the December 2012 issue of SportBikes Inc Magazine.
Josh Hayes is going to get faster. It’s not a question of if. It’s really not a question of when. It’s a reality. It’s the next step in his evolution. It’s progress.
Race 1 of the New Jersey round of AMA Pro Road Racing in 2011, Josh won by 2 seconds. In 2012, Josh won the race by a gap of 22 seconds. But that wasn’t a testament to Josh’s physical speed. His race times between 2011 and 2012 only differed by half a second. Where was everyone else?
While physical speed can be a by-product of the ideal elements being in line, the theory of mental speed can give way to an uncanny consistency. Uncanny and more likely intimidating. Josh is getting faster in all regards. He knows it because it is his goal and he works hard at it. If Josh was within half a second of his winning time from the previous year, then everyone else was off pace.
Josh Hayes is a problem… For everyone else on the grid.
SBI: I was in the timing booth in New Jersey. At one point, to me, it seemed like the gap had reached 30 seconds. We were counting them off. Waiting. You would go by and we were counting to 30 before we saw anybody come around the bin. But then, I went back and I looked at your times from 2011. You were just extremely consistent, if not better, a little bit. Everybody else seemed to slow down for whatever reason.
Josh Hayes: My race time from Race 1 in NJ 2011, I beat Ben Bostrom by 2 seconds. My race time from start to checkered flag in 2012, both races were within half a second of that complete race time from green flag to checkered flag. A half-second over 35 minutes. Last year I won by 2 seconds, this year I won by 22 and 17 or something. That had nothing to do with me. The only thing that had to do with me is that those boys were just focused on the wrong thing. If they don’t change their game for 2013, then you’re going to see the same kind of season.
SBI: So they need to step their game up if they want to keep up?
Josh Hayes: I’m just gonna go out there and I’m gonna try. I’m working hard to improve myself as a professional. I’m trying to increase my capacity to do what I have to do to stretch my limits so that I can be better in 2013. If they catch up to where I was in 2012, they may have another step to get to me in 2013. That’s my hope and my plan. It’s kinda up to them and what they do. I don’t know how to control them. Josh Herrin has all the keys to the castle. What he chooses to do with them is, I don’t know. The same goes for Blake Young. He has a great team behind him. I’m sure they can analyze what he did right and wrong in 2012 and figure out what to do next. We’ll have to see what they decide to do. But I know what my program is and I know what I did to make my improvements this year. Can I do it again? I think I can and I’m gonna try to.
SBI: You mention training. I know that it’s not just about show up, get on the bike, twist the throttle, hope for the best. Can you shed some light on your training regime? How you prepare your body and your mind? How does Josh Hayes pregame?
Josh Hayes: I think everybody might be very close to the same, but everybody’s a little bit different at the same time. I can tell you having Melissa (Paris) in the house, we are quite different. We do so many of the same things that our outlook and attitude toward it can be quite a bit different. You kinda have a basic idea of a plan. It’s not drawn out to be very specific. So many cycling plans are like you go out and you do these intervals and you do this and spend this much time, blah, blah, blah. Mine is not really that hard-nosed and drawn in the sand like that. We know that December is a volume month for me, but basically, on my bicycle, I’m gonna go out and get as many hours in as I can probably stand without breaking my butt in half on a bicycle. It’s easy for me here, being in Southern California because there are so many opportunities. There are so many bicyclists here, so many people out riding. Basically, I’m going out to do a 3 hour plus peddle every single day. I’m riding around with a high-end cycle, so you know it gets very hard to actually get an easy day. But I’m not necessarily going out there with a training idea of hey, today I’m gonna go bury myself. Then you start getting into the beginning of February and you start getting into those high-end rides, more and more. I’m not really good with intervals. You give me a plan to go out and do this many intervals or this many intervals. I don’t really follow it that well. I don’t enjoy it. If I don’t enjoy I’m not gonna do it. So, basically, my hard days are I’m gonna go out and ride with this group ride and I’m gonna turn myself inside out trying to keep up with a bunch of professional cyclers. So you make those your hard days.
