Barry Hawk is a legend in the sport, the only GNCC racer to win XC1 titles on both a bike and an ATV. GNCC racing is an important part of their family’s DNA. Now, he and his fourteen-year-old son Talon are involved in the newest addition to GNCC – eMTB racing. Both have had great seasons so far, with Talon leading his class and Barry 3rd in points. Keep an eye out for them at the Mason-Dixon GNCC this weekend – it is only fourteen miles from their home in Smithfield, Pennsylvania. I’m sure they will both be putting in strong rides, and if all goes well, Talon might be wrapping up the Youth eMTB championship!
GNCCRacing.com: Let’s start with you Barry. I know you’re considered a legend in GNCC racing. Can you give us some of the highlights of your career?
Barry: Ah man, the ATV side seems like it was a long time ago (laughs). I would say one of the biggest highlights on the ATV side was my first win. I was eighteen years old, and led from wire to wire. It was a near-perfect race, I didn’t make a single mistake! My first championship was also memorable – there’s kind of a funny story there, though it wasn’t funny at the time. This was back in the day before computers, and we went into the next-to-last race with everyone thinking that all I had to do was get second or better and I would win the title. I got second, and we all went out and celebrated that night. Turns out somebody got the math wrong though, and when I came back to race bikes the next day, the Racer Productions crew apologized and explained I hadn’t won the championship after all, they did the math wrong, and it was going to come down to the last race. I ended up winning that race and the championship, so I got to celebrate that one twice (laughs).
On the bike side, I think the most memorable one was the Wisp, in 2005. My son was born that week and at the time my daughter, Ireland, was six years old. I wasn’t sure I was even going to make it to the race – there were some complications with my son’s birth, and I was trying to take care of my daughter, take care of my wife, take care of my newborn son … Luckily, things turned around, and we all got go to the race, my wife and son included. Obviously Talon doesn’t remember, since he was a newborn. I ended up winning, and also hitting a deer mid-race (laughs) but the really interesting thing was that there was no pressure. It was such a last-minute thing, and everything that happened that week reminded me that family is what really matters.
Which brings us back around to the fact that this is a father-son interview. Family is clearly very important to you, and it sounds like they’ve always been a part of your racing.
Barry: Yes, my family always came with me to the races, and my wife has been so supportive of me all these years. She always wanted me to win, sometimes worse than I wanted to win I think! She and my daughter are also a part of this, and an important one. You have to have good people backing you, and even though they don’t race they’re here for us. And with the eBike thing now, we all go on family rides together which is a great bonding experience. We’ve tried to talk them into doing an eBike race with us, but so far no luck (laughs). Going back to when I was racing full-time, my daughter was old enough to remember some of my wins, but Talon was too young. The only podium Talon remembers is when my riders and crew on Coastal talked me into racing XC3 at St. Clairsville three years ago. I don’t ride a whole lot anymore, and like I tell people, I can still go fast just not for very long (laughs) It ended up being a super muddy race, and people were crashing everywhere, but I rode smart and ended up getting on the podium. I never ever thought I’d be on a GNCC podium again, so getting both of my kids up there with me, and old enough to remember this one, was pretty cool.
Speaking of Coastal, even after you retired from racing, you stayed close to GNCC, right?
Yes. I raced until 2010, and then from 2011 to 2015 I worked for GNCC, doing whatever was needed – working their local motocross, driving the truck, but my biggest role was helping to set up the track. Then in 2015 I was hired to be the team manager of Coastal, which is something I’m still doing to this day.
Are you glad that Talon is involved in GNCC racing, even though it is a little different from the way you were involved years ago?
Barry: Yeah, I’m really happy that he is! But even if he wasn’t, I would be happy to support him in whatever he wanted to do that made you happy. We never were those parents that wanted to push racing, or telling him he needed to go faster. A lot of people kind of question me, like “your kids don’t race? Why don’t they race?” and they struggle with the idea of my kids not racing. My kids always had dirt bikes over the years. My son still has one, and my daughter rode when she was younger. I gave them the opportunities, but had no interest in pushing them to do something they wouldn’t do on their own. They’re their own people and I want to support them in what they want to do, not what I used to do.
How did you guys get started racing eBikes?
