Monday Conversation:  Blake Wharton

Monday Conversation: Blake Wharton

November 25, 2013 9:40am
One of the biggest names left on the market for 2014 is former GEICO Honda and Rockstar Energy Racing rider Blake Wharton. The multi-time 250SX winner has yet to lock in a deal for 2014, although he says things are in the works. Still in search of that elusive first pro title, we caught up with Wharton last week to check in on his plans for 2014 and much more.

Racer X: It’s been kind of quiet on the rumor front regarding what you’re doing next year. Is there anything you can let us in on as far as next season?
Blake Wharton:
Yeah, I got some things in the works. I know that’s again quiet, but I don’t want to say yet. It’s been difficult. There’s certain years that are harder to find deals than others and you’ve got to constantly prove yourself in this sport. That’s just the way it is, and I think in any sport, really. People will forget what you’ve done. People will forget what you’re capable of. You’ve got to prove yourself. I’ve had great rides and I’ve had not-so-good rides. I’ve had great teams behind me along the way and a lot of good people working with me. I have some things that I’m working on lining up and I’m hoping they’ll come together. You just might see me at Dallas or Anaheim 1. You might see me at the West Coast, East Coast, something like that. And you know if I’m there I’m going to race. It’s no different than any other year. In fact it’s more because I’m a veteran now. I might not look old but I’m kind of a veteran. I think that can play to your advantage if you play your cards right—and you’re supposed to be smarter and faster as a veteran. I feel like I had moments last year that were where I wanted and some not so much. Actually this year in the outdoors I had to get things figured out. I had to kind of slow down and take a look at the big picture and see what’s going on here. This is about improvement. This isn’t about coming so far and standing still. If you’re not moving, what are you doing? You’re going backwards or you’re standing still. Both of those are unacceptable. Sometimes you got to stop and take a look and you got to redo your program a little bit. So no promises, but that’s the plan.

Blake Wharton is still on the market.
Simon Cudby photo

Is it weird to be 22 and say you’re a veteran at something?
It feels kind of weird but if you look at the gymnasts of the world they’re all retired by the time they’re 20. They all retire really, really early from what I hear. We think 30 is early. And it is early, but again there’s certain sports you can do when you’re 50 and some sports just can’t. It is strange to say. It’s kind of foreign coming out of my mouth, but I’ll take it. I’ll be a veteran any day over a rookie or an amateur or something. That’s wisdom I guess.

You’ve had a lot of success, especially in supercross. You’ve won races, been in title chases. Is it kind of surprising not to have a deal when there are guys that have not had the same level of success that have rides?
Sometimes the cards just fall the way they… They’re going to be harder to get rides because people are on two or three year contracts. If everyone was on a one-year contract it’d be like a game of musical chairs every year. That’s one of side of it. And the other side is, yeah, it’s a strange thing to see guys usually say, well I did pretty well last year and I’ve proven myself as a racer. It’s a bit strange when no one’s calling the phone. What do you do with that? There’s only one thing you can do. You can either shut the doors or you come back and have a little extra motivation. And there’s certainly more to life than racing but I think that’s hard for people to see when it’s the only thing you’ve ever done. But this is a tiny, tiny bit of the world and what the world does. We don’t even make up a fraction of a fraction. It’s a great gift to do what we do, and people do forget about you and you have to constantly prove yourself.

Like you said, I have won and I have done well, but the world is not enough. You’ve got to keep going for it. Sometimes the combination is right around the corner. Sometimes it’s the right group of guys around you at the right time to get that break-through year and to have that win or those wins. If it was easy everyone would do it. But it’s not.

The thing that’s eluded you throughout the years is a title. If your career were to end without a title would you be disappointed?
Yeah, it’d be disappointing. There’s two sides again there because as an amateur I won a lot. Depending on who you ask, I won a lot. That’s the amateur ranks, but we’re racing the best of the world now. This is a difficult time to be a racer. It makes for good racing. If I put my best foot forward and I do what I must, then I want to win. I’m not really satisfied just showing up to race. I think some people are. But that’s not how I was raised. To be honest it was not fun if I wasn’t winning. It was miserable if I wasn’t winning! That’s how intense it was back in the day. It’s changed, I know it has. But that’s just the way it was. We didn’t jack around. That’s what made the little riders so good coming out of the amateur ranks for so many years is that intensity. And you were just a miserable person if you didn’t do good. If you did, you pleased your sponsors and your team with your father and your trainers. That’s just the way it was. Maybe that was just me. But I think it’s a good mindset to have. I think you got to sometimes take a look at what’s important. Life after racing is… hopefully this isn’t the pinnacle. Hopefully there’s more. I want to be known as more than just this. But while you’re doing it you’ve got to do it all the way. That’s just me.

Over the years, Wharton has found a good balance in his racing career.
Simon Cudby photo

You’re one of those riders that does have a good balance. You’re dedicated and hard working, but you also know when to step back a little bit. You mentioned in the amateur ranks if you weren’t winning you weren’t happy. When did you learn to find a balance in your career?
When you get older you start to see things a little differently. And I think it is for the better. There’s balance that comes with that. I do feel like education is big. I had worked with Andrea Leib at On Track for a while. I finished high school. I want to continue to do more. Life after racing, it’s the fool who doesn’t plan for such a time. So I’d like to be well-rounded and I’d like to be known for that. If you can win championships and still be well-rounded, that’s even better. Ultimately that would be the goal and that is the idea as I feel it has been. And everyone’s different. Everyone looks and sees the world a different way.

