We tracked down Racing Legend Harry Leary, not that it’s that hard these days, and had a chat with him about family life, music, racing, training and Dirtwerx. At 41 years of age Harry is still competitive at a Pro level after 4 decades of racing and he still has the passion he had for the sport when he first stepped foot on a track.
Once this interview got started it looked like never coming to an end, there were so many questions to ask Harry and he had so many answers, read on and maybe we’ll do a part 2 to this interview.
bmxultra.com: How did you get involved in BMX? Where and when?
Harry: I remember that it was when I was about eleven or for a better reference in 1970, it was then that I started to ride a20” bike for more than just going to a friends house. I started to jump stuff, see how far I could wheel you know the basic stuff. Things started to get fun, but the bad thing was I started breaking things on the bike. My Grandfather was a welder (arc) so I would have him fix and beef up the areas that would break, now that they would not break I could go jump bigger stuff! It was in 1973 that I was at the local bike shop and noticed a flyer for this bike race, they were going to have jumps, it was in the dirt and they were going to have a mud hole, cool! So that was my first race and I got first, from that day all I wanted to do was compete. For the record, I had to work and buy every single part I ever raced on up until I got a factory sponsor.
bmxultra.com: Tell us a little bit about Dirtwerx. How did it come about? When?
Harry: Dirtwerx at this time is a race driven company. We do most of our marketing through racing, and some advertising. I started Dirtwerx after Balance went upside down. Balance was a great learning experience for me. I was the general manager there and it gave me the opportunity to run and manage a large company, to see things that I did not get to see while at Diamond Back. So I thought that it was time to start doing it for myself, for 20 years I had been beating myself up on the track for the promotion of someone else’s bottom line. We basically started out in 1996 but only after some major convincing by some family (Mom, Wife) and friends (Greg Hill). I cant yet say it was the best thing I ever did, I was making good money at Balance and I think of where I might be financially if I were still collecting a check like that every month. But in life we are taught that we must look at the long-term plan, so we are still going, and going, and going…
bmxultra.com: How did you come up with the name?
Harry: It was a combination off things that I really enjoy. The first is that, to me there is nothing like riding in the dirt, its always changing, your always having to make adjustments to the changing terrain and conditions, its sort of like business and life. “Works” is the word that started in motocross, which is used for when referring to the trick racing equipment that factory-racing teams only get to run. I wanted to change the way the word looked in type, to have the same number of letters as “Dirt”. This way the logo would be balanced. Making it one word was the idea of Sergio of “Smith, Smith & Smith (they are a design and marketing firm that I used while I was at both DiamondBack and Balance, he/they are the best at what he/they does). There you have it “Dirtwerx”!
bmxultra.com: Once you had the name how hard was it to design the logo, frame stickers and the Jersey?
Harry: I worked with Sergio to get all that done. It was a time consuming process, I don’t think people really realize how hard it is to get something that looks good, says something in the way it looks and is easily remembered. The worst part of the whole thing is that is just like art, its subject to opinion. Not everybody thinks that “Picasso” painted great paintings, some people like and some don’t. The important thing is that it represents who you are, in this case, it’s who I am.
bmxultra.com: What do you produce?
Harry: We produce high quality (doesn’t everybody) Chromoly frame, forks and handle bars. Our frames come in nine sizes. Mini, Jr, Expert, Expert XL, Pro, Pro XL, XXL-Stilt, 24-XL and 24-XXL Stilt. We only use Chromoly and there are many reasons for this. The main one is you can build a better bike using steel. A bike that has some really cool ride characteristics, things you can not get out of alloy. Not only that, alloy has a shorter life. There is no way an alloy bike will last as long as a steel bike, I do not want to have to replace bikes. Now you can build a flashier bike with alloy and maybe a better race bike. If your factory sponsored and can get a new one every three months then and only then alloy could be better. For the real world where most of us reside, “steel is real”. Also when it is all said and done the two frames will be almost be the same weight, at least within a 1/2 pound. If people were really worried about weight they should train more and get rid of some of those extra inches around the waist, I’m sure we all have a couple of extra pounds we could do with out. We have many new ideas on the drawing board but cash flow determines what we can do, so they wait until its time.
bmxultra.com: Are you exporting? How many Countries?
Harry: We export to five countries now. It’s not a big part of what we do. But we are always looking for more.
bmxultra.com: Which countries?
Harry: Japan, France, Mexico, Brazil and Singapore
bmxultra.com: If not do you expect to in the future?
Harry: We need to focus on the USA, that’s were the money is. We will expand as it comes.
bmxultra.com: how difficult is it to break into the BMX frame manufacturing scene in the US?
Harry: Its very difficult, right now there are 42 frame makers out there, give or take. It takes commitment from the company trying to bust their way in. Riders, parents, dealers will not buy into a non committed program. We are doing the best that we can with what we have to work with. It takes a lot of money to do it quickly, so we are doing it at our on pace.
bmxultra.com: The forks look like they have long dropouts, what is the advantage with these forks?
