Close your eyes and think of the image of tattooed guys riding motorcycles. What comes to mind?
Probably a Hells Angels convention.
Carey Hart helped change that image. His performance on a 250cc racing bike and TV appearances helped spawn a new generation of fans and riders and brought fresh visibility to a sport that always has been family-oriented in its basic core.
“I hate to use this word, but I was one of the pioneers who took this sport seriously,” Hart, a Las Vegas native and Green Valley High School graduate, said of freestyle motocross. “I saw it as an opportunity to express myself on the track, and I’m glad I did it.”
Tonight at Orleans Arena, Hart will be honored for his accomplishments with induction into the Southern Nevada Sports Hall of Fame. He will be joined in the Class of 2014 by drag racing team owner Ken Black, the Herbst family, which has enjoyed success in off-road racing, golfer Chris Riley and UNLV baseball coach Tim Chambers. The ceremonies are scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.
Hart, 39, never saw this coming.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It’s still a bit of a shock. I never thought a dirt bike rider could be in a sports hall of fame. But I’m very honored to have been chosen.
“When I started competing, supercross was big in Southern California. So for a guy from Las Vegas to make it, that was big. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of, being from Las Vegas and making it in racing at the professional level.”
Hart began racing bikes when he was 6. His grandfather and father rode, so it was basically in his blood. He showed an early aptitude for racing, and by the time he