Professional dirtbike riders’ careers are short and preparing for what comes post-race life is often unknown. Very few make enough money to actually retire concern free. Many work for the family business, some pass on what they know to the next generation at riding schools, and some stay in the industry working for teams or other endemic companies. Jacob Hayes, the former 2018 AMA Arenacross Champion, has taken a different route. He is working for Wasserman as an Action Sports Agent and focusing on getting his clients the best opportunities possible using his experience within the sport. Jacob took some time to discuss the decision to retire and how the agent opportunity came to be.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: What’s up, Jacob? How are you?
Jacob Hayes: It's rare that I get to do these interviews now. I used to do quite a few when I was a racer, but no one wants to really hear from an agent nowadays. So just working on building these reps.
Vital MX: Back when you were racing you probably hated it. Now you’re missing the interviews.
Jacob: Yeah. I used to see Michael (Lindsay), and I used to run.
Vital MX: Perfect, haha. Before we get into what you're doing now, your first pro race was in 2012 at Budd's Creek, and your last one was in 2020 at Thunder Valley. Through your career, you had a few top tens in some AMA Supercrosses, you won an Australian Supercross race in Brisbane in 2019, and you were the 2018 AMA Arenacross Champion. When you look back on your career would you define it as a success?
Jacob: Gosh, do I feel like I reached my potential is what I would like to say. And no, I don't feel like I was able to reach my full potential. I felt I had a lot to give. I had a lot of heart and determination. If you look through my amateur career, I was a very big standout. I always raced guys like (Eli) Tomac. (Jason) Anderson, and (Justin) Barcia, a lot of the guys that are out front right now. And for whatever reason, certain things happen, and the cards fall where they fall. You have to overcome hurdles in life, everyone has to overcome hurdles. So, it's not a sob story, it's just reality. And from where it was going to where I was able to, not make it happen, but just will my way into it happening. I will say that is a success because where it was going was, I was just never going to ride a dirt bike again and I was going to go take the college route. But like I said, I just willed that into, I guess you could say, happening. I was relentless and wanted to have a future on a dirtbike and be a professional athlete. I did a lot of cool things, raced Arenacross for a lot of years and really kind of established myself as an Arenacross guy. And had a lot of fun. That was a family atmosphere. It was aggressive racing. I was known as a very aggressive rider, which I'll take it. I like it. I like to see the guys get close even now on Supercross and it just makes the racing better. Then I got to enjoy a bunch of years in Canada, back-to-back seasons in Australia, two seasons in Supercross. So yeah, a lot of cool things, definitely.
Vital MX: You mentioned there was a point where you weren't going to race again. What was that point? What happened?
Jacob: When I finished my last year at Loretta's in 2011, I was on Team Green and I still remember this conversation like it was yesterday. We went up to (Ryan) Holliday and I think at the beginning of that year there was a pact that was made that whoever the most outstanding Team Green rider was in the class would get a tryout for Mitch (Payton). I ended up being the most outstanding out of all the results at the end of the year. And Mitch, his team was full, so no tryout. So, he was like, “We've got a spot on Babbitt's to go race Arenacross”. And I just remember my dad saying, “That's a joke”, and we walked away from it. So, the Team Green support stopped. I tried to race some outdoors in 2012 on a KTM. It was a satellite KTM team. It was the Dragon Racing Fuels KTM team and that was a complete joke for myself. The results were terrible. And then the very next year a buddy bought me two 450 Kawis and I went and raced High Point, Muddy Creek, and Budd's Creek. And that was a joke. At that point I was having friends buy me dirt bikes and I was just like, “What am I doing here? I just went from being the most elite amateur there was with anything, and everything given to me to now a buddy buying me a couple of bikes, just scratching through. So that wasn't what I had worked all the way through as a young kid to turn professional and I couldn't even really go to the race. So, my buddy and I came up with a good plan to race the 2014 Arenacross season because the first five rounds were close to my hometown in North Carolina. They were all drivable, so he bought me two more Kawi 250s. And that's when, like I said, I kind of willed things into existence. I went there by myself, had never been to an Arenacross race, and was 19 years old. I just drove with a friend and went and threw it all out there. It was either that or be done. So, I had a lot of success early in the Arenacross season which turned into me getting a ride with the Tuf Honda guys. I finished my first full professional season in Arenacross, second overall, and contended for the title against Tyler Bowers. Which he won his fourth title that year.
Vital MX: Do you feel you ever missed any opportunities that would have pointed your career in a different path? Were there other opportunities that you should have taken?
