During a recent visit to Kawasaki’s Southern California headquarters, I had a chance to chat with the youngest Hayden brother, Roger Lee. Roger Lee is a member of the Monster Energy Kawasaki roadracing team, and is generally considered one of the most talented young roadracers here in the U.S.
MD: Hi Roger, How are you doing today?
RLH: I’m doing pretty good.
MD: This year you’re racing superbike and supersport for Kawasaki, and those are the same two classes you raced last year?
RLH: Yes, that’s correct.
MD: Starting with the superbike class, I guess the big challenge for everybody this year is to try to figure out a way to hang with Mat Mladin and Ben Spies. Do you think that’s something that you and Kawasaki can achieve before this series is over?
RLH: Well, that’s the goal for sure is to try and get up and run with those guys, and we’re doing a lot of testing and, you know, the guys [my crew] are trying hard and we’re definitely getting the bike better so we’re still a little bit of a ways off, but, you know, we’re just . . . we got a lot of work ahead of us — those guys are pretty far up in front of us so I definitely don’t want to rule anything out, but we got a long ways to go before we can go out and contest with those guys.
MD: Those guys have set the bar pretty high, haven’t they?
RLH: Yeah, they’ve set the bar real high. Both Mat and Ben are really riding good. I think they have a great bike, and plus they’re riding the wheels off it so it’s a hard combination to beat, but you know we’re working toward them, that’s for sure.
MD: Shifting over to supersport, I think you’ve been second in that series twice?
RLH: Yeah, I’ve been second I think it was ’04 and ’05 I got second in the points.
MD: And one of those years you just barely got beat by your brother Tommy?
RLH: Yeah, barely. I think it was; I forget what it was at the end of the year, but in ’04 it came down to the last race and he edged me out. You know, he kind of; he got a nice amount of points there in the middle of the year and I kinda came back toward the end so; plus he had an injury that kind of helped me catch back up a little bit, but its definitely I’ve been runner up alot so this year it’s definitely my goal to bring it home.
MD: Well the Kawasaki team sure had a great Daytona in the supersport class.
RLH: Yeah, Daytona was great. I mean me and you know my teammate Jamie we ran away with it, and we beat everybody else by a pretty good margin, and I think it says alot for the bike and the team and everybody just really work together. Me and him worked together in the race so we could pull away and not dice it up, you know also and even in formula extreme Steve and Ben went one-two, so that 600 just shows it’s definitely the bike to beat. It’s a good feeling to be on the best bike.
MD: As a fan, I’m used to watching the Daytona supersport race and seeing four, five, six bikes drafting each other to the checkered flag, so it was kind of surprising to see that you and Jamie pulled a big gap on everybody. Do you think you guys had a pretty good horsepower advantage there?
RLH: Uh, I think that, and also you know that track’s not the way it used to be. The infield is kind of technical and whereas before the track was pretty easy so it was kind of you know had two long straight aways to keep people close and the infield was pretty easy. Now they added a lot more turns and its a lot more technical. You know I think the bike was definitely the one to beat in the straight away, but also I think, you know, the best two riders for that day was me and Jamie.
MD: I assume your goal this year is to finally get that supersport championship?
RLH: Yeah, that’s definitely one of my main goals is to win the supersport championship; but you know I mean it’s a, that’s a tough one to win. You know Jamie is riding good, a couple of the other guys are riding good too, so it’s a deeper field this year than has been in the last couple of years, but I think we have a good chance if we play smart, but you know we are going to have to be on our A game every weekend and make the best out of every situation.
MD: Do you find it hard to race two classes every weekend?
RLH: Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes I like the extra track time, but you know sometimes since the supersport/superbikes are back-to-back it’s kind of hard because you go straight from one race right to another. It definitely takes a lot out of you. Friday mornings I like the extra track time.
MD: I know that your brothers do some of their training on road bicycles. Do you ride a road bike?
RLH: I ride a road bike a lot with my brothers so that’s definitely helped me tremendously, plus I have a trainer Aldon Baker. He works with both my brothers and Ricky Carmichael and Ben Townley, and he definitely works me pretty hard. All the top guys in roadracing are pretty fit, so you gotta be fit if you think you are going to be able to contest with them.
MD: Tell me a little bit about your background. Obviously, your family is famous for motorcycling. When did you start riding, and what sort of riding did you do as a kid?
RLH: I started riding when I was about five or six, just on a PW50 at home. You know, I started riding, my brothers always rode so it was kind of you know as being a younger brother you want to tag along with your older brothers. Then they started racing and traveling and after a little while when I was about nine I decided I wanted to go race. My parents told me to get my grades up a little bit so I got my grades up and went to my first indoor race on a PW50. So that’s the way you get started. I rode flat track for a long time then somebody was telling my dad you know there’s not much money in the flat tracking so we started doing a little bit of roadracing. We were doing both and it got to a point now where you can’t do both obviously and you know I chose going down the roadrace path.
MD: Did you guys have a flat track of sorts in your backyard when you were kids?
RLH: Yeah, we did. We had a flat track and a small motorcross track so we spent a lot of our childhood on motorcycles. I think it’s paid off.
MD: I suppose you were dicing with your brothers a lot in the backyard?
RLH: Tried to. You know and that’s one thing that’s helped me a lot. I’ve always had two guys that were faster than me to ride with every day to push myself, and they both train hard. Obviously, being the youngest brother is hard too, but it’s got a lot of benefits, as well.
MD: What’s the age difference between you and your brothers?
RLH: Five years to Tommy and two years to Nick.
MD: Are you currently signed with Kawasaki through the end of this year or do you have two years?
RLH: My contract’s up the end of this year so you know what I’m doing next year I’m not sure yet. I haven’t really even spoken to anybody about it. You know it’s still pretty early and I’m pretty happy where I’m at right now.
MD: Do you have any long term goals to go to Europe for World superbike or MotoGP?
RLH: You know I definitely thought about that stuff and I still feel like I have a lot to learn before I can take that next step to go over to GP or World superbike. It’s a tough life over there. I mean, if you’re not good enough where you get the right deal and you make more money but obviously you spend a lot more time on the airplane, a lot more time eating food you don’t like and traveling places where they don’t speak English, so I definitely think about it a lot if I though that I could go over there and do good you know I would take that chance, but I mean also here in America I’m make a good living and I get to sleep in my own bed most of the time.
MD: Do you see much of Nick any more?
RLH: Yeah, you know I see him a fair bit and you know he’s definitely struggling right now but I see him a lot more than people think. He comes home every chance he gets.
MD: Well, thanks a lot Roger and good luck this season.
RLH: Alright, thank you. I appreciate it.