Harry: Yaw, they do have long dropouts. This was so I could keep the fork as narrow as possible; the hub flange would not clear the fork leg if the drop out were shorter. I could have made the fork wider, but I wanted a narrow look while your sitting on the bike and looking down at the fork. The advantage is that I can make the wall thickness of the tubing what they need to be. A standard fork has to start out with a much thicker wall because they have to bend the fork leg in to the steerer tube. The bending process stretches or thins the wall thickness of the tube. That is why they have to start with thicker or heavier tubing than my forks. My fork has three different wall thicknesses, the legs, the stanchion tubes and the steerer.
bmxultra.com: Do the dropouts flex much?
Harry: The dropouts do not flex, I made them out of 4130 plate, and they cost me $3.00 each. I would bet that most other forks are high-tensile steel that would be a problem with my fork design. Now for street riding with a peg up there, then yes, I would say you would get some flex. But for riding trails and going racing on, you will bend or break them and walk away from it.
bmxultra.com: What made you come up with a chain tensioner? Wouldn’t it be better to just tighten the chain?
Harry: Actually I saw that on Danny Nelson’s bike many years ago (he still uses his own version of the same thing), and I thought that was one of the simplest and yet most functional things in years. If you’re strong and you race your bike will flex out of the gate. You want a little flex. Under acceleration the chain will get loose on the bottom side, so this is when your chain can catch the side of a tooth on the freewheel and come off. The “Painkiller” will not let the chain flex from side to side so there is no way it can catch the side of a tooth. To keep your chain in perfect tension while under acceleration it would be way to tight, and you would have no free backspin with your cranks.
bmxultra.com: Where can people buy your products?
Harry: Dan`s, bike shops across the States, from Dirtwerx directly.
bmxultra.com: What sort of a commitment does it take to set up your own business?
Harry: More than I know at this point, I have yet to totally commit to it. I still put to much time in to my riding, I need to change that. It’s a hard thing for me to give up, I love it too much. I think I need to hire somebody to run it so I can still ride, that’s a stupid idea! Every waking (and I think sleeping) moment of everyday is spent thinking about the business…how should I do this…when should I do that…was that the right thing to do. I need to start looking for a pro rider…that will take forever. So if there is a word that is beyond commitment that’s what it is!
bmxultra.com: Australia has no (or a very small) BMX industry…we rely on the US and Asia to produce quality bikes and accessories, which is good and bad. Good because these guys have spent years in building and designing BMX bikes and accessories, and bad in the case of the US because our exchange rate is screwed. We have to pay a load of money to get a quality bike, which can make the outsider think that BMX is expensive. Do you think it can make a difference to the local scene if a country has it’s own industry?
Harry: Imagine for a minute you’re a parent with 2.5 kids (that’s the US average) one of those wants to start racing, one wants to be a golfer and the half a kid has not made up his mind yet. So you head to the bike shop and shop for a bike and gear for little Johny. Parent goes in to sticker shock, and walks over to the sporting goods store and buys a football(Aussie style). Now that parent might have walked out with a happy Johny had there been a local brand to support. I guess we are spoiled over here in regards to that.
bmxultra.com: You keep in touch with Greg? Tell us about how you first met him.
Harry: Yeah, Greg and I still hang out once in a while, but more lately only at the races. The first time I saw Greg was at a track called Western Sports Arama (The Track Out Back) as it was known. He was maybe 11-12, and a real pain in the ass! You would be sitting on the side of the track waiting to do a lap and he would come by and jack with you so you would chase him around the track. I am sure that all that chasing added to his already strong fast twitch muscle fibres. It was almost impossible to catch him! Actually that is how I came up with the “Leary” jump. There was this table top down the front straight, and he would be sitting on the side (waiting to do a lap)…so I would go up the jump in the middle and whip the back wheel out to try and hit his helmet/visor. It was a way of sneaking up on him, and it just progressed from there.
bmxultra.com: How often do you see each other these days? Do you think your kids will get along?
Harry: We do not see each other as much as we did. Greg and I are a lot alike, we are very intense and that seems to make getting along kind of tuff. Greg is a great person and I really respect what he has done, and is doing. It’s that we seem to be so wrapped up in our families and our businesses that there is no real time to communicate. Greg is much deeper in to the family thing than I am. We just recently had a baby girl (Jan. 10 2000) her name is Breyana Nicole. Greg has a little boy Jeramy, I think he is three going on four. So the two young’ns have not hung out yet, but I am sure they will…and no, there no wedding plans! The Hill`s as in-laws? I think not! (Kidding!)
bmxultra.com: Will Breyana race?
Harry: If Breyana wants, Breyana will. I hope that she will give it a try some day. I plan on teaching her how to ride a bike very early, I hope by three. I don`t know how many others notice, but the kids that ride BMX at any level at an early age seem to be way ahead of kids (of the same age) that do not. I mean, I see 5-6 year olds that can jump some little doubles, crash slap the ground hard and jump up head back the gate and do it again. Then you look at the average 5-6 year old who has not been exposed to that and they seem to be way behind the development process. I guess that’s why BMX is such a cool sport, because it’s not easy.
bmxultra.com: Are there others you used to race with that you keep in touch with? What about Eric Rupe?
