Interview: Jeff Leisk
Jeff Leisk deserves legend status in off-road racing, as the first Australian rider to win a world motocross Grand Prix and as runner-up in the 1989 world 500 motocross championship. He retired from motocross at the end of 1990 and raced sprint cars. Jeff is a recent convert to vintage motocross and he’ll be a star attraction at this Easter’s Honda Broadford Bike Bonanza. As part of the festivities, Jeff is bringing the actual Honda’s he rode to multiple national titles. In addition, the 1989 factory RC500 Leisk rode in his last year of international competition will be seen for the first time in public at the 2012 HBBB . We can’t wait to see Jeff out on the track. These days Jeff is general manager of KTM Australia, based in Perth. In this interview he talks about his best race, funniest moment and why he packed it in after 1990.
What was your most satisfying race, whether you won or not?
At the end of the day there were quite a few. One that stands out was when I was a junior rider, aged 14, riding at a track north of Perth called Wedge Point. It was not a major race, but it stands out as the best feeling I’ve had racing a motorcycle. It felt out of body – a magic carpet ride
What was the first motorcycle you bought with your own money?
Probably in Europe, when I bought a Harley-Davidson to ride on the road.
Who was your fiercest rival and why?
There were lots of them, but the main one would be Stephen Gall. I was bursting onto the scene as a junior at age 17 and he was the main man, the one to beat in Australia. So he was definitely the one I had to knock off, so to speak. He was so dedicated and so professional, and he wanted to win very badly, doing whatever it took to win. So we had a few bumps.
Which bike you’ve raced is your favourite?
I’d say the Honda CR125 I rode when I went to the USA full time in 1986.
What is the greatest racing motorcycle ever built?
There are so many out there, but in terms of the radicalness of the bikes and how advanced they were at the time, the factory Honda 250 and 500 in 1985. They were cutting-edge machines, and we haven’t seen that level of innovation for quite a long time.
Was racing better then or now?
Racing is always good, at least when it comes to motorcycle sport, particularly motocross. It’s still a lot about the rider. The biggest percentage in off-road racing is still about the rider. It’s still awesome and always been great. I’m not into comparing eras.
Who is the greatest motocross rider of all time?
In motocross, for me, Roger de Coster was the best, and especially now he works for KTM!
What was your closest shave or “holy shit” moment ?
I had plenty of them! Wished sometimes they’d have been close shaves rather than getting hurt. But one of the funniest was when I was 14, at the Byford motocross track in WA. I went down the main straight, over a drop-off jump, and miscued, going off the track. The front wheel landed into a hole and dug in…I did a complete 360 degree flip and landed back on the wheels, but stalled out. I was pretty bewildered and feeling pretty lucky.
What is your favourite racing livery or logo?
The last year I was in Europe, the factory Honda team gear looked pretty cool. HRC is usually cool gear. That year they had taken images of the internal parts of the bike and transposed them onto the jerseys in one colour. It was cool gear.
Which riders or drivers, dead or alive would you most like to have dinner with?
Ayrton Senna. I was and still am quite a fan.
Who was the best rider you saw, who didn’t make it to the bigtime?
There have been some good ones, and some who virtually made the big time or should have done better. I’d saw ‘Beetle’ Bailey, the Suzuki rider from Cessnock who raced in the early 1980s. He was super talented, but he had a lot of bad injuries that took away his edge.
What was your biggest disappointment in racing?
In 1986, the first time I went to the USA full time, I did the San Diego Supercross. Billy Liles landed on top of me and I broke my jaw. That was the toughest crash to come back from, mentally. I was ready to have a really good season and then I was out…
What made you retire from racing?
In bike racing, at the end of the 1990 European season. I wasn’t enjoying it any more. My head wasn’t right fo racing and the motivation wasn’t there. I didn’t feel safe any more.
What’s been the best post-race party?
At the end of 1985, I’d won Mr Motocross for the second time and only dropped one moto out of the 20 or so in the season. I was headed for America the following years, so I hired a hall in Sydney and invited all the racers and my mates. It was a crazy party.
Have you ever searched yourself on Youtube? (If so, what’s the best clip?)
Yes. Trying to remember what I’ve done. The best clip was when I ran out of fuel in Holland in the world championship. I threw the bike on the ground and showed plenty of emotion. It makes me laugh…now!
(ed – Note we couldn’t find the actual clip!)
Is there an event you would still like to race in?
No, I’m done and dusted in bike racing. I’m a Formula 1 and V8 fan. One event I’d liked to have done was the Bathurst 1000 car race, but I’m too old now. That would have been ideal to have done.
Electric dirt bikes? Yes or No?
Never say never, it’s early days. But the big part of riding or driving is the internal combustion engine, which gives lots of atmosphere. So probably, no.
Are you optimistic for the future of motocross?
What do you think of the Vintage Motocross scene?
I hadn’t had much to do with VMX until I was invited to do an event in England on a 30-years-old Maico. There was so much pressure to do it, and when I did I really enjoyed it. It’s important to preserve the heritage of the sport and where it came from – so people can enjoy their era again and the young people can see what it was like. I didn’t think I would like it, but once I did, I liked it.
What is your current state of mind?
Good, really good. I’ve now been with KTM for 15 years and it has been an amazing journey to where we are today. We now have the biggest market share we’ve ever had. We have a good business, offering a good product.
See Jeff Leisk at the 2012 Honda Broadford Bike Bonanza 7-18 April 2012
For event details contact
Ph: 03 9684 0515
Photos: Tony Blazier