Photography by Brian J. Nelson
If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? This often-used question is loosely based upon the work of a philosopher George Berkeley (circa 1710). Translated, the concept deals in both observation and reality. The concept could also be applied to the 2014 AMA Superbike Series. Now at the halfway mark of the 15-race campaign, it wouldn’t be too far of a stretch to claim that even the most diehard motorcycle racing fanatics know something close to nothing in regard to what’s gone down this year.
Enter Roger Lee Hayden. The recipient of an 11th hour ride from the Yoshimura Suzuki team, the veteran racer has raced well in 2014, scoring six podium finishes in nine races (after this weekend’s round in Mid-Ohio).
The fact of the matter is, though, due to a conspicuous absence of a TV package and lack thereof any sort of verve around the sport, Hayden, as you’re about to find out, has done everything in his power to keep his spirits up. A rider who truly loves his sport and a rider who has dedicated his life to it, it’s been hard for the youngest member of the Hayden racing monarchy to watch the AMA series languish in, well, darkness and obscurity, hoping to god that nobody turns the lights out.
At the recent FIM Superbike World Championship round at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Cycle News sat down and caught up with the former AMA Pro SuperSport Champion. Wearing his hear on his sleeve, Hayden had plenty to say about the murky state of the AMA Superbike nation.
Roger, here we are a Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. All things considered, how do you feel about your 2014 season up to this point in time? Do you feel you’re meeting the expectations you set for yourself?
I would say my expectations were met at the first race at Daytona. Besides that, I was expecting more. I thought I could do a little better than I have been. At Barber we were really competitive, but we had some bad luck. I got the speed, but I just can’t really get things to fall my way. I was tied in the championship all the way up to Barber and I wanted to contend for the title, but now we’ve lost two points. It’s a brand-new team and all they guys have been working together really well and things are coming along and things are getting better every time we get on the bike.
The Yoshimura Suzuki team is very strong, highly competitive outfit. Are you good with how things have played out for you there?
I’m really happy with the team. You know this is a dream to be on the factory superbike team. It’s been awhile. It’s been four or five years since I’ve been on a factory team, so you definitely know their expectations are a little higher. I like it. It’s a good group. I’ve got some guys that I’ve known forever that I’m working with. We have fun. They work hard and they know I work hard so we kind of feed off of each other a little bit.
The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team has been omnipotent in this space for a few years now. Having said that, you guys have everything you need to not only run with them, but to beat them, don’t you?
Yeah, that’s it. At Daytona I pulled out of the draft to try and win and didn’t go anywhere. Then I had a big lead out of the chicane in the second race and got drafted again. At Barber I was riding with Josh [Hayes] and crashed. Yeah, I know we can beat the Yamahas and beat those guys, but its definitely not easy because Josh and Cameron [Beaubier] are both really good riders and they’re on a really good team. We can do it’s, we just got a little better, that’s all.
Yeah, that team really has things filed down and smooth, huh?
Yeah, especially for Josh [Hayes], you know? He’s had the same crew and the same bike for four or five years. So when they unload he kind of knows what to expect. This team has been around long enough and I know we have what it takes. We just have to be a little better.
Going back Daytona in March, you guys have only raced six times so far in 2014. With big gaps in the AMA Pro Superbike schedule between Daytona, Road America and Barber, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say it must be hard to get any sort of rhythm going. Not much continuity?
That’s the thing, man. It’s a bummer. It is hard to get in a rhythm. After Daytona, we had all the way to May. We have all these weekends off before a race and it’s hard to get in a rhythm and getting used to riding. Every time you show up, in the first session you’re kind of knocking off the cobwebs. This will be the first time this year that we’re going to race two weeks in a row - the Mid-Ohio race is next weekend – and then we have six weeks off until Indy in August. The scheduling is not ideal, but it’s the same for everybody. I guess we just have to deal with it.
At this level the scheduling business has to get frustrating. I man you’re a professional racer who lives and dies on his results. If you do great, you want to keep your momentum going. If you have a rough race, you want to get right back on top of things and try and get that momentum back. Do you know what I mean?
Exactly. Like for me, at Barber, crashing out while battling for the lead and then the next day have a tire issue. I’m right there for a win and then I have to wait three weeks to get another shot at it. It stinks. They’re trying to save everybody money, but then we’ve got six weeks off between races, but we have to go testing twice. A six-week break is not really doing anybody any favorites.
Okay… I have to hit you with the next topic. In walking around this pit are the last few days, I’m just going to be honest in saying there is a lot of gloom and doom casting a large shadow over the AMA Superbike side of things. I mean, it’s almost hard to listen to it all. I don’t even know if you want to answer this question, but where is this whole thing going?