Harry: I still see and talk to a lot of the originals! Clint Miller, Eddy King, Stu Thompson, Pistol Pete Loncarivich, some of the East Coast guys as well, so over the years we all have shared a lot of time together. Rupe practices at the same track as I do, or I at the same track as he. He sure is fast for his age! We are racing in the ABA vet pro class together now and he pretty much kicks everybody’s ass! He has a very strong race program and it shows every time he is on the track, you only beat him when he makes a mistake, and that’s not often enough! I wish I was eight years younger, I might have something for him!
bmxultra.com: what makes DirtWerx different to any other manufacturer?
Harry: On the surface, not a lot. But, looking at what should be considered when buying a bike there is a lot more. Our forks for example, are not an over built boat anchor just to make them strong enough to with stand today’s riders needs. The design is the strongest and lightest out there. The other over looked feature of today’s bikes is the way they ride. I have many years of designing, and of course, racing bikes that I know what works, and where it should work best. So I have tried to put more importance on the ride of the bike than most of the other companies. That`s what is important to me, what kind of lap am I going to get out the bike. How can I make the bike gate better, turn better, jump better, only with years of riding different bikes can anyone really know good from bad, or better from worse. That’s the one thing I always tell people shopping for bikes, before you buy, know what you like. Educate yourself before you layout the cash. Don`t buy because you like someone’s nose ring, or tattoo. I can go to a track and sit and look at all the riders and I would say that 40% are riding the wrong bike for them. I am not saying mine would be the right one, but had they educated themselves during their purchasing process they would have not ended up with the bike they got. Our frames also come with a “Painkiller Chain Guide System”, this just ensures the chain will never come off the freewheel, it only rubs on the chain when its doing its job, keeping the rider from going over the bars. They also come with chain tensioners, right and left. Also a three inch head tube, this allows for more bar height adjustment. You see a lot of riders on a 20″ with their stems set upside down just to get their bars lower. The shorter head tube allows this and it also gives a better leverage angle on the bike. This sport is all about leverage, it’s your body getting the most out of itself through the bike you’re riding. If your bike is set up all wrong or the geometries don’t match your needs, you’re wasting effort, which translates into speed, or the lack of. So think about this kind of stuff before you buy the next bike or, to adjust the bike you’re riding now.
bmxultra.com: So it’s not enough to say ‘well I’m a tall rider, let’s see what other tall riders are using’?
Harry: That`s a good place to start, but what if that rider is not riding the correct for him. If the rider is a tall pro, there is a real good chance that he is not riding a stock bike and if he is, is it correct for him. If you have the opportunity to ask the pro what he is riding do it! Find out the key dimensions, top tube length, rear center, BB height and angles.
bmxultra.com: How do you sponsor?
Harry: When I was starting out in the sport I was very lucky to get hooked up with Jim Melton from JMC. He took a lot of pride in his race team and made it a point to make sure every one could get to the races that he was going to. To this day I would have not been the rider I am/was if it were not for Jim. So with that said, I really enjoy having the race team. It is giving me a chance to help and train younger riders that show that same desire that I had early on. I must be honest, I want nothing to with the want-a-be riders out there. What I mean by that is the riders who are riding and racing because that is what their parents want them to do, it’s not what the kid truly wants. This sport is from the heart. the riders heart, not the parents. I do not look for kids who are already winning like the big factories do. There are some talented kids out there right now, they may not race good yet but they have the desires to improve. The “Arndt” family is the perfect example of that, they are the most dedicated group of kids that I have ever seen. Their parents Brian & Cindy came to me about 4 years ago now and wanted me to start training the 3 boys and daughter, I did, and have been now every Thursday for the last four years. I do not think they have ever called and said we can not make it today. This family is amazing and I am proud that they are wearing the “Dirtwerx” jersey, Thank You Brian, Cindy, Bryan, Brock, Brandon and little Miss Brooklyn. My entire team consists of riders from one track, Simi Valley (Sycamore BMX) this track is owned and operated by two of the coolest people around, Joan and Tony Nigro. I want riders I can work with every time I’m at the track. We really only race here in the western states so I do not need riders all over the Nation. I am so lucky to have the riders I do. What is cool is that more and more families are racing together. Six riders are from two families: Ashley (8 girls) & Chris Verhagan (30-35 Cruiser), Brooklyn (9 girls), Brandon (11 ex), Brock(12 ex) & Bryan Arndt (14 ex), Seth Hall (16ex), Sierra Lininburger (16 girls), Carrie Blancard (36-40 girls cruiser) and Joan Nigro (45 & over girls cruiser). As you can see I have a very wide range of riders, it werx for us!
bmxultra.com: Do you often have people asking you for a sponsorship? What do you say to them?
