Between the Motos: A.J. Hayes

August 22, 2007 11:43am

With Ricky Carmichael clinching his 150th career victory at Millville, all the rage has been about getting your hands on one of the limited-edition “150 wins” T-shirts, which are being produced by Moto Tees. For today’s Suzuki Between the Motos, we decided to talk to the man behind the T-shirt design work at Moto Tees, A.J. Hayes, who is not only a huge fan of the sport, but also a participant as well. And good news: RC shirts are still available! Just visit

Racer X: A.J., how did you get into the design business, and particularly designing motocross T-shirts?
A.J. Hayes: I just kind of fell upon it, actually. Back when I was younger I would always draw pictures of bikes and riders by freehand, and that’s what sort of got me in to design in general. I took classes in high school for graphics, and back in ’96 and ’97, the first T-shirt I made was a Shift T-shirt with Jeff Emig on it as a project. After I graduated college I kind of fell into the opportunity to work here, so I’m pretty happy and thankful for it.

RC at Millville

photo: Steve Bruhn

So how long have you been with Gear Racewear?
This is my fifth year coming up. I got this job right out of college, and I can’t really ask for anything better.

Where did you go to college?
Pittsburgh Technical Institute.

Did you use any of your class time to work on motocross T-shirts?
Not really. I did that in high school, but in college I did mock-ups like a Yamaha brochure. We didn’t use it for anything, but we were allowed to use whatever we wanted for a project, and I used motocross as the subject matter more than a few times.

I know a couple guys named Ken Block and Damon Way who used to make T-shirts in their community college in Carlsbad. That turned into Droors Clothing, which turned into DC Shoes, so there’s definitely gold to be found in doing that kind of design. So, what made you a motocross fan in the first place?
I had a PW50 when I was younger, and I kind of moved into quad riding a little bit because we had some land and a cabin. And then back in late high school I started getting into motocross again and started racing a little bit. I ride a lot now and race when I can, but I do what I can.

I know Moto Tees and the whole Gear Racewear company has a lot of irons in the fire when it comes to products they put out. Besides event T-shirts, what are some of the stuff that you work on?
We do a lot of customer stuff from around the country with different local tracks and series. We also are getting into some drag racing stuff with the IHRA, so that’s cool and different. We do some miscellaneous projects as well with community-day T-shirts and sports teams and stuff like that. So it’s nice to have that stuff to mix it up, but primarily we’re doing motocross stuff, and that’s what I like the best.

But you guys not only do motocross T-shirts, you also produce supercross shirt as well.
Yeah, we do a lot of the same type of stuff for supercross as we do for the AMA nationals. That includes series, event and rider T-shirts.

A.J. Hayes has been with Moto Tees for five years

photo: Sara Williams

How much stuff do you still do that’s basically freehand, and how much is done on the screen of the computer?
To be honest, I don’t do very much freehand at all. I grew up doing that stuff, and once I went to school for it and everything, I was kind of shocked at how much everything is on the computer. I did have some drawing classes, but there’s very little freehand involved. If you want that sort of look on a shirt, sometimes we’ll maybe do something freehand, but you can achieve that look on the computer, too.

In high school I was on the yearbook committee, and we learned all about print film, black and white, and working in the dark room. I did that for 10 years, but lo and behold, you can’t find someone with a 35mm camera anymore, let alone someone who can work in the dark room. It may be a forgotten art form, but it does give you the basics for what you’re doing now, as far as your eye and your ability to layer and texture thing and find the right depth of field.
Right, yeah. I mean, even with the hand-drawing stuff, from being young I would look at a magazine and see a photograph of a rider, and then I would go and freehand draw it, and I’d get that eye for the direction of the light and the highlights and the shadows, and that still transfers today when we’re color-correcting or drawing something up on the computer. So a lot of that stuff does transfer, it’s just in a different form.

Which motocross rider do you like to draw the best, or is it hard to pick one?
It’s hard to pick one. I mean, obviously, Carmichael would be my favorite rider, so anytime I had a chance to do anything for him, that was always exciting. And when I first started and Jeremy [McGrath] was still riding, I had the opportunity to do something for him, and that was very exciting. I like all the guys, and if I get to do anything with the professionals, that’s definitely my favorite thing to do.

How long does it take you to do one shirt?
It kind of depends, really. Sometimes you’ll sit down and you’ll search for the pictures you want to use and you already have an idea in your head and it comes together real quick, but other times I’ll have to stop and walk away and go back and shift some things around. But on average, I’d say design takes maybe four hours.

What is one shirt that really stands out in your mind that is just really out there that you did?
Because it’s recent, I really like the idea behind the Carmichael 100 Wins shirt. Using the money font and the $100 bills with his face, it’s nothing too crazy, but it is something I was really excited about and to actually see it come together, I’m really happy with it.

Now you have a nice round number because he has the 150 Wins shirt, and I saw him wearing it on the podium at Millville.
Yeah, when he won both of those races he did wear the shirts, and when I came in Monday morning and saw that, it was just awesome!

These RC t-shirts are still available!

Have you ever gotten a shirt signed by RC?
Yeah, after the 100th win I got a shirt signed by him, and I got a jersey signed by him in 2002. I have a few things of his.

Is it harder to draw certain guys because their style just isn’t there?
No, not really. The color correction is pretty much the same no matter who it is. But the design itself, a rider style can really bring out a design. Someone like RC that’s really aggressive or someone like Chad Reed who is really smooth, you can sometimes use that to your advantage. If you want something that’s real wild and aggressive, James Stewart is a good rider to use, and it meshes together with the design.

We enjoy seeing your work, and I’m real familiar with most of them because we have a T-shirt collection here. Good luck, and we’ll see you at Steel City, and good luck with your racing career.
Thanks, DC!