On the other end, some people can mistake well roundedness for not being dedicated enough. Do you hear that a lot?
That’s an interesting thing because that’s just straight up ignorance. And I have heard that before, and I’ve seen that. You’d be amazed at the stuff that I see on my Facebook sometimes. People telling me what to do, and people telling me what I should be doing. “You shouldn’t be doing that, you’re a quote-unquote racer. You should spend less time doing that and maybe you would win more.” And behind a computer screen everyone is just awesome. No one will say that to your face. But they don’t know the life of a racer. They don’t know the life of an aspiring champion. If they’re going to tell me what to do with my spare time, I won’t have none of that. I won’t take that. Here’s what I see: you got all these guys and everyone enjoys their thing. If you go do your thing, I’m not telling anyone what to do. Mine’s music, mine’s this, mine’s that. Some people go and get hammered after a race and some people go get hammered on days off, and some people go get wild, and some people go to parties and they go and throw down and they go do their thing. These other racers, they do whatever for fun. I don’t see it that way. I just want to spend my time doing something that’s more productive. So if they want to say that it’s [music] a waste of time or a distraction, they can, I just won’t listen to them.

To a certain degree, it’s almost where some people assume racers are supposed to work 80 hours a week and ride all the time. At some point everybody has to have a life. I think with social media and things people see it a lot more. Have you seen it more since the growth of social media?
I see it more. It’s something that I deal with. I don’t understand it, how someone could possibly think they know someone that they’ve seen race on television a few times. It’s something that I struggle with a little bit, the social media. Most of the time if we’re talking the media, they’re great. I think the problem again is the things I had people try to tell me. Everyone has an opinion, some people just keep it to themselves. But this is what I do. This is who I am. You don’t see the benefits of that. If you don’t take me for who I am then that’s just you. If you look at football and television, they’re under fire all the time for the littlest things that they step out of line for. I guess the more the sport grows, the bigger your name is, you’re going to have more people that are going to talk. And at the end of the day it’s just talk.

Let's transition in regards to next year. There’s a good mix of veterans and rookies, especially in the Lites [250SX] class. You’re one of the veterans and probably one of the favorites for a title. Does it add any pressure at all?
You can kind of take some pressure off of yourself in one way and then put it on in another way. You know what it is because you’ve done it. I’ve been putting pressure on myself since I was ten years old. That’s something we’re all pretty much used to now. I don’t feel like there’s any more pressure now than there was last year or the year before. I expect certain things of myself and that’s why I’m disappointed in myself if those things aren’t where I feel they need to be. It’s like, just go race. Just put it all out there. I’ve sometimes noticed my best years being when I just say I’m just going to go do my thing. And I know it will be enough because it has been before. Sometimes it’s better off saying that. Sometimes you just go out and race. The guys who are winning, they’re just putting their heads down and going. And as far as pressure, I’m not on the starting gate yet so I don’t know. If I had to guess this is just another year racing. Hopefully a better year, but again, another year.

Wharton says he has things in the works for 2014.
Simon Cudby photo

It speaking with you it seems like you’re a well-thought-out person, a thinker. Can that get in your way sometimes? Over-thinking almost?
That’s a good question because there are people that think too much and people that don’t think enough. If you race motocross and supercross you probably don’t think too much. I’m not bashing the sport but this is a gnarly sport. If we knew what was good for us we probably wouldn’t do it, because it is one of the gnarliest sports in the world. It’s arguable, but we’ve got guys who do this sport and they don’t make a dime at it. I think it shows how much they want it. It takes a certain amount of thinking to be good, and sometimes you have to just shut it off. There are a lot of smart racers and you see it on the track, you see it in their moves and their aggression and when they pull it back. I think it takes a certain amount of intelligence when you put your helmet on. Do you have to have a college degree? No, and that’s proven. But yeah, you can think too much. And you can think not enough, and you can regret both those at the end of the day. “Shoot, why did I do that? I should have thought that over.” Or, “I just kind of waited around too much because I was sitting here thinking.” I do notice that when the helmet goes on, that side of your brain tends to shut down and it kind of goes into instinct mode and you just go race. So I think it can help but I think it can hurt. Maybe the thinking thing will help me in something else one day, I don’t know. [Laughs] I’m sure it’s good in music, I’m sure it’s good in business and stuff.

You’re also known as being very well-spoken and very good with the media. How important do you feel that is to portray not only the sport but for sponsors as well?
I think it’s big. I think it’s something that I want to strive for and be good at it. The way you represent your sponsors and yourself and the people helping you is important. I don’t want to make a fool out of myself or a fool out of the people who have put stuff on me and have a lot riding on me. I think it goes back to education. I think the sport can actually grow and if all of us were better with the media and better with our PR because if you watch the guys on NASCAR and football they’re really good. And they make us look bad. The more well-spoken we are, I think the better for the sport. The sport is growing. There’s more live television now, there’s more racers being shown. More eyes are on it now than ever. I think the better you can be there, it only helps you that much more.