Interview: Colton Haaker

Andrea Wilson | June 8, 2013
Colton Haaker. Photography By: Drew Ruiz
Photography By: Drew Ruiz

In a day in age where it seems like there’s an influx of young people who have no concept of the phrase “work ethic,” there are youngsters like EnduroCross rising young star Colton Haaker who was running his own race program when he was just 18. At any age, the demands of putting together your racing effort for an entire season is no easy feat. Especially when you have to go out and do your job on race day.

Another not so easy feat is being one of the few to actually beat the guy who for all practice purposes should be called “Mr. EnduroCross” – multi-time champion Taddy Blazusiak. But Haaker did just that in last year’s opening round at Las Vegas.

The rest of the 2012 season didn’t go as well as he found difficulty duplicating his first-round win. But this year the 23-year-old Hollister, California native made the step up from a privateer to a factory support team by joining Johnny Campbell’s JCR Honda team in 2013 and so far he’s been able to put together some solid results.

We had a chance to talk with him about the move to the new team, working with Johnny Campbell, what kind of set up he’s running, and getting to race in front of the home crowd.

You made the move this year from Kawasaki to Honda. How that all come about?

Well over the past couple of years I’ve been kind of on my own deal and my main sponsor has been Lucas Oil. So with Johnny being sponsored by Lucas Oil and then Johnny getting sponsored and the JCR team being sponsored by Rockstar. It was an easy fit for me where I was sponsored by Rockstar and Lucas and everyone just kind of put their heads together and was like ‘how can we get the best benefit for our entire team and our riders?’ It made sense for me to jump on with the JCR team and kind of work with them and put together a good team effort for EnduroCross.

With Campbell being a Baja guy and now it’s EnduroCross? Do you know why he decided to have his team involved with EnduroCross?

Yeah, basically like I said… I’ve been doing deal this on my own for awhile and being that Lucas Oil and Rockstar are one of Johnny’s major sponsors and then they are my major sponsors as well. It made sense to go to together and sign with me as their main rider for the JCR team. They had wanted to get into EnduroCross for a couple of years now, but there’s the GEICO Honda team that was in there. And so JCR is the west coast off-road team, so when the GEICO Honda team stopped this year… And it was kind of that it was open for Honda to jump in and be like well we need some Hondas still at the track so it was easy for Honda to get behind Johnny’s program some more for EnduroCross and for me.

Now is it working with a guy with the pedigree of a Johnny Campbell. Does it help you?

Yeah, for sure. Working with Johnny has been good. In fact he’s taken a lot of the stresses and a lot of things I’ve worked on before on my own out of the equation. There’s a lot less thought processes for me. He does the PR side, he talks to the sponsors, he makes the deals and he gets me what I need to do to ride and to race. That was all things I was doing before and, as much as I liked doing it, it was lot to take on starting at 18 years old until this year basically. Always doing all of that stuff on my own, you know… well, Johnny’s taken that side away from me as well as the mechanical side with Eric, their head mechanic who is helping me now as well. So I have complete confidence in my bike. Its just an overall team package that we’ve put together that’s been working out really well. And you know, working with Johnny and talking with him personally and stuff… Knowing that he has won in a different disciplines than obviously what we are doing, but a champion nonetheless in any sport is going to be able to give you words of advice and guide you in a direction from their own past experiences. So whether it was Baja, which could be 100 miles an hour over 1000 miles, or EnduroCross, which is sometimes two miles an hour over a 10-minute race, it doesn’t really make a difference. If Michael Jordan told you some words of advice I’d think you’d heed those words and go with it.

So far this year you’ve had three solid finishes. So the move to this team has been a benefit for you. In addition to not having that load of managing a team on top of racing, does the bike also suit you more?

Yeah the bike does suit me more. The funny thing is not a lot of people know this, but I bought my own personal Honda 450 before I ever talked to Honda or JCR or anybody. I had kind of been searching for my own kind of niche of what I felt like would suit me, suit my riding style a little bit better to help me do better. I had read a lot of things good about the Honda; the 450 feeling lighter, feeling more nimble of any 450. And then I just kind of took a gamble. I sold my Kawi, my 450, which I was planning on selling anyways, and went and just bought the Honda 450 and rode it and liked it. I did my own testing on it for a month or so until I got together with the JCR boys. Like I said, the bike has suited me better and with JCR’s tools… they have a lot more backing behind them with Honda. They can put a lot more, like tailor fit the bike to what I need it for EnduroCross. Getting together with JCR… it’s a lot easier to make the bike better for me and make it easier for me to ride. That’s been part of the reason why I’ve have good results I think for sure.

What does it take to prepare the bike for EnduroCross? Do you have any special set ups or parts that you use?

Yeah. I mean the cool thing about EnduroCross is honestly any rider can get a stock bike and do some gearing to it and maybe a different rear tire. And you can pretty much ride Endurocross. If you’re a good rider… Let’s just put it this way: Taddy Blazusiak, since he’s won so many times, he could probably win on a stock KTM 125 honestly. It’s just EnduroCross is more rider than it is bike so much.

As far as for what we have on my bike… I have a Supercross cam in it to give it more low-end torque and that’s kind of a special Honda part. I run the Rekluse clutch, which helps me get through the race and kind of not modulate the clutch so much and helps me keep going. Other than that I’ve got Dunlop tires – they make the spec tire for endurocross now. Basically besides those things, my bike’s pretty much… the configuration of it is pretty much stock.

Being from Northern California, will you have a lot of family and friends at the race in Sacramento?

Yeah. I should have quite a few. I’d say like 50-100 people coming, from friends to family.

Is it more special racing at a home race?

Nah, it just makes it a little more I don’t know… a little more nerve wrecking, I guess.  It’s cool that everyone’s here, but it’s like its everyone you pretty much knew growing up and racing with, or saw you racing since you were a little kid, or knew you since you were young. You know it’s definitely cool that I’m in the position that I’m in.  Last year coming into this race I actually was the points leader and I had won the first round and I felt a lot of expectation to go out there and do it again and win again. I didn’t have a great night because of that. So this year I’m just focusing on just being as consistent as I can. At every race… regardless if I‘m in Germany, Spain, Brazil, or Sacramento. You know, no matter who’s here or what’s going on.  Pretty much it’s just about what I’m doing on the track and just trying to be like I said consistent and to have good results.



Andrea Wilson | Associate Editor / Website Coordinator

Andrea has been shooting everything from flat track to road racing in her job as a professional freelance photographer, but she's made the move to a full-time staff position at Cycle News where her love of all things motorcycling will translate well. Wilson has proven her worth as more than a photographer as she migrates to the written word with everything from race coverage to interviews.