Harry: I do, and I am just honest. I tell them, “right now I am very happy with the team I have”. I also would need to get to know them and their parents before I would ever consider them as a rider. Most of the time it’s better to start with great parents than a great rider. A coach and great parents can make a great rider. It’s a longer process, but a lot more fun and rewarding for everybody involved to do it that way.
bmxultra.com: Did your parents coach and support you when you started out?
Harry: You know my parents really had nothing to do with my BMX racing. I take that back…when I was eleven and started to ride a 20″ bike with BMX intentions (wheelies, curb jumping). My dad would not allow me to ride in the street, but while my dad was at work my mom would let me ride in the street and set up jumps and ride with the other kids. I just had to make sure I was in the yard before my dad got home. I think my dad has seen two of my races in the 28 years I have been racing. My mom has seen more, but not many more. What I did I did on my own. I worked and paid for all my parts (until I got a factory sponsor in 1980), I found my way to the races. When I was on JMC Jim would take the team to the races in the JMC van, the thing was you had to meet at the shop, which was about six miles from my house. So I would ride there before the races with my helmet bag, tools, and whatever else I needed, and after the races I would ride home, sometimes like at 11:00 at night. I did this for a long time, that’s how important racing was to me. I think that’s why today I still am doing what I am doing, it’s a love for the sport.
bmxultra.com: Who are your current sponsors?
Harry: Dirtwerx, Knucklebone, AXO, Sycamore BMX
bmxultra.com: What is your proudest moment in BMX?
Harry: Every time I get in the gate! Murray World Cup 1982! All 25 cover shots! Respect from other riders and parents, watching the Arndt kids race. Teaching a rider how to get out the gate first and seeing his face after he gets his first holeshot! Being in the BMX Hall of Fames, ABA & IBMXF.
bmxultra.com: How many titles have you won? World championships, ABA, NBL etc?
Harry: You know what is funny about titles, over the course of time no one remembers who won what. The only way they do is if you keep reminding them how many races you won, how many championships you won, it’s all crap. I have two number one ABA Pro Master Titles. I have six National Number Two Pro plates. I have a Bronze Medal in the 1984 World BMX Championships. I am in two BMX Hall of Fames. I have a Silver Medal from the 1989 Mountain Bike World Championships in Dual Slalom. I have a Bronze Medal from the 1990 Mountain Bike World Championships in Dual Slalom, and I think I have more cover shots than any other active racer. What does that crap mean now, nothing! It’s what I was, it’s what I am now and what I am going to be, that matters to me now. For the record, would not change a thing!!
bmxultra.com: What about the MTB racing, did you enjoy it? How does it compare to BMX?
Harry: MTB racing was fun, it had its drawbacks just as I am sure BMX does. Slalom was cool, but everything else about mountain bike racing sucked. Downhill racing was won on when you got to go down the mountain. If your got an early run the corse was still fresh, you go later and it’s all cut up, it was hard to see that as fair. Cross country was a joke, I love the physical challenge that it represents but to start in the tenth row behind sixty guys does not seem like a fair way to have a chance at winning. I guess I am spoiled with BMX. Eight guys line up dead even, and nine times out of ten the fastest guy will win, that’s the right way. I should have made the move over to mountain bikes…could have made a lot more money over there. But my heart was with BMX and that’s more important to me!
bmxultra.com: How many of your cover shots were doing the “Leary” Signature jump?
Harry: Five maybe six
bmxultra.com: How many countries have you raced in and what is your favourite?
Harry: I think, seven. France was the best! The crowds and racing at Bercy were the best! Then of course, good ol-USofA.
bmxultra.com: What do you think of the number of International riders in the US now?
Harry: Not enough, I think every rider that races BMX outside the USA should get a chance to race here. This is where it happens, this were everyone reads about. There needs to better system to bring the best riders from around the world together to race. I know the NBL and UCI try, but that’s not as good as it could be. I don’t know of a better way, but I am sure that one could be put together. I am sure that it would involve spending a little more cash, but I think that that would only be investing in the future of the sport and it’s world wide marketability. Let’s face it, the demographics of BMX are perfect for world wide corporate involvement, it’s time.
bmxultra.com: The unfortunate thing about Australian riders going to the US, is that most of them get to a certain level here and then they head to the US for good. Leaving riders behind who could benefit from competing against them, I guess it’s a distance thing and a cost thing, the Europeans should consider themselves very lucky. I guess there is the benefit of the turn over of pros and the new faces making finals, etc. Do you think there is a benefit to countries out side of the US that all the top riders are going there to compete?
Harry: I think you make a valid point, new faces, new goals for those riders would be a good thing. Now is all that good for the bike business in those countries? Whenever I here of situations like this I try and put myself in them. If I lived in another country and saw all the good pros going to the USA and making good money, then I would do what ever it took to do the same thing. I think that that would be very motivating for the up and coming riders to use as a goal. I think that this concept would have to trickle down in to the younger age groups, which should help riders focus and improve so they can move on. Over here you can look at the older amateurs and pretty tell who will be a good pro and who will not, and there are a lot more will nots than wills! This is totally based on the depth of the AA class and has no regard to their abilities on the track, well maybe a little.
bmxultra.com: Would you say it has helped the sport grow internationally or do you think it would have grown without it?
