We sit down with the 4x AMA Superbike Champ for a chat about racing, life, family and the future.
For those who have ever followed American motorcycle road racing, Josh Hayes is a familiar name and face. The four-time AMA Superbike champion and his wife Melissa Paris have established themselves as motorcycle racing royalty here in the States, setting/breaking records, leading successful race teams, coaching younger riders, and were even featured in the already iconic motorcycling movie, “Why We Ride”. Neither needs any introduction.
So for the final round of the MotoAmerica road racing season at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Alabama in late September, I reached out to Josh prior and asked if we could interview him at some point across the race weekend. At 47 years old, he hopped back on track this season with Squid Hunter Racing by first running in the Daytona 200, finishing 4th, then set about spanking the young bucks in the Supersport class, winning or at least podiuming in every race he entered- which fortunately for 2022 Supersport champion Josh Herrin, were only a few selected rounds. We did a story on Josh about mid-season, and I was looking forward to chatting with him by season’s end, as he was on track to break Miguel Duhamel’s overall AMA win record with the races he would run at Barber.
Josh Hayes on track at Barber, prior to the fateful highside.
Then the unthinkable happened. Before I had even arrived trackside on Friday, Ted called me and asked, “Have you heard about Josh’s crash today? Wicked highside during a practice session. I hear he’s got a tip/fib fracture.” My hopes for an interview with the legend were dashed, until I discovered he was back at the track by the afternoon, with crutches and a small scooter for his thickly bandaged left leg. I messaged him, offered my sympathies for his injury, and stated we could reschedule our meeting, depending on how he felt. His reply- “I’m here all weekend, hanging out in the tv booth right now so I can prop my leg up. Let’s do it.”
After watching his crash on a track camera that captured it, I was surprised Josh was back trackside, helping coach riders, offering commentary in the MotoAmerica broadcast booth, and scooting around the paddock with a 3-way ankle/lower left leg fracture that would require surgery upon their return home the next week. The guy is committed and determined. So we met up and planned a chat for Sunday morning before that day’s racing.
The bike being loaded after the crash, Josh already in an ambulance.
With Geoff and Barb Nickless manning the recording gear and snapping photos, Josh and I sat down outside his and Melissa’s racing trailer and started talking. “Trying to get up to speed quickly, turn 2 kind of reached out and bit me. Had a really violent snap, and I remember it going quiet and I go, ‘Oops, this is bad.’ When you have earplugs in, everything just goes quiet when you separate from the motorcycle. I don’t really remember the impact after that, the lights didn’t really come back on until I was in the medical center for a little while, Melissa already sitting next to me.” Reflecting on his injuries, he showed me on his phone the scan of his triple break and added, “This was the first time I’ve ever crashed my voice out! I think I whipped and hit the ground so hard that I strained my neck and actually was hoarse. I was sitting there and asked, ‘Did you guys intubate me, put a tube in me?’ They said no, and I thought, ‘Okay,…’ because my throat was so raw.”
Josh bandaged up and back in the paddock. The guy is unstoppable.
We discussed how Josh and the Squid Hunter team planned out the races he would run this year in pursuit of Duhamel’s win record, ultimately choosing to run in VIRginia, “winning one and losing the other by a hair!”, then New Jersey where Josh won both races and drew up tied with the AMA record, and lastly at Barber where he was slated to run both Supersport races and at least one of the Superbike races. Then the practice crash ended his hopes for this year.
Reflecting over the season, Josh stated, “I never wanted to stop racing. I didn’t retire really, Yamaha’s business model changed, their team shrank, but they wanted to keep me in the fold so they gave me a job, kept me in the family which I’m very thankful for… I knew I still wanted to race, was doing some classic bike racing and getting to dabble in other things. So when you get a team outside of my home who says, ‘Hey, we want to do this thing with you,’ I felt a certain obligation to be prepared. Melissa allowed me the time to go train. I also used the time to train Corey Ventura who’s riding for her, so the two of us were out going to work every day. When I showed up at Daytona, I was as prepared as I had been in quite a long time.”
