Heath Harrison | October 17, 2016
by Dawn McClintock
Silverhill, Alabama native, Heath Harrison just came off the best season of his entire career, showing results he’s extremely happy with. If you want to look for a guy who is doing it right, with the right attitude, Harrison defines the word ‘privateer’ to the fullest. He is ready to take his path in whatever direction will take him to the next level, using what he has been given to work with. We catch up with Heath after a quick flight into California for a 24hr race and wedging in some riding schools before he prepares for a European supercross tour.
This year really feels like you’ve cracked some kind of barrier that has you running up with the factory guys. What is different with your program that has helped push you to this next level?
I didn’t really change much except I switched to KTMs and I feel like that was a big step for me just because their bike is so good right out of the crate. Just getting good starts I think is key because everybody is so close in the nationals that if you start in the back it’s almost impossible to catch up to the front. Getting good starts and having confidence that you can run up with those guys is the biggest thing. I think that helped me a lot with getting good starts.
Who do you have to help motivate you and what do they do to help keep your head in the game on race day?
It was pretty much just me and my mechanic, Tony helping me out through the summer. Obviously friends and family and everybody on Facebook leaving nice comments or sending messages, or whatever just to keep me going. It gets difficult at times just being on the road, living in a van. So I think just a little bit of everybody sending hugs or love my way and trying to stay positive and not think about what you don’t have but feel grateful for what you do have.
Explain what a typical race day is like for you leading up to the gate drop. What’s going through your head?
I guess pretty much the same as everybody else. You obviously get nervous and you’re thinking about trying to get a good start. You’re not really thinking about who you’re racing as much as thinking about yourself and focus to try and get a good start. Just trying to ride your own race and not worry about who’s up front or behind you and stuff like that and getting a good qualifying time and that way you get a good gate pick. That’s pretty much what it’s all about, getting a good gate pick. If you get 32nd you know you’re going to be outside and obviously your chances of getting a good start are slim. Getting good practice times and getting a good gate pick.
You’re from the south, so I’m sure you are used to the heat. You had some smoking hot days you had to race on. Does the heat get to you and did that effect your performance this summer?
Yes, I am from the south, I’m from south Alabama so we’re used to the heat only but seeing as I’m not able to go back to south Alabama, I’m always on the road so I don’t actually get to train in the heat that much when the nationals start. Budds Creek I believe was one of the hottest ones and the heat did get to me and I think it effected a lot of other riders also. It kind of sucked. That’s where being a privateer kind of sucks because you don’t really get to go back to the heat to train during the week once the nationals starts. It’s part of it and we do the best to make it through it.
How does it feel when you are running up near the front of the pack and you look around and see yourself mixed in with all the factory guys? Is it intimidating or are you kind of in your own head space?
In years past I would say it would be intimidating but this year I did it and after you do it once you believe in yourself. They’re no different than I am. They’re just another dude getting paid to race a dirt bike. It’s probably a better feeling for me because I drove up to the race and worked for that position.
You’ve clocked a lot of miles on your van this summer, navigating the whole country on your own. People don’t realize just how expensive it can be for a privateer to get to the races. Life on the road must leave you with a hefty price tag. Do you have a ballpark figure what it costs a guy and his wrench doing the series out of the back of their van?
Man, that’s a hard question. I would say, give or take, probably $5,000-$10,000 because I put, give-or-take, 10,000-15,000 miles on my van just from the nationals. With fuel and maintenance on the van and stuff. I would say it’s probably closer to $10,000.
How many years have you been doing the national circuit as a pro?
I started in 2010 and I had a pretty good year. I actually earned national number 69. I kind of struggled ever since and then this year was probably my best year for sure and I will be national number 68 next year. It was pretty cool to have bettered my number that I had from other years.
Training plays such a big part in how things shape up over the race season. What sort of training regimen do you have in place to prepare yourself for the upcoming SX season?