Harry: I think that anything that is positive will have a wide spread positive effect. It has been the best thing for American BMX to have the influx of international riders. It has changed the sport of BMX. One guy had that effect, Leveque. He forever changed how a rider will attack a set of triples, or a rhythm section, or power down the first straight. It’s up to the American riders to respond, learn and get it back together, so far?
bmxultra.com: What Music do you listen to?
Harry: Anything but Garth Brooks, no I`m kidding. There is so much great music out there, I really enjoy music. Music lets me really think about things, so depending on my moods, thats what I listen to. From Boston/Fore Play, Long Time, to Kid Rock/Cowboy and Metallica, it’s all good! Oh ya, can`t leave out “The Mighty Zep”, they have a song for every mood!
bmxultra.com: What do you think of Neil Young?
Harry: As long as I don`t have to look at him! It’s a mood thing! Rust Never Sleeps is a great song. I have never paid money to listen to him, so there you have it.
bmxultra.com: When I think of Harry Leary I think of you doing your signature jump in the old diamond back gear. What was it like racing as a pro back then, was there enough money so you didn’t have to work? Were there all the contingencies, bonuses, etc that there are today?
Harry: Racing pro then is like racing pro now. Each rider has a responsibility to his sponsor to be prepared to race, do the best job he can on the track, and handle himself in a pro kind of manner off the track. I feel I did a good job of doing all of those things. You can’t always be a super pro, there are sometimes when tempers get out of hand and you need to straighten somebody out, we are racing for money and this is not tennis. I think people forget that it’s for money, it’s serious. I took my racing very seriously then, and I still do now. There was enough money for the guys who were doing the job, just like now. Top eight guys now do well, and the top eight guys then did ok. Money is better now, and it should be, these guys do a great job for the sport and should get paid well. Contracts are kind of the same now, I always tried to be very creative with my contracts, I think you need to be. There are many ways to make money from your sponsors that is a win-win situation. Your contract is one of your motivators, I always structured mine to motivate me. I got paid to win, to get coverage in the magazines, to do in store (bike shop appearances), to go on the road with the Diamond Back sales reps, to develop new products. The co-sponsors also paid money, for all of the same things! It always made me laugh when I heard riders talking about how much they made and that they made more than this guy or that guy, it was all wishful thinking on their part, hoping they were making more! There is a lot more to being a top BMX pro than going fast on the track and winning, riders lose sight of that real quickly. Being a pro is not just about wining championships, its about selling product for your sponsor! I made sure I did that for mine!
bmxultra.com: Do you think that’s why pros like Fuzzy Hall, Todd Lyons and Charles Townsend now have their own websites? So they can help spread the word of their sponsors even further than printed media?
Harry: Heck ya! It’s the future! Pros want to make more money then they should do something that raises their value, get creative! I hear pros complaining about the purses that the sanctions put up. Well here is a free suggestion, The pro’s should get together and form a “Professional Marketing Corporation” (or whatever you want to name it). Present to the sanctions a marketing plan that they will do (with the help of their sponsors because they will benefit from this as well) to bring more riders to the races (Nationals). Going in to an area where there is going to be a National race that weekend and do some local promoting for the race for the sanctions, Radio, in school, parks and recreations, bike shops. The duties would be rotated so that it is not always be the same riders. Because it would effect your racing if you had to leave two days early all the time, so by rotating this would not be a problem. I am sure this is not the answer, but the concept is. Selling product for everybody. Right now the BMX pie is only so big, and everybody has their share and all we are really doing is steeling shares from each other, as and industry we should work to make the pie bigger!
bmxultra.com: What’s it like racing these days? Do you still have old fans come up and ask for autographs?
Harry: Racing today is very tough, I am racing young guys with young legs and they do not have a lot of crashes on their bodies yet, so they are brave. I have old legs and lots of crashes, but its great, I love it! It takes a lot of training/time to keep up with these young guys, that’s the one thing older people do not have a lot of, time. Work, families, Motocross racing, boating, so many things to do! I hope (God willing) I can continue to compete in BMX for a loooooooong time to come! I have both old and new fans, it’s great. But I need to give a lot of the thanks to the announcers at the Nationals, guys like, Mike Redman, Ray Rome. When I am on the track these guys really do me right on the mic. Also the ABA`s BMXer Magazine, they always print some nice things about me. With out them, it would just be laps on the track.
bmxultra.com: Do you think the newer generation of BMXer respect the old schoolers?
