Thursday, September 25, 2008
Hawk Mazzotta was raised up on a 5,000-acre cattle ranch near Whitmore, Calif., east of Redding. His father was, among many other things, a falconer, and named his second son after the raptors that he so admires. It was there on Hawkeye Ranch that Hawk discovered an innate knack for racing.
“I was 3 years old, no training, just ripping around the ranch on three-and four-wheelers,” Mazzotta says from the deck overlooking his family spread, which sits on a sun-soaked hillside in Carmel Valley. His family relocated to Carmel when he was 13, when his passion was ratcheted up with an inauspicious trip to his back yard road track, Laguna Seca Raceway, during a day of open track testing.
“Someone asked me if I wanted to try it out. They gave me leathers and a helmet, and a bike, and it was on,” Mazzotta says as his 10-year-old bulldog Max– who shares his master’s pronounced right-legged limp– snores away on the couch.
Soon after, a veteran pro rider named Al Salevaria took young Hawk under his wing and taught him to fly.
“It came very natural to me, with Al’s help,” Mazzotta says. “He was an older rider, had some tough luck, injuries, missed opportunities. I learned quickly.”
From that point on, it was very clear that his purpose was to race motorcycles. “It is in my blood,” Mazzotta says. “I believe that people are born with special talents. I was born with athletic ability… my mind-set, intensity, commitment. Speed is something that I am very comfortable with. This sport takes a lot of mental toughness, and I knew that I could do it.”
Mazzotta spent his early years honing his skills on the smaller circuits that dot the moto landscape. Securing sponsors was a constant concern, as was maintaining the bikes that would carry him to his dream. An independent rider, his journey has been an adventure in high drama– Mazzotta describes a scene where he was flying full-speed down a straightaway with one hand frantically trying to wrench loose a brake lever that was stripped– and pain tolerance. He bears the long, deep scars of multiple broken legs and ankles, and arm surgeries that would make Frankenstein blush. He has an ankle rebuilt from a cadaver’s tendons.
In road bike racing, wrecks are inevitable, and they certainly have taken their gruesome toll on his body. Mazzotta is just now finishing his second AMA pro season. He has been forced to miss several seasons recovering from major injuries sustained both on the track, and in the ring. The rodeo ring, that is.
A bull named Drop Zone has Mazzotta’s number. Drop Zone has thrashed him twice, most recently stomping on his legs, re-breaking the previously pulverized, steel belted tib/fib/ankle of his right leg.
But even that injury wasn’t enough to sink the racer’s spirits. He spent some time on the couch recovering, and then once again found himself digging out his racing leathers. Fortunately a series of elements fell into place to help Mazzotta resume his run at achieving his Superbike Dream, winning an AMA championship. His mechanic Jeremy rejoined the team, his sponsors re-upped, and some new ones signed on, including his brother Zach’s company, Bravo Condoms.
As the only locally based professional AMA-level motorcycle racer, Mazzotta feels a strong sense of pride when he considers racing in his back yard for his hometown fans at Laguna Seca. But another thing sticks in his craw: He isn’t able to train at Laguna because of noise ordinances that were enacted to shield homeowners who live in the recently developed homes that litter the hillsides around the track.
“I represent Monterey County, but I can’t get on that track except for when the races come through. If I could even be on that track once a month, it would help my career so much. But I can’t because of the 92-decibel limit. To me, you move in next to a racetrack then get the noise along with it.” (Instead, Team Hawk travels back and forth to Fontana, in Southern California, for training.)
With changes coming to AMA series ownership this off-season, accompanying rule changes may affect whether up-and-comers like Hawk Mazzotta will be able to compete next season and beyond. But one thing is for certain: He has impressed this season, coming into the final weekend ranked 12th overall in points in the superstock division– putting him within range of the competitive comforts of bigger sponsors.
“I am so close to breaking through,” he says. “If I can get some top-10s, beat some more factory guys, then my career can just take off. I just need to continue to ride smart, stay healthy, get better equipment and track data. I can run with the big boys. I’m right there.”
Mazzotta is a realist, and has a plan for life after racing. If the rules change for the worse or he can’t get the sponsors and equipment he needs, he can always come back to Carmel Valley.
“I’ll just get back to the ranch,” he says, “and ride my tractor around with Max.”
The AMA Formula Xtreme, U.S. Rookies Cup, Supersport and Superbike series practice and qualifying rounds will be held 8am-6pm Saturday, Sept. 27, with the finals for all classes taking place 8:30am-3pm Sunday, Sept. 28. 1-800-327-SECA (7322), www.laguna-seca.com.