Pretty much like what I’m doing out here in California right now. I’m doing this 24 hour race and just hit as many local or big money paying races that I can. I think actually I’m going to be flying out for Germany the first week of November and I’m going to be doing the ADAC German SX Series and that will get me some gate drops in before supercross or arenacross, whichever I decide to do, starts. It’s pretty much just riding. It’s about the best thing I think for a privateer to do because we don’t really have the money or the resources to have a full time trainer like the factory guys have. Seat time is really important and that’s what I plan on doing, just riding a whole bunch.
What is your favourite place to ride and what makes it the best spot?
Probably my track in my backyard. I’ve pretty much grown up riding there. It’s the first place I ever swung my leg over a dirt bike. My brother is there and he rides when I’m home and I have a couple buddies that come out to ride. I’m going to have to say my house because it brings it back to the roots. Once I’m there it’s not serious unless I make it serious and I feel like I have the most fun when I’m there.
You just came back from California to do the 24 hour race at Glen Helen. Tell us about this format and have you raced it before?
Actually, I’ve not raced the 24 hour here in California at Glen Helen but I did the one in May back in Alabama. The one here in California, there’s four of us on a team and we’ll all rotate out for the whole 24 hours. It starts Saturday morning at 10am and finishes Sunday morning at 10am. We are in the Open Pro Class.
Do you cross over to off-road/cross country when there isn’t anything motocross going on?
Just a little bit. I did the one back in Alabama just for fun with some buddies from home. I did an off-road race last year at Cycle Ranch in Texas. It’s a big money race. That’s all I’ve really done.
You indicated on your social media that you’ve been holding some riding schools. Tell us about that.
Yes, every year I try and do riding schools when I’m not at a race or don’t have anything scheduled. I just try and make some extra money and try to help out the younger riders that are trying to learn how to ride and teach them to do things the right way so they don’t get injured. I actually had to reschedule my class because this opportunity came up to ride for Zip Ty Racing with Ty Davis being the team owner. I just had to reschedule the riding class. I try to do those to help out the riders and try to make myself a little bit of money on the side to support my racing efforts for the next year.
As a kid, who did you look up to?
There’s so many generations. When I was little, I’d say Jeremy McGrath and those guys and as I got older I’d have to say Ricky Carmichael was probably my all-time guy that I looked up to.
What was your first bike and your first race?
My first bike was a Yamaha PW50 and then my first race was I believe at Milton, FL, a local track that was back by the house. It’s no longer there. That was my first race on a little peewee track.
If you could rewind the outdoor season is there anything you would do differently?
I don’t think that I’d do too much differently. I think it went as good as it could. I don’t have any regrets. I think I did my best at every round and that’s all I can ask for is that if I give it 110% effort every time that I was on the track. Obviously it would have been better to fly to the races and have a bike at the race and also a bike at home, but with only having the one bike, that was out of the question. I don’t think there’s anything that I would change. Everything went as good as it possibly could and I’m pretty happy about how it went.
If you had any advice to an up and coming pro who was ready to give the whole privateer gig a go, what sort of tips would you give them?
Pretty much just believe. Believe in yourself. Try not to get too down on yourself and just because the other guys are flying to the races and they are getting free bikes and getting paid and all that kind of stuff, not to let that get to your head. Just believe in yourself and believe that you can be up front with those guys. I’ve had so many people tell me in years past that I belong up front and that’s where I should be. I’ve always doubted myself just because I’ve always overlooked what I’ve had and looked at what I didn’t have. You just have to be really thankful for what you do have and make the best of it. All the bikes nowadays are so good that you can make do with what you buy off the showroom floor if you just believe in yourself and don’t look at what you don’t have, just be thankful for what you do have.
Thanks for taking time to talk with us Heath and congratulations on a great season. Who would you like to thank?
Thank you for calling. I’d like to thank Got Gear Motorsport, Joe Moto Racing, Fastlap Suspension, MX Tech, FXR, 6D helmets, No Toil, Roostmx, Scott Goggles, Mika Metals, Quick Roofing, Vertex, Dunlop, FMF, Rekluse, Murphy Clearing and Grading, Mom, Dad, brother, sister, girlfriend, my mechanic Tony “T bone”, Zak Mashburn, Mike Smith, Tom Clark, Max Motorsports, Michael Lee and everybody else thank you.