Harry: No! I do not think they need to. We did what we did and that’s over, it’s their turn to pave the road for who is coming up. I want to be part of the new school, I don`t want to be sitting in the bleachers, bench racing on how good it was then, or who won the most races back then, who cares? How many kids out there enjoy their History class at school, I know I never did. It’s about today, and what we are going to do tomorrow. I hate that term “old school”, I think old school is for the guys who used to race 15 years ago and come back today and race with the same style as they did 15 years ago. I think everybody would still be riding like old schoolers if it were not for guys like Christophe Leveque. His skills have changed the direction of the sport, that’s amazing! If you watch the top riders in every class they all have adapted that riding style, just like him, awesome!
bmxultra.com: I don’t think there is any disrespect meant when people call you old school, heck I have been racing continuously since 1981. I get called old school all the time, doesn’t mean I’m fat and trying to hang on to my past…I’m doing better now than I have in a long time…I think it’s more a respect thing, to an extent. It’s really just a term for someone who’s been there a while. How could you hate that?
Harry: Man, you have been racing for a long time, wow, you are old school! That’s kind of my point, I bet that you don`t ride like “old school”, I am sure you have progressed with your skills right along with the movement of the sport, I hope! From one “old schooler” to another I think is ok. But here it seems to be used more in the negative context. It’s just one of those things that bugs me, I guess, I should just get over it.
bmxultra.com: Unfortunately I have suffered because of our state organisation. If someone builds a technical track they usually get asked to tame it down for the safety of the riders. This was evident at the ’98 world championships, not that the track was great but it was technical, far more technical than any track in the same state as the worlds were held, naturally a lot of the locals failed to transfer. I am moving slowly out of my old school racing style, some jumps still scare me. How important do you think it is that riders are allowed to race on technical tracks?
Harry: Some jumps scare me as well, that’s more age than our abilities. Our age is telling us, “remember when you slipped that pedal right before that first jump at the 1985 ABA grands, and went face first. This jump reminds me of that day, and all you remember is how bad that hurt”. Because of those thoughts deep in your subconscious there will be no way you will pedal to the bottom at full speed, so you lose a crank there. But you could hit that jump all day perfect at just a bit under top speed, but you can’t win races at a “bit under top speed”. It sucks getting old! Tracks need to progress with the flow of the sport, but it is not an easy task for track operators (over here) to always be changing their tracks. When their track is down because of changes they lose money, when they finish the changes the older guys love it, but the bulk of their riders 12 and under intermediates – novices think it’s to hard so they stop coming out. For them it’s a double edge sword, if they learned how to ride the harder track they would progress quicker, and the operator has to think of his bottom line. More and more local tracks over here are doing pro sections, it seems to work for everybody. I think that that has been the motivator behind everybody riding and building trails, you build and ride what you want, and suffer when you go to the track for gate practice.
bmxultra.com: Ahhh, the old self preservation trick, get’s me more often than I’d like to count. That reminds me, how the hell do you keep your body fat so low? (I have always floated around 15-20%).
Harry: A balance of exercise and diet, it’s mostly diet. Try drinking a lot of water, you pee a lot, but it keeps you thin! I must be honest lately I have slipped a bit. With the recent birth of Breyana coming in January, and we are going through a litter of Golden Retrievers, my training has kind of taken a back seat! All that is going to get better here soon and I`ll get to resume the program at full tilt! Can`t let Rupe win all the races!
bmxultra.com: Is diet important to BMX Racing?
Harry: Yes, very important. Losing weight (if your over weight) is the easiest and cheapest way to instantly get faster. Say your 10-15 pounds over weight, now say you could take that same 10-15 pounds of extra weight (that you carry around) and bolt in on to the other seven riders bikes, you would no doubt wax those other riders. That`s why when I hear people talking about a pound here and a pound there in frame or other accumulated parts I have to laugh, because we can all afford to lose a few.
bmxultra.com: What sort of training makes a good racer?
Harry: Consistent! Just train a little all the time, and it will add up. Like putting money in the bank, a little every day would add up pretty quick, training is the same way. I try and get the riders I train to give up a 30 minute TV show each day (everybody wastes 30 a day on a TV show), take those new found 30 minutes and do sprints, do something! Commit to the program for 6-8 weeks and you will see results, the ones who commit are the ones who see the results. It takes at least 6-8 weeks to see real results, sure if you are not doing anything now and you start doing sprints your going to see and instant change in your ability to accelerate the bike. All your doing is teaching your mind and body to coordinate itself on how to make the bike go. If that is all you do (is sprints) the progress is going to taper off and you will begin to go in to a slump. Why, because your board of doing sprints and you have done nothing to improve your strength. Doing sprints does not improve strength, it only improves coordination and timing, basically you learn how to use the strength you already have. A solid race program is a balance of strength training, gate starts, bike handling skills, and mental focus. With proper training the mental part of racing improves right along with the physical part. Again it’s a balance of everything.
bmxultra.com: What is your training schedule like?
Harry: I watch a lot of 30 minute TV shows! Rollers, weights, hills, sprints, track, and motocross! By no means is what I do the best for everybody, but for this 41 year old BMX racer that has been racing for almost 29 years, it is what works for me! What works for the next guy? Who knows? But I recommend that you try a lot of things, write them down, keep track of what you do, and how you feel about doing them. After each race review the weekend and your notes from two-three weeks prior to the race you just raced (that’s when the training you were doing effects the race you just raced). During the review process make notes of where you think you need to improve, have a friend help you, because you will not always see the same thing he can see. Begin to work on your weaker areas more often until you see solid improvements. This is a true race program, make a plan, commit to the plan. There are not many racers out there who approach their racing this way, they should.
bmxultra.com: Do you ride trails?