You know what? That’s the million-dollar question everybody wants to know about. Everybody wants to know where this series is going. For me, this is how I make my living. When you see teams folding up all the time and going away it definitely hurts. There are only a handful of guys making any money right now. And nobody even knows what is happening next year or who is going to run the series. There is no TV here, period, this weekend. There is nothing on the Internet. When you go to sponsors and you try to approach them, you really don’t have anything to sell. Like a lot of these teams here, if you go to a sponsor, what’s your presentation? Everybody is scrounging to find money.
There are very good teams with very good infrastructural bases and with very good riders in this nation. There has to be some set of circumstances in play here that are sabotaging this sport. Agreed?
Yeah, and you know with the World Superbike series here this weekend, many of them are like, “Which one is your series? I haven’t been able to keep up much with it. I can’t really find out much about it.” So nobody, outside of who is here at the race, who knows what’s going on. Nobody has any idea about who is doing what. So it all kind of hurts the chances of these young kids coming up to get their name out there and go to Europe and try and take that next step.
As you just mentioned, the World Superbike series is here at Laguna Seca and things appear to be positive and prosperous.
Yeah, it’s kind of weird. I get to watch their races live in America no matter where they’re at. Fans can’t see our stuff live or even record the race where they can go back and watch it all later and see all of the up and coming talent. Me being 31, it’s not quite the hit because I had some good years there where I made a pretty decent living. But these young kids like Cameron Beaubier, Jake Lewis, JD Beach, Garrett Gerloff, you know, those young guys who are early in their careers, they need to start looking at how they’re going to make an income if this thing doesn’t change.
Being a veteran of the sport, do any of the young guys come to you and ask what in the hell is going on?
Yeah, for sure. Jake Lewis trains with me all the time. Last week at our house he asked me, “Do you even think we’re getting a series next year? What do you think I should do?” He’s in the top three in points in 600 and he doesn’t know what to do. He just graduated high school and he doesn’t know what’s going on or what’s happening and he’s definitely worried about it. The whole paddock, man. There is not a great vibe around here, as you can tell or if you’ve been around. Everybody in the paddock is trying so hard and I think everybody feels like they’re fighting an uphill battle.
The World Superbike pits are just across the way. Would you ever look at racing with those guys?
Well, now I’m getting to the age where a lot of these international teams are looking at getting a younger guy. I’ll tell you what: I’d take my chance right now to get back to international racing. Man, I’d love to do World Superbike next year or British Superbike. I think that series is growing and I’m following it now. It’s an awesome series. I’m trying to keep my name out there. I’d like to be in World Superbike or British Superbike next year. My manager is here this weekend and he’s in contact with some people. Now is the time when you start putting the pressure on and letting those guys know that you want to go over there and take that step and that you want to do it. Like I said, it’s kind of a downer when they don’t see what you’re doing or don’t see your results or don’t see you riding or they don’t know anything about you. They need to see you ride and get that exposure.
Have you walked around here at all and looked in on all the World Superbike stuff?
Yeah, I looked at the Kawasaki team and some of the other teams. It looks great. They’ve all got big teams and electronics and they’re testing all the time. They’re drawing big crowds and they’re on TV. I think World Superbikes have arrived. Look at how many bikes they have out there. I think they have 27 or 28. In our class we have about 14 guys and we’re here in America in our Superbike class. That’s pretty sad. I love racing and that’s my thing. This is the sport I love and I want to see it grow. I’m going to be around racing until the day I die and I want to see Jake Lewis and those guys make a living like I did when I was their age. I don’t want them to have to stress about how they’re going to pay for their next meal.
And what of the American presence in road racing around the world. What are we going to do about that?
Yeah, exactly. Coli [Edwards] leaves MotoGP next year. Then we’ve only go Nicky and Josh [Herrin]. Nicky, he’s been there for a while and he only has a handful of years left, and then what have we got? I mean it’s going to be terrible if we don’t have an American over there representing our country. Back in the day, Americans were the strong suit in international racing. I really hope we’ll see that back. There are a lot of changes that need to be made, and they need to be made pretty quickly.
This far in, are you happy with what you’ve accomplished and achieved throughout your career?
There’s more work to do. I need to achieve more on the Superbike for me to be completely happy when I retire. If something did happen and this was my last year racing, I could look back and say, “Yeah I did some cool stuff. Top 10 in MotoGP, AMA Superbike racing and World Superbike racing. I’ve raced Moto2, MotoGP, World Superbike and AMA Superbike. I did a lot of cool stuff and was competitive in a lot of it. A lot of people can’t say that.
Okay, Roger. What’s the goal for the rest of the year?
Win races. It’s pretty simple.