Jacob: Professionally, I would say no. A Star Racing fill-in ride came up in 2018 when I was continuing for a title in Arenacross. I tried everything I could. I was bitter in that moment in time. But now, looking back on it, I'm glad it didn't happen. I flew to California, was going finish out, I believe the West Coast series. I can't remember exactly who got hurt that year, but long story short, Babbitts said, “No, no way”. They originally said yes, and then they said no. And that was really my only professional opportunity to have a chance to get on factory equipment, so to say. In amateurs, yeah, I wish I would have taken a couple of different paths for sure. There were some options on the table and would have liked to see how those worked out. But I'm not that guy to look back and say, “Oh, you know, if I'd have done this, if I'd done that”. Everything works out for a reason. I truly believe that, and I think it just builds you to be a better or stronger human.
Vital MX: I mentioned the Arenacross Championship in ‘18. Talk about how difficult is it to put together a successful season? Some people may not understand everything that goes into it, even in Arenacross.
Jacob: It was tough. They followed the Supercross schedule pretty much. So, we raced the first weekend of January and then we ended the first weekend in May. It used to end in Vegas, so we ended on the same weekend as the finale of Supercross. But yeah, they had a long championship. I believe in 2018 it was an 18 round series. Having to manage emotions, the highs and the lows, everything that comes along with racing, it's tough. I had been in the running for the title since the first year I entered in 2014. Like I said, I ended up runner up and then 2015, that's what I think I'm most famous for, is blowing the championship and blowing my water pump off my Kawi at the finale in Vegas. So, I finished runner up that year and then in ‘16, I finished third. I was always in the title hunt, and to finally be able to manage a whole season in 2018 and to win that title was pretty surreal. It was just something that I wasn't going to give up and I wasn't going to stop putting myself out there and going for it. And I finally was able to achieve something that I had set out to do since 2014.
Vital MX: You still do some riding and a little bit of racing here and there. Looking at the field, how long would it take you to get into contention to be top five or six?
Jacob: Gosh, I haven't had anyone ask me that question in a long time. Man, I have respect for everyone out there. Obviously, I have raced professionally, so you can't discredit any of those guys out there. The bikes and the tracks, and the way the sport has elevated is to a whole new level. The bikes can do so much. I remember watching a race the other day on YouTube and I was like, “God, if that track was in 2023, guys would be quading left, right, even on 250s. So, I don't know. I think I've fully made peace with stepping away from the racing side of things and pursuing being an action sports agent within Wasserman. So, I don't know, to be honest. I can't really give you a straight up answer
Vital MX: I think you have something for one of your guys, Jett. Do you at least go out there and say, “Look, this is how you do it, dude”?
Jacob: No, no, no. He's one of those guys. I look at it, I'm just like, “Holy shit. Wow”. I just wish I could have been able to do 2% of that in my career.
Vital MX: You mentioned the 2015 Vegas finals. You and Kyle Regal battling for the championship. This is almost eight years or so later? What are your thoughts now when you look back on it?
Jacob: Yeah, I just did the Re-Raceables with (Steve) Matthes and Weege (Jason Weigandt) the other day, and it was funny reliving that whole night. Because if I mentally put myself back there, I remember how mentally insane I was, and how caught up in everything that I was. I really couldn't see what was right in front of me. It was so close that I just was wrapped up in everything. When people plead that they're mentally insane and things like that, I was mentally insane that night. I remember everything about that night and how I was acting and how I reacted throughout the whole day. And yeah, that wasn't Jacob Hayes. Yes, I was aggressive, but I was just acting weird all day. It was my first shot at a title, and I was a young kid, and I was going for it, and I've said it many times. Would I redo that over again? Yeah, I would like to redo the way I acted. But would I redo the way I went for it? No, I went for it to make an aggressive pass and definitely made an aggressive pass. And it just didn't work out. And like I said earlier in the conversation, I'm not one of those guys that's like, “Oh, I wish I would have done this, that, or the other”. It's it made me tough. I had to really swallow my pride and figure out, there's a right and a wrong way to do things. And that was a wrong way to do things. So, I learned from it. It was it was a wild night.
Vital MX: Have you and Kyle talked since?
Jacob: We did not speak in 2015 and then in 2016, we didn't speak throughout the whole season. After the finale in Vegas again that same weekend, I went up to him in the bar and I said, “Hey, man, I'm going to buy you a drink. I just want to apologize for the way I acted in 2015. My emotions got the best of me, and hopefully one day we can look back on this and just laugh”. Since then, gosh, man, I can't tell you. I might have seen him twice since that year in 2016. And yeah, we speak to each other. But I said my piece, you know what I mean? I didn't expect him to give me a hug and everything be okay right then and there, but I just I had to say my piece.
