The day before the Anaheim Supercross, Monster Energy Yamaha’s Aaron Plessinger told us his off-season had gone terribly, and his back injury was so bad the doctors told him he was now going to be a little bit shorter. His spine has been compressed that much! He only started riding again a month ago, and his expectations were low coming into the Anaheim opener—so he was incredibly happy to finish sixth in his first-ever 450SX main event.
Then again, Plessinger is always happy.
Jacob Hayes, of the Cycle Trader/Rock River Yamaha team, is also a rookie to supercross, as Anaheim represented his first-ever main event in an American stadium. He’s not new to racing though, as Hayes is the 2018 Amsoil Arenacross Champion. He took eighth in the 250SX West Region main.
We talked to both after the race.
Racer X: You just seem so happy right now. Can you talk about what it was like, mentally, being out there?
Aaron Plessinger: Oh man, I was stoked in the heat race because I got third! I was kind of coming into it like I don’t even know if I was guaranteed a main event! [Laughs] You know me, I’m kind of a humble guy, I don’t like to toot my own horn, so I was coming in with no expectation. And to get third in the heat race, I came back to the truck and I freaking called my mom! [Laughs] I FaceTimed my mom and I was like ‘Ahhh this is crazy!’ I mean you’ve got Ken Roczen and Dean Wilson in front of me and I’m like ‘Wow, I’m catching Dean Wilson.’ [Laughs] I’m still kind of starstruck. I was just telling Justin [Barcia], everyone kind of intimidates me in a way still ‘cause I’m looking at these numbers, even though I’ve got the seven, you’ve got 3, you got 27, and you got 51 and you got 94 and all these guys are champions. And maybe I had a little advantage in the 250 class but now, everyone knows what I know and everybody knows how to do what I know how to do. I’ve still got to learn and get used to it. It’s going to be a learning curve, but I think I can do it. It’s going to be fun.
That’s the idea, right? To eventually beat these guys?
Yeah, yeah. I got sixth tonight, hopefully I can go get a podium next week and win the next weekend. [Laughs] No, no [laughs] I’m kidding!
That’s what you’re paid for: you’ve got to win at some point, that’s got to be the goal that you set, however far ahead or whatever it is. You didn’t win in the 250 class your first year really.
Yeah, 250s, I got the top five in the first race, in like pretty much the same scenario. I hadn’t even finished a 15-lap moto in the off-season of 2015 and this year I was dealing with some injuries and I’ve only done like two 20-minute motos. Riding with Justin helps a lot. Especially at the test track. It’s unreal how he rides that track and to have him to work with and be a teammate and teach me some stuff, I couldn’t have a better one. [Laughs]
When I talked to you yesterday, you were like admitting it wasn’t a very smooth of an off-season here at all, so did the conditions here help, or did you actually surprise yourself in general?
[Laughs] I definitely surprised myself here in the heat race, riding that good and passing Joey [Savatgy] and Jason [Anderson], it was like ‘Wow. Wow, that was sweet.’ But then catching Dean, it was pretty cool. But definitely the conditions helped me out a little. I’d like to say I could get a top-five dry, so we’ll see next weekend. But I have a lot more motos to do and kind of race myself back into shape. I don’t think I’m far off, but I’ve still got some work to do.
This is obviously only one race, so it’s not like you’re going to have a lot to draw from, but can you explain the difference between racing a 250 and racing a 450?
Yeah, you really gotta wring the 250’s neck, especially me. But yeah, if you wring the 450’s neck… well, Barcia can wring the thing’s neck. If I tried to ride like Barcia and wring the things neck, I would be 36 rows up! [Laughs] You wouldn’t see me for the rest of the night! But it’s definitely so much different. I find that I can be a lot more smooth on the 450 and take it a little easier to go faster. I’m definitely still getting used to it. But right now it’s kind of racing myself into the learning curve and trying to learn everything about the bike while I am racing. And riding with [Barcia], because every day riding with that guy is like a race!
So if somebody would have told you before the race you’d come out here with sixth, you’d be pumped?
Yeah, definitely. Like I was talking with somebody last week and they were like what’s your expectation and I’m like I don’t really have an expectation, I’m gonna go out there and have fun and take it one step at a time every time I’m on the track and improve and that’s kind of what I did. You know, any top 10 would have made me happy because I know I have struggled this off-season and the weather helped me, but we came away with a sixth. I get to be in the opening ceremonies next week, too, baby! [Laughs]
Being a dad, big changes in your life and on top of that, also winning these titles and now moving up a class. Can you talk about what your home life has been like and how that’s changed how you look at racing and your job?
Home life is amazing. Jake is an amazing kid. We got blessed with the happiest baby in the world. He’s always smiling. We had him in the Yamaha truck and like five people told me he was the happiest baby they’d ever seen.