SBI: Besides cycling, what other forms of training do you indulge?
Josh Hayes: I like motocross. Tennis has been another thing. It’s just something that’s physical. It’s something that I enjoy. What I’ve been actually learning from it is a little bit about the mental side of the game. It’s so much different than what we do. Anything motorcycle commands your attention. You cannot do it at a high level without a focus that is just out of this world. Tennis is something that is a little bit different. You have to control that because every point you play, is for a single point. Then you have to have a very short memory you have to put away whatever just happened to go back and start over and play again for another point. That’s been quite the challenge for me because I have a really bad tendency to get hung up on a mistake and let that affect the next 4 or 5 points. You’re playing halfhearted thinking about how to fix the last 3 or 4 points so, It’s been quite the learning experience for me. But, these are like the majority of the things: the road cycling, the mountain biking, motocross and tennis. These are the things that I like doing but I typically don’t make any of these super competitive. I keep it light hearted. I’m a good motorcycle racer and I get extremely competitive when I get on a motorcycle.
SBI: I’d have to agree. You’re a good motorcycle racer. After 3 championships, I’d argue that you may be slightly better than good.
Josh Hayes: I think maybe because being a hotshot on a motorcycle, or being really good at something is tough because I train around really, really advanced cyclists. I never want to put all my heart out there on the line. I get my heart kicked in out there on a bicycle, not being that good at it. It doesn’t sit well with me so I’ve learned as a safety mechanism to not put too much weight behind it and get too competitive. Because then I can take the fun out of it, extremely quickly and I won’t enjoy riding anymore. That’s not gonna make it very easy to train. Melissa is completely the opposite. She goes out and races her bicycle. She doesn’t even like riding that much, but she loves racing. And it’s been great training for her to go out and race bicycles. I have no interest in racing the bike.
SBI: With that type of insight on your training… Are you just that damn good?
Josh Hayes: No, I’m not. I don’t think that’s the case. To answer part of your question, you were asking about the training steps, one thing to wake up every day and even though I love what I’m doing and I don’t make that part particularly super competitive. I know that Yamaha doesn’t pay me to ride 11 races a year. They pay me for every day of my life and I try to treat that with respect. In everything I do. Whether it’s riding a bicycle, playing tennis, riding motocross, riding the mountain bike or getting rest, everything I do, I do with a purpose. And that purpose is about being a professional, being a good motorcycle racer at the end of the day. Even though there is not a direct correlation, I ride my bicycle this much and I’m a better motorcycle racer. One thing that I know from experience is when I act like a professional, when I wake up at 6:30 or 7:00 and get on my bicycle whether it’s cold, sunny, rainy, no matter what, I go out and I’m putting in my time and I do my work and act like a professional and I go out and act like a professional. It’s been proven that the harder I work, the better my results are.
SBI: When you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed, is it just constantly go, go, go?
Josh Hayes: It sure seems like it is. Yes, it is always more things for me to do during the day than I can accomplish in a day. What ends up happening for me and Melissa is I wake up and I just go out and start training and I do whatever training I feel like I need to do and is necessary to do and I come home and I deal with what I can with the rest of the day that I have left. And so there is always leftover. I can probably make a full-time job of all the things I don’t handle during the race season.
SBI: What about the off-season?
Josh Hayes: And the off-season is actually 3 times more difficult than during the race season. During the race season, everyone tends to leave you alone for races. You go do your business and they’re like, “Oh my God! It’s race season!” We better give him his time and space. So they leave you alone. As soon as your race season is over, family, the homes, dealing with bills, fixing automobiles, fixing their bicycles, all the little things that you just don’t mess with because you’re used to wearing all the pieces out training and doing the things through the season, everything catches up with you. All of a sudden, the RV needs more maintenance than I can keep up with, ya’ know? All vehicles need tires on them. I’ve got deals that I’m trying to do like the Long Beach IMS show for Yamaha, King Championship dinner, and a party for Yamaha. I’m trying to wheel and deal sponsorship deals and to help Melissa put her program together for next year. Then I’m training while I have all of these friends in town and all this stuff. Basically, I wake up and I have stuff that I can do from the time I wake up until the time I go to bed. It’s a matter of putting a priority on them. Most of the time, I still put my priority on training and then I just deal with whatever I can after the fact, until it comes to the holidays. Then it’s time with the family. Then, of course, trying to get any kind of vacation. Melissa and I like snowboarding. I don’t know when we’re gonna get to go. If we get five minutes and we want to actually be away from home, which is tough too, we’ll probably try to go get some snowboarding in.