Vital MX: At the end of your career, you had a couple of big injuries, including that compound fracture of your femur. How much effect did those injuries have on your decision to call it quits? Was there a point where you were thinking, "I could keep racing"? Or did the agent offer come up?
Jacob: After the season ended in 2018, I was able to wrap up the title and Arenacross. Feld Entertainment was no longer going to back the Arenacross Series. So that Arenacross journey and family ended. It came to a screeching halt, which was unfortunate. I got an offer to race Australian Supercross in 2018 and then when I came back, I had a ride with the Cycle Trader/Rock River Yamaha team for all of Supercross in ‘19 and outdoors. I had a good year. I had a lot of breakout finishes in my opinion, for being a rookie in Supercross at 25. It's rare you hear people say that, but I had a couple top fives, some really good heat races, and just showed some good speed. Then outdoors I don't think it was any secret, I struggled just because I'd been such an indoor guy for so long. Outdoors is a completely different animal, but I still did great. I had multiple top ten finishes and things like that, overall a good year. And then in ‘20 I ended up getting a ride with the AJE Gas Monkey team and again had multiple top fives. It was six points after the first six rounds of West was done and then that's when COVID happened. So, it was a down time. No one really knew what to do. I don't think the series knew what to do. I don't even think the world knew what to do at that time. So, I just found myself in California. I was born and raised in North Carolina, so I always lived up there. But I had made my way to California and was just kind of rotting. And to be honest, in a time that was very tough for a lot of people, I was having the most fun I had ever had on a motorcycle. They had just released that the schedule was going to finish up in Salt Lake that morning. I went to the track, was on Supercross and just ended up having a bike malfunction, had to jump off in a rhythm section. I remember laying there and thinking to myself, “What the hell am I doing? I'm not getting paid. I'm here in the middle of Perris, California, with my bones sticking out of my leg and I'm making no money”. What was I doing that for? In hopes to impress a factory team, as do many privateer riders. And I think I was really, really close. Those finishes led to some good conversations. Hope was there. But yeah, ultimately it was, “What the heck am I doing”? It was brutal and ended up taking a year to recover from that. I went through six surgeries, and basically the first five months of my recovery process was a waste of time. All the plates and screws ended up breaking in my femur and they had to go and completely break my femur again and do a whole new surgery. During that time, Lucas Mirtl was my agent. I signed with him at the beginning of 2020. He said he had seen a good amount of talent and speed that he liked, and he felt like he could help me. When I got hurt, he just helped me through that process. Obviously, you know, I was struggling paying my bills and things like that. All through that whole process he helped me get back on my feet and there were a lot of people in my corner. My now wife helped me get back on my feet. It was a long road to get back to where I needed to go. During that time, he had taken me to a couple of Supercross races in 2021 and he had asked me at one of them, “What do you think about being on this side of things”? And I just looked at him. I was like, “It fucking sucks. Like, what do you mean”? I went home that weekend. I'm like, “What did he mean by that”? That guy obviously is very smart. And he said it for a reason, and it stuck with me. I even asked him a month after, “What do you mean by that”? And he was like, “Well, you know, I think there's a potential job opening within Wasserman. Would that be something that you're interested in”? I said, “I had never thought about life after dirt bikes”. Everyone can say they had until it comes up on you. You're like, “Oh, what am I going to do”? I told him I first needed to get my life, my heart, my soul back to a neutral ground just because I felt like I had been rocked so hard and I wanted to get back and race professionally again. He said, “I understand that”. And I got ready for the outdoor season in 2021 and ended up racing a couple. Actually, I only raced two 450 rounds. I raced Pala and Thunder Valley, scored points at both of those, and that's when I ended up going for the meeting with Wasserman and signing a contract with them to be an agent. I've been learning and absorbing everything since then. It's been growing. It's going to take some time for me to get comfortable in this space, but it's something that I enjoy. I get to be around the sport that I love. I get to see you guys and just everyone that I've grown up with and then I've always been around. So, if I can have a good impact and have some good deals, I think it's all worth it.
Vital MX: I think it's a really good route for a guy like yourself. You mentioned Lucas Mirtl, who is the agent for the Lawrence brothers, Joe Shimoda, Max Vohland, and I'm sure some other people that I'm unaware of. Do you work under him, training, learning, as you said, absorbing all this? What is your day-to-day role?
