Blake Wharton is not done racing. Not yet, anyway. The three-time Monster Energy Supercross 250SX winner is taking time off and enjoying playing music with his band Rogue Locusts, along with other projects. He says he doesn’t know what the future holds for his racing career, but he’s also not ready to close the books on it. Last week, we caught up with Wharton for a lengthy interview about what the future holds for him.
Racer X: Let’s start off with Dallas Supercross. You were there but in a much different role. Is the last we’ve seen of Blake Wharton behind a starting gate?
Blake Wharton: I’m not sure yet. I’m not racing right now—that’s all I know for sure. I’m doing music right now. Things just didn’t materialize for this season. But to say I’ll never race again, I can’t do that. Dallas was interesting because I’ve been going to the race for years and years, and then I’ve been racing it for a long time as well. So to show up back to Dallas and to be playing close to the pits, that was a new thing.
It’s a whole different role for you. People see you as a racer and now it’s like, whoa, he’s playing music now, what’s going on?
Yeah. You’re going to get a lot of mixed feelings on that type of thing I think. The second someone is known to be this or that they kind of become stereotyped, and then [when] they try to do something else, some people accept it and some people don’t. It’s like, with music if the band changes, everyone flips out. Like Metallica comes out with a soft song or two and everyone’s just going crazy. They can’t handle it. But I think most people received it well, at least from what I felt and heard. We got a little bit of publicity as I saw, which was pretty awesome to get those photos online. But that’s the way it is I guess.
What led to the decision to kind of step away, like you said, just for a little bit as of now?
I’ve been racing a long time and I feel like I’ve been competitive the whole time. If I’m going to race I’m going to do it right. There’s no sense in my mind of going out there if you don’t have a shot to podium, to top-five, or to win the championship. If things don’t materialize, it’s not acceptable. I’ve been in it to win it—that sounds kind of cheesy—for a long time. I don’t want my goals and motivations to change. Last year in ’14, I got a bit of a late start. I would have preferred an earlier start. Things kind of happened last minute for me. So I felt like my speed was good, and I was on a great team of course, but I just wasn’t where I needed to be. I went out for a round or two and I tweaked my knee and then I tore… You don’t want to have a season like that either. That’s basically what led to where I’m at now.
Not saying this is the end, but if it were to be, like you said, you’ve always been competitive. Would it be tough to go out the way you did, getting injured and not being exactly where you wanted to be?
Yeah, it’s tough because I think everyone envisions going out on top, but we know that it doesn’t always happen. There’s different mindsets about that. Do you want to retire first kind of like Carmichael did, or do you want to do what McGrath did? He kind of raced for a long time because I think he just enjoyed it so much. I think that’s a preference to the individual. A lot of people sometimes just get injured and they can’t even race. That’s kind of a bummer, too. You get hurt so many times you’re just forced to retire. Looking back of course it’s always easy to say I wish I would have done that different, I wish I would have done this different. But up until now I’ve worked extremely hard at this sport and at my job. I have no regrets in that regard.
Every year of your professional career you rode for a factory team, GEICO and then Rockstar and back to GEICO. If that opportunity presents itself again are you full on-board and returning or is it still you’re not sure even that way?
To predict if an opportunity like that would present itself is hard. Stranger things have happened. If that opportunity presented itself again, I’m still a racer at heart so of course I’m going to heavily consider it and maybe surprise everyone—next comeback. Give everyone something to talk about.
You’ve been making this transition to music for a while. It seems like it’s been pretty seamless. What first got you involved in music?
I first started playing music when I was about 14 or 15 just for fun. I started singing about 19 and taking lessons. Everyone’s into music I think a bit, whether they just listen to it or they play it and write it themselves. As I went I just started writing more, writing more; then before you know it I’ve got all these songs. I’m like, well, I don’t have a band, but I have these songs and we’ve recorded a lot. We kind of did it backwards—recorded a lot in the beginning and wrote a bunch of stuff and then it’s been more recently that I’ve got a group of guys together and we’ve been playing more.
What is your future with the band and your music in general? Where do you see this going?
I don’t want to put a ceiling on it. I want to let it go as high as it can go, wherever it can go. But the music industry is a tough business to get in. So right now we’re just going to play and write as much as we can. We’re going to try to just put as good of a quality music together as we can, and then let it go and push it and see what its capabilities are. We’re recording a song right now and it just takes a long time. You don’t want to release something until it’s absolutely ready to go, especially to the public—kind of like showing up to round one. You want to show up prepared, and you want to be as impressive as you can. As far as what we can do as a band, I think we could go and do this full-time, but until that’s proven you’ve got to work at it.
What’s the response from Dallas been? Do you plan on playing any more supercrosses or moto events?
