Carey Hart: American Moto Icon Turned Hooligan - Rolling Stone
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Carey Hart: American Moto Icon Turned Hooligan

“Hart Luck” test rides the new Indian Scout Bobber, shares crash stories from daredevil days, and discusses his newfound passion for flat track racing

Carey Hart: American Moto Icon Turned HooliganCarey Hart: American Moto Icon Turned Hooligan

"I have HART LUCK tattooed on my knuckles, because that's always been an oxymoron with me. I either have really good luck, or freakishly bad luck," says Carey Hart

Photo Courtesy of Indian Motorcycles

I’m chasing Carey Hart along Lake Minnetonka, an irregular 15-mile collection of kettle lakes characteristic of Minnesota – fertile lands lush with pine and spruce trees and patchy stands of birch and poplar. We rip past century-old schoolhouses and farm homes, the gravel-strewn roads wind through rich Midwest landscapes. The heat and humidity are our only nemeses. With throttle pinned, Hart is ahead of me, cornering through the two-lane S-turns on a new Indian Scout Bobber with the finesse of a career-long moto champion.

Hart is clearly enjoying the Land of 10,000 Lakes, toying with the occasional sidewalk or curb, his rear tire spitting rocks and dust my way as he rips over mixed surfaces. The sporadic scent of road kill punches me in the face in a way only a biker can truly appreciate. We catch intrigued glances from streetside onlookers; curious about the new bikes we are testing.

The Scout Bobber is a long departure since Indian built the first motorcycles in 1901 – powered by a liquid cooled 69 cc motor that delivers 100 horsepower and 72 lb.-ft. of torque. But it’s the blacked out, muscular theme that sparks Hart’s inner hooligan and charms onlookers. And Hart looks symbiotically cool – sleeved in tattoos and donning a blacked out helmet.

We pass over suspended bridges that hover over marshes, until we finally reach our destination, an old brick industrial building converted into a posh brewery, where we relinquish our Scout Bobbers and step inside another realm Hart is very familiar. Over a few pints of the house’s strongest IPAs (our ride was finished for the day), Hart shares what fires his fervor for life on two wheels; while I let sink in what Hart has come to represent.

Carey Hart on Indian Scout Bobber

Hart is an icon in American motorcycle culture, authentically linked to freestyle motocross and its beginnings. And, as he puts it, he races because he has to – it’s embedded in his DNA. “The Harts are extremely dysfunctional, but motorsports has been the glue of our family for many generations,” he says. “I caught the bug early on and by the time I was around six years old, we were racing every single weekend.” Hart grew up in Las Vegas, spending time on his dad’s construction sites, where they would set up cones and practice racing.

“By age 12, I was getting serious. Jeff Ward and Ricky Johnson were my guys and that was something I wanted to do – race Supercross. And I did that all through my junior high and high school years. I didn’t party or do anything too crazy. I was straight edge, because I was so serious about being an athlete.”

Far beyond natural talent, Hart’s revere in motorculture is deeply rooted in something that cannot be taught—resilience and relentlessness. At age sixteen, a freak accident on a track his father built nearly killed him, long before turning pro. “My old man invited me to come out and take a few laps on the track so they could figure out lap times and whatnot,” recalls Hart. “I took off on the track and one of the guys didn’t know I was out there. He climbed up into a scraper and I came off a blindsided jump just as he was coming in to drop off a load of dirt. I jumped straight into the tractor in fourth gear on my 125cc. I broke my femurs in six places, the tibia and fibula in my right leg, and both my arms.”

Hart was back on his bike six month later, after dealing with what he nonchalantly calls, “Just something that separates the men from the boys”.

“That’s been of the tone of my entire life,” says Hart. “I have HART LUCK tattooed on my knuckles, because that’s always been an oxymoron with me. I either have really good luck, or freakishly bad luck. That’s how my nickname ‘Hart Luck’ came about.”

