Erik Kehoe has been a fixture on the pro motocross scene for over thirty years—first as a top-level racer for Factory Suzuki before transitioning into a manager at Honda/Yamaha of Troy and Factory Honda after he retired. To put it frankly, Kehoe’s been there and done that. But in 2013 it’s been a little strange as we haven’t seen the friendly Kehoe around as he and Honda couldn’t come to terms on a deal to manage the team. I caught up to Erik recently to find out how life on the sidelines has been for him.
Racer X: Erik, thanks for doing this and what’s been going on with you?
Erik Kehoe: Well, actually right now normal life has been keeping me busy. Dealing with some stuff that I wanted to do for a long time and spending time with my family and friends. My son is playing football for his high school team and he’s into that 100 percent and he’s at practice right now. I’ve been dealing with that and helping him out. It’s been good to be around for him and getting involved with his school activities has been great. That’s part of it and my mom has been having some health issues and it’s nice to be around and visit with her. A lot of different stuff, personal time has been keeping me busy.
When you’re part of the grind each week—and I don’t even have kids, doctors' appointments, eye exams, or whatever—you miss a lot of stuff.
That’s true and people don’t realize that all of those people out there in this sport that travel the circuit, they don’t understand. It’s 30 weekends a year and it doesn’t really stop in racing. When you get back you have the whole week where you’re in the office, you’re testing or whatever. Travelling and dealing with that stuff is tough and in the off-season there’s so much preparation for the next year. There’s one off races, Motocross des Nation’s … it consumes your life. I’ve really enjoyed everything and I wouldn’t change a thing. It’s my passion and I’ve been in it since I turned pro in 1981 and I’ve never gotten off the treadmill of racing. I raced until 1994 and then immediately went into managing teams after that.
It’s been a big change, being home and dealing with a lot of things around here. I’ve been working on some things and nothing has transpired on the work front quite yet. I’ve been lucky that I haven’t had to work, I’ve been telling people I’m on an extended vacation right now. All those vacations I’ve missed, I just pieced them together!
Erik Kehoe was a Factory Suzuki rider before transitioning to the team manager role.
Simon Cudby photo
What happened with you leaving Honda? Was it a salary dispute?
It wasn’t a salary dispute, I can say that. The bottom line is I had to make a tough decision when my contract expired. A lot of people may not realize it but a lot of teams have all their positions under contract and mine was up at the end of October. We had some discussions back and forth between Honda and myself, all the way up to Christmas time and I had to finally make a decision and I decided that I needed to be around for my family and spend time with them. And I had to work on some other aspects of my life and if I didn’t, it would just be the grind and nothing would have changed. So that’s what I decided to do and it was a tough decision.
Yeah, sounds like it was. But it also sounds like you’re happy with your decision.
This was the right move for me, no doubt. I’m in the middle of a transition right now and working on things. My passion is racing and motorcycles and I still ride quite a bit. It’s funny, when you’re in that position and you’re around racers and athletes, I still ride my mountain bike a lot, I ride dirt bikes, I go to the gym with my son … that’s a lifestyle for me and that’s not going to change. I enjoyed every aspect of my time at Honda and there are some passionate smart people there and I loved working with them. This was the right decision for me and it was tough, but again, it was the right one for me.
In talking to Trey Canard and Justin Barcia and other Honda guys, it sounds like you’re still involved in watching the races.
Are you kidding me? I’m in front of the TV all day and checking the live times and all that. I’m always cheering for the Honda guys out there from Trey to Justin and I still talk to Kevin quite a bit. I was so pumped to see what Eli’s been doing, he’s been great and Wil Hahn winning that title was awesome. I was so happy for him. I keep up with all those guys and the Factory Connection team, they’re all friends of mine and I keep in contact with them.
You never mentioned anyone that wasn’t on a Honda; you’re still a member of the Red Riders!
Oh yeah! When you cut me, I still bleed red.
Kehoe (right) and Honda Muscle Milk could not agree to terms on a contract extension for 2013. Kehoe is taking the season off to concentrate on his family.
Simon Cudby photo
You said you had some things in the works. What about a return to managing? I had heard earlier this year that you turned someone down who needed a manager, would you want to do that again?
At this point, I would be open to considering that if the right situation came along. I think right now taking this time I needed to spend with my family was important but I’m passionate about racing and I love giving back to the sport with all the experience I have. I would consider all aspects of racing, I learned a lot of things about the business side of our sport and it’s been interesting to have the racer’s side and then the management side. It’s given me both perspectives and you understand why things are important and it gives you an understanding of things.
Sometimes the racers can have tunnel vision and sometimes the business people have tunnel vision and it’s important to try and pull those sides together and see what is best. I feel like I have that aspect of both sides.
That’s a great point and you do have a nice outlook as you’ve done it all in the sport. Would you go back to Honda if that worked out? Dan Betley’s been doing a great job as manager but would you think about going back?
I bet it’s definitely more office work than Dan probably ever thought! (Laughs) I’m sure he’s doing an awesome job and he’s a great guy. There’s a great team over there full of smart people and they’ve been going great. I wouldn’t discount anything as far as a relationship with any team, any riders. It depends on what comes up and you never know in this sport.
I bet there are some industry people reading this and wondering how life is when you get off the hamster wheel.
It’s funny that you use that analogy because I call it a merry-go-around and sometimes you glance off and see something but you don’t have time to go over and check it out. Well, I stepped off the merry-go-around to go check stuff out and it’s been an interesting perspective to see how everything else is going.