MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 11, 2017
Words / Image / Lake Kilpatrick
Heath Harrison turned a lot of heads last year during the latter half of the 2016 Pro Motocross Outdoor Nationals. The Alabama native put in some of the best results of his career, finishing on the cusp of the top ten in multiple instances. The KTM rider decided to skip out on Monster Energy Supercross this year and contest the AMSOIL Arenacross series for the first time in his seven year pro career. The first round of the series in Cincinnati went well for Harrison as he heads towards the second round in Grand Rapids leading the points in the Lites class. He also found his feet in the AX class by putting himself inside the top ten when racing came to an end. We caught up with Heath to chat about his expectations for the 2017 AX series, his contribution to the local community through riding schools, and his ongoing relationship with the Mashburn family that dates back to his amateur days.
First of all, you’re coming off a very successful weekend of racing at the opening round of AX in Cincinnati. How’d the weekend go for you?
Yeah, it was pretty good. Practice was kind of rough; obviously, I was in the later groups because I had never raced the AX series before, so that part was kinda rough. I think I qualified like sixteenth or seventeenth in the AX class and fourth or fifth in the Lites class. So, I didn’t have the best of gate picks in my heats, and then I actually ended up winning the Lites heat, and I got sixth in the AX heat. So, I was back row in the AX main which sucked. I ended up twelfth in the first moto, then I was back row again and came through the pack a little bit and ended up eighth in the second main for a ninth overall. All in all, it was a pretty good way to start the season. I’d like to keep the ball rollin’ in both classes and hopefully get the championship in the Lites and then see what we can do at the end of the season in the big class.
You mentioned it was your first time racing in the AMSOIL AX series, what did you think about the event and the intensity of the racing and all that?
It was my first one of that series, I’ve obviously raced local ones before. But, I loved it! It was super laid back as far like all the other riders, like how everybody treated everybody and stuff, they were all buddy-buddy off the track, but obviously competitors on the track. It was definitely intense. The races are pretty short; the mains are only fifteen laps which is probably about five to six minutes. It’s pretty much all out, hardly even breathin’ for those five to six minutes, so it was pretty gnarly. The whole event was good, I think, it’s a lot better and a lot more laid back for a guy in my position.
What’re your plans for the remainder of the AX series?
I’m gonna do the whole thing. As of right now, I’m just drivin’ to all of them in my sprinter van and then hopefully for the west coast rounds I’m gonna hook up with one of the teams and see if they’ll take my bike. That way I can fly and don’t have to drive all the way out there and stay out west for like two months or whatever it is. That’s kind of my plan: drive to all the east coast ones and hopefully hook up with one of the teams, so they can take my bike to the west coast rounds and then meet back up in Vegas.
Do you plan on doing any SX races this year?
I’m just focusing on AX for now, maybe do Vegas SX. It depends on how their rules are this year, if they’re doing the East/West Shootout or what. But, as of now just AX and then obviously maybe outdoors if all works out. As of right now, I don’t have any plans for it. Hopefully something comes about and I don’t have to do the same route as last year (pitting out of a sprinter van with one bike.) If it comes down to that and that’s where life takes me, then that’s what I’ll do. But, hopefully something comes together and works out for outdoors also.
You had some awesome results in the nationals last year, putting in a handful finishes just outside the top ten, to what do you attribute the recent bump in form?
Pretty much just believin’ in myself. For the past five or six years, I’ve always looked at the dudes with factory rides and I’m like “Man, I don’t have what they have.” That kind of mindset doesn’t really cut it at this level. I dunno, I just put all that behind me and just did a bunch of riding, and a bunch of laps at home. At Muddy Creek, I believe, I went twelve - fifteen for fourteenth overall, and it just took the one race to show myself that I could do it. From there on out, I’m not gonna say easy, but it was easier than it was before, y’know.
So, this is your seventh year as a pro, you’ve jumped around between quite a few different brands in that time, but you seem to really be in a good place with the KTM, do you feel like you’ve finally found a home on the bike?
I was on Kawis and I rode Parker Mashburn’s 250F one day when we were out riding. I hadn’t been on a 250F in so long and I got on his and I was like “Man, this thing’s pretty fast.” Then Zak (Mashburn) ended up convincing me to get a KTM 450 and that’s the bike I ended up racing all outdoors. I think KTM has one of the best bikes as far as for a privateer just right out of the crate. You can obviously get the suspension revalved for your weight, the motors are extremely good, like the bike I’m racing in AX is bone stock except for the suspension. I haven’t touched the motor, it has a stock exhaust, stock everything except for suspension. It has good brembo brakes, a fast motor, just the whole package of the whole bike is unreal out of the crate. So, I think they’re the best thing for your buck as far as just getting a bike and racing it, and they’re also good and reliable. I think I’mma stick with them for now until something else comes up.
You go way back with Zak Mashburn, who now runs Underground Training Facility down in Texas, how has he helped you throughout your career from amateurs to pros?
Yeah, I actually met him in 2008, I think it was. I had went to a few amateur nationals and did okay, got some top tens and stuff. He was staying out at Underground when Regal and his family owned it, training kids and stuff. So, I went out there for a week and rode and me and Zak really jived together good. So, I ended up going back in like mid ‘09 before Loretta’s and stayed out there for a while and rode out there with Zak and Regal and a bunch of other guys. And then 2010 was my first year pro and did really well, ended up getting national #69. Then I kind of went my own way, because I was on the road so much and couldn’t really be stationed in one spot as much as I could as an amateur. So, I kinda didn’t get to train with him as much as I’d have liked. So, just these past two years, I guess, I’ve started going back to Texas and riding with those guys again; that helps a lot. After these first three AXs, once they get closer to Texas, I plan on going back there to Underground. He has recently purchased it and opened up a facility there. Him and Kyle (Regal) are training kids, so I plan to go stay out there in between some of the rounds and train on the AX track with those guys.
Earlier this year at Freestone, you switched roles for a weekend and worked as Parker’s mechanic. What was that experience like as you’re used to being the one lining up on the gate?
Yeah, it was pretty cool. I’ve obviously known Parker since he was on 50s, so getting to help him as he was on big bikes, and just kind of play the role of not really having the pressure on myself but being more nervous for him, I guess. It was a little different, but I enjoyed it. It’s always fun to change up the program a little bit.
You also host a couple riding schools here and there down at your track in Alabama, could you talk a little bit about the program you’ve set up down there?
Yeah, I don’t get to be there as much as I would like just because I’m having to drive everywhere, so I try to take the time and pick the most center location to wherever the races are. But, when I’m at home I try to have a little riding class, help out the local kids and that kind of stuff, and help out funding my racing program also. It’s pretty cool, I just do like little weekend classes and I just recently did a four day class during the week during Christmas break for the kids and stuff. I try to help out the local community and try to give them a place to ride, because in Alabama there’s hardly anywhere to ride other than Monster Mountain, Millcreek, and a couple other tracks that are pretty good. But, as far as really local stuff, there’s not much down south by me.
Who would you like to thank that’s helping you out?
Got Gear Motorsports, Supercharged Energy, Quick Roofing, Imagine Moto, Fastlap Suspension, MX Tech, FXR, Scott Goggles, 6D Helmets, Roost MX, Dunlop, Ride Engineering, No Toil, Joe Moto, Mika Metals, Rekluse