Sounds like his dad!
[Laughs] I mean he’s awesome. I couldn’t ask for more right now at home life. I don’t really look at my job much different other than wanting to do good and having to do good now and supporting them and I think it’s made it a little more fun to me; having to do good and pushing me to do better. I think it was one of the reasons why I did so good last year and it kind of calmed me down a lot and I definitely think it was for the better.
Racer X: First of all, congratulations, you got to collect the arenacross championship ring, and they even gave it to you on the stage—on the podium—that was cool.
Jacob Hayes: It was awesome. I wish it would have been at a little different time. I mean, it was literally as I was picking my gate for the main event. So I was like running over there to pick my gate and then running back to get the ring. But super grateful to get that, and be able to check that off the checklist. I worked for that for a long time, I think everyone knows that. It was really close at one point, but to finally check that off and then to move on to here and then race supercross is incredible.
Do you think you would have moved on to here this year if arenacross would have hung around?
Gosh, that’s a hard question. What do you do? Do you take a good amount of money from arenacross, obviously Babbitt’s is a well-known team that pays well, run the number one plate, get a lot of money or do you just take the gamble? I think, gosh, I’m going to take the gamble, I probably would’ve gone supercross.
I actually wanted to move to supecross in ’15. Arenacross wasn’t ever in my plan, but in like 2012, 2013 I was basically about to quit, that was kind of like my last-ditch effort to see if I could go to arenacross and see if I could reestablish my name. It was like ‘Hey this guy is really good in armatures, but then he like falls off the face of the earth’ and then he shows up at arenacross and everyone’s like ‘Oh my gosh, it’s Jacob Hayes!’ So it was kind of crazy how that all worked out. But to be back and finally make it to supercross is crazy, I’m 25, so that’s pretty wild.
Only so many factory rides pop up every year and a lot of kids move up every year, so it’s not that uncommon, you know?
I know but my group was good! I was racing [Justin] Bogle, [Jessy] Nelson, I’ve raced [Jason] Anderson several times. I mean, it wasn’t like I was an eighth-place dude in amateurs, I was winning titles and battling [Joey] Savatgy and all those guys. So I think there was a weird part where it went wrong; so whatever, we’re back on track now.
Didn’t you show up one time to supercross and like not make it out of practice or something? We’ve never seen you in a race.
I did practice, St. Louis 2013. Crashed [in] free practice, broke my collarbone.
So you never even did a timed practice lap?
So no gate drops?
No gate drops.
So these were actually, legitimately the first real laps you are doing in a supercross race? Was it nerve-racking?
I rode in press day at 7 a.m. or whatever it was and I just looked up at the big A and was like ‘Wow, it’s finally here.’ This is something that I have been working towards since I was 10 years old. There was at times tonight where I was like ‘Oh boy,’ it was kind of catching up to me. I had to tell myself, everyone feels the same way, it’s not like I’m the only one just feeling those nerves. So that kind of calmed me down. I learned a lot in arenacross, so nothing caught me off guard today. We were walking the track this morning and a couple guys on the team were like ‘What gear are you going to hit this in?’ and I’m like ‘Did you just ask me that?’ I even talked to [Garrett] Marchbanks and he was asking me what gear I was going to hit something in and I’m like ‘Dude, you ride for Pro Circuit, what are you talking about?’ [Laughs] It was funny.
Yeah, I didn’t feel like there were any moments watching the heat or main where you looked out of place?
Um, you just lied. There was one [moment] in the heat race. I was winning the heat race and then literally pulled a rookie move in the whoops before the triple. Went from 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock, 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock and missed the triple and lost the lead, that’s how I got passed.
It’s okay to have a rookie mistake though when you’re a rookie.
I got a good start and I think for three laps and I was good. I don’t know if I looked at the scoring board or whatever and then I was like ‘Holy cow, I’m in first!’ and immediately the hands tightened, tightened, tightened. It did get to me. I’m 25, but it got to me, guys, I’m sorry. I learned a lot.
You know, someone said tonight that if anything happens on the track and you’re near the front, the crowd will be nuts. Well it was, because when I did the 12 to 6, everyone was screaming, I couldn’t even hear my bike revving. And I didn’t even know how to hit the double or the triple because I couldn’t hear my dirt bike because everyone was screaming so loud. I’ve never had that happen.
Main event was smooth though?
It was. I almost ripped the holeshot, which as really good. The Cycle Trader/Rock River Yamaha was ripping tonight, and then I just rode solid. For me, an ideal supercross was not to start out as a mudder, it wasn’t a mudder but it was muddy but it went good. I was in fifth but I stayed in sixth, seventh for a while and then ended up eighth. So it wasn’t bad. Building. Led the heat race for three laps, a rookie mistake, and then got eighth in the main, so not bad.