Harry: Not as much as I would like, I can! There is not enough time in the day for that, for me. Good trails are about an hour away, each way. I can take those two hours of driving and work out in my gym and go for a killer hill loop! It’s all about time management for me now, what am I going to get the most out of with the least amount of time. It’s that stupid age and responsibility thing, gets ya every time!
bmxultra.com: So why do you think there was a big hoohar about you still racing at 40 in Snap early in the year?
Harry: I am not real sure, but I think that no one has been able to sustain the speed, skills and motivation needed to hang with/beat the younger pro riders. So I am used as the example for both the good side of doing it as well as the stupid side. I would say that right now Eric Rupe and Turnel Henrey would be the next guys to hang in their later years. It has to be a lifestyle, you need to be an athlete and they seem to fit the mold for that. It’s real funny to hear people talk about me and how I am doing at the age I am. I hear them say “I could beat him no problem”, but there is two things they seem to over look, 1) they don`t even race 2) their 7-8 year younger than me. I look at how I was just 8 years ago, but they fail to imagine what they will be like in 8 years. I`ll bet most will not even own a bike in 8 years. I do it because I love to train, race and compete. I take my laps on the track very seriously, if more people were as serious as I am the pro class would be even more competitive than it is. I have to laugh when I see fat, out of shape pros trying to race, these are the guys that rag on me because I take racing too seriously, they should not even be out there. They should stay behind the desk and shut their mouths. This is the coolest sport for self motivated kind of people, if you want to do good, you can do good. If you wish you could do good, you should stay home!
bmxultra.com: What would you say is the biggest difference between racing in the early days compared to today?
Harry: The only thing that is really the same is they still only send eight riders out of the gate! If that changed the sport would be even more fun. Could you imagine 12 riders heading towards a 180 degree first turn!!! Tracks, riders, bikes, parts you name it and its better now than it was before. It should be this way, things need to evolve and improve. If I was to single one thing out it would be the calibre of rider(s). Sure the tracks have changed, but before I was racing we were jumping some huge jumps. They were way bigger than any thing we saw on a track. Now there are 10 year old kids that are jumping jumps that I would have never jumped 15 years ago. The riders today are awesome, I love to watch the main events at ABA nationals, you see some pretty amazing things (Talent) from some pretty small kids. I used to jumps cars for fun, we were up to eight cars before it got to be too much hassle (cops). We use to slide on steel shoes at night for fun. We would strap home made steel plated shoes on to our motorcycle boots and get pulled up to 70 miles per hour while standing on these plates, once at seventy we would let go of the car and slide to a stop. Man there would be this trail of sparks for fifty feet behind us!! It was pretty stupid!
bmxultra.com: 12 Riders per gate might help the races finish earlier too…I think you might be on to something. Imagine a world championship final with 4 extra riders on the gate. Why do you think it is that fields aren’t any bigger than 8?
Harry: I have no idea! Maybe it’s the costs of retro fitting gates, maybe it’s insurance. Tracks would have to be wider for sure, 12 pros would never fit.
bmxultra.com: You have been racing a long time now what keeps you motivated?
Harry: I am still motivated because I love to compete and I love to train. The tracks of today are so much fun to ride. They are fast and have fairly big jumps (some tracks have biiiiig jumps), the starting gates are perfect. Today’s gates are much easier to snap on that it helps guys like me, maybe a little less power or spin than the 20 year olds. I can snap and move over on the fast guys. I could not imagine not racing BMX, heck big Stu Tompson is even racing again in 41-45 cruiser. I think I`ll re-class just so I can race Stu again. We had some great races together, although I think he beat me more then, but now would be a little different. I guess I just don’t want to get old, I talk to people who are my age (41) and they sound so board, most of them are fat and completely out of shape, I don’t want to be that, ever. For more than 30 years my little 20” bike has kept me healthy, and I’m sure (God willing) it will for the next 30.
bmxultra.com: You and Stu Thompson must have shared a few good memories, but what would be the main motivation to reclass when you can still cut it In A pro?
Harry: Well for one thing I would not have to put as much training time in as I do, I might be able to ride my CR more! I don`t know, I guess to race with no pressure might be a little more fun! But maybe that’s what makes racing so much fun, is the pressure of not knowing the out come of the race. I do not see myself moving out of the pro class, ever! Racing pro is where it’s at! Ok, you convinced me!
bmxultra.com: Don’t let me convince you, it’s all about having fun right, but how much fun is it to compete in a class with only one or two good riders? Did you take some time off from BMX?
