Photo Courtesy of Yamaha
Josh Hayes gets his dream ride in the back of a Blue Angel’s F-18 Hornet in Pensacola, Florida.
Long before four-time AMA Superbike Champion Josh Hayes even thought about being a motorcycle racer, he dreamt about being a fighter pilot. That wasn’t in the cards for Hayes, but the MotoAmerica rider got a glimpse of what that dream would’ve been like with a two-seater ride with the one of the most prestigious Flight Demonstration teams in the world – the Blue Angels.
Kind of a natural fit for a bLU cRU rider (Yamaha’s nickname for factory supported riders) to ride with the Blues, the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha team’s PR guy, Sean Bice, has been working on putting together the dream ride for Hayes. It finally came to fruition yesterday morning, August 22, in Pensacola, Florida, the demonstration team’s home base.
“I keep saying it was an awesome experience…I don’t really know how else to describe it,” Hayes said. “It was one of the more awesome things I’ve ever done in my life.”
Giving Hayes the ride was Lt. Tyler Davies in the #7 U.S. Navy Blue Angels F/A-18 Hornet. “He [Davies] and the crew chief were both motorcycle enthusiasts, which was cool,” Hayes said. “Sounds like he doesn’t get to ride too much these days now that he’s flying 300 days a year with the Blue Angels, but he was familiar with motorcycle racing in general.”
There wasn’t a whole lot of time to talk motorcycles though, and it all went by pretty quick. “It was a bit more informal than I had originally expected, it seemed like it went by really quickly,” he said. “I’m really thankful to those guys for the awesome experience. I think most of us in my age bracket remember watching MTV and Van Halen’s video for the song “Dreams,” and it was all cockpit Blue Angels footage, and thinking, ‘Man, what would it be like to ride in that thing?’ I think I wore out the VHS tape I had recorded that on. So to get to actually experience that was pretty rad.”
Photo Courtesy of Yamaha
Hayes said the most impressive (and most fun) part of the ride was the radical take-off in the F/A-18 Hornet.
It wasn’t Hayes first rodeo in a fighter jet, but it was a bit different with the Blues. For one, no G-suits to help you keep the blood in your head while pulling Gs.
“I have had the fortune of doing this once before, but that time I did wear a G-suit. It was a bit of a different flight,” he explained. “This one we had a full tank of fuel and a pretty clean aircraft to go out and just basically work on maneuvers.”
Hayes is known around the MotoAmerica paddock as being no slouch when it comes to fitness, but dealing with G-forces in a fighter jet is not something you can train for on the ground.
“The middle range Gs were actually still quite physical to deal with, and it definitely took its toll on me,” he said. “I’ve been out on the old Cannondale bicycle quite a lot, but I still came in fighting the Gs, making sure to keep the blood up in your head. I found that I’m quite sore after flying. I’m sure it’s like anything else, your first time to the gym, you beat yourself up pretty bad, but if you do it repeatedly and train those muscles it gets a lot easier, but I was pretty drained after the flight.”
No pain, no gain though. Hayes would do it over and over again, after all, if he had perfect vision (corrected vision at the time still made him ineligible to be a military pilot), we may never have known Josh Hayes the Superbike champ.
Photo Courtesy of Yamaha
Hayes (left) and Blue Angel pilot Lt. Tyler Davies (right).
“It’s something that was a career path that I wanted to take before I found motorcycle racing, but I wasn’t really eligible, so I kind of found the next best thing,” he said. “So to get to experience a small piece of that life… not a lot of people get to say they did that. Kind of like not a lot of people get to say they rode a full-factory Superbike, or a MotoGP bike, so I’m a pretty lucky man in this world that I’ve been able to experience a lot of things in a long and awesome career.”
Sure, his helmet is aviation themed, and if you bring it up you’ll find out just how much Hayes is in to aviation. But if you weren’t paying attention, it wouldn’t be obvious that his first love was fighter jets and exactly how big of a deal this ride was to him.
“I’ve kind of shown it (that he was a big aviation buff), though maybe I didn’t get to talk about it too much, probably because it hurts my heart to think that I wasn’t going to get to be a part of it,” he said. “I do have what I think is the next best job.”
But what if his vision had been fine, would the 18-year-old still have pursued racing?
“Knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I would trade it (racing) for much anything,” he answered. “But would I have made different decisions along the way? I would’ve loved to have made a career in that. It turns out racing motorcycles I’ve probably made my career last as long, or longer possibly than I would have as a military pilot.”
And it’s been a great career so far… Four Superbike titles, three support class titles, and second on the all-time AMA Superbike list with 60 wins. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I feel very, very fortunate that I’ve been able to experience a piece of what life could’ve been instead of just wondering until I was a hundred years old… or dead,” he laughed.