Josh reflected, “I’ve been lucky in racing,… being in the right place at the right time, making calm, cool decisions, but I learned my craft, I wasn’t just supernatural at it. I had a certain amount of natural talent, a decent aptitude for it, but I’ve learned a lot of hard lessons, so I’m able to come back, go do my old routines and set myself up for success pretty well, be competitive still.” Be competitive is an understatement, in my opinion. Josh is still a dominant force to be reckoned with, every time he grids up to race. “I don’t think anyone out there loves it more than I do,” he quipped.
I told Josh that someone had referred to him as “the Tom Brady of motorcycle racing”, to which he laughed and replied, “Maybe he’s the Josh Hayes of football!” As he thought back, Josh said, “I finished at Barber in 2017, and when I woke up Monday morning I was a husband, soon-to-be father, homeowner, coach, mentor, and a bunch of other things, and maybe once in a while they’ll let me ride a motorcycle. Now I can add truck driver to that- I haven’t seen my house since April! I’ve been driving the family around in our Heartland RV, following MotoAmerica with Melissa running a race team, I’m coaching, so the riding kind of came second to all that… I’m doing a lot of other jobs, and getting to race in the interim.”
Affable and in good spirits despite the pain he had to be enduring.
With respect to his children, Josh opined, “I wish I could have raced and my children seen it, to see me go after something I was passionate about. I don’t get to go after it the same, like I’m going to make a career out of it again in my late 40s. But I still have a strong love for this, I want to work hard to be successful at it, and I want them to see it so they’ll use that example in whatever it is they decide to go chase.” A big amen to that. Passion and dedication.
Josh’s rise through the American motorcycle road racing ranks began in 1999 when he won the very first 750 Supersport race he entered, in Daytona that year. He didn’t win again until 2003, but took the 750 Supersport title that year. He won the Formula Extreme championship in 2006, then he won 11 races in 2007 between FX and Supersport with Honda’s new CBR600. “That’s really where the wins started to stack up in my credits. 2006, ’07, ’08 I won quite a few races, then in 2009 when I got to Superbike I ended up running off seven wins. 2010 was a few less, but when I got to 2012 I ended up running off 16 pretty quick. From there, ’13, ’14, ’15, into ’16, really put a lot of numbers in the books.”
Reflecting over his illustrious racing career, crutches behind him serve as a reminder of how dangerous this sport is.
Thinking back over some of the great racers he’s competed against, Josh recounts Tommy and Roger Hayden, Blake Young in Superbike, the Bostroms, Mat Mladin, and Miguel Duhamel obviously. “I learned so much from him and Aaron Yates,… so many to list, just out there banging bars with. Even in my amateur years when club racing was so strong, it really set the stage for me to have the career that I have.”
Interestingly, Josh confided he actually had other plans as a teen and young man. “I graduated high school, started community college and tried to go racing all at the same time. No idea what I was going to do with my life. When I graduated high school, I didn’t know club racing existed, so I didn’t know this could happen for me! I wanted to be a pilot, in the military flying fighter aircraft, but I was told pretty young that wouldn’t work for me because I had bad eyes. I found the next best thing somehow, ended up where I was supposed to be.”
Josh wheeling himself around the grid, aiding Melissa and Cory Ventura before the race.
After recovery from these injuries, Josh is making plans to continue pursuit of the AMA wins record. Even his wife Melissa is in support- “She’s like, ‘We still have to go get that.’ That’ll be our first plan and priority. The Squid Hunter guys have helped me tie that record, so we’ll select a few rounds next year and try to go after it. Also knowing that Cam Beaubier is coming back, and he’s only about 10-12 behind me, he’s going to have a decade to be able to get that record. I need to pad it a few so I can make it harder for him!”
It was a great pleasure to talk with Josh Hayes for a few minutes as the MotoAmerica season wound down at Barber Motorsports Park, and this statement he made near the end struck me the most- “My life has been pretty exceptional and blessed. I’ve already lived a life that nobody deserves in this world. Everything from this point is a bonus.” I couldn’t agree more.
*photos and footage by Geoff & Barb Nickless
For more of our interview with Josh Hayes, click on the video link below, and watch it without ever leaving this page: