Catching up with Ryan Hughes

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TWMX: Let’s start with involvement with Honda. Why did you come back to the US to race?

Ryan: I was going to stay in Europe to race for Honda, but the team had some money problems. American Honda wanted a rider for the CRF450 for all twelve of the Outdoor Nationals and none of the Supercrosses, so I made arrangements with them and came back to the US.

TWMX: Would you have accepted the deal if it included the Supercross series?

Ryan: I couldn’t race any Supercrosses anyway, because my wrist was hurt.

TWMX: What role did you play in the development of the CRF450?

Ryan: I was the primary tester. I was the first to ride it, and I was the main source of input as far as development.

TWMX: What was your first impression of the CRF450, and did Honda give you a good base to work with?

Ryan: Yeah, the bike was faster than I had expected, and it handled really well. I think we got quite a bit done as far as development, because we only had seven races on it, and other manufacturers in the past have had more R&D time with their bikes before racing them. It was difficult at times if we needed apart, because they were scarce. We had to either make it, or wait for one to arrive from Japan. That slowed us down a few times.

TWMX: Why did you retire?

Ryan: Truthfully, I retired as a result of too many concussions. I’ve had a bunch of them this year. My doctor has seen me three or four times this year, and before Steel City he said that he didn’t want to see me again. I wrecked hard at Steel City, and I had to see him again. He highly recommended that I didn’t ride anymore.

TWMX: What happened at Steel City?

Ryan: I had taken a few weeks off to heal from a crash earlier in the season, and I felt pretty good. I didn’t have a lot of time to ride before the race, because I had just healed. I thought that the worst thing that could happen was that I would ride slowly. I crashed in Saturday’s practice and compound fractured my thumb, broke my scapula, broke three ribs, had a third-degree burn on my back, a hematoma on my leg, a collapsed lung, and another concussion. I was unconscious for two to four minutes, which is a long time. That was the only time I’ve ever been carried off of a track on a stretcher. I can always walk it off, but not that time.

TWMX: What about all of Travis Pastrana’s concussions? Do you think that he will grow up and living with the effects of brain damage?

Ryan: Travis has had a string of concussions this year, but he might not have any next year. It’s hard to tell a rider not to race, but something has to be done. The AMA needs to step in. They don’t interveine after a rider gets a concussion, and that’s bullshit. Eventually, someone’s going to get killed, and I think that’s what it’s going to take before they realize how serious a concussion is. If a rider is knocked out on Saturday, he shouldn’t be allowed to race on Sunday. If he’s KO’ed in the first moto, he shouldn’t be allowed to race the second. In football, if a player gets a concussion, he’s benched for a few weeks. Our sport is the last to change, because the AMA is still living in the 70’s. At Troy, Ohio, I was knocked out in the first moto for about three minutes and got up and finished the race. I went back to the truck and fell asleep in my gear. I raced the second moto and finished fourth, but the AMA never asked any questions. It was dangerous having me on the track after I had just been knocked out.

TWMX: What needs to be done?

Ryan: The AMA needs to check out riders. It will make racing a lot safer. I’m not blaming the AMA for my retirement. That was my own fault. Concussions are different than the average injury, but are much more serious. If you break your arm, you will feel pain. If you get a concussion, though, it doesn’t hurt, but you can have some serious damage.

TWMX: What shape is your brain in after sustaining all of these concussions?

Ryan: I’ve had a bunch of cat scans, and my doctor says that mmy brain looks good. There are no signs of brain damage, and I feel mentally fit. I just hope that people will learn something from all I’ve been through.

TWMX: When were you planning on retiring?

Ryan: I wanted to keep racing for two more years. I’m 28, and I wanted to make it until I turned 30.

TWMX: Looking back on your career, do you get a feeling of satisfaction?

Ryan: Well, I didn’t accomplish everything I wanted to or had the ability to accomplish. I wanted to win a championship, and I never did. I was within three points of wining one, but I had to push my bike to second place. I did win a Motocross des Nations, though. That was one of my goals, but I wanted to repeat. My career has had some disappointing moments, but those moments have kept me working hard. The time at Steel City when I had to push my bike to the finish line after breaking my chain sums up my career. I was broken down, but I had to finish no matter what. I’ve been a factory rider since 1991, and there aren’t too many other riders who can say that. I’ve always put in 100 percent every day training and riding, and I worked hard. I can’t look back and be ashamed.

TWMX: How are you set money-wise from an early retirement?

Ryan: I’m pretty well off. I always want to make more money, but it’s more important for me to keep busy, so I’m teaching a motocross school.

TWMX: Tell us a bit about your school.

Ryan: Well, as it stands now, I’m going to teach five days a week. Each session will have a maximum of five riders, and it will last four hours per day. This is the plan so far. I know it will probably change to fewer days per week once I get it going, but you never know.

TWMX: Where are you planning on teaching?

Ryan: Right now, we will go to local Southern California tracks like Glen Helen, Lake Elsinore and Competition Park. On October 27th and 28th, I will have a class in Cedar City, Utah. I’m planning on having one session like that a month, where we ride for two days with a larger group from 9am to 5pm. Those sessions will cost $600. A normal four-hour day is $200.

TWMX: Are you teaching the schools to make ends meet?

Ryan: No, I’m teaching them because I love to see people improve at something. I’ve helped Gary Bailey and Rick Johnson with their schools before, and had a great time. I think I have an advantage compared to other teachers because I just retired. The last time I raced professionally was a month ago. Most guys haven’t raced in over ten years.

TWMX: Are you going to stay in your own back yard with your instruction?

Ryan: Eventually, I’d like to teach throughout the Southwest in places like Colorado, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and California. I’d like to stay close to home as much as possible so that I can spend time with my family, because they’re the most important thing in my life.

TWMX: We hear that you’re expecting. Congratulations.

Ryan: Yeah, my wife Jen and I are going to have a baby girl in November. We’re going to name her Riley.

TWMX: It sounds like you’ve got the future planned out pretty well.

Ryan: I have a great family, and with my school, I can stay in the sport I love, just on a smaller scale.