Roger Lee Hayden Interview from Laguna Seca
Roger Lee Hayden is an American road racer and his name shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who loves racing – he’s the brother of 2006 MotoGP Champion Nicky Hayden and Tommy Hayden.
Out of the Hayden trio, he’s the youngest and has competed in World Superbike, AMA SuperBike and even completed a few wild card races in MotoGP. We caught up with Roger Lee at round eight of the MotoAmerica series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It was a big weekend for the Hayden family; WSBK ran in conjunction with MotoAmerica, meaning both Hayden brothers were out on track.
Currently, Roger Lee Hayden is a factory rider aboard the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000.
Ultimate MotorCycling: You guys have been having a really good run this year in contrast to previous seasons, especially against the new Yamaha YZF-R1. Both you and Toni Elias have been getting consistent podium. What are some of the changes that went into this year’s program to help you be more competitive?
Roger Lee Hayden: Technically, if you look at the last six races of last season, I lost them by less than a half of second. So, we’ve been right there, you know? I mean, there was a red flag at Indianapolis and a couple other things that didn’t help us but when you talk about missing out by tenths of a second, it’s a totally different conversation.
Last year we were able to find a few things at the end of the season, and I came in after the off-season as motivated as ever and really attacked every test, everything actually. I was getting the most out of the bike and that created problems. We’d fix one problem and then introduce another one. The Yoshimura Suzuki team is great though, they’re always on the dyno looking for power and things like that. This is a real team, we don’t hide information from each other, and we work together collectively to try to get that next level. We wanna beat Yamaha, we’re tired of it; the fans want us to beat them but nobody wanted to beat those guys more than us (laughs).
UM: I wanted to touch on some of the new riders that have come into MotoAmerica this year, guys like Toni Elias, Claudio Corti, just to name a few; what are you picking up from those guys and what do you think you’re imparting onto them?
RLH: I think it’s good for the series – it shows you were the series is at now. Three or four years ago, some of those guys probably wouldn’t have come here at all. It helps us because fans and organizers in Europe know how good a rider like Toni Elias and Claudio Corti are. It shows where we all stack up in terms of skill.
For the top riders, it shows that a rider like Toni Elias was going to come over here and dominate. I think a lot of people thought that and not that he hasn’t done great but it helps show where our field is at.
UM: That’s a good perspective on it. In the European leagues, there is a big youth oriented program but and the American riders have done well against top tier European racers with that background. With that in mind, what do you think it’s going to take to bring American racing back up to that late 80s/90s heyday that saw GP winning talent such as John Kocinski, Kenny Roberts, Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer, and Wayne Rainey?
RLH: What they’re doing right now with the KTM RC 390 Cup is huge, letting those kids come over here and try to learn, dealing with the professional environment through the race weekend. You come here and its business – it helps them because where else are guys like Don Sakakura, Keith Mccarty, just team managers in general; where are they going to hear about young kids? I wouldn’t have heard about them if it wasn’t for the KTM Cup. Now I know about Ashton Yates (son of Aaron Yates) Brandon Paasch, Jackson Blackman and a bunch of other kid’s names, four years ago I didn’t know one kid.
They get to learn the tracks, they get to do two races a weekend, they get to experience defeat – getting on a podium then not, struggling and trying to bounce back, so I think it’s a big learning curve. The only thing that I HOPE and is that they let some of these kids stay in this class and cherry pick, not ever taking a chance on someone before it’s too late.
I think there have been a lot of guys that hung back way too long in the Supersport 600cc class. When you’re young like that you need to be pushed past your boundaries because that’s where you learn. You’re not learning when you’re riding and just winning…you learn when you get fourth, fifth, sixth, way out of your comfort zone. If you’re going out and beating everybody by ten seconds, you’re not learning anything.
You know, my first professional race and I hate saying this because I hate “Well back whenever I played football…or back then,” (laughs) but back then I lined up against the Bostroms, Tommy and Nicky, Aaron Yates, Jamie Hacking, Jake Zemke, Steve Crevier, Josh Hayes…that whole grid (laughs) I was 13th, 14th place just hoping not to get lapped. I was crashing all the time but I learned.
I think the Supersport class is good, it gets you going, and you’re able to learn. You can keep racing and enjoy it, you can be competitive in their own class but the guys in the top five don’t need to be sticking around for three or four years.
UM: What do you guys have planned for 2017? The new bike is coming down the line, can you talk about any of that for us?
RLH: I’m excited for it! Of course, we thought we were getting it this year which was a little disappointing at first but this is racing, its business. Nobody is going to feel sorry for you and so I just put it in the back of my head; we kept moving. I’m excited, it’s a new project and I’ve been on the same bike since 2011. It’ll be cool to develop more.
Technology changes in this world, everything changes and evolves. This bike that we’re on is essentially a 2009 bike but there are a couple updates that I think would really help us, making it a little smaller, just things like that. People talk about the other brand that we race with as if their Superbike is their Supersport on steroids (laughs) at least, that’s what they called the R1.
It’s going to be cool for us and I think we need it. It’s going to take a lot of work, a lot of testing but I’m looking forward to it. It’s like having everyone tell you Christmas is coming then them telling you, “oh we’re gonna have to wait till next year.” I’m ready, ready to get going. I know Suzuki are busting their butts on it (laughs).
UM: Can you talk about some of the strengths or weaknesses of current GSX-R? Despite its age, with your guys’ help, it’s still very competitive.
RLH: I think one of our weaknesses is changing directions, I think that’s where the Yamaha is getting us – it’s a little smaller, so I feel like they’re a little better at changing directions. One thing we do have going is its age, actually (laughs) we know this bike inside and out, there isn’t really anything that is does “badly,” so there are no big areas that we are struggling with.
To help with that direction change we started using the forged wheels, which helped but like I said, we didn’t come into this season with some giant thing that helped us, it was just a lot of little things. At the end of last year, hell, I almost won six races. The bike is good but in this sport everybody is so close that a little bit over a single race becomes huge.
UM: Correct me if I’m wrong but you’ve only missed the podium three times, right?
RLH: Three times I think…or four…but it’s good for the sport to have these four bikes running so close. The best thing about all of it is; now that we got live TV…we’re putting on a show! When’s the last time you turned on the TV and watched four superbike guys going at it like a supersport race, not holding back. I think it’s going to draw in more fans.
You know, I’ve been hearing people saying “I’ve been watching the races on TV, so I had to come down and watch it myself,” (laughs) that’s what we need. I’m a huge racing fan, I watch Flat Track, I watch Supercross – I love racing. I want to see American racing get back to where it needs to be, not for myself – I’m on my way out but for the younger kids. I want to see them making the kind of money that I was when I was 21-28. I want it back to the big crowds where you had to use your brakes coming into the paddock because it was so packed. I want to help see the sport go that way again, so it’s all awesome.
During the Laguna Seca round of MotoAmerica – the penultimate event of the nine-round season – Hayden finished 16/4.