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Between the Motos: Ryan Hughes

Ryan Hughes is a well-known figure in the motocross world. He’s a former AMA factory rider with multiple AMA Motocross and 125cc supercross wins, a member of three Motocross des Nations teams, a Grand Prix racer, off-roader, and more, and he’s now a racetrack promoter and motocross trainer (—he’s even getting into the food industry with Ryno Organics. But we called him today because he’s started yet another line of work: he’s training Monster Ford World Rally Team driver Ken Block as Ken enters his first full-blown World Rally Championship race.

Racer X: Ryno, what are you doing in Mexico?
Ryan Hughes: Ken Block and I came straight from Missouri, where he won the 100-Acre Rally for the fifth year in a row, and we are now in Leon, Mexico, for the World Rally Championship race.
  • Ryan Hughes circa 1994.

How were things in Missouri?
We had a great trip. Of course, Ken is still getting used to his new Ford Fiesta, and he’s only had a limited amount of testing. Travis [Pastrana] is in the car he’s been racing for a number of years, and that car is proven, so Ken’s working on getting this one up to par. There was a little bit of a gap he had to fill chasing Travis, but he stayed smart and stayed strong—he probably never made a bobble the whole rally—and the results paid off. Winning there five years in a row is a pretty amazing feat.

He’s got that place down like Ricky Carmichael at Southwick.

Is this the first WRC race Ken has done?
He did one before in the WRC equivalent of the Lites class, but this is the first time he’s gone up against the likes of Sebastien Loeb, Kimi Raikkonen, Mikko Hirvonen, and all those big, big, big names in rally, so he’s jumping into the shark tank with this one, but he’s ready. He’s going into this weekend with the idea that he’s gaining experience—that he’s finally accomplished a dream of his, which is to race in the World Rally Championships. So there’s really no expectations on him. No pressure at all. He just wants to learn and progress and prepare for next year’s WRC, where he will be doing the full series if everything goes according to plan.

Unlike motocross and certainly AMA Supercross, the U.S. circuit is the much smaller circuit in rally, whereas the World Rally Championships are the pinnacle of the sport, aren’t they?
Yes, and that was a real eye-opener, going to the U.S. championships in Missouri and then coming here to Mexico. They do a great job in the States, and there’s a lot of passion behind the sport there, but the interest just isn’t there with the American public. But then you come here … it’s just amazing what a big deal it all is. It’s just a whole different ballgame. It’s really cool, and it’s already been a great experience for me, as I am sure it is with Ken.

You and Ken go way back, right? Weren’t you DC Shoes’ first motocross athlete?
That’s right, I was. When they started to grow, we got together, and that’s been since back in the mid-nineties, so I’ve known Ken for a very long time. So it’s kind of cool that we are working together now side by side to make this dream happen for him.

What exactly do you do with Ken? I know that you’ve got a long list of motocross riders you’ve been training, but this is quite a different form of racing.
Yes, it’s different, but it’s kind of the same thing in that Ken really wants to get the most out of his body and his performance. He’s already worked with a lot of great trainers from the Paul Chek Institute, so he trains the same way I train, so we match up really good that way. I’m also trying to bring a lot of racing experience and knowledge to him, because racing is racing is racing…. It’s just in a different form here. I’m trying to help him harness his potential and maximize his performances.
       That said, I am absolutely blown away by the intensity Ken has in his training, in his program, in his setup, and his whole approach to accomplishing this dream, from the way he eats to the way he stretches and trains, his mindset, his preparation…. I see a lot of me in him and vice versa, and I think we’re going to click pretty good. He’s got a lot of passion for this—maybe more than any driver I have ever seen—which is why he’s made such a quick progression through the ranks in rally racing.
  • Would you ride shotgun with this guy?
  • Ken Block's Ford Fiesta is faster than yours.

Do you ever get to ride shotgun with him on practice runs?
[Laughs] I have! Wow. He took me on a training ride in Missouri and my comment when I got out of the car was “Man, I haven’t had a smile on my face this long since the first time I had sex!” It was amazing.

Ken and I have talked about it before, but I would be scared to death to get in a rally car with him or Travis. I would look like the guy on Top Gear, just screaming when he jumps something.
No doubt, and let me tell you, it’s a lot different when you’re in the car. It’s like, “Whoa! That tree is really close! That cliff is close!” But Ken always drives within his means, he’s very focused, and he knows what the car is capable of. He goes about it the right way, with the proper training, the proper nutrition, the proper rest, the right supplements—everything he does is top-notch, and that’s what gave me a lot of trust being in the car with him. But yeah, it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I wasn’t even driving.

Does he have a cool Ford Fiesta, or the Coolest Ford Fiesta Ever?
[Laughs] Coolest ever. That thing is just off the scale. It’s amazing. Ken is such a marketing genius that he knows exactly what he’s doing, paying so much attention to detail that he’s got the coolest car in the whole pits down here—and this is his first WRC race.

Are Ken and the Monster Rally Team attracting a lot of attention from the regulars on the circuit?
Oh yeah, I met Mikko Heirvonen, the points leader, when he came over to look at the car. The fans all seem to know him—certainly from the videos he has on YouTube—and the drivers are accepting him because he’s bringing a lot of attention to the sport.

How were things between Ken and Travis Pastrana at Missouri? That was the first race where they were no longer teammates.
Pretty good, I guess. They’re good friends, and they both know they’re bringing a lot to the sport of rally car racing, and they also really want to see it grow.

What about yourself? What’s going on out at Rynoland? I know you just had your first Grand Prix race, but that was after the first date was rained out.
Yes, the place is growing, and it’s been awesome, but everything takes money, and that’s why we’re taking little baby steps. But the tracks are amazing, there’s a lot of interest, and it’s cool to hear guys tell us it’s the best track they’ve ridden in Southern California. We have a lot of races coming up, and even though it’s a tough time for everyone right now with the economy, it’s still like a dream come true. My dream was always to try to give back to this great sport as much as I can through my experience and passion, and I think it’s paying off between what we have at Rynoland and what we’re offering with Ryno Organics, the Ryno Institute, and more.
       I want to help the sport not only get better but be safer, too, because that’s where I believe our sport is lacking: safety, knowledge, and experience. I want to help our sport by getting people to take the responsibility of their own personal safety into their own hands by preparing better and riding smarter. We want our athletes to work better, stretch better, prepare better, ride better, and just be better at everything they do.
  • MotoConcepts Yamaha's Vince Friese is working under the watchful eye of Hughes.

Who are some of the riders in your stable right now?
Jimmy DeCotis and Vince Friese are both riding really well right now, and I’m proud of how hard they’re trying out there. We have “The Man,” Ricky Deitrich, and “The Woman,” Jessica Patterson, who I think is really going to surprise a lot of people now that she has this new Star Racing Yamaha. She is so pumped. She has fire in her eyes right now. She really wants to prove herself to a lot of people, so watch out for that. There’s another 14-year-old girl named Amanda Mayhew who is also on the way up the ranks. We just have a really strong, committed group of riders right now.

Well, good luck this weekend to you and Ken down there in Mexico, and let us know how it turns out.
Thanks, I will. I’m really impressed with rally car racing right now, having a lot of fun and learning a lot. I’m just blown away by how much work they have to do with the setup, preparation, the notes, and just everything. Motocrossers, you guys are lucky—you don’t have to do hardly anything compared to what these rally drivers have to do!

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