Since his first near-fatal crash, Hart has broken his legs and arms twice, has compounded femurs, shattered bones, and has been on life support more than once. To date, he’s stopped counting broken bones—”It’s somewhere in the eighties.” With more surgeries than he’d like to admit and several major surgeries ahead of him to get his body into a somewhat normal functioning condition, Hart says, “That’s what you sign up for.”

But repeatedly breaking his body wasn’t the only challenge in the pursuit of his dreams. Supercross overlooked Hart, at a time when the organization was looking to maintain a more corporate image. “Its riders couldn’t have tattoos, colored hair, or visible piercings”—Hart fit into the other category. “I remember seeing the contracts back then,” he recalls. “We were the black sheep and got passed over. They were trying to turn motocross into NASCAR—thankfully, that never happened.”

Hart nearly forfeited his dreams, enrolling in school to pursue a career in accounting. But a phone call, inviting him to perform on Warped Tour for six weeks, seemed like a good way to set aside $6,000 to help offset costs of college. Upon his return from tour, Hart says, “The phone just never stopped ringing.”

Innovation prevailed as Hart’s early pursuit of Supercross faded. He started riding with a group of talented misfits who were interested in a more creative form of Motocross. “That’s when the guys from Crusty Demons began filming for their series, and XXX started filming as well,” say Hart. “It was literally a bunch of racers who went out to ride the hills after a good rain, just finding jumps and kicking some stuff up. And that’s where it started – that’s the spark that started freestyle motocross.”

In 1998, the freestyle motocross movement was born with Hart leading the pack. From the sport’s inception, Hart has been one of the most innovative riders in the sport – the first rider to ever complete a backflip on a 250cc motorcycle. His showmanship transcended the track when he opened Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company in Las Vegas and starred on VH1’s The Surreal Life and A&E’s reality show Inked.

Carey Hart of Las Vegas, Nev., does what he calls the "Heart Attack" during the Motocross Finals of the Summer Xtreme Games in Brisbane, Australia, Sunday, Dec. 5, 1999.

In 2001, the decorated Supercross and Freestyle Motocross racer met singer Pink at X Games in Philadelphia. After a brief meeting, Carey left a lasting impression on Pink – a catastrophic crash that broke sixteen of Hart’s bones. Pink swore she would never date a motocrosser. But several months later, they met again at another moto event where he made a better second impression. The two have been married over a decade, with two children.

Hart recently retired from competitive freestyle motocross– he’s definitely broken himself enough. As he put’s it, “I’ve accepted that I’m now 42 and my time as a competitive freestyle motocrosser has passed. I’ve swallowed that pill and I’m OK with it now.” But Hart will never completely rid himself of the competitive bug. With the recent rise in Hooligan and flat track racing, Hart has found himself back on the track. “It’s getting really popular—it’s like beer league,” he explains. “I can have a couple beers and hang out with guys that wrench on their bikes in the garage and have to be at work on Monday. No one is out for blood. And we go out and race street bikes on dirt. In American culture, it’s one of the oldest rivalries—Harley versus Indian.”

“This is a fun chapter of my life where I can focus on wrenching on bikes, building bikes, hanging out with my friends, and having my family come to the party. It’s bench racing where you can go out and have fun and throw a few elbows and then go back and talk shit.” Hart credits the recent popularity of flat track and hooligan racing to its return to a less corporate, more backyard vibe. “But it’s till something you can bring your wife and kids to and not be fucking worried,” he explains. “I’m very protective of motorcycles. I hold all this stuff sacred and I’ve been involved with V-twin culture for half of my life and it’s cool to see this resurgence of people, working on their bikes themselves, buying a set of tools and wrenching in their garage.”

In 2016, Hart founded Good Ride, a motorcycle rally charity organization that pledges support to veterans and their families. “A big part my involvement with the rallies is the charity I started – we do these charity rides and all the proceeds go to Infinite Hero, which is Oakley’s Military charity,” says Hart. “It’s a kick-in-the-ass time for a really good cause. We’re raising money for veterans and their families – we’re doing a good thing through riding motorcycles – something I’m very passionate about.”


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