Hunter Lawrence: Hunting and Collecting – Interview-

Hunter Lawrence competes at Round 5 of the AMA Motocross Series at Red Bud Raceway in Buchanan, MI, USA on 02 July, 2022. // Garth Milan / Red Bull Content Pool // SI202207040095 // Usage for editorial use only //

One half of the Lawrence brothers paved the way to AMA stardom for the family. Hunter talks about the bumps in the rut to finally making the big-time in the USA

Hunter Lawrence has finished 2nd in the last two years of AMA 250SX West Supercross. He also has taken top three championship results in the last two AMA Pro National 250MX terms. He has an MX2 Grand Prix podium appearance and has also won his class at the Motocross of Nations. It all started with an EMX250 European Championship victory in 2016, in Germany, where #96’s technique and throttle control had already alerted the top Grand Prix teams and brands.

2021 and 2022 have served as a vindication for Lawrence because the Australian has tended to stutter through injury or poor luck: Suzuki closing their Grand Prix effort after his first season in 2017 and then he was temporarily shoehorned into a satellite MX2 Honda crew with the inauguration of 114 Motorsports in 2018 before he could turn to the States. He has fought broken bones before his supercross debut, shoulder surgery and then an immune system illness which also interrupted the 23-year-old’s development as his brother Jett, four years his junior, zoomed out of his roost to the role of multi champion and the sport’s new darling.

Lawrence was the initial trailblazer for his sibling. The family had filled the racing cliché by uprooting their whole existence from their native country to pursue sporting ambition and glory. With Hunter’s travails in Europe (injury and the available contracts meant a couple of lean years for the brothers and stoic father Darren) the Lawrences were finally able to land in Florida and work into the Honda/HRC system. It’s now unthinkable to imagine a Main Event or National without one of them.

Image: Red Bull

Hunter doesn’t have the #1 plates like Jett but he has the ‘mileage’ and is – arguably – a more engaging draw by virtue of his experiences through the despair and elation of the sporting spectrum.

Getting hold of him at the Motocross of Nations proves to be tricky. Between Alpinestars, Team Australia, Red Bull and other obligations Hunter is a wanted man. Once we’ve managed to hook-up and I’m interrupting his dinner at the Astars hospitality, he’s as friendly and accommodating as ever. It’s simple to see why he is one of the more popular athletes in the sport. The openness is mainly due to his character but also an international grounding; Lawrence understands that his employer and his market is American-based and focused but he appreciates the international reach he has…especially as the brothers are currently thriving in their most marketable phase yet.

It’s the first time we’ve done an interview since a long talk ahead of the 2018 MXGP season-opener in Argentina (where he enamoured the locals by adopting a Maradona shirt in the waiting zone) and it feels like an entire career has passed since…

European Championship race wins, knee injuries, under-powered Suzukis, hurried Honda efforts and finally making a splash in the USA. Do you ever get time to reflect on the crazy journey?

Yeah, sure, I mean we get time to reflect. I remember when we spoke in Argentina and even the year before that and then to fast forward to where we are now: it’s hard to see that all happening! You can look back and join the dots but it’s pretty surreal.

There were a few years where you had momentum but either an injury or a bike/team change seemed to halt or slow everything…

It was tough. Things were looking quite good towards the end with Suzuki in ’17 and I had some good races. The goal was to then watch Jeremy fight for the championship, learn and work towards being that same guy the next year but then Suzuki shut down and it was like ‘crap! We don’t have a ride let alone a bike capable of results!’ Move forward to America and the team was better but then I ran into injuries and the health stuff was really tough. The last two years however have been what I consider building back to 100% with a good machine. At Suzuki I’d say our bike was a little underpowered; it wasn’t a secret in the paddock, but the team was good and I was getting better. It was good to have that experience and then reach a point where you know how to put the pieces together.

Due to those unsettling experiences in MX2 with Suzuki and then a patched-together Honda deal in ’18, were you worried for what you would find at the beginning of your AMA Honda adventure?

Very…but what my Dad preached and instilled into us as young kids is that mental toughness comes from when you are at the bottom. Everything’s s**t and nothing is going your way: that’s when you build up mentally. Life is easy when you’re winning and everything is good. It’s easy to be positive. When you go into a team then promises can be made and everyone’s intentions are always good but sometimes it doesn’t work out. What I found here [in the U.S.] was what I needed. There were tough moments but we pushed through and kept going.

Image: JP Acevedo

Back in MX2 you said you were making mistakes because there was this division between what the Suzuki could do and what you could do. Did you reach a point here where you were free of that shackle?

