Supercross rider soars for Air Force

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Gary Emery
  • Nellis AFB Public Affairs
Heath Voss loves flying for the Air Force. Some days he wishes he could do it in an airplane.

Saturday may have been one of those days for Mr. Voss, a superstar and past world champion in the grueling sport of Supercross racing, as he applied ice to his sore back after a practice spill on his motorcycle.

His enthusiasm though - both for his sport and the Air Force - remained undampened by the mishap. In fact, Mr. Voss, who has no formal sponsorship with the Air Force, still sports the Air Force logo and wording prominently on his racing uniform, bike, helmet and transporter.

"Heath bleeds Air Force blue," said Scott Kandel, a co-owner of Team Warthog, Mr. Voss' team. "He feels so strongly about the U.S. Air Force that, when he came to us as our team captain, he brought the idea of putting the Air Force logo on our 78-foot hauler," Mr. Kandel said. "He also brought his personal logo that integrates the Air Force into the design on his crew and driver uniforms as well as his posters." The racer also invites Air Force recruits along during the track walk he performs before each competition, Mr. Kandel said.

Mr. Voss comes by his love of aviation naturally, the racer said. "My uncle has an aviation business. When I was a kid, he would take me for rides, so I always had an interest in flying."

An avid pilot, Mr. Voss began his relationship with military aviation after becoming the 2004 Supercross world champion. Then, he took a film crew up with him for a birds-eye view of his property to better show them the practice tracks he has carved out of his Texas land. The feature appeared on a national pre-race show and "after that, anyone who loved flying would come to my pit area and hang out with me. Now, I know someone from the Air Force in just about every city we go to."

His new friendships and unwavering support of the Air Force led to an F-16 Fighting Falcon orientation flight at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., which Mr. Voss calls "the greatest day of my life."

"Right then, I knew I had missed my calling - I should have been a fighter pilot.

"[The flight] lasted about an hour and a half," Mr. Voss said. "After that, I was depressed for about three weeks because everything else in life was only about ten percent of riding in that fighter jet."

Impressive words from a world-class motorcycle racer who routinely takes jumps at more than 80 mph, soaring up to 35 feet into the air and landing 90 feet from his starting point - usually among a pack of determined opponents. Watching the competitors on the track leaves little doubt of why Supercross is considered one of the world's most physically demanding sports.

While Mr. Voss regularly takes his bike and his body to the limit on the track, he never takes his riding lightly. And neither should recreational riders, he said.

"A lot of people look at a motorcycle and think that it's just one step up from a bicycle," but nothing could be further from the truth, Mr. Voss said. "In what I do for a living, if you make a mistake you learn the hard way, usually by bouncing your head off the ground," he said. "So it kind of gets ingrained in your head to do things right.

"When I'm riding my street bike, I start with a mental checklist. I check the tire pressure, bolts to make sure they're tight, the chain," he said. "I check all the controls, make sure they're smooth and free because the levers should be an extension of your hands."

Riding in traffic - on or off the track - takes the same skill set, Mr. Voss said. "You have to have a clear head and know what's going on around you because when you get complacent you leave room for accidents to happen.

"I enjoy riding on the street and haven't had any problems, but when I get on my street bike I have the same focus I do during a race."

Recreational riding without the correct personal gear is not an option for Mr. Voss. "If I didn't wear a helmet and gloves on the street, I would feel naked," he said. "And, it never hurts to wear leathers when you're riding on the street.

"You never know what's going to happen and when you're sliding across the asphalt your jeans or shorts aren't going to save your skin."

"When I got the F-16 ride, it was a serious process. We didn't just get into the jet and fly it. It's just the same on the street, you have to be focused and ready for what you're doing."

Mr. Voss plans on carrying the Air Force message to racing fans for the foreseeable future. "The thing I like about the Air Force is that egos and attitudes are pushed aside to get things done and it makes for a great working environment," he said.

"Whether you're racing or in the Air Force, you have to have a good team to get the job done."