MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 25, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Image / Jordan Sitz
Anyone who watched the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Nationals last year is familiar with Heath Harrison. The Alabama native made some noise in the 450 class on a full privateer effort in which he traveled from round-to-round with only one bike. He bounced around from one hotel parking lot to another just for free breakfast and a place to park his sprinter van. Harrison put in solid results right around the top fifteen, and ran in the top ten throughout multiple motos throughout the season. A switch clicked inside his head after an incredible showing of speed at Muddy Creek when he realized that he had the talent to run up front with the fastest guys in the world. It wasn’t all up to the equipment, the paycheck, or the training resources; it came down to the desire and dedication to perform. Harrison chose to run the AMSOIL AX series this year, which proved to be the right choice as he won the first two rounds in the Lites division and scored a podium in the AX class in Grand Rapids. He has proven his speed on a relatively bone stock KTM and was right in the title hunt in the Lites class after the opening rounds wrapped up.
Things change in an instant in this sport. It’s more apparent now than ever after Ken Roczen suffered a horrific crash in the 450 main event at Anaheim 2, putting him out of racing action for the remainder of the series. Injuries can strike at anytime and they always come without warning. Bradley Taft was making his debut SX season for the CycleTrader Rock River Yamaha team; the rookie had showed promising speed throughout the opening rounds of the series, but things went wrong for the Missouri native during mid-week training. Unfortunately, he suffered a crash that will keep him out of action, and Heath Harrison was the first to get a call to fill in for the team. Harrison has a relationship with Christina Denny, the team manager of CycleTrader Rock River, dating back to 2009 as Roost MX has been supporting him through the years. It’s not just serendipity that has created this opportunity for Harrison, but proof that it is indeed a small industry where the relationships you build along the way can come full circle and pay off in the long run.
We had a quick chat with Zak Mashburn, Harrison’s longtime friend and trainer, to talk about how he came to know Heath and how far he’s come since amateurs. Mashburn was training a bunch of kids (circa 2009) from the area where Harrison lived. He showed up one day at Underground and Mashburn was immediately impressed. “How do I not know this kid with this ridiculous speed?” he exclaimed. Harrison was about fourteen or fifteen years old at the time and from that point onward he stuck around Underground and trained down there; the two of them actually piled into a motorhome together during Heath’s first professional season. “His very first year as a pro he had some really good results. He’s always been fast. This last year he was really motivated. He came to my house, was kind of in a rut, and I talked him into changing his entire program. (He) got off of Kawasakis and got on a KTM, and he went and killed it at outdoors - total privateer effort, stock 450. He went and decided to make the switch to AX this year which I thought was a great idea, he was killin’ it at that. Then Christina (Denney) gave him the opportunity - which it’s really cool how she did it - it wasn’t a buddy deal, his results were there and he was deserving of it. I think there’s something to that, obviously sometimes you’re like ‘Man, I know this kid would do better if someone would help him out,’ but he got the results on his own and it makes it mean a lot more,” Zak said.
Heath will be spending the week leading up to the fourth round of the Monster Energy Supercross season out west, dialing in the new bike, and gearing up to make his CycleTrader Rock River debut. Here’s what he had to say about taking this next step in his career and his expectations heading into the weekend:
So, we just spoke not that long ago after Cincinnati AX - your plans have changed quite a bit since then - how did the deal come together with CycleTrader Rock River?
Yeah, I’ve been running Roost MX Graphics since 2009, I believe, so Christina and I have been pretty close since then. Zak Mashburn actually introduced us to each other at Loretta’s - the year I won four-stroke and got third in 450B. Ever since then she’s just been super awesome about getting me graphics and always having my bikes looking good. Unfortunately for Bradley Taft, he got injured, so the spot was available. She said she looked through the results and didn’t really see anybody that didn’t already have support in SX, so I had mentioned to her before that I would like to have the opportunity one day to fill in or even get a ride on their team. So, she called me and asked what my deal was in AX, and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to come race the West Coast SX. I’ve always wanted a chance on her team, it’s kind of a right place right time kinda deal, I guess. So, I’m out west now testing the bike this week and we’ll see what we can do this weekend in Phoenix.
How do you feel on the bike so far?
Yeah, today was actually the first day I rode the bike. It’s honestly unbelievable. The first time I rode it, we made a few adjustments with handlebars and bar mounts and stuff like that, but Enzo did a great job with the suspension - it’s set up really good as it is. So, just a few minor clicks here and there before the weekend and everything should be good to go.
What sort of expectations do have yourself jumping into the mix four rounds into the series?
Uh, I don’t really have any expectations. I’m just going in with an open mind and trying to stay positive throughout the whole day. I just wanna try and get a good qualifying, that way I can get a good gate pick, and just make it through the heat and into the main...and we’ll see what we can do in the main.