Wil Hahn is 26 years old, but through a rollercoaster run of highs and lows, he’s experienced probably a career-and-a-half’s worth of stories. A big crash at Anaheim 1 in 2015 ruined his season last year, another one in Atlanta this year put him into comeback mode again. This time, he finally felt he had enough, and quietly decided not to return to racing for 2017. He didn’t make the announcement until just before the final round of the Australian Supercross Championship two weeks ago.
After two years riding for Monster Energy Kawasaki, Hahn will stay in the sport, taking a job with GEICO Honda. Most importantly, he seems happy with his decision to walk away. We called him last night as he prepared to start his new job this morning.
Racer X: The obvious question here is, when did you know? How did you know?
Wil Hahn: It’s weird because I’ve talked to people about this through the years, and the question you always ask is “How do you know?” And they always say, “When you know, you know.” For some reason something clicks and you just know. And it’s a fact. That’s exactly what happened to me. I just knew.
Wow. Just like that?
Yeah it’s pretty funny that it went the way everyone says. They say that and you don’t really know what to think of it—it doesn’t really make that much sense. But when I woke up from surgery this year, I just sat there and said, “Man, I don’t know how many more times I want to go through this.” It’s not like it was a traumatic situation or anything, but you know, you’re just groggy, you’re feeling like crap, you’re delirious, and I just didn’t know how many times I wanted to do that.
This was the crash in Atlanta?
Yeah and the crash wasn’t even that bad. I walked off myself, I was in some pain, yes, and I was really frustrated. I’ve been in plenty of crashes where it was my fault, you can run through the coulda, shoulda, wouldas. But this one, there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent it. The only thing that could have changed were the guys around me not crashing, but that’s our sport. I’m okay with it. Another thing is, I’ve had a few concussions, and maybe it wasn’t smart to go out there and risk that anymore. If I were to say the concussions weren’t on my mind and part of this decision, I’d be lying.
So, you knew immediately, but did you tell anyone? Did you keep it inside and think about it for a while?
I think I went back and forth for a bit. When I woke up I definitely felt like it was time, but I’ve been through that before, you’re hurt, you’re pissed off, you’re tired of dealing with that. I’ve had that before but then made a comeback, so I didn’t want to make any decisions right off the bat. I talked to a few people about it. I thought back to when I was younger, when I turned pro, I had told myself that if I ever got to the point where I didn’t want to get hurt anymore, I should probably be done. If you even start thinking about injuries, I think you open yourself up to something even worse.
So did you ever even pursue a deal for 2017?
Honestly I didn’t. It was weird for me. When I walked off the track in Atlanta, I knew my deal with Kawasaki wasn’t going to be renewed. I didn’t even need to talk to them about it—I just knew it and I didn’t blame them. No animosity there. When you’re on a team and you’ve been hurt a few times, you’re trying your best and you get hurt again, well, you already know you’re not coming back. Again, I don’t blame them. So I didn’t even pursue anything. And I knew I had this opportunity with GEICO Honda, and I’m really excited about it, so I decided to look at that.
But while you knew you were going to retire, you were making an honest effort to come back. We heard you might have come back for the last few nationals.
Yeah and I really was trying to do that! I wanted to fulfill my contract. I wanted to come back for a couple of Nationals and possibly the USGPs. I didn’t want to end my career walking off the track in Atlanta—regardless of the result. It’s not like I wanted to come back and get any specific result in a race, I just didn’t want the last moment of my professional career being walking off the track injured. It would have felt weird knowing that.
And you achieved that in a way because you did come back to race in Australia. Did you not get rehabbed in time for the Nationals and the USGPs?
I was trying really hard to get back, but then this opportunity in Australia came about, and it was on a Kawi, so that worked out pretty well. We decided to focus on that instead of racing the GPs, and obviously Kawi in the U.S. was very supportive of that. That was huge because I was leaving and they didn’t need to help me at all—my contract was going to be up and they still supported me. They really treated me well and I appreciate that.
So this is not like you retired because you couldn’t get a ride.
Obviously, I wasn’t going to get another factory ride, but I do honestly feel like I could have made something to happen, regardless if it was just me putting my own thing together, or getting on some other type of team. But it wasn’t something I was really pursuing.
This is a nice smooth transition, however, you still had to be sad or upset about it in some way. You’ve been a racer your entire life.
Oh yeah, I’m not going to sit here and say I wasn’t emotional about it. When I finally put it out there [that I was retiring] I was in Australia, I didn’t have wi-fi so I didn’t really see how people reacted. Then at the race, Chad [Reed] came up to me and gave me a hug, said he was really proud of me and things like that. It really kind of hit me. It became a really emotional moment for me because the reality of it started to set it. It’s one thing to say it, but it’s another thing to actually experience it.
