Voss has come full circle from his early days as a Honda privateer. He wears all the hats associated with a modern race team.
Heath Voss is not like any other mechanic we've talked to for this "Behind the Bike" series. Heath is the rider too! He works on his own bikes in a plain red RV with a shop in the back.
Voss is a solid top-ten veteran in Supercross, working his way up from barely making night shows on a family-backed privateer Honda
in the early days, to a couple years on Mach 1 Yamaha, and then on to factory Yamaha for a couple seasons before returning to the privateer life on a Honda for 2007.
His bike management plan is simple and unique - don't change much, ride them hard, and rotate out old bikes for new. He's not big on titanium bolts everywhere and the hottest fuel and rims, but he does like his engine hour timer, and taking care of things himself.
We met with Voss to hear his version of pro bike maintenance on a quiet Friday afternoon in Orlando. Voss was answering questions, looking over a new bike that had been stripped to the frame to check out, and a few times he ran back and forth to the MDK Honda
semi to borrow a tool or something. He had some help on the engine that he was showing how to install a Hinson clutch.
Voss doesn't mind doing things himself. It seems to run in the family. The custom bike hauler he stays and works in is built by his dad; just like the one he entered the circuit with years ago. Voss' approach to bike maintenance is based on his years of experience, and clever approaches to getting the most for the least.
Instead of changing his race and practice bikes with lots of performance parts, Voss races a 2007 CRF450F
that is remarkably near stock. Well actually he races plenty of them, because he rotates them out after a certain number of hours. So instead of building one expensive motor after the other, he just breaks in new ones. He's happy enough with the Honda as-is, it works!
The exhaust system is one of the only things that is scrapped entirely for an aftermarket setup. Voss relies on his old pal, Dr. D.
The key to Voss's maintenance program is the engine timer. He wants his race bike to be under 10 hours. After that, the bike becomes his practice machine. "I just rotate them out," he says, "After about 10 hours they start to lose a little bit of power. It's because how many heat cycles it goes through. All the rubber and plastic and seals, I just believe that at that point, that stuff starts to go downhill."
Voss rides his practice bikes for nearly three times as long. "These bikes are usually pretty good for about 30 hours," he said, "After that they are still good, but to race at our level, they have to stay fresh."
Voss has a lot of confidence in production bikes, part of which goes back to the time he rode Honda's CRF in a Supercross for the first time, on a guest ride for the Honda factory at Vegas in 2002. He was impressed how well things were tested. "(I saw it) When I was getting ready to race this 450 for the first time, in Vegas in 2002. They (Honda) will have 15 guys and they have to spend a lot of time evaluating everything on the bike. They know then they sell that bike, reliability is most important to Honda, that it will hold up." For this reason, he tries not to change too much, and just not let his bikes get too tired.
As far as his decision to race this year with no mechanic, he said "I had a lot of crazy things happen to me, and my confidence is starting to come back. It's better than it has been in the last couple of years."
Is Voss putting himself at a disadvantage without all the titanium and custom parts?
"I know at Yamaha they spent over 15 grand on titanium on my race bike," he recalls. "Yeah it was great and everything. It feels lighter. All that stuff makes a difference. But it's dangerous, like running titanium linkage bolts. You wouldn't believe how much data they took at Yamaha on how the bikes would run. Chad Reed's bike was always 15 degrees hotter than mine. He just rides it that much harder. I really believe that at our level it's all mental. You can put Ricky (Carmichael) or James (Stewart) or Chad Reed on any bike and they will still win on it."
Voss has been quietly going about his business and is currently in ninth overall with three races to go in 2007.
When it's time to pass sound test, Voss's approach is again simple, he has his dad run the bike over again and again until it passes.
"It's a pain," he says. "When we don't pass, we just come back and get in line again. I only have two pipes. I get pissed off at them because it puts a lot of run time on the motor. I can't have them sitting over there for half an hour."
In a paddock full of colorful semis with lots of graphics, Voss held out for now and has been in a plain, red hauler. "I need some change to make that (graphics) happen!" he said, "It's about 15 or 20 grand for a decent one. This is a business for me. I am not going to rush into it."
When asked how his rider (himself) is to work with, he said, "He's a real asshole. I keep telling him the throttle is on the right-hand side."
Making Voss's CRF450R:
Stock "Just standard," says Voss, "with Hinson clutches. Wayne Hinson is a good friend of mine too. They make good stuff. When you put in performance parts, you have to constantly watch them to see how they are wearing. A lot of them don't last very long.
Dubach Racing Titanium pipe, carbon fiber muffler.
If you're trying to find Heath in the pits, don't look for some flashy big-rig. Just keep your eyes peeled for Big Red.
Production Showa, MB1-modified. "I am a little heavier so they get a spring change and a valving change. I run those three or four races and then put them on my practice bike. I usually go about 15 hours before servicing them."
VP Fuels MR Pro 4 "MR9 is real susceptible to heat changes. When you sit there and rev the bike, it will run just fine. You can have it jetted fine when the motor is somewhat cold. As soon as the tranny warms up the heat will radiate on to the carburetor and affect the jetting. MR4 is really good fuel and its really stable. It's relatively cheap."
Stock, ground sharp. "I like them really sharp. The standard footpegs are great. I had an aftermarket footpeg break off. I ended up getting a concussion when I landed off a finish line jump in a Supercross and I hit the ground. That is one place where you do not want to save weight."
Brake pads -
Voss is a long-time Supercross competitor. Having been on the Factory Yamaha team, he knows exactly what he's up against.
Air Filter -
Seat and Graphics -
Clutch Perch -
Voss grinds off the fuel petcock lever. "When I was on Yamaha's one time, I fell in a sand berm. My leg was stuck underneath the bike. When I got up it had bumped the petcock and shut it half way off. So every since then, it's a real easy thing to change. Just take a hacksaw and a Dremel to it and it's done."
Heath's sponsors -
Great Lakes Aviation, family business, Cytomax, Master Craft, Texas Ski Ranch (a Dirt Wurx-built track in Texas), Cycle Ranch Track, iCat, Air Force, UFO Plastics, Ferodo, Kicker, DID, Twin Air, Dubach Racing Development, Bridgestone, Works Connection, N-Style, Hinson, Renthal, Utopia Optics, Master Craft, VP Fuels, Honda Pro Oils.
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