When Upshift was asked if we wanted to join multi-time MX champion Bob Hannah on a ride through Utah, we jumped at the opportunity. We started the five day trip in the appropriately named Hurricane, Utah, and headed east to Monument Valley, then made a turn north to the adventure capital town of Moab, Utah. What followed was several days of amazing riding through Arches and Canyonlands National Parks and the White Rim Trail.
THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH
WORDS: ERIC JOHNSON PHOTOS: SIMON CUDBY
There can’t, and never will be, another Bob Hannah. It just couldn’t happen in this day and age. A totally unknown rider couldn’t just creep out of the Mojave Desert, show up at a local race, be running in the top five in the 125cc Nationals within a year, and be a 125cc National Champion a year later. No, things like that just don’t happen anymore; not when 50cc riders are tapped to be future Supercross champions by the age of seven, and high-profile 80cc riders have business managers and bank accounts. However, between 1974 and 1976 a young working class teenager from Lancaster, California named Bob Hannah came out of nowhere to stun the American motocross community; and he would continue to do so for well over a decade. So unique and demonically determined to succeed was Hannah, that he literally re-defined motocross. Instilled with a work ethic and a will to win at all costs approach to racing, which both shocked and frightened his competitors, Hannah terrorized the racetracks of this nation throughout the 1970s. Taken out of action by a bizarre water-skiing accident in 1980, Hannah would return to the sport in 1981, but struggled with uncompetitive machinery. However, by 1983 he was with the powerful Honda race team, winning again, and in doing so, defeated an entirely new generation of racers. By the time all was said and done, Bob “Hurricane” Hannah had amassed 70 career wins, three Supercross Championships, three AMA National Championships, a Trans-AMA Championship (Hannah was the first rider to take on the omnipotent Europeans - and defeat them), two 250cc USGPs and a Motocross des Nations title during his illustrious career. After retiring from the sport in 1988 (he won a moto at Southwick that year), Hannah went airplane racing, flying 500 mile an hour P-51 Mustangs in premier national air races. In fact, in 1998 Hannah was fast qualifier at the prestigious Reno Gold Air Races - The Daytona 500 of the sport. Now retired from racing all together (“Racing P-51s was like asking to have yourself killed,” he says), Hannah now lives in Idaho with his wife Terri, where he buys and sells airplanes.
Although Bob Hannah has been out of racing for nearly a decade, he is still cited by many as the greatest American Motocrosser to ever live. There isn’t a day that goes by where some young rider somewhere in this motocross-crazed nation isn’t compared to “The Hurricane.” So why has Bob Hannah’s legend remained cast in stone while so many others have crumbled into oblivion? Upshift, keen to have this very question answered, invited the legend out on a special ride in the badlands of Utah.
Hannah shares: “My father rode a lot of off-road. So did my uncle. They were excellent riders. During the 1950s and 1960s, nobody could climb hills like my uncle. My dad got me my first bike when I was seven years-old. It was a Honda 55. Then I went through the cycle: Hodaka 90, Hodaka 110, Yamaha AT1 MX. I would ride in the hills and was very good on the bikes. On July 7, 1974 I went to my first race. It was two weeks after I graduated from high school and I did it on more of a dare. My buddy had a CZ and said, ‘Hey big mouth. You can ride, but can you race?’ So we went to Indian Dunes. I entered the junior class and won. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t even know what berms were. During the day, I saw a wall with “Brad Lackey, eat your heart out!” I didn’t even know who Brad Lackey was. After the race, my buddy asked me if I wanted to go back the next week and race the expert class and I did; I ended up getting fourth. I got beat. I knew that if I wanted to go faster that I needed to move down to Los Angeles. So I did and took a job as a welder for an expansion chamber company. Beginning that July, I borrowed a CZ and raced the pro class 12 weekends straight. My first big pro win was a Saddleback Saturday race. I beat Rex Staten and John DeSoto and won $175. On Monday morning I went to work and someone said, ‘You made a lot of money racing this weekend, why do you keep working here?’ I looked at him and said, ‘Because next weekend, I might lose.’ I wanted to make sure I had the $150 a week take-home pay. Eventually I had enough money to buy a new Husqvarna. That was a huge turning point for me. I got a call from a dealership one afternoon and the guy said, ‘Look, we have one new Husqvarna in. Do you want it?’ I asked if I could call the guy back. I had exactly $1,025 in the bank. I found a phone booth and sat in it for 10 minutes agonizing over what to do. I knew I was going to have to spend every single dollar I had to buy it. Finally, I called the guy back and said, ‘I’ll take it. I’ll hitchhike up there and pick it up.’