Interview: Salt Lake SX Lites Winner Josh Hansen

Kit Palmer | May 6, 2010

They say that some wins are bigger than others and for Josh Hansen his win at last week’s Salt Lake Supercross might’ve been one of the biggest of his up-and-down career.It’s no secret that the one-time Supercross Lites Championship contender and one of the sport’s most promising young stars has struggled to keep his racing career on track, much of which had to do with the direction his life was going off the track. He was soon labeled by many as an underachiever, and, as a result, was not high on the list of choices for perspective team’s when he announced last year he was going to get serious again about his racing. But the phone wasn’t ringing…until.Just prior to the 2010 Supercross Series, he got a call from one of the most respected team owners in the business – Mitch Payton, of the mighty Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki Lites-class squad. Payton, who has a knack of turning young racers into champions, believed in Hansen and took him under his wing, giving him a second chance.Hansen came out swinging the in the West-Lites Series, showing championship-winning speed on the track on the Pro Circuit Kawasaki, but, unfortunately for him, small crashes and untimely and seemingly small mistakes kept Hansen from getting that win he oh-so wanted. But all that changed on a cold night in Salt Lake City, Utah, when Hansen finally put it all together and got that elusive win, proving to the Supercross crowd that he was indeed back and on the right track again. Although he’s won before in previous years, this one was certainly big, but, unfortunately for him perhaps somewhat overshadowed by his teammate, Jake Weimer, wrapping up the West Lites crown on the same night.We recently chatted with Hansen, who is also the son of former Supercross Champion Donnie Hansen, about his 2010 Supercross season and his Salt Lake win.

First of all, talk us through the day last Saturday.

It was rad. The whole day started off good. It was dry at the beginning of the day and my lap times were good in practice, then the weather started getting really bad, but I was still able to pull it off and ride well. It was pretty exciting. It was definitely a finger-crosser as far as how the track was going to be. It was so insane how much the weather changed through out the day. Pretty soon, I’m sitting there on the line and icicles are hitting the top of my helmet, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I was pretty open-minded about the conditions and I didn’t have much of a plan.

You rode well at both Seattle and, of course, Salt Lake. Both tracks were not your typical Supercross tracks, instead they were extremely soft, rutted and wet. Do you consider yourself a “mud guy?”

I’m from Colorado, well, actually from L.A. but moved to Colorado when I was young. I moved out of the house when I was 17 and went back to California, so I’m not really all that experienced in the mud. There were maybe a couple of times [I rode in the mud] when I was a kid, but it definitely isn’t something I practice in, especially when it’s snowing out. So I was really excited and glad I could pull it off in the gnarly conditions. Being in the position where you had to jump everything on the track in those conditions was pretty tough. I was excited how the night went, also because my teammate [Jake Weimer] got to win the championship. It definitely put a smile on Mitch’s face.

This year was sort of dubbed a “rebirth” for Josh Hansen. And to prove that you were serious about your comeback, you obviously wanted to do well and win races, especially after Mitch Payton stepped up and offered you a ride and a second chance. Although you rode well this year, small mistakes prevented you from getting on the podium, let alone win. So how important was it for you to finally get that win?

It was definitely a monkey off my back. It was something that I needed. It made me feel that I definitely broke the ice finally, unfortunately, it came down to the last race to do it, but I’m excited. It was a big relief. It was something that, I guess, I expected to do all year, but it didn’t come together. It was just like unreal how I couldn’t get it done. It was a big, huge relief on my end.

You came so close so many times of finishing on the podium and/or winning, but every time, it seemed, something would happen, preventing you from getting that top finish. How did you deal with that?

It got to the point to where it was heartbreaking, because it was like each race that I went into, it was like, “Okay, I’m going to win, I really feel like I’m going to win,” and I just kept crashing, then get going, then kept crashing – it was just stuff like that. I kind of got to the point where it really screwed me up mentally, because I was like, “Man, okay, I’ve go the speed,” but it really shows that it doesn’t really matter how much speed you have if you can’t put it all together and keep it on two wheels. So it got to the point to where – it was really sad.

Having been given a second chance by one of the most respected and successful team owners and managers in the business, you must have felt tremendous pressure to perform and get the results that you thought you could achieve.

