Josh Hayes Has A Bone To Pick With The Daytona 200

Josh Hayes (1) leads Jake Zemke (98), Chaz Davies (hidden), Neil Hodgson (100), and Steve Rapp (15) in the 2008 Daytona 200. Photo by Brian J. Nelson

“My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor… and I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.”

Gladiator, Universal Pictures 2000

What do you do when you’re a four-time AMA Superbike Champion, a former Yamaha factory rider, and for the first time in several years, you’re unencumbered by any contracts telling you when, where, and on what you can race?

You head to Daytona International Speedway in March because you’ve still got a bone to pick with the “World Center of Racing” and its iconic Daytona 200, arguably the single most historic motorcycle road race in the known universe.

Josh “Hurricane” Hayes, the “Mississippi Madman” himself, will compete in the 78th running of the Daytona 200, and he’ll be aboard the #4 MP13 Racing Yamaha YZF-R6. The team is owned and operated by Melissa Paris-Hayes, a seasoned and successful motorcycle racer in her own right who finished in the top 10 in the Daytona 200, competed in the World Supersport Championship, raced at LeMans, and is married to the Mississippi Madman.

Hawk Hayes, who is Melissa’s and Josh’s 14-month-old son, if he could only form the words, would say, “You go, Mom and Dad. Revenge is a dish best served cold, not unlike the bowl of Cheerios that I left on my highchair this morning. I know a perfect spot for that Daytona 200 trophy. The little guy on the gold bike would look great right in my room.”

But, what is this revenge of which the diminutive Hawk Hayes “speaks”?

Hawk’s dad Josh won the Daytona 200 aboard an Erion Honda CBR600RR back in 2008, only to have the victory – and the impressive trophy that accompanies it – ripped from his hands by a “too-shiny” crankshaft. In the post-race teardown of Hayes’ bike, the crankshaft was found to be polished, which was in violation of the rules. The win was then summarily handed to second-place finisher Chaz Davies.

Surprisingly, Hayes isn’t bitter about it.

“At the time, I was worried that people were going to think of me as a cheater,” Hayes said. “That turned out to be unfounded because, the thing that I thought would label me a cheater, well, I had nothing to do with that, and most people have actually been really sympathetic about it. Other than 2008, I have a lot of good memories about Daytona. I remember going there with Melissa and riding her Honda in the NASB race with Eric Wood and a handful of guys, and having a pretty good day ripping around with those guys. I’ve got other things about Daytona that I can focus on.”

As Hayes’ career progressed to a factory Superbike ride with Yamaha, various circumstances prevented him from taking care of his unfinished business with the Daytona 200.

“I was not bummed out when we decided not to go back to Daytona with Superbike,” commented Hayes. “It did not bum me out at all. I don’t enjoy riding that track on a Superbike… at all. But, when I went there last year for an Arai Helmets press event, and you get there and see that giant Speedway, and you smell the race gas, it immediately brings back all these nostalgic feelings, and you think, ‘Hey this is the beginning of the race season.’ And, that feeling, I love and I miss it. And so, I’m excited that I get to go there and be a part of the 200 again, and feel those feelings, smell that race gas, hear the sound of the bikes, and experience all those things about Daytona again. No matter what you think about riding the track, the event itself is always just a lot of fun.”

In 2018, Hayes spent a year under contract with Yamaha Motor Corporation, U.S.A., as one of their Brand Ambassadors, as well as a Rider Coach for Yamaha bLU cRUroad racers, particularly those competing aboard Yamaha YZF-R3 machines in MotoAmerica’s Liqui Moly Junior Cup Championship. He was still employed by Yamaha, which was the good news. The not-so-good-news was that he was no longer employed as an active motorcycle road racer.

Ask any rider; a year away from the sharp end is a long time. And, as much as he enjoyed his new role with Yamaha, Hayes was frustrated by the fact that he lost his factory Superbike ride at the end of 2017 despite finishing the season ranked fourth in the championship points standings. And, that was after eight straight years of finishing the season either first or second. He was not ready to retire.

“In nine years of racing for Yamaha, I only finished out of the top two once, and that was last year,” said Hayes. “In fact, I’ve finished first or second in every championship I’ve ridden in since 2006. After a 12-year run of being top-two, I had one year of finishing fourth, and I’m out of racing. But, it was a business decision, and I understand that. I can understand what happened there, whether I liked it or not.”

Last month, Hayes participated, for the first time, in the International Island Classic, a prestigious vintage motorcycle road racing festival that takes place every year at Australia’s Phillip Island Grand Prix circuit. Aboard a souped-up, early-80s Yamaha FJ1100, he took part in the International Challenge, and he became the first-ever American to win a race at the event, plus he finished third in the overall rider standings.

Not a bad warmup for the Daytona 200 next month.

“Being at Phillip Island, and being competitive after a year and a half, and doing well, gave me the confidence and the itch to race the 200,” Hayes said. “And, for Melissa, who had seen me sit at home for a year, it also gave her the confidence that we could go and do this. I’ve still got the fight in me, and I’m still learning my craft, so we’re really excited to go and do this as a team.”

And so, Joshua Kurt “Hurricane” Hayes, the Mississippi Madman, four-time AMA Superbike Champion, will have his vengeance next month on the high banks of Daytona.