Barry: Talon had ridden the Haibikes that sponsor Coastal racing – we had a couple extra floating around, and he really liked them. Things ended up coming together really fast for this year. Personally, I had no intention of racing them, it was all about getting Talon some support for doing it. Then he said he wanted me to race too, and I wasn’t going to turn down a chance for us to do something together like that. I kicked his butt at the early races, but those days are gone. I don’t have anything for him anymore, he rides the wheels off those things. Last time we did three-mile hill, I assumed he had broken our rule of staying in the second power setting because he was just pulling away. So, I put mine in four to catch back up, but when I got there his bike was still in setting two. I dropped it back down and by the end of the hill, he had put three minutes on me…
The first time I beat my dad on a dirt bike, it was a huge deal for me! Was it the same for you Talon?
Talon: Yeah, it was a big deal! That first race I beat him at, was Snowshoe. There were some people from the team yelling at me, “Your dad is just around the corner” So, I rode as hard as I could, and eventually caught and passed him!
Barry: And of course, those same guys are yelling at me “He’s coming, he’s coming!” They didn’t even need to tell me who “he” was (laughs). I mean I knew the day was coming he was going to beat me, but I didn’t think it was coming so soon. The torch was passed, and I’m okay with that – it’s the way things are supposed to be.
What was it that drew you to eBike racing in the first place?
Talon: I always loved riding bicycles. And on an eBike you can go so much faster! They’re a lot of fun and even though they’re a little heavier than a normal bicycle because of the motor and the battery, they are still really easy to maneuver.
Tell me about how your seasons have gone so far.
Barry: I’m in third right now. It’s gone better than I would have expected, given that I had an issue at Snowshoe and was second or third at most of the early rounds. It’s been good overall, but definitely an eye-opener. For me, being older than most of my competitors and not training like I used to, my real advantage comes in the technical tracks like North Carolina, just due to my motorcycle racing background in GNCC. I can’t complain about anything – it’s been fun to compete and to watch how much Talon has improved over the course of a single season.
Talon: I lost the first couple. The first one I had a flat, which was really disappointing, but then at the others I just didn’t ride super well. At the second round I ended up winning, but because the leader had an issue – I had been a minute down before. The first race I feel like I won straight up, I was down by a minute but then was able to catch and pass the leader! And then I’ve been able to win the last two rounds as well, so I currently have three wins in a row..
Talon, what do you think changed for you for those last three races? It looks like you got faster over the summer.
Talon: I rode a lot, so I felt like I got stronger. I think I probably ride eBikes more than just about anyone else who races these. My dad helped me out too, I tried to learn as much as I could from him about taking faster, smoother lines. Lastly, I tried to be smarter when I was racing. Other people make mistakes too, and I realized I didn’t have to be super aggressive and pass them right away, I could follow them for a bit and wait for a good opportunity. I can still be too aggressive and make mistakes because of it, but I’m learning.
What are your goals for the rest of the season?
Talon: My goal is to win the next race, and if I do, I’ll win the championship! If I win next race, I would like to bump up to the Amateur class and see how I do.
Barry: That’s dad’s class, so I bet you can guess why he chose that one (laughs).
Do you feel like GNCC has brought the two of you closer together?
Talon: Yes, it means a lot to me for him to be able to teach me the things he knows about the sport, especially line choices and things like that. Some of the lessons I learn here can be applied to real life too, which is cool.
Barry: I don’t know that it brought us closer, since I was already close to him before. It is true that being around GNCC is in our family’s DNA – I’ve been doing this for almost thirty years, and my family was there. eBike racing also gives us the opportunity to spend more time together, and I think it also added a dimension of friendly competition to our relationship, where you know, we can joke with and pick on each other about who is faster or better. So, I am grateful that GNCC started doing these eBike races and that we are doing this together.
What do you respect or admire the most about each other?
Barry: I respect that even though he is a teenager, he still has some respect for me and is willing to listen to me. Unlike most teenagers, he doesn’t think mom and dad are clueless, and he still wants to be close to us. That really means a lot.
Talon: This kind of relates to what my dad said, but I admire his incredible depth of knowledge as far as racing goes. He can just instantly look at a line and tell you which ones are good or watch another rider and tell you their strengths and weaknesses. It’s really incredible.
Thank you both for taking the time for this interview. And who would you like to thank?
Barry: I would like to thank my mom, my son Talon and my daughter Ireland, Haibike, Coastal, Moose Racing, Maxxis and most of all my wife Kristen.
Talon: I would like to thank my mom and dad, Haibike, Coastal, Moose Racing, Maxxis, and Bell helmets.