Absolutely. Suzuki was…I mean, I was young. I think I turned seventeen during that season. So much of it was still about ‘my gosh! I’m racing the guys I’d seen on TV!’. So, the mistakes were just part of the learning process and it’s what every young kid goes through. I found myself getting better and better through the season and I saw that I could maybe get a podium. The following year with the Honda I thought ‘I’m here to win’ and it didn’t turn out how we wanted. I’m definitely happy now and I guess more confident…but having two solid years behind me and going into a third healthy is a huge thing.

When the AMA trophies started to come, was that more excitement or relief?

More excitement because I was at the bottom in 2020 and it was chipping away at me. I’d had two years in Europe, as a racer, where I wasn’t riding like I knew I could. Coming here and coming to new machinery: that move just made me re-think. I was able to re-build and come back.

I remember telling Mitch [Payton] at one point ‘it was a dream to ride for you…’ and he replied ‘well, you know, it’s not too late…’! – Image: JP Acevedo

Your relationship with Jett: has that been through different phases? You paved the way for him but then he excelled and set a high bar…

For sure, and it’s tough at first when you start to lose [to him]…but our paths are so different. Similar in a way but also so different because he’s never missed a season because of injury – touchwood – but he’s had a pretty safe and healthy career so he’s had years of building and it all adds up. For me from 2019-2021 I had close-to a year off the bike, I missed all those laps and then had to build my body back from cannibalising itself to finally being in a place where the carbs were being stored in the right place and proteins and sugars were being broken down correctly. I had to reteach the body how to work and then work enough to train and stuff.

You must have learned so much more about what the body is capable of…

For sure. Especially here with the food. I feel you have to be a bit more careful. In Europe I ate healthy but what I wanted from healthy food; meats, vegetables, rice, but now it’s pretty strict. For a long time I could not eat stuff like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, white rice and pasta, even gluten-free pasta. Basic stuff I grew up with as a kid just seems to jack-me-up here.

Agents, HRC, coaches like Trey Canard and Johnny O’Mara: it seems like you have a very strong support structure…

It’s crazy…[but] we’re more independent now, I’d say. Our crew is small but I love our team and what we have with Honda. Johnny, Lucas {Mertyl – those two guys – then our mechanics and the HRC guys. It’s cool because it seems like there is a lot of distractions here or people that wanna ride the shirt tails. So, we keep it lean. I think it’s good.

You and Jett seem to do well in terms of keeping humble…

Yeah, we try, that’s where the guys like ‘Johnny O’ help keep our feet on the ground and see through the bulls**t. Especially for Jett; he’s learning. I’m a bit older and you get to an age where you’re just not interest in all that stuff. You go-off your initial reactions as to whether you’ll be interested in something or not.

Image: Red Bull

An example?

Just like…a lot of people come and go in this sport and they want to be your best mate and they want to get involved and say “come and do this and that”. To be able to keep that at bay can be good. It’s not easy to have another perspective when you are by yourself and so it’s handy to have wiser heads like Lucas, Johnny and my Dad to give an accurate read.

It must be tempting to maximise whatever comes your way in the few years you have at the peak of this sport…?

Of course…but Lucas lets us know what brings a benefit on the sponsor side. What we have now is quite cool because it’s slightly different to what anyone else has in the paddock. We don’t necessarily want sponsorship, we want partnerships. We do our own press conferences and ride days and other stuff. We do ‘House of Lawrence’ set-ups at races for the fans. When people come to sit and talk with Lucas it’s not just about ‘hey, what can you do for us?’ it’s ‘hey, this is what we are going to do for you…’ We’re willing to jump onboard and be a partner, which Is cool because it’s a bit different and offers other benefits.

You’re Australian, with some European grounding, a European girlfriend-

I’m Mr Worldwide!

So does that help towards this different outlook on supercross and motocross in the States…

Yeah, and I love going back. I love Europe…even if it has not been easy to go anywhere in the last couple of years due to the pandemic. I still feel that if we’d had some money [in MX2] then we would not have run into the issues we had and we’d be more established. I’m still open to racing over there, I enjoy it and have said that before. It would be good to have a root planted in Europe and then take care of the investments here as well I have planned after racing. Cynthia [Tonus] sacrificed a lot to come over here and follow my racing so it will be my time to pay that back in the future and she won’t have to twist my arm too much.

Lastly, in the past, you said it was a childhood dream to ride for Pro Circuit, so did it feel quite sweet to be chasing and fighting Jo Shimoda this summer?

Ha…not really to be honest. We beat him quite consistently. We had a couple of malfunctions and stuff. I remember telling Mitch [Payton] at one point ‘it was a dream to ride for you…’ and he replied ‘well, you know, it’s not too late…’! Mitch is really cool and it is cool to be able to joke with someone that you idolised that you idolised. Pretty cool.

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