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Between the Motos: Heath Voss

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The temperature was less than 50 degrees, a light rain was falling, the pits were dark and Heath Voss was standing there with a t-shirt on. Opening ceremonies for the season-opening Anaheim Supercross were 40 minutes away and the 30 year-old privateer watched on as a young man — big wrenches hanging out of his jacket pockets and all — busily went over his Honda. “He may only be 19 years old, but he knows suspension like a 45 year-old,” offered Voss, nodding towards the kid. To say he was “Top Privateer” later that cold night is a pretty overwhelming understatement. Remarkably resourceful, not only is Voss a top 10-caliber rider, he’s also managing major sponsors such as MasterCraft Boats and the U.S. Air Force. Back home in Texas after running 11th at the San Francisco supercross, Racer X spoke with Voss about the fantastic season he is quietly having.

  • Heath Voss is leading the privateer charge while maintaining relationships with two very unique sponsors
Heath, what do you have going today?

I’m actually riding a new supercross track tomorrow so I’m just working on it. I’m getting it all prepped up. It’s really dry here so I put down a lot of water today to get the dirt nice and tacky.

Well, jumping right into this thing. You placed eleventh in San Francisco on Saturday night. You were the Top Privateer again and, once again, beat a lot of good people with equipment that’s superior to yours…
You think it is? Production stuff is pretty good some times. Sometimes you get a [factory] bike and start modifying it and making so many changes that you don’t even know what you’ve got.

How did you feel about your result there? Only factory guys beat you…
Yeah, I was real disappointed in my heat race. I was like in fifth or sixth after three or four laps and I went to push the rear brake down and a rock got stuck in it and it locked the rear wheel up. I didn’t know what the problem was. By the time I figured out there was a rock in the brake I was a lap down so I had to go to the LCQ. I had the second-to-last pick on the gate and was all the way on the right side. There were a lot of good riders in the Last Chance and I didn’t know if I’d be able to pull it off, but I just about had the holeshot. Millsaps got me and I finished a close second, but I had a real good Last Chance Qualifier.

Millsaps only beat you by 1.073 seconds in the LCQ and that guy has a pretty good motorcycle…
Yeah, I’ve got really good people working on my stuff now. Mike Batista is the best suspension guy I’ve ever worked with. He was the factory Honda Showa technician for years and he knows what he’s doing. And then my motor guy, Scott Venning, is pretty amazing. He ruled the drag racing world for about 30 years. He’s a head expert and that’s where you get all the power out of the motor — in the piston and the head. My bike is actually pretty good.

Do you go out buy your own bikes, Heath?
Yeah, it’s kind of ridiculous. You know Honda… Everybody is using the excuse that they’re going broke, so…

So you go put your own money down for your actual race bikes?
Yeah, I buy them from the local dealer.

I could have it wrong, but I don’t think I do. To my way of seeing things, it’s pretty ridiculous that you have to buy your own bikes considering you’re the best privateer out there right now. If a manufacturer wanted to be able to say, “We race EXACTLY what we sell,” well, they’d be talking about you…
Yeah, I know. And I missed one round, too, because I raced in Germany. It was a big deal to me. Not too many people in the U.S. know about the Dortmund race (Note: The Dortmund Supercross an the same weekend as Phoenix), but it’s a huge race in Europe. It’s the biggest race in Germany and the Germans are big motorsports fans. The race sells out all three days the first day the tickets go on sale. It’s a pretty incredible show. To win that race is probably one of the greatest things I ever did. It’s a pretty big deal.

Such a big deal that you placed seventh at the first race at Anaheim and beat guys like Millsaps, Alessi and Windham and still decided to leave the Supercross series and go over there…
Yeah, this winter I was King of Zurich, King of Chemnitz and I would have been the King of Stuttgart, but my valve stem ripped off with a few laps to go in the main. I ended up being the Kind of Dortmund. I’m on the covers of magazines over there. There will be a photo of me and they will be a picture of Lewis Hamilton at the bottom (Note: Hamilton is the 2008 Formula 1 World Champion). I’m a big Formula 1 fan so to be on the same cover or in the same magazine as Lewis Hamilton and the Formula 1 racers is awesome.