Jacob: At the races, let's just talk about Saturday, for instance, I get there pretty early just to check in with everyone. Mainly check in with Max and with Jett and make sure they're okay first and foremost. Then you're chatting, you're building relationships with these people that you're doing deals with. I talked to Brandon Wilson. I talked to Mitch Payton, I talked to Ian Harrison. You talk to all these guys and the stronger relationship that you can have with those people, the better your life will be. And the better that you guys can hopefully get to a deal one day. Know what I mean? And that's what Lucas has taught me; you need to have all these strong relationships. And I work on that each weekend and try to build my brand as an agent. During the season it's just going over phone calls. We do a weekly check in within Wasserman to recap the weekend, what's coming up, what everyone has going on within the company because we have a lot of different divisions. So, a lot of emails. It's a good bit of work, but I wouldn't say anything that throws me way off. I'm sure as I get further into this and get some more clients and get busier, that workload will go up quite a bit.
Vital MX: How difficult was that mental space of realizing you’re not going to be a professional racer anymore? What I've done my whole life is going away?
Jacob: Oh, gosh. Where was my head? You know, it was scrambled just because I don't think in life everything happens at the right time and everything doesn't work out just the way you want it. Things get thrown at you and you have to process as you're going through other things. There was a million thoughts going through my head. Am I even going to be able to get back to a competitive state? I've been off the motorcycle for a year. My leg fricking hurts. I'm nervous. I don't want to get hurt again. All those things and then, okay, do I really want to be done racing or do I want to go try to pursue the same thing that just landed me here? You know what I mean? I was emotional for sure. It was a big decision just because I still was feeling like I had something to give on the racing side of things. But I was getting older, and I just felt like it would have been very selfish of me to pass up an opportunity of a lifetime to go pursue another year to be a privateer and then say, “Oh, I wish I would have taken that deal”. And it's something that I look back on now and just say, “Wow, I'm really glad that I had the opportunity and I'm glad that I had good people around me to advise me in the right direction”.
Vital MX: An opportunity like you got does not come along very often for very many people. And it had to be difficult to give up on the dream for something that might be better.
Jacob: Absolutely. It was really tough. And like I said, I had raced Pala in ‘21 on a 450 and then Thunder Valley. That was my last professional race. Was I emotional at the end of the day? Sadly, no. Racing dirt bikes is gnarly and it's great. It's badass. I think I said it at the beginning. I have so much respect for everyone that does it. But also, with that, you have to be so physically and mentally in tune. If anything's off on your day, it's not a good feeling. For me, it's been a great transition. It's different for sure because now when you go to the race, you're not in that normal ‘head down, I'm just here to perform’ mindset. Now I'm there to continue to grow my brand and my relationships. It's my job to go and speak to as many people as I can and have a good standing relationship with almost everyone in the pits, which is hard, that's a hard thing to do. That's a lot of people to please.
Vital MX: Do you believe the situations you've been through in your career, in your life, are things that you can pass on and be beneficial to the people that you represent? Maybe the pitfalls that you were involved with, pitfalls that you avoided, etc…
Jacob: I do. I have two amateurs right now, Landen Gordon and Reven Gordon, brothers. One's on a super-mini and one just moved up to the 250F class. The mom and dad have asked me a couple questions where I'm like, “If I had not gone through what I'd been through in my amateur career and through my professional career, would my answer have been different”? And I'd have to say yes. So, trying to pass on that knowledge and that wisdom to these green families that are just getting into the sport and experiencing everything for the first time, and trying to help steer them in the right direction. In anything you're one or two decisions away from greatness or failure. I feel like if you can sway those one or two decisions in a positive, then you point them more in a direction to be successful. And ultimately, that's my job, to make sure our athletes that I do represent are successful.
Vital MX: You are still riding some. You've been doing some stuff for Vital MX for Michael Lindsay. You also raced Vet Nationals at Glen Helen, so you're still getting some bike time. Talk about that.
Jacob: Yeah. The love and the passion will always be there. Every time I get on a dirt bike, I love every minute of it. I still enjoy racing and plan to do some fun races in ‘23 as well. It's something that's in my blood. I feel like you go to the races now, or I do definitely, and it's like I'm here to have a good time and I'm here to be safe and just have fun with it. The last couple of years, I felt like the fun factor wasn't there as much. When I did well, I felt rewarded at the end of the day. But the workload was so hard, and the stress was so high that it was just like, “Jesus, this isn't a whole ton of fun”. And I'm trying to enjoy being there and having a good time with friends and family and everyone that I've met throughout my life at these races now.
Vital MX: I’m adding a question. I assume you're an intern. You're not getting paid. Is that why you're still wearing your wife's jeans? You haven't got a paycheck?
Jacob: No, truly, I think it fits me well. We both are able to shop in the same store, so it's all really, really good. It saves me time. You know, when she goes to the store, she can just grab us the same things, and it's easy. You know what I mean? It's convenient. She's already swiping my card anyway, so I might as well just get the two for one deal here.