THE MARKETING MAVEN
Photos by Aaron Brimhall | Words by Brett Smith
Carey Hart has a fear of being broke. Yes, one of the most recognizable motorcyclists in the world—who transcended freestyle motocross more than a decade ago, who still collects a paycheck for riding, who owns a chain of high-end tattoo shops, runs a clothing line, and co-owns a team that wins Monster Energy Supercross and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross races—is scared of going belly up.
It’s an esoteric thing for him to say, yet it’s the first comment given when asked where his energy comes from, why his brain spews an unlimited supply of ideas. The fear of an empty bank account is partially what motivates him to finish a 10,000-meter SkiErg workout by 5:30 a.m. and answer emails and messages before the sun rises. There are businesses and deals to keep an eye on—a lot of them. Hart isn’t delicate with his words; he’s pointed, honest, and quick-witted. Sitting on a metal workbench in his 4,000-square-foot garage filled with motorcycles, bicycles, tools, half-built hotrods, guns, skateboards, and a lofted fitness center (yes, a fitness center), Hart needs no prodding. He’s happy to explain how a tattooed scumbag from Las Vegas became way more successful in business than he ever did as a rider and how he’s now winning races in a sport that, two decades ago, didn’t want anything to do with him.
Hart’s actions, however, betray his fears; judging from his history, he seems unafraid to fail, and there’s one action that helped launch Hart’s name well beyond the motorcycle microcosm and proved that he would take big risks in life: the first backflip attempt, at the 2000 Gravity Games in Providence, Rhode Island. He didn’t know if he could do it, no other riders were making the effort to try, and many thought Hart was nuts for even thinking about it. While Hart estimates he spun 600 practice flips on a bicycle under the guidance of friend, roommate, and BMX professional TJ Lavin, nobody was able to truly teach him the physics of inverting a 220-pound Honda CR250 and bringing it back to the rubber. Beyond that, nobody at that point knew the geometry of a proper takeoff ramp. It was all one giant experiment. Hart’s father, Tom, took a loader and carved into the face of one of the freestyle landings, cutting a 12- to 13-foot wall that Hart remembers looking to be 2 degrees away from completely vertical. With a shovel, Hart spent two hours digging and shaping and throwing his hands in the air in animated visualization of what he was soon to attempt.
When Hart dropped in on what was supposed to be a 75-second-long freestyle run, the standing-room-only crowd already knew what was going on. In an unintentional marketing maneuver, he didn’t try to keep his backflip plan a secret.
“NINETY-NINE PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE IN THE STADIUM THOUGHT A BACKFLIP WAS IMPOSSIBLE,”
he says today. But he certainly had the attention of 100 percent of the audience. Hart didn’t come to Providence to win a medal. He hit no other jumps, did no other tricks; it was backflip or bust. After two passes to feel out the makeshift takeoff, he clicked into second gear, repeatedly blipped the throttle on approach, then grabbed a handful through the transition. He shot 30 to 35 feet in the air from the flat bottom, spun slightly more than a complete rotation, brought both tires back to dirt, and crashed; technically, he failed, yet he simultaneously succeeded. Even today he admits everything he did on the jump was wrong, from the ramp angle to the amount of speed he carried into the approach, but he was the first person to prove it was possible. While he didn’t actually land a backflip, he landed himself and the sport into unprecedented media territories; everyone was talking about Carey Hart...