Dropping In On: Barry Hawk

The Former Champ Talks MX Versus ATV

With eight GNCC Championships—seven on an ATV and one on a bike—off-road legend Barry Hawk is the only racer to win titles in both categories. During the last two years of his pro career, Hawk’s success racing both machines on the same weekend led his competitors to complain that riding both classes gave Barry an unfair advantage. In order to explore this, Dirt Rider Editor Chris Denison set out to compete aboard both an ATV and a dirt bike in the same weekend at the Penton GNCC in Millfield, Ohio. While at the race, we sat down with Barry Hawk to get his take on the whole two- versus four-wheeled debate, and to see what the speedy racer is up to these days:

Barry Hawk is still an active part of the GNCC scene. The former Pro ATV and Bike champ is in charge of setting up all of the courses for the series.Photo by Shan Moore

Let’s start with the MX versus ATV conversation. Tell us how difficult it was back in the day when you were riding quads on Saturday and bikes on Sunday?

Well, at the end of my quad career, the last two years of it I raced a quad on Saturday in the pro class and then the bike on Sunday in the pro class. There were some positives and there was some negatives also. The positives were I knew most of the track, so that was helpful. The negative was if there was a change on the track, I thought I knew it. So I’m like, “I’m going to go down here and make a left, then a right,” or whatever. If it wasn’t a left and a right like I had predicted, it really threw me off. That was both a positive and negative to racing both classes.

The other positive was with racing the day before I was a little bit sore starting to race on Sunday, but it was like I loosened up right away. So I got into the flow of things on the bike quicker, which helped. The downfall to that is that as a pro bike guy we did the three-hour race, and at the end of it usually I would be good to go at two hours, but in that last hour I really struggled. My body would start cramping up. I always thought I was in good shape and looking back on it now I know I was in good shape, but I think in 24 hours your body can only recover so much. It doesn’t matter what you do, how good of shape you’re in, what you eat, whatever. Your body can only recuperate so much. The hotter, dustier races were where I really, really struggled. If it was kind of cool I’d be good for maybe about 2:15, 2:20 into the race. I got a few podiums I think in ’99. Racing Saturday I’d win on Saturday, and then I’d do well on Sunday. I think I might have had two or three podiums that year. But it was really, really tough.

I remember at High Point one year, in what was probably my next-to-last quad race. I won on Saturday and on Sunday I was doing really well. Coming to the white flag I could see 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. We were coming onto the moto track and I could see them. So I knew I was still close. I was in 4th and I just put my head down, got the white flag and I took off. It was dusty and I just came over a hill, hit a big dust berm, and fell over. When I picked my bike up it felt like I was picking up a tractor-trailer! It was like instantly my body just stopped moving. Cramps were setting in. At that point I’m like, okay, I just need to worry about finishing in 4th. So that was the downfall, just not being able to recover. But that’s good to see Denison doing that here, racing both days on a quad then a bike.

I know back when I first started riding both classes, the bike guys didn’t give the quad guys a lot of credit, but those guys are out there hammering for two hours. And I will say racing a quad for about two hours is about like racing a bike for three hours. If you had to race a quad for three hours, that’s harder than racing a bike for three hours. But it’s good to see him doing that. People tell me all the time, you should come back and race, and I say, no, I’m good. I’ve done my gig. I’m done and over with and I’m fine with setting up the tracks.

The ATV scene in GNCC racing is massive. Hawk’s expertise helps ensure that both the two- and four-wheeled racers have a fun course to ride.Photo by Shan Moore

Tell us about the physical part of riding four wheels and then switching to two wheels the next day. There’s a big difference in the style of riding, right?

Yeah, there’s a difference but it’s not a huge difference. On the ATV you use a lot more body English. You lean to the left, lean to the right. You don’t really stand up a bunch where on the bike you stand up a lot. But on the ATV, you’ve got four tires bouncing off everything where on a bike you only have two. So racing the ATV on Saturday and then for the bike on Sunday, there’s nothing that really stands out that’s the hard thing. I know for me when I first started riding the bike, whenever I was a beginner on two wheels, I was already established on the quad side but on the bike I struggled with ruts and which lines to take. But if you’re a seasoned rider on a bike, that’s not going to be an issue. However, later in my career I didn’t have any issue with that. There’s really nothing that sticks out to me the most for getting on a bike on Sunday. I do think if he was to race the bike on Saturday then get on a quad on Sunday I think that may be a little tougher because you’ve only got to worry about getting your handlebars through something on the bike, where on the quad you’ve got to fit your tires through. So I think that would be tougher to race the quad on Sunday, but that’s not the case.

What’s your role now at GNCC races?

2010 was my last year racing. From 2011 on I’ve been setting up the tracks at the GNCCs. That’s my main gig. I guess looking back on it now I kind of was a perfect fit because I had done the ATV races and I had done the bike races. I have a very good sense of direction so all three of those things kind of fell into place. And also I’ve collaborated with Jeff Russell. When Kailub Russell started doing well Jeff kind of had to step back from doing the tracks. A lot of people don’t know it but Buren Hamrick had laid out the tracks for years. So Buren took that job over, but then whenever I came on in 2011 Buren was ready to step away; so then, I kind of took over for Buren and have been doing it ever since.

It gets pretty stressful at times because I used to only have to worry about myself on race day, and now I have to worry about everybody on Saturday and everybody on Sunday, and everything from kids on the peewee bikes all the way up to the professionals on dirt bikes to UTVs to everything in-between! It was kind of a learning curve but on race Sundays, like this weekend, I keep a close eye on the clock. Everything’s going well and it’s only 10:00am right now! At the 1:00pm race when it starts going good, usually about the last lap of the race, I get what I call my 3:00 yawns. I start yawning and it’s like my stress level goes down and I just relax, and I think, “Okay, everything went smoothly. That’s good. I can relax!” But it’s just been fun laying out the tracks. I also help out for the High Point Motocross National and Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National. Actually, I have my CDL license so I can drive tractor-trailers, I can water the track, and I can do different things. I’m not 365 days a year focused on GNCC; I’m doing other stuff for Racer Productions. It’s a wide-open schedule for anybody that knows Racer Productions. There’s no sitting around, that’s for sure!

Check out gnccracing.com for more info on the series.