Dallas was kind of last minute for us. We were a little bit rushed. We had to find a PA system, they had to find a stage, and things that we had to have. So that was a challenge. But I think it was received well. I don’t really care what people think, but at the same I do because these are people that I’ve been involved with for so long. There’s people in the sport that are into music as well. Josh, who’s a parts guy at GEICO, he’s a drummer. He would never tell you that but he’s awesome on the drums. I used to play with him when I had my drum set at the GEICO shop in California. There’s James from Rockstar who records a lot. He also does a lot of covers. And so, within the industry there are a lot of musical enthusiasts. Me and Ziggy were going to go to a show Friday night in Dallas but his flight got canceled because of the snow. So I think there’s a lot of people that say, “Hey, this is kind of neat.” And then fans are like, this is new, or that’s kind of cool, he does this or he does that. So it was good to see that side and they welcomed it. We’re going to have the opportunity to play at Houston, which is kind of the second-closest round for us. It’s a bit of a drive but we’ll drive down there. We’re going to be just doing the same thing but hopefully sound better, have more songs, have better equipment. Just do it as much as we can, wherever we can. Not be closed-minded to play anywhere. We’ll play at a little bar down the street, we’ll play at a restaurant, we’ll play at church, and we’ll play at supercross. We’ll play wherever.
Going back to your point that there are even some riders that are involved musically and they kind of keep it under wraps, do you think it’s a case that people don’t want fans, etc. to think they’re not working hard enough?
Absolutely. We hear their opinions a lot. A racer does something outside of what he’s known for, he must not be a hard worker. That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard. It’s funny that people can accept racers and athletes to be partiers and wild and going off the deep end but they can’t accept them to do… Answer me this: would you rather see an athlete focusing on music in his spare time or out drinking and partying it up and doing stupid stuff? That’s always been the craziest thing to me that people can pass a judgment like that without really even fully knowing how much I worked at racing. But as a racer it is a job at the end of the day and for fans that’s hard to grasp that because it looks so amazing. It would be like me telling some guy who is working at an office 9-5 for fun he should go do more work at home for fun, and if he’s not working at home for fun, then he doesn’t work hard enough. That doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone has interests outside their job. Most people hate their jobs and they can’t wait to do something else. Racers don’t hate their jobs but we are people, we do multiple things.
Do you think it’s because fans can see an Instagram video up where five years ago they would have no idea what you were doing?
Definitely the sport’s growing. The social media’s growing as well. The Internet gives people a license to say whatever they want, just ignorant, straight up just say it. The combination is keeping people in the closet. They’re afraid to come out and be judged. But I say just be hated or be loved, forget the hiding part.
If people want to book you or check out your music or want to know anything on Rogue Locusts how do we find you guys?
We have our Instagram, we have our Facebook, we have Twitter, and then you can just hit me up personally as well because I can do that. If someone already knows me they can just talk to me about it. If they have any questions or if they want to talk to us, just do one of those. We also have a Reverb Nation account, which shows all our music that we have so far. And we’ll be working on new music that will be released soon.
Before we finish this out, the past couple years you’ve been doing schools in Israel. Tell me a little bit about how you got into it and what you’ve done.
I met some now friends of mine. I met some guys in 2013 at Milestone when I was practicing. They were from Israel. I didn’t know that at the time. Then we became friends. We started talking. I went there in 2013 and there was a race. I just went to watch. There were some schools I went to do and just hang out. I got to all that. It was awesome. I did a school there. And then this last year I went back and did some more schools. It was late in the year, over Christmas and New Years. It was a good time. Racing over there is not as big in the States, as you know, but it’s coming a long way. Bikes were just illegal like three years ago. So it’s kind of an interesting thing. We’re so used to racing being so open over here. There’s so much land, it’s such a good environment for racing and to make fast riders. It’s very interesting over there. Good people over there, a good time. Bikes are not illegal anymore. There’s tracks over there. It’s an interesting thing. I’ll be going back again later this year.
Fill us in on what the tracks and the equipment is like. How is the setup over there?
That’s the thing, they have good tracks, they have good land. There’s not a lot of land. The geography of the country, it’s a small country but the land’s good. They take a lot of pride in their tracks because there’s not a lot. When you don’t have a lot of tracks you know the few that you’ve got, they’re going to be good. They had watering systems. They have the equipment to work on them. They don’t really have a real strong governing body to do their racing. They have a series going—it’s a few races long. They love racing. They’ll fly over here for Anaheim; they’ll fly over here for Dallas. They came to watch me race Dallas. I had a group of like ten people come watch me race Dallas last year. There’s a lot of things. The tracks are good. The racers are good, but it’s like anywhere where there’s no racing amateur support. Basically you don’t get that fast of riders because you have less to ride against each other. The amateur ranks are what make the pros so good, because they’ve been riding for so long—they’ve been racing each other. So it’s a really good environment to create good athletes. That’s why it’s been the best in the States, I think, because it’s had the biggest amateur circuit. Europe doesn’t have it. No one has it. Canada doesn’t have it. Australia doesn’t have it. The States, they’ve had the biggest amateur circuit. I know it’s died down a little bit in the last few years since I turned pro, but it’s still very big.