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5 Minutes With... Tommy Hahn

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Canidae/Motosport Kawasaki’s Tommy Hahn did something that few people would’ve guessed at the beginning of the year: He won an AMA National last weekend at Steel City. He also finished off the outdoor season fifth in points despite not scoring any points in four motos. We talked to him yesterday about his season, his prospects, and his win.

Racer X: We’re going to start this interview with some hard-hitting stuff. Are you ready?
Tommy Hahn: Yeah, do whatever you want.

Okay, it has come to my attention that some people think you’re not a hard worker and that you live off of your talent instead of your work ethic. What do you think about that?
I don’t know why people would say that, actually. I work my butt off. I may not have way back in the beginning, because when I raced amateurs, I didn’t do a whole lot because you didn’t really have to for five laps, but it was a wake-up call when I went into supercross and then to the outdoors and I started getting tired and stuff. I hired a trainer after my first year, and I’ve had a trainer ever since, up until this last outdoor season. I don’t know where somebody would come up with that. I work hard, and I put in my riding. Obviously, our main training tool is our dirt bike, and I ride a whole bunch, and I think people on my team would concur, because my bike is always worn out. I’m always going through tires, clutches, everything. I don’t know why people would say that.

Christophe Pourcel is a guy who claims not to ride hardly at all, but if you’re winning, it doesn’t matter what you do during the week, right?
Yeah, people don’t even question it then. And if your’e starting up there and then you’re fading back a little bit, whether you have a stomach problem or any kind of health problem like that – which happens all the time because we beat our bodies down so low sometimes that they just lose immunity to lots of things – and then all of a sudden they “have no work ethic.” It’s pretty cool how that happens, I think.

You’re still a young guy, and that’s perceived a certain way regardless of the realities of what’s going on around you sometimes.
Yeah, obviously when you’re young you want to have fun, but I was never a partier. I’ll have a good time when the time’s right, but you don’t hear about me getting hammered the night before a race or anything like that. There are some people who are partiers, but everyone’s different. Sometimes it works for them, sometimes it doesn’t, but it doesn’t work for me. I choose not to be like that because I believe it would hurt me. I don’t have that much natural ability to be able to do that. I think people just don’t really know until they’re actually around us and know what we actually do.

Were you aware of this reputation prior to me bringing it up?
Actually, not really! I have a bunch of friends that ride and they know how hard I work. It’s just some people who don’t know what they’re talking about, I guess.

It’s now a couple days after you won at Steel City. Has it sunk in? How do you feel about it now?
It’s cool. It’s something I’ve been working for ever since I was a little kid, and it’s something that my whole family’s been working for. I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s cool. I’m enjoying it right now, and I’m glad I went out at the last race of the season with a good result. I just want to put myself in a good position to get a good ride next year, and I think I did that.

A lot of good 250 guys say they’re better on a 450, but then you actually are, and Josh Grant is doing well on a 450, too. That doesn’t happen all the time. What’s the deal with you new guys and the 450s?
I don’t know, I think it’s just about how we ride. Sometimes the 450 makes a person a smoother rider, and sometimes the smoother riders on the 250F are better on the 450. I’m not an aggro type of rider, and you have to have that sort of riding style to ride a 250F competitively, where you’re wide-open everywhere. Pourcel’s pretty much the only guy that I know that rides the 250F smooth and is competitive week-in and week-out. I just don’t like getting out of control on my bike, so a 450 is a lot better for me, honestly, because I can ride it mellow and still go fast on it. I can pick and choose. You have time to think on a 450, but on a 250F, you just hold the throttle wide-open and hope for the best.

I’ve ridden a couple of those top-level 450s, and one thing I noticed is that you can lug it through a turn if you need traction, or you can rev it like a 250F if you want for certain track conditions or whatever, and pretty much anywhere in between. So it seems almost like a chess game where you have a decision to make in how you want to approach a particular section.
Yeah, it’s just a better variety of ways to ride that bike. A 250F, you just get on it and go for it. On a 450, I think that’s why there are so many good 450 riders, because there is such a variety of ways to ride it. Everyone has a different way of going at everything. But it’s a tradeoff, because it can make you lazy, but honestly, you don’t have to ride a 250F anymore, so it doesn’t really matter!

You’re also on fuel-injection as well, and Michael Byrne said this last weekend that it’s really funny because you can over-jump a section, land on the face of a jump, and just stay committed because you know it’s not going to bog, so you just commit and keep jumping through.
That’s pretty spot-on. You don’t really have to worry about it doing anything funny. It’s really consistent. Sometimes, with carburetors, even throughout a moto it can get inconsistent depending on the weather or other things that are going on. With EFI, you don’t have to worry about it at all. It runs the same the whole time, and you know what it’s going to do, and it’s very predictable. It’s awesome.

You mentioned in past interviews that your time at Team Honda didn’t go that well because you put so much pressure on yourself to perform. How do you think it will be different if you get another factory gig?
I think it will be a lot different now because I honestly don’t think I was ready for that ride. I did put a lot of pressure on myself, and I wanted to be with Honda and to win with them. They’re used to winning. I wanted to win. It never happened, and then I started doubting myself, and the wheels kind of fell off midway through the season. A couple of injuries later, that was it. There was nothing I could do to bring it back, and I’d already dug myself into a hole I couldn’t get out of. I don’t think I was mature enough, and I don’t think I took the racing seriously enough that year, either, and it’s honestly the best thing that’s happened to me. I realized it wasn’t going to be easy, and that it wasn’t going to be easy, and to get my shit together. I had to start working really hard right away or else I wasn’t going to have anything the next time my contract was up.

You could end up losing everything you worked for in your life in one season...
Yeah, and the last 15 years that I worked to get there could just be gone in a couple of months because I made bad choices or poor mistakes. It was a good thing that happened to me because I learned a lot from it, what not to do, and I’m not going to make that same mistake twice. I’m better now because of it.

Of the guys in the pits, though, you’re one of the guys who has a lot of personality, and we need that in our sport. What do you think about fans and media and all that?
I remember how it was when I was a little kid and went to the races, and seeing the guys that I looked up to, and if they blew me off or whatever, it would bum me out. I know now that they were real busy, but as a kid, you don’t think about that stuff. All you want is an autograph. I think about the guy who blew me off, and I would think, “That guy’s mean!” I just try to make time for everybody because I remember how it was when I was a kid.

We’re in a bizarre situation in our industry right now where rides are at a premium, and you guys are fighting for some limited spots and some limited funds, so how do you see this playing out?
I put myself in a good position to get a really good ride next year, whether it’s with this team again or a different one, and everybody’s in the same boat. It’s kind of equal right now, and there are some guys who are at the top, and those guys are going to get something, obviously. It might not be what they want, but they’ll get something. Right now, that’s the most important thing, that we get to continue racing our dirt bikes. If it’s not as good as what we want, we can’t look a gift horse in the mouth, so we just have to keep racing.

You just have to do what it takes to survive this economy so when it’s good again, you’re still there...
Exactly.

Congrats on the win, Tommy. It’s a big deal to win an AMA National. Where do you see things going from here for you?
I believe I can race for championships someday, and I hope to have a long career. I just want to keep learning and keep putting myself in good positions, and doing the best that I can do. Even if I don’t win a championship, I don’t want to have any regrets. I want to do all I can do. If I get a championship, I’ll be more than ecstatic, but I want to win more races, and I want to have fun. That’s the biggest thing for me. If you’re not having fun, you shouldn’t be out there. I want to have more fun. If I win some championships, awesome, but if not, I just want to ride my dirt bike and know that I gave it everything I had when I’m done.

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