Dropping In On: Bob Hannah

We catch up with The Hurricane who, as everyone knows, has a lot to say about a lot of things.

Dirt Rider: What are you up to these days?

Bob Hannah: Well, how detailed do you want it? I can give you a rundown of the whole week but that's pretty boring for most… I'm an airplane dealer now. I buy and sell airplanes in Idaho with a partner and we do this daily. I have another partner in land development and we buy and sell land and subdivide it and whatnot.

DR: What is a typical day in Bob Hannah's life?

BH: A typical day for me is that my dog gets me up at 5 a.m. whether I like it or not, then it's hot tub, hot tea, computer… The first business call of the day is at 9 a.m. sharp whether I'm talking to Europe or back east. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I'm in my gym. Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday I ride bicycles – I ride about 250 miles a week or so. I fly on Saturday with customers in the back country in a bush plane and try to be back by noon or so. Sunday is a big ride [bicycle] with a group and same with Wednesday nights.

DR: Do your airplane clients know who you are?

BH: Some do, some don't. Most have heard of me one way or another but there are a few that don't know who the heck I am. They normally ask, 'How do I know your name?" and I go, 'Well do you know airplanes or motorcycles because then we can thin it out real fast.' They might know me from airplane racing but most of the time it is motorcycles.

DR: What was the first full sized bike you ever had?

BH: A Yamaha 1968 AT-1. It was $530 brand new, my dad bought it for me. It was bitchin'! It was good in it's day, it was a good little bike. In 68, it was the best little motocrosser out there. It wouldn't be worth a crap right now. Until Honda brought that 1972 out, that – what do you call it – the Elsinore. That bike sort of changed up everything and Yamaha had to get back on the gas.

DR: When you were first racing on that Yamaha team in '76, was there any R&D or testing with the factory like there is today with factory teams?

BH: No. Japan would do the R&D there and send the stuff here and we had to deal with it. If it wasn't right we had to fix it. I guess, now that is true today, too, but teams today already have that in their minds, they are already planning on fixing stuff now. In those days we'd go, 'Uh oh, this isn't that good, we need to fix this.' On '77 I won supercross on a stock bike and the reason why was because the works bike was not up to par. It was a little lighter and trick-er, but not working as well. We modified the production bike and rode it all year. The factory didn't believe us and tore down that stock piece of crap and saw that it even had a stock piston in it. In fact, in the last race I rode it, I told [Keith] McCarty on the starting line at Pontiac, 'I don't think this bike is going to finish this race,' because the piston slap was so bad. But we didn't have any pistons to replace it. We didn't have any parts.

DR: How much freedom did you have to use aftermarket or other parts?

BH: We could have if companies had anything. We used use a company called ProFab that made our frames. All Yamaha bikes in 1975 had ProFab frames built right here. That company had their act together. Those frames were works frames. First Yamaha I ever raced had a ProFab frame.

DR: Looking back through history of motocross and supercross racing, the bikes and tracks are very different than they were when you were racing. Do you think this change is due to the bikes dictating track changes or tracks dictating bike changes.

BH: The bikes dictate the tracks. Now the bikes are so good, you have to make a harder track for them, otherwise you'll have a speedway track. If you compare old tracks and new tracks and new bikes… Do I think a new rider could beat Roger DeCoster in 1975 in a world motocross race? No, I don't. And someone could say that I'm full of it. Roger was very tough and the bikes were good for their day. I ride a modern bike and yeah, it is better, hell yeah, I can go way faster on a modern bike than on what I raced. And I can go faster on a 450 than I could ever go on an old 500 two-stroke. Hell, I could win the world championship easy in 1975 on a modern bike. Does that mean that modern day riders are better than those old riders? No. Not on the same bike. If Roger [DeCoster] was still here he would still be world champ. On this [modern] bike or his bike. People don't change, come on.

DR: Lately there has been a resurgence in two-stroke bikes. Is that exciting to you? Do you care either way?

BH: Look, I don't have any problems with two-strokes, I like them, but I don't think that they are going to come back. If I had my choice today, if I'm going to ride outdoors, I want a 450 four-stroke, the baddest one possible because a 450 is going to make the difference between you and I. It separates the boys from the big boys. I want the horsepower – I want the thing to be as fast as shit because I'm going to use it to my advantage. It's like racing sports cars. If everyone has stock Lexus sports cars out at Willow Springs, you would drive similar to me. But if we are in Formula One cars I guarantee you don't drive the same as me, because I'm going to whoop your butt. I know how to do it better, that's the difference. Give me 800 HP and I'll be faster than everyone else out there.

DR: Do you ride off-road at all? Are there any skills that you learned off-road that transfer to the track?