I did feel the pressure, definitely. Plus, it was something that – a lot of people have negative thoughts on me and stuff, and I have really tried hard to turn myself around in my life and in the way I think, just really trying to turn my career around. When you pretty much – and I can say hit rock bottom – you don’t really hear too many stories of them coming back, because usually when it’s done, it’s done. I felt like I’ve done a good job of trying to turn it around. You have so many critics out there that almost want to see you fail, as bad as that sounds, and trying to keep your head up each day, day to day, especially after some of these races – man, it’s hard. It definitely puts a lot of stress on you, and being on such a good team and getting provided with such a great bike, I really, really wanted it so bad. And I think that I wanted it so bad that it kind of – more or less – made [me make] a lot of mistakes; I thought too hard into it, and it almost screwed me up.

After throwing away a number of sure podiums, what did Mitch say to you?

Mitch was very supportive. Mainly, what he wanted was for me to get my life together, and I think he wanted to see that more than anything, more than just results. Like he wanted to see the whole package. Actually, he stayed pretty positive. I was scared that he would turn his back on me, but that guy never, ever, ever turned his back on me, and I was pretty stoked about that. I have a lot of respect for the guy, so I wanted to work my ass off for him.

How happy was Mitch for you after you had won?

He was really, really pumped. I know it was only one win, but he was really stoked. To see that guy really pumped, I think is a big accomplishment. He doesn’t get too happy about too many things, genuinely anyway. So it was rad to see his face. And to see Jake win the championship, I felt like I had a good teammate this year, and we had a really, really solid program here on the west coast, so I was super happy to see Mitch pleased, my family and my friends. It was definitely a monkey off my back.

Was the nine-week break in the West Series good or bad for you?

It helped me. I don’t think a lot of people knew it, but at the second round, I broke some ribs and I didn’t make too big of a deal about it, so when the series break came, I really used it to my advantage. I got healed up, trained hard, made sure I went to bed early and stayed on a program. I put the grind down these last couple of months and it ended up showing these last couple of races. During the break, you see some of the other people racing that you feel, more or less, that you can beat, and, like some of my teammates going out there and doing well, it was kind of like a slap to my face. “Dude, I’ve got to wake up and make this happen, or I better start looking for a pizza job or something, or start sweeping.”

The East/West Shootout is this weekend in Las Vegas. How important is this race to you?

I really want to back it up [his Salt Lake win] with a win at Las Vegas. But I go to every race wanting it to be important and try to win, so I’m not, “Oh my God, this is Vegas, I’ve got to do this, I’ve got to do that.” I’ve been like that before and that’s what has gotten me into trouble, crashing and stuff. So I’m looking at it like it’s just another race. I know I’m prepared and that everything is going to fall into place. I’m going to ride with my head on straight and put in a good 15 laps.

Now that your Supercross-only part of your contract with Mitch Payton and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team is done, what are your plans now?

My contract ends in October, until then, I’m going to do some stuff for Monster, go to Europe, do some different races. I’ve got Mammoth coming up, I’ve got the X Games, and I want to do some video stuff, do stuff on my motorcycle and enjoy life.

What about the outdoors this year? Will you be doing any of those?

I don’t know, we’ll see how it goes. I like the outdoors, and if I need to do them, I will do them. I feel that a lot of people have negativity towards me for that [not riding the outdoors], but I would love to go out and prove people wrong, I love when people put negative thoughts toward me, because it just makes it that much better at the end of the day when I do accomplish my goals. If I do a couple, I’ll make sure that I’m ready for them and do really well. I will help test for my team and be a good supporter and maybe will go out and do a couple.

What about next year?

I don’t know. I’m really stoked and really want to win a championship next year. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. As long as I have been around this sport, I think next year is going to be really good.

Finally, just for fun, what was the one thing that nobody knew about you during the 2010 Supercross season, besides your broken ribs?

I trained. I bet people didn’t know that.

Kit Palmer | Off-Road Editor

Kit Palmer started his career at Cycle News in 1984 and he’s been testing dirt and streetbikes every since – plus covering any event that uses some form of a knobby tire. He’s also our resident motorcycle mileage man with a commute of 120 miles a day.