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He's His Own Best Sponsor : Dirt Track Racer Rob Hassay Loves Spreading the Word

January 09, 1987|TOM HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

There's something a little strange about Rob Hassay, a 24-year-old motorcycle dirt track rider from Anaheim.

He likes driving 20 hours in his van to race tracks across the country.

He likes eating, sleeping and shaving in his van. He even drags his wife, Laura, along for the tedious drive and less-than-luxurious weekends.

He likes promoting his racing endeavors and the sport of dirt track racing as much he enjoys speeding 120 m.p.h. on a straightaway.

He attended the weekly speedway races at the Orange County Fairgrounds not so much because he was a speedway fan, but because he wanted to appear on announcer Larry Huffman's Laguna Niguel-based weekly radio show, which is broadcast throughout the Southland.

He buys a booth in the Motorcycle Swap Meet at the Fairgrounds every year just to promote Rob Hassay Racing. Hassay doesn't sell anything, he just wants the fans to know about his racing endeavors.

This weekend, the Rob Hassay Racing Show will make a stop at Fairplex for the Pomona Mile. Hassay will compete in the junior division on the five-eighths-mile course on Saturday night. The race is being promoted in conjunction with the Great American Motorcycle and ATV Show at Fairplex.

For Hassay, the event marks the start of the 1987 season in which he hopes to become the junior national champion. He's prepared to campaign the season with a Harley-Davidson 750cc bike and an Austrian-built Wood-Rotax 500cc.

Racing on the national circuit has been Hassay's dream since he was 5. He bought his first bike in 1976 and began competing in motocross races at now-defunct Escape Country at Trabuco Hills.

"I was working at Premier Yamaha, and all my co-workers kept telling me that you haven't raced until you've tried flat track racing," Hassay said. "I went out to Corona Raceway and won a TT and a half-mile on my first night."

Hassay sold his motocross bike and concentrated on dirt track racing. There are four general forms of dirt track racing--short track, TT, half-mile and mile events. Short track, half-mile and mile races run counterclockwise on oval courses. TT races include left and right turns and at least one jump.

Hassay's decision proved to be a hazardous move. He broke an ankle three times in a three-week period.

"After I broke my ankle a third time, my parents said, 'That's it, no more racing,' " Hassay said. "They couldn't stand to see me hurt all the time."

Undaunted, Hassay joined the junior national circuit in 1984 and competed in six national races. He experienced equipment problems in races at Sacramento, San Jose and Springfield, Ill., that forced him to retire early.

It didn't take long for Hassay to learn that successful riders also are well-sponsored, and have the best bikes, accessories and tuners. After an unsuccessful tour of the East Coast, he decided it was time to promote himself.

"I came back to Southern California and figured I needed some publicity to get a sponsor," he said. "I started calling Ted Dawson at Channel 7 every week. I sent him pictures and profiles of myself, but never got a response.

"Finally, I went into his office unannounced and introduced myself. I talked him into coming out to Corona Raceway. He canceled three times and then finally showed up with a camera crew.

"He had never been to Corona and all he did was complain about how far it was from L.A. to the race track. But he ran a piece about me on both the 6 and 11 o'clock news reports. I thought it might attract a major sponsor, but it didn't."

Unable to attract a major sponsor, Hassay took a leave from dirt track racing last year to compete in a sport he could afford--speedway. He competed in the second division but found he was unsatisfied.

"I enjoyed speedway, but it just didn't seem to offer the same excitement that dirt track racing does," Hassay said. "But I got a new sponsor this year, and I'm going to compete on the junior circuit again."

Which means Hassay will need greater financial support. He's put together a support package from potential sponsors ranging from $50 to $2,500.

"I equate dirt track racing to drag racing," he said. "You can't win on a shoestring budget. It's money, money, money."

Stephen Azola, who restores cars and motorcycles in Escondido, has helped Hassay start the 1987 season: Azola bought Hassay two motorcycles and he's negotiating to purchase a motor home.

Hassay plans to leave next month for Daytona Beach, where he will compete in 12 regional dirt track races in three weeks. He said he will earn enough points at Pomona to join the expert division but will concentrate on winning the junior division.

"I know I'm capable of winning," Hassay said. "But I can't do it without a major sponsor. In this business, you have to promote as hard as you race."

Racing Notes

Mike Kidd, grand national dirt track champion in 1981, is promoting the Pomona Mile. Kidd, who lives in Decatur, Tex., has promoted indoor races in the Cow Palace at San Francisco, but this race marks his first Southern California venture. Kidd had originally scheduled a TT race, but he was impressed with the deep cushion on Fairplex' horse racing track and decided to run a flat track race. A full card of novice, junior and expert division racing is scheduled. . . . About 150 of the nation's top ATV and Odyssey riders will compete for a $12,000 purse tonight on the same course. . . . The Great American Motorcycle and ATV Show will feature all the top manufacturers' 1987 models, along with rider demonstrations. Show hours are 5 to 10 p.m. tonight; 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

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