  • Voss is discouraged about the cost of racing professionally, but he presses on.
When you told people you were going to skip round two in Phoenix to go race a somewhat off-beat supercross in Germany, did anyone look at you funny?
Yeah, pretty much everybody did. They don’t understand about these races. I mean, where I raced in Stuttgart, 200 yards away are where are Porsche and Mercedes cars are made. The Porsche and Mercedes museums are also there. You know to have all those types of people who work there and all those people from the racing community to be there at those races and for me to go on out and win those races means a lot to me. It’s just a big deal for me to win those races. It’s so much more fun to win than to place seventh. Seventh is great and everything, but there is nothing like winning.

Five rounds into the AMA Supercross Series your 12th in points and the Top Privateer. How do you feel about your season so far?
Everything is really good, but for some reason I’m 50/50. My heat races have been good. In the main events I haven’t been getting the greatest starts — I come out like sixth, seventh or eighth. I’ve been making a few mistakes here and there. I’m not pushing it as hard I should be when I practice, but when I race I’m right up there with all the top guys. My lap times come down by like two seconds.

Heath, have you received much attention from your results this season? I mean I’m pretty amazed by them. You’re one of the top 10 to 15 guys in the entire world at this sport right now.
Yeah, you know it feels really good. I get, probably, 45 e-mails on Sunday after the race and all my friends call me and everybody is just so excited.

What are your goals for the rest of these main events coming up on the 2009 schedule?
My main goal is to get on the podium and I know I can do it. From racing in Europe and stuff, I know I can win races. I just got to get my speed up a little bit more here and be a little bit more aggressive in the main and go for it and not be on a Sunday cruise.

Another thing fans may not realize is just how resourceful you are. Not only did you go out and find two major sponsors in MasterCraft Boats and the U.S Air Force, you also manage the programs at each and every race. That’s quite a plate full…
I have a deal with MasterCraft, the ski boat company. We’ve been working together for about six years now. The last two years, I’ve done their pit presentation for them. My motorhome is done-up with their logos and it’s basically just a backdrop for the boat display. I also do some entertaining with the local dealers or their customers. I also have a deal with the U.S Air Force where I go to schools and I talk to kids about the Air Force and their core values and what the Air Force is all about.

I know it isn’t your style to say certain things, but I’m going to go ahead and say it: You work with a great sponsor, you work with the U.S. Air Force, you’re the number one privateer, yet you have to buy your own motorcycles. I don’t know, man… Someone’s lost the plot…
Yeah… Yeah… It’s frustrating, but actually everything in my life is the best it’s ever been. My motorcycle is really good. The people that I work with are awesome. They’re just the best of the best. Everything I have, in my eyes, is the best that you can get: My racing gear and all my sponsors. Everything is first class. I’m not making hardly any money doing this right now. I have to make the main event just to make some money right now. If I don’t make the main event, I have a truck driver who is my brother-in-law, and my cousin is my mechanic. Between the two of them, and my fuel expenses, if I don’t make the main event, I don’t cover them. I don’t really like being in this kind of financial situation, but that’s just the way it is right now.

Does it all make you scratch your head at times?
Yeah, but the most badass people on Earth are supercross or motocross racers. The true challenge between man and machine is supercross or motocross, so I’m doing what I love to do. It’s just a badass sport and I love being a part of it.

{LINKS}And you’ve been doing it for 14 years and you’re telling me you’re having as much as you’ve ever had…
The older you get, the more you appreciate what you get to do. When you’re young, you love doing it and stuff, but you don’t realize what you are getting to do as much as you do when you get older.

 Heath Voss Sponsors: US Air Force, MasterCraft, Great Lakes Airlines, Cytomax, No Fear, Sarah Janes, Venning Motorsports, MB1, Wallys Watersports, VP fuel, Bridgestone, Decal Works, Utopia, Hinson, Silkolene, DRD, Renthal, DID, QTM, Ferodo, HO Watersports, Gibraltar, CP Piston, Hotcams, Xceldyne, Twin Air, Kicker, Powerstart, Works Connection, MX Conditioning Concept 2
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