Chewin' the fat with 2010 AMA SuperBike Champion Josh Hayes
It seemed that things finally gelled with the Graves team, and that you were one of the only riders to be able to go toe-to-toe with Mladin and win.
You know, that was a huge deal for me. I pined for the opportunity to race against Mat and Ben when they were over here dominating. I wanted to learn what they had figured out, and the only way to do that was to go out there and race against them. From being in the undercard classes for so many years, it was just a matter of watching and trying to figure out by watching, and I didn't actually get to go out there and compete against them and see it. I was very thankful to Yamaha, Chuck and all those guys for the opportunity in 2009 to go out and race with them.
How was racing with Mladin compared to the others?
Mat rode a lot based on intimidation. I figured that out real quick; if he had the opportunity to pass you in practice, he didn't just pass you, he stuffed you and made it as rude and nasty as he could, and made sure you knew he was top dog. He wasn't going to roll over for anybody. My first kind of interaction with that was at Road America; Mat and I got into this little battle. I kept on getting the opportunity to kind of draft up to him, and getting into a braking duel, and Mat actually took us both off the racetrack three times in two laps. Put us off in Turn One, then did it in Turn Five, and a couple of other times around the racetrack. Finally at one point I'd gotten by him, then when we got to Turn Three, he came barreling up the inside and ran wide, so I cut it back underneath, and he just kind of gave up and came in the pit. You know, I was thinking I'd seen him treat other guys that way, and guys would get spun out and say, "Aw, I'll just ride behind him and learn from him," and he'd love that. But honestly, I came in and had the biggest smile on my face I'd ever had that year, I was having so much fun. It gave me the confidence that I could get back out there and do it again.
I didn't get too many opportunities to go toe-to-toe with Mat, we didn't see each other out on the racetrack a whole lot, just a couple of races. New Jersey was where I really felt like - it didn't really matter if he said that, "Oh, I wasn't into it, or it wasn't this or that" - you know the guy was riding. No one's ever taken two seconds back from Mat; once that guy got a two-second lead, you didn't run him down and get into a battle with him and go back and forth over a few laps. It was just a lot of fun. That's how racing is supposed to be. I wish he were still around to keep pushing racing to that level. He was the standard for many, many years by which racers measured themselves.
You signed a two-year contract with YMC USA; why not look overseas?
You know, I looked over there in 2008 before Yamaha came to me with this Superbike opportunity. Did the Parkalgar thing in World Supersport. Really, really liked that series. I would love to be a part of the World Superbike/World Supersport series again; the paddock was an excellent group of people to be around. The racing is phenomenal. But unfortunately I'm not in the position like a lot of guys like Ben Spies are at; I'm 35 years old, married, I have a couple of mortgages, you know I'm not in a position where I can sacrifice a lot and go do that, and know that I'm going to be OK in, say, 10 years and 45 years old...I don't want to be driving a tractor. I want nothing more than to be able to say I'm a world champion, it's the next step and I'd love to be able to do that. If the right opportunity came along, I'd be all over it. But it'd take the right opportunity.
Honestly, from what I've seen, my experience when I went over there, there really is not much interest in Americans being over there. There is, but not to the point where they're willing to do what it takes to have an American there, it's not that important to them. Ben Spies, they wanted him over there real bad, he'd proven himself, and they needed the next step and they needed a hot rodder like Ben. And Ben did a fantastic job, he made us Americans look really, really good. It would just take the right opportunity to go there; I want to go there. Yamaha wanted to make sure I was taken care of here in the U.S., so it was hard to walk away from that. They've been really good to me.
How do you view the current state of roadracing in the United States?
It's different...they're not comparable. You know, everyone was just unhappy in 2009. It was just a series where everybody was just conflicted, everybody was fighting against everybody and never made any sense. It's one thing to say "back in the days of old," but now everybody's just enjoying racing motorcycles. That year 2009, let it just die and be gone. Unfortunately it got such a bad rap with so many people that we so often get these questions, people wanna know "what was the state of racing with all those guys, DMG and all that." It hasn't been the case for a year now, everybody's just been enjoying racing. All the teams and riders I believe feel that they're being treated fairly, which is one of the most important things. They (AMA Pro Racing) don't get everything correct and right all of the time, but they treat us all fairly.
How would you compare your current R1 superbike to bikes you've ridden in the past?
That's a tough question. You know, it has proven to be a really good motorcycle. Personally, on a personal level, it's been a very difficult motorcycle for me to get my head around. Yamaha's engineering is a pretty far cry from everything else I'd ever ridden. More in the chassis than the engine; the engine I got along with right away. The chassis I felt I struggled with quite a bit, and I still to this day have to focus on how to meld my riding style with what this bike does well and how it works. It doesn't like to point and shoot, as much as I like to point and shoot. It's a very refined machine, it likes to roll around the racetrack, very pretty lines, very beautiful riding style. I don't have a pretty riding style. I'm more of a manhandle it, get it stopped, turn it, pin it and get out, so it's been a lot of work for me and the crew to come up with the right combinations of both to exploit the strengths of this motorcycle. But also, I've had to learn to ride a motorcycle all over again, just to figure out how to get the most out of this from time to time. So it's a work in progress all the time. We talked a little bit earlier today about how to keep it simple, how to give me a motorcycle that I can ride my best. And as long as I do that, I feel that I can be competitive.
What's your feeling on traction control and other rider aids in racing?
The big thing to me is the big misconception that traction control turns crappy tires into good tires, you know, I think people have the wrong idea. It'd be a good editorial for you to write. It's a safety net is what it is, but it only slows bikes down, it takes power away when you're spinning the tire and it can't give you grip back, it keeps you from flying over the handlebars.
Racing seems to be headed toward a Superstock-style format with fewer and fewer modifications. How do you feel about that?
It's a double-edged sword. It's hard to explain, but as a racer I want to race the biggest, baddest, most gnarly machines out there, I want to see the coolest equipment at the racetrack. In World Superbike, I love it, I want to ride those bikes, I want to see those bikes. For racing in general, I think that our series has proven that a more production-based class has allowed more people into the field, and allowed more people to get up to the front and customer teams to be able to win races. And that's something that our sport needs to help grow. I think it's good, quality racing. So it's hard for me to fault it. I know people want to see the cool bikes too, and I want to ride them, there's no question about it. But I definitely think between the economy and just, the U.S. doesn't seem to have a strong enough group that if it were World Superbike-based machines that we would have enough bikes in the field to be worth it. It would be a very sad show.
So what about 2011? How's your racing effort shaping up now?
Yeah, 2011 is going to be interesting for me. You know, I feel like I rode a little too safe and a little too careful. You know, I broke a record this year; I fell down one time in a test in 2010, it was a hard front tire in a test at Barber. I'm usually good for five or six crashes a year! So it tells me I was probably riding a little bit too safe. And now that I have the AMA Superbike championship - I have that, they can't take that away, it's mine - now I don't have that monkey on my back, I don't have to make that an accomplishment. I can focus a little bit more on just individual races and working on just being a little bit better rider and setting a pace that those guys just can't catch. If I do that job well, then I think I'll end up with another Superbike championship.