Team Honda HRC Team Manager Erik Kehoe Interview: Feeling at Home

After being away for six seasons, former factory motocrosser and respected team manager Erik Kehoe is back at the helm of Team Honda HRC for 2018.

Erik Kehoe is no stranger to the role of Team Manager for Team Honda HRC’s high-powered factory supercross and motocross teams, and 2018 finds him back in that role once again.

Erik Kehoe
After a five-year hiatus, Erik Kehoe is back at the helm as Team Honda HRC’s Team Manager.

A former factory motocross racer in the 1980s and ‘90s, first with Team Yamaha and later with Team Suzuki, Kehoe was a scourge in the 125cc class where he earned seven AMA National Motocross Championship wins with Team Suzuki between 1985 and 1988. When his time was up at Suzuki, Kehoe landed a Honda factory support ride in 1989, and he would later join the newly formed Honda of Troy team in 1993. Life was good until, one year later, Kehoe endured a brutal crash at the 1994 Mt. Morris National, in which he suffered a badly broken back. Repairing the damage meant that Kehoe had to have several vertebra fused and a rod inserted along his spine, effectively ending his racing career.

However, there was light even in the darkest of times, as Honda of Troy owner Phil Alderton was duly impressed with with Kehoe and offered him the role of Team Manager for Alderton’s newly formed Honda of Troy racing team. Using his experience as a racer, Kehoe guided that team to prosperity, and that garnered the attention of Team Honda, which recruited him to take over as Team Manager for the in-house factory team in 2002. For the next 10 years, Kehoe was the man at the helm as Honda garnered three AMA Motocross Championships in the premier (250cc/450cc) class with Ricky Carmichael from 2002-2004. Kehoe remained with the team until the end of 2012 before deciding to step away from the Team Manager role when he could not come to terms with Honda, a move that Kehoe calls amicable in every way.

The relationship undoubtedly helped pave the way for Kehoe’s return in 2018, where he once again finds himself calling on his 35-plus years of racing experience, both as a rider and a manager, to return Honda to glory years it hasn’t seen since his last go-round. After sitting down for a brief chat with Kehoe, it’s clear that he is motivated to help his old/new team do just that. So, describe the end of your role as Team Manager at Team Honda last time around.

Erik Kehoe: It was the end of 2012. [Justin] Barcia went to the Motocross of Nations, and then my contract ended at the end of that year. I just took 2013 off, and I’ve been off from 2013 until now. I had some things at home that I had to deal with, unfortunate personal stuff that people go through. I went through a divorce, and my mother was sick with cancer. My family—my brothers and my sister—were working. I just decided I needed to take the time off to focus on the other aspects of my life. That must have been a tough decision.

Erik Kehoe: It was a difficult decision, because I knew that once you step out of something like that, you don’t know if you’re going to get your foot back in the door. But I have a newfound respect for a lot of different things right now from my experience over the last few years. It was definitely interesting. So how are things different now, having been away from the team for five seasons and now stepping back into this role? What things have changed, or what things do you see that are different about the team compared to when you left it?

Erik Kehoe: It’s interesting, because we have such a diverse team of experience, whether it’s our engine technicians, our chassis technicians… Everybody that’s involved, their experience is so diverse that it’s constantly evolving. Especially in racing, things happen so quickly. The riders, their riding technique, has been taken to a whole other level. There has been a lot more focus on fitness and training with the riders over the last few years. I think everything has just evolved, and I try to keep up with it because I’ve lived that lifestyle. I still try to stay in shape and eat well. I think that once you’ve adapted to that lifestyle, it just comes naturally. So, it sounds like not that much, then. It sounds like you’ve been paying attention to the scene while you’ve been away.

Erik Kehoe: Yes. I’ve been watching the results over the past few years, and I’m still a racer at heart. I love the sport, and I love seeing what racers like Cole Seely and Ken Roczen are doing. They’re just taking it to another level. So I’m constantly studying that and seeing how what those guys are doing affects the bikes, for example. With the four-strokes now, the power and torque that our bikes have, what those guys are able to do is forcing them to evolve their riding as well. It’s a constant cycle.

Erik Kehoe
Kehoe (left) calls Ken Roczen (center) and Cole Seely (right) two of the most talented riders in the sport. He hopes to help guide them to championship titles with Honda. What challenges have you faced in getting back into the mix with Honda?

Erik Kehoe: I think, right now, just getting back into the different aspects of the job. There are so many different moving parts to the team. That’s why I always stress the fact that we have such a diverse, talented staff, because you rely on every individual that’s involved with the team to do their job. That team, collectively, determines our success. So, having a diverse team as well as two of the most talented racers in the sport, I look for good things. The really challenging part for me is just getting back into the difficult part of traveling a lot. My car is like a moving office! [laughs] From the test track to the airport, and then out of state and back, that’s one of the toughest parts of the job. But once you’re at the track, you feel at home.

Erik Kehoe: Yeah, I think so, because I have so much experience with it. That part of it, it’s like a second family when we’re on the road and at the races. It’s like right now, even. The testing and everything has been going really well this off-season. Kenny and Cole are really strong right now, and healthy. We talk about it at the shop, “We just want to get some racing going!” How important is it for you to have Dan Betley still around to lean on or bounce ideas off of since he has moved over to GEICO Honda?

Erik Kehoe: That interaction has been huge. Dan and I worked together for many years, all the way back even to my Honda of Troy days. When we talk, we collaborate on different ideas and things. There are changes that Dan put into place while I was gone, and he did a great job with that. I think that understanding his thought process behind some of that has helped me to know why those changes happened. You have to accept change and things evolving, especially in racing, because things move at such a fast pace. Being able to tap into Dan’s experience and knowledge from the past few years has really helped my transition. His experience on the technical side has really helped the team with the new CRF250R that has come to the team there at GEICO. It has been a solid effort. One last question… Have you ever gotten over the “Daisy Duke incident?”

Erik Kehoe: Oh my gosh! [laughs] You remember that? Yeah. As a matter of fact, I think my legs are even skinnier now! [laughs] Of course. That was a difficult one. That was [Davi] Millsaps. I think we had a bet about him being on the podium or not, and of course I lost the bet, so we had some Daisy Duke shorts that someone had put together, and I had to walk around the track with them on during a track walk at a supercross. And it was not fun. [laughs] Any chance we’ll see another bet like that one this year?

Erik Kehoe: You know, I think I’ve learned my lesson on a couple of those. I just try to keep my mouth shut when I shouldn’t be opening it.