BH: Oh yeah, I ride everything, even a cruiser. We are going to get a Super Tenere soon so I plan to do a bunch of that adventure riding. As far as riding skills, shoot yes, they translate! Just pure, knowing how to ride a motorcycle, and watching what you are doing and knowing how to use the brakes. Going the other way, I learned everything I know about riding just having fun out in the desert. I didn't race until I was 18. That would be really strange today, but for kids today, it wouldn't be all bad. I had a lot of years, from eight to 18, to learn how to ride but I wasn't burnt out, I liked it. When you look at Damon Bradshaw when he was 18, he already hates it, because he had been racing since he was eight. From 18 to 27 I'm not burnt out. I think waiting to race is an advantage. But it is just not the way the system works now. The system, these days, starts them when they are this big [knee high] and by the time that they are 18 they are beat up and burnt out. I think you could get around that system, but I don't know how you would plan it. It would have to be an accident. I think it could still work if a guy really rode a lot. I rode a lot from eight to 18. I knew how to ride a bike, I could go down a sand hill in the desert better than a lot of guys racing. I knew how to use the brakes, I knew how to ride, how to hold my legs. OK, I just had to hone that stuff. But if you asked me how to hit a berm, I would go, 'Hmm, I had to learn that.' I did now how to ride but I was smart enough to steal ideas, and I did. Many ideas came from watching Roger ride. People have distinctive things. Roger has some certain talents that a lot of riders just don't have. And they really made them good and I wanted to steal them. Much of it was how he sits down, when he sits down, how he uses the brakes, how he uses his knees… These were excellent tools. He wasn't five-time world champ because he was dumb. I might steal some of that from him. There might be an amateur and he's not worth a darn but he might have one good idea… I remember seeing guys that made me go, 'Man, that's a fantastic idea.' For example, in '76, [Steve] Stackable cut a corner in some water and I go, 'Shoot that's a great idea, how he did that?' You can learn from everybody and you need to steal ideas from everybody. Not this one jack trainer that is supposed to teach you how to ride.

DR: Speaking of training, what do you think of modern training programs with nutritionists, riding coaches, fitness trainers and so on?

BH: It's all BS, if you ask me. You need a nutrition coach? If you are working as hard as you should be working you should be able to eat anything you freakin' want. That's bull. A riding coach, for the right guy, that makes since. But does Villopoto - man I got a issue with this - does Villopoto pay a trainer for five years, 250,000 dollars because the stupid guy doesn't get it the first year, and the second year? Why is he paying him five years later. I got a real problem with that. I have my reasoning with why he pays him, and it's not how to ride a motorcycle or what he eats. I don't know, but maybe he sells him some stuff that other people don't have the opportunity to buy. I think some of these guys are taking some stuff that they shouldn't be taking. And a few people are getting busted right now. So, if they want to take substances that are illegal, boot their butts out. I got no patience for that. I ride a lot of bicycles and I really have no patience for that. The drug industry in cycling is just out of control, in the whole sports industry it's out of hand, but in the bicycles it's really out of hand. I watch all big bicycle racing, I watch all the tours in Europe. But if you don't like doping might as well just shut it off. Because everyone in there is a dope head. It's sad because I got dopers racing me in Boise, Idaho, in the 50 plus class.

DR: Was there any pressure to use performance enhancing drugs when you were racing?

BH: The only doping that was going on when I was racing were literal dope heads who were smoking pot, which didn't enhance you ability to ride. The dope heads were smoking a joint. I say, if you get caught with the performance enhancing stuff, you are done forever! I don't care what anyone says, it's in motorcycling. I'm sure they are going start catching more guys and they need to kick them out. Kick them out forever the first time. That would make other racers say, 'Whoa, I'm not going to do that because I don't my 10 million-dollar career thrown in the trash for something stupid.' If it is illegal, it is illegal for a reason, they can say whatever lame excuse they want. It's all lame to me.

DR: What advice do you have for young riders that have the motocross dream?

BH: First of all, you cannot give up. It is very easy to give up. Who, makes it? I don't know. One in a hundred? One in a thousand? But I know that it is very easy to give up for any of us, that's human nature to give up just go, 'Ah, man I'm not going to make it.' But you have to stay in for the long haul if you really want a shot at it. And then you have to be as smart as you can, steal as many ideas from others as you can and put your own personal program together. If you see some good riders I say watch them and learn from them. Stay in for the long haul and have enough brains not to kill yourself. Looking back, if I was brain dead in any way, it was overdoing stuff. I should have tamed myself down, in both riding and training. Instead of winning by 20 seconds, just win by two seconds, and there are some guys that should do that now. Tomac is fantastic, and it just kills me that he got hurt and you see he's gone. Slow down! My advice is don't jump any darn jump you don't have to, to win. And if you winning by 40 seconds, slow the heck down. Beat Dungey by two seconds, because Dungey is going to sit there at 80 percent and whoop your butt in the series. And he just did it. If Tomac was in one piece, it wasn't going to happen for Dungey this year. I've been in that position being the fastest guy then getting hurt and missing the races and it was stupid on my part. You only get a short period of your life to ride these things because you are going to get your butt busted. OK, then your shoulders hurt. You got to manage yourself because you have your five or six year spot where you need to make sure your not torn to shreds or you're not going to get to prove anything. What kept me going was the desire to beat my competitor's butts. I had to keep the blinders on, I wanted to kill them. You have to work hard but you have to manage that and I can see on a few days, I really screwed myself up by not managing that. I was thinking, 'I'm going to beat these guys, I'm going to lap them, I'm going to embarrass them.' But I should have mellowed out a little. Your not King Kong, you break like everyone else. Tomac is a bad dude, but when he has a broken shoulder, he can't win. Does he need a trainer? No. Does he need a coach? No. All he needs is his bike and his dad and his will power.

Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives
Bob HannahFrom the DR Archives