5 Minutes with … Bob Hannah

December 2, 2005 6:37am
“What the hell do you want?” asked Bob Hannah when I called him in Idaho yesterday morning.
“We haven’t spoken to you in a while, so with the season about to start, I thought it would be a good time,” I answered.
“Time for Bob Hannah to rear his ugly head, huh?”
“Okay, hit me with it.”

As we’ve all come to expect, Bob Hannah—the Ricky Carmichael of the late 1970s and early ‘80s_tells it like it is. There are few people more enjoyable to talk to about the sport of motocross. Nonetheless, here’s the warning: Bob’s opinions are his own and are not necessarily shared by Racer X Illustrated. They are, however, highly entertaining, controversial, and at times downright funny. That’s Bob, and that’s why we love him.

Racer X:
Bob, what are you up to today?

Bob Hannah: Well, I was lifting weights until you called and interrupted me, but since I’m between sets, I’ll talk to you.

Thanks. What else do you have going on?
Oh, the same old shit. Working. Working on real-estate deals and selling airplanes. I’ve been working so much, I haven’t even been able to go hunting yet. I’m going to go this weekend, though, that’s for sure.

What are you going to hunt for?
Birds—pheasants and chuckers.

What’s a chucker?
A bird.

Do you have to run after them?
Yeah, but don’t worry about it.

The Motocross Files hit the Speed Channel this week. The show received a lot of great feedback. It sounds like the guys were up in Idaho with you recently. Did it go well?
It went good. There’s not enough time in a half-hour show to tell a good story, though.

What did they talk to you about?
A lot of BS. They talked to me in my house and in my airplane hangar. They asked me what I do now. They were good guys, though. Real good guys. Todd Huffman must have never worked in the motocross business, because he’s too nice a guy!

When were you at a motocross race last?

Last year. Anaheim. It was a good race. I haven’t been to a race since. Frankly, I haven’t been keeping up with it.

You know the Toronto race is on the Speed Channel this Sunday?
I haven’t had the Speed Channel on in five years. I watched it for the first time in five years last week, though, to watch Brad Lackey’s deal [on The Motocross Files].

Did you like the show?
Yeah, it was all right. You can’t tell a guy like Lackey’s story in a half hour, though. The show was nice. I like watching stuff like that about the old guys. I wouldn’t watch a show about the new guys.

What about Carmichael? Last time I saw him, I thought he was a good rider. Would you watch a show about him?
[Laughs] Yeah, I might watch a show on RC. But he’d be the only guy I watch! Roger DeCoster, Marty Smith, I’d watch shows about them too. Not Kent Howerton, though.

Why not?
I wouldn’t want to hear all the whining and the excuses. I don’t want to relive all that stuff with him from 25 years ago. I wouldn’t want to hear about how he had the flu or a hangnail at a race and felt sorry for himself. But he probably feels the same way about me. He probably wouldn’t want to watch my show either.

Will you watch the supercross from Toronto on TV this Sunday?
When is it on?

Six p.m., East Coast, Sunday on Speed.

If it’s snowing and I’m not hunting, I’ll watch it. You know, Keith McCarty asked me if I wanted to come up there and watch. He said, “Come up.” I said, “That’s a good thought, but no.”

Did he give you any inside stuff about the race?
I didn’t talk to him about it. We talked about shotguns. I told him I was going to send him a shotgun and some shotgun shells.

Who do you think will win the race in Toronto?
Who is racing in it?

Pretty much everyone.
I think the same guy who has won the last five years will win. Unless his bike breaks or he breaks his arm, nobody is going to beat him. That’s my guess. I wouldn’t bet against Ricky Carmichael. I mean, he left Honda to go to Suzuki and still won. Nobody has any idea how high the odds were stacked against him. He came through, though. Holy cow, that guy is a god. He’s The Man. Roger DeCoster used to be The Man. Now he’s the Old Man—like me! RC is the best rider we’ll ever see race a motorcycle. No doubt about it.

How do you think James Stewart will do?
I don’t know … he had a crap year last year. He proved that. I’d say Chad Reed is the number-two man right now. But James? I don’t know. You tell me. How do you think he will do?

If he can keep the rubber side down and keep the distractions at bay, I think he’ll be right in there.
Distractions are his problem. You make your own distractions. RC doesn’t have any distractions. If he does, he tells them to get the hell out. If James has distractions, that’s his own stupidity. If he has a big entourage—like some riders do—get rid of them. Be a professional. Ricky Carmichael is. Chad Reed is. James Stewart needs to go pro. He needs to quit being a kid and playing around. He needs to put blinders on. RC put blinders on; I put them on when I was racing. If RC is ready and dedicated, all the other guys are in trouble. Chad Reed might be there, but maybe he isn’t fast enough to beat Carmichael. I don’t know. RC might be unbeatable. Roger DeCoster, Heikki Mikkola, Marty Smith, Bob Hannah … were we unbeatable? Hell no! Is RC unbeatable? Hell yes! DeCoster was beatable in his day. He’d show up, and once in a while a guy like Gerrit Wolsink would kick his ass. Unless his bike breaks or he gets knocked down, RC is unbeatable [in a series].

You know, while I’m thinking about it, McGrath wasn’t unbeatable either. He wasn’t good; he was great. Maybe unbeatable in supercross, but he was not unbeatable in both supercross and motocross. RC is an animal. He’s an alien. He’s got everyone else trained.

Word has it that this may be RC’s last season. What do you think about that?
I don’t know…. When I got out, I never wanted to ride a bike again. But I wasn’t bored. I’m still not. I like to run and fly and ride my street bike and work in my office. I have a lot going on. I love it. A lot of the time, I’m here in this office 12 to 14 hours a day, six days a week. As far as what is RC going to do when he is done, I don’t know. Nobody has ever really gone out on top before. It would be cool if RC went out on top. If I were him, I’d do it cold-turkey. None of this “race five or six races” bullshit. McGrath is just cruising out there. Why would he want to do that? Why would he want to take a chance on getting hurt? I quit racing because I knew I was going to get hurt. I like eating chicken sandwiches and drinking iced tea at the airport too much. Screw dying. RC should quit as the guy who has never been beaten. But that’s my opinion and not my decision.

Are you happy you retired when you did?
I’m glad I did what I did when I did it. It was more fun back when I raced. I know the guys today don’t have as much as I did when I was racing. The bike business allowed me to obtain everything I have in life. I now have everything I have ever wanted. But I’m glad I got out when I did. Back in my day, I’d be into making bombs and crashing rental cars, but I was a kid and that’s what I wanted to do. You have to grow up fast in the sport now. Although it seems like the only two guys that have grown up and are making money are Carmichael and Reed. It’s more Hollywood now. I don’t like Hollywood. I don’t need to fly to the race in a private jet with my super-agent. I’m not impressed with any of that. Yeah, the money might be a lot better today, but the racing isn’t—and the sport isn’t as fun. That’s what happens when big business gets into it. Me, I’m happy. I look at it all the same way now as I did when I was 19. I have a set of Levi’s, a pair of boots, a clean T-shirt, and $400 in my pocket. I have a very nice life, and I’m very satisfied. Life can be a bitch, but not for me.