Harry: Your right about the competition thing, with out it what do you have, basically you could just go for a ride in the park and get a better work out than putting four or five half ass laps in at a race. That’s why I really enjoy racing the A Pro class. The West Coast ABA Nationals will have at least 7 gates of A Pros. So to just make the main is a good day for me, that is cool. The A Pro class is super competitive these days. Now we have the ABA Vet Pro class going again, which is good, but we only have two gates. I am hoping that it will begin to grow and be a place where old guys can race and have fun. Hey, you’re old, maybe if you come to the US? As far as taking some real time off, I never really quit racing, I always raced the ABA Winter Nationals and the Fall Nationals. It was still part of my product development responsibilities while I was at Diamond Back to be at the races. Riding and testing the stuff we were working on for the following year was one of the fun things to do. When I started at Balance I started training again and doing more riding at the tracks working on the new line of Balance BMX bikes. Then Greg started working at Answer products and he was making a go at the AA Pro class again (and doing pretty good) so we would meet on our lunch hour and train along with another guy from Answer Joey Licata. We did that for a couple years or so, and that was about the time that the ABA started the Masters Pro Class on 24″ bikes. Which was a great way to go racing and have a good time. Now I`m in my forth decade of racing BMX, who would have thought!
bmxultra.com: What effect do you think the web has had on BMX in general?
Harry: As for the web, I don’t think we have seen anything yet. It will do more for how business is conducted than anything. I think we all need to be more educated on the possibilities that the web has to over and how we can best use it in a cost effective manner. The web has already changed, it has gone from providing information for free to this E-commerce nightmare. But there again things must evolve and improve. It’s tomorrow’s business!
bmxultra.com: I see Dirtwerx doesn’t have a site, is it a fear of jumping in the deep end?
Harry: Yes, that and just plain ignorance. But I have had a site in the werx for some time, it seems that I am never happy with it so I have not plugged it in. Just got to do it I guess
bmxultra.com: How many people are employed by Dirtwerx?
Harry: Two, we are very small still. I am trying to not over extend myself!
bmxultra.com: does Dirtwerx alone make enough money for you to get by on?
Harry: Well, I would have to say that Dirtwerx as a company is not yet making me a pay check. I take what ever is left and put it back into promotions, product, and team. It’s a long term plan, I hope!
bmxultra.com: do you run clinics?
Harry: I do some clinics but I mostly do private lessons. The tracks around here are so cliniced out, and by doing privates I get the most dedicated riders, I enjoy that part of teaching. I mostly work with kids on the importance of consistant training, What to do, how to do it, how hard to do it, that’s what gets riders going fast. Lots of people/kids wish they could do better, but that’s just it, they keep on wishing. Nobody wants to put out the effort. Matt Hadan is a perfect example, I don`t think he really knew how hard he had to push himself to be the pro that he is capable of being. We trained twice a week for about three months towards the end of last year. That approach to training, has changed Matt. He is now leading the ABA points, he is being called “the most consistent pro this year”. The best part is Matt did it, and Matt knows he did it. Not me, not anybody else, Matt. If he sustains that output of effort, he will be the #1 pro.
bmxultra.com: What are your favourite sites?
Harry: To be completely honest I really don’t have a favourite, I guess if I had to choose it would be “RacerXonline”. I am really in to Motocross right now, I race my “CR” on the weekends that I am not racing my BMX bike. I just got moved up to expert, so now I know how all those kids feel when they get moved up in BMX, its tuff. Motocross is the coolest sport, tuff, but cool! Racer-X has the best magazine, so I go there all the time for news and the latest info. I just found this sight called “roost” it’s all old school BMX. No Fear has a great sight, NacNac, is cool. I enjoy reading the “Dog Crap” section in the S&M site. Chris has always got something stupid and self-contradicting to say about nothing and he likes going off on me. It’s pretty funny that he gives me all the free pub`s. You know what they say, “there is no bad press”…Press sells bikes, thanks Chris!
bmxultra.com: Who would you like to thank throughout your lengthy racing career?
Harry: Wow, God, Dad & Mom, Coats Schwinn, Jim Melton / JMC, Larry Baker / Larry`s Precission Welding, Bill Walters, Oakley, Rick Wilkinson, Gary Cook, Stu Thompsen, Bob Haro, Dia-Compe, Araya Wheels, Aero Racing, Premier Helmets, Ecko Helmets, Bell Helmets, Mike Bobrick / Diamond Back, Al Stonehouse, Bill Imielski, Bob Arnold, Pete Sweany, MKS, Asahi, Sugino, Shimano, Rich Long, Pete Collins, Clint Miller, Dennis Foster, Balance / Ben Hsia, Robin Ho / Marvel Cycle, Answer Products, AXO Products, AME Grips, KnuckleBone, Greg Hill, Matt Hadan, John Purse, The Arndt Family, Tony & Joan Nigro / Sycamore BMX, ABA, NBL, Bob Osborne, Gork, BMX plus / John Ker, Dave House, my wife Elissa. I know I missed a lot of good people, sorry.
You can contact Harry for more details on Dirtwerx by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted in: Interviews