Which is strange because you had actually raced that whole Australian series knowing it was going to be the end.
Yeah and it was bittersweet, because I had a lot of fun over there. The team was great and the bike was great, I had a good time. That actually made it a little easier, but it didn’t make the last race any less emotional.
So you were able to race again, but where are you physically? Are you actually still working back to 100 percent?
I feel pretty good besides some of the injuries that or more or less permanent. I feel pretty strong—better than I have in a while. I felt pretty competitive, I was able to get some good results over there and the team was happy. We were close to [Justin] Brayton in a few rounds, and he’s riding really well right now. It was good to be over in Australia but still be able to race with someone who I’ve known for a long time. That made it cool and also more special, too.
One strange thing you told me was, almost all of these injuries you had took place on your right side, and they’re all in similar spots! It’s not like you did an ankle and then a knee and then a wrist, but instead it just seemed like arm, shoulder, and back, over and over.
That’s frustrating. At one point, I even said, as weird as it sounds, I wouldn’t mind hurting something on my left side. I least I would have been starting fresh. My right side—my humerus, my shoulder, my wrist, then breaking my back multiple times was frustrating. The only good thing was I knew how to rehab it. But you’d rather not know these things!
The final obvious question here is how you look back at your career. You had some great highlights, but I’m sure you also didn’t get the chance to accomplish what you wanted to in the 450 class. So how do you look back at it all? Can you size all that up?
I don’t think you really can. Of course I wish I would have had a better 450 career, especially as far as longevity. But that’s just how life is—things don’t always go to plan. But if you had told me at 12 years old I would be a supercross champion, I probably would have done anything to make that moment happen. So it goes both ways. I’m very pleased and thankful for what I did, but more importantly, for all the people I’ve met. There are relationships I have now that will go well beyond racing, and I would have never met them if it wasn’t for racing. I’m very happy and thankful for that. I think any racer will have those coulda, shoulda, woulda moments. Yeah, I’d love to have a factory 450 ride again and still be racing, but that just didn’t seem to be the plan. I’m looking forward to working with these amateur riders and hopefully they can have long, successful careers and I can help them get there.
So what is the job here? Will there be testing and riding as well as working with amateurs?
Yeah, there will be some testing for the pro team, but the title is really amateur coordinator. I don’t know exactly yet, I don’t start my first day until tomorrow (Monday), but testing for the pros and working with the amateurs will be the majority of the job.
How did this come about?
They had mentioned it to me a few years ago, actually. These teams, they know you and they know when you’re down. They made it sound like an option a few years ago, and this time I called and said, “I think I’m ready to make this happen.” With a deal like this, you don’t know if it’s going to be around forever. Someone else could take the position, or maybe they can’t offer it any longer. So that was in the back of my mind. I can’t even put into words how appreciative I am that they’ve offered this to me, and wanted me to come back to the team.
Will you be out there teaching riding technique and coaching?
For sure. I think they’re open to all of that. They know I’m willing to go to the track and help in any way I can—riding, training. So I think it will be a multiple-hat type of job, which is good because these are all things I like to do.
One thing that had to make this a huge struggle: your brother Tommy came out of retirement and now he’s still riding. He’s got the edge on you—he’s still out there! [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yeah it’s pretty funny, we always have this rivalry going, but at the same time I’m happy that he’s happy. As long as he is, good for him; as long as you can be happy with it, keep doing it. I’m happy to go watch him race, too. I haven’t been on this side of it for a long time.
Yeah that’s right—you might have missed some races before, but it has to be different on the sidelines wanting to be out there badly, feeling like you should be racing, compared to where you can actually enjoy it.
Exactly. That’s the thing that’s really cool. I don’t know how it’s going to feel. At Anaheim, I won’t feel that pressure. It’s a good pressure, don’t get me wrong, but it will be so different. Even right now, it’s almost December and I’m not in one of those boot camps training wide open and testing every day. It’s a little bit different for me. I’m okay with it, though. I didn’t want to leave the sport with any kind of bitterness. If you feel like you got forced out, or you maybe didn’t make the money or have the success you thought you should, whatever it is, you can end up almost hating the sport. I didn’t want to get to that point—I wanted to leave loving the sport just as much as when I started racing. That was a big thing to me. No matter what, racing has brought me so much. Whether it’s the money, the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, or the things I’ve experienced, it’s hard not to be happy about all of that.