SBI: Shifting gears a bit here. I want to formally congratulate you on the hat trick. So… Congrats!
Josh Hayes: Thanks!
SBI: There have been previous champions who were not as kind as you are. Who were not as friendly, who were not as professional as you are. They were very great, obviously. They got the points, they won championships but there’s something interesting that happens when your name is brought up. People smile. I know that plays into your professionalism, how you are representing Yamaha and your other sponsors. What’s the relationship like with the fans? How does that play into you as the racer?
Josh Hayes: One, I think there is a difference between professionalism and personality. The previous champion that you’re talking about, let’s just say they had a choice whether or not to actually be a role model or just be motorcycle racer and champion. Their focus and their interests were on being a motorcycle racer and a champion and to be the best motorcycle racer there was. That was their aim and their goal. I’ve met several competitors in my lifetime, and some of the best ones like Lance Armstrong… I’ve heard people who have worked with him. The guy who was the best in the business, sans recent revelations. But, he’s an absolute asshole. He would step on and use anybody and anything necessary in his way to get to the top. That was his focus. We have seen people like that in our own sport. They had no interest in being a role model to people. Honestly, we are all encouraged, including me, to have a little bit of drama because it sells. Reality TV sells. Everybody wants to see me pick a fight with Blake more than anything in this world, but that’s not who I am. I think the bigger thing for me is every day, everything, the choices I make, I actually… and this may be why I interact with the fans the way that I do… it first stems from my parents and the personality I inherited from them. Second, everything I do, in my work ethic and how I treat people around me, competitors, fans, everybody. I say, would my dad be proud of the way I’m handling the situation? Absolutely, everything I do. If I do that I feel I can’t do anything wrong, per se. The other side would probably be just… that I care about the sport. One of the things that I have a unique… that I understand, what I do for a living is not 100 percent motorcycle racing, it’s show business. It’s a sport, but it’s also marketing and sales. That’s what it’s driven by. My job is not to just win on a motorcycle. It’s to increase, to bring motorcycle racing to the people. I think it’s the coolest freaking sport in the world. And I want everyone else to love it. Not because they think it’s daredevil or anything like that, but for the exact reason that I love it. It’s beautiful, it’s cool. It’s so fun to watch. I’m a fan. I like watching racing. It’s hard. It’s Ironman! It’s a cool sport! I want people to love it for the right reasons. I think that the sports that are successful in our country, in the world, some of the people follow the personality and connect with the human being. say, “Hey man I understand what he’s going through.” You’re gonna be some people’s hero and some people’s villain. At the same time maybe I am playing the game a little bit. Maybe I am. If Blake says something mean or his fans come up and say something to me, they come up and mad dog me, I say, “Dude, it’s good to see you guys. Our sport needs fans like you that come out here and act rowdy and come after me…” But at the same time, it’s so disarming to them, it kinda ruins the dramatic perspective.
SBI: In Atlanta, there was a little rub between you and Blake. Afterward, you went back and you checked on him.
Josh Hayes: Yes.
SBI: I watched that and said, “That’s a class act.” It was just on the Jumbotron, you could just see your genuine concern for your colleague. To me, that was you putting all else aside. It wasn’t about the race at that moment. You really wanted to make sure that Blake was okay. So when you are talking about disarming… You can’t hate on that. You can’t say, “That guy’s a jerk!” You have to say, “You know what, things happen.” That’s what a champion does. A champion goes back and makes sure that his colleague, his competitors are good to go. If something occurs, you own up to it and you go and you handle your business.
Josh Hayes: I had a fresh example in my memory. You know what I mean? Of how I didn’t like a situation and how it was handled and how I would’ve handled it differently. After the deal happened in Daytona and Daytona Sportbike, with Josh Herrin, Dane Wesby and Taylor Mack. That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. Whether these guys are 15 years younger than me, my age, or older than me, the fact that we are all motorcycle racers, I consider them my peers. So if these are people, colleagues, peers, whatever, I care about each and every one of them. I think that we need every athlete that we have to be out there safely racing motorcycles. I don’t want Blake to get hurt, even if I hated his freaking guts. I don’t want the guy to get hurt. We need him in racing. So, I was extremely concerned, because I was involved in an incident. I did not feel that I had done anything wrong. Some people misconstrued me going over and saying, “Blake, I’m sorry that we got together and you fell down,” as an apology that I was taken on myself that I had did something bad. I did not feel that I did anything wrong. I mean, we had a racing incident that I hated that I was involved in something that could have possibly gotten one of my peers hurt on the racetrack. I care about this thing because I want for us both to have nice, long careers and finish these careers healthy, telling our stories.
SBI: In Miami, you had a case of what we call a case of “slip and fall.” It was like Josh Hayes is a human. He does have those moments.
Josh Hayes: Yeah. Absolutely.
SBI: But then you came back. So it was like, he’s human, but he’s not human.
Josh Hayes: The whole weekend was both sides of what I thought it would be. Both up and down. I actually saw that weekend as being our most difficult race weekend of the year. So, maybe, I even preempted it in some way. Because I had felt that way earlier in the season. Before the season had started rolling around so well for me that was going to be a difficult race weekend for me. When we showed up, with the playing of weather, I only got I think four laps of qualifying on a used tire before qualifying. I never really got the opportunity to. I was not too far off. I wasn’t doing as badly as I thought I might when we showed up. I think I got a little bit of luck there. As far as Saturday’s race goes when I slipped and fell down, I mean I’m a nice guy but I had put myself into a position that I was not too unhappy with. I was in the race and I was like, okay. I’m here. This ain’t so bad. As long as I’m racing for the league I’m a pretty happy guy. I will be unhappy the day that people start outracing me and riding away from me. I’m not gonna let that happen any time soon, if I can help it. I chose the wrong one and I got myself pinched off in the last one. I said I know how to correct that one. So I was just trying to look around Roger (Hayden) and look at the inside and the curb was really tall and I ended up, I’ve done it enough times in my career… It was no big surprise to me. I was riding hard. I wanted to win the race. I was going for it so… I was trying to make something happen. I can live with that every single time much better than I didn’t even try and I just got beat. I was happy for Roger. I thought it was a great deal for Roger. The next day was a total and complete fluke if you ask me. I started the race. I had made a decision based on the information that I had from the warm-up lap. The track looks kinda wet here, kinda dry there. My experience of how it’s gone this weekend, the track dries really quickly, I think we should just do this. I was actually on the grid when we were about to start the race and I told my crew chief. I might get lapped in this race. I have no idea what’s gonna happen. I’m gonna take this gamble and I’m gonna ride. I’m not getting hurt here. I did exactly what I told everybody I would do. Which is I’m not putting my neck on the line especially in the wet. The race just came my direction. I didn’t even have to go that fast. All of the other guys that chose rain tires on the front, those things were ruined so bad. It was gifted to me. It was the luck of the draw.
SBI: 2013. Speak on it.
Josh Hayes: As far as 2013 goes, what do I see? I can’t imagine having a year better than 2012. It would be a hard act to follow to have the same season. 16 out of 20 races? I still look at it and it just doesn’t compute. It’s incredible. It’s too crazy. It’s too much, but somehow it happened. I still look at it and I go, did that really happen? I don’t know. I feel like I’m missing a statistic somewhere. But it really happened. I think it would be foolish to think that I could follow that up again. That being said, as the season progressed, it kinda went a little slower than the year before. I kinda went a little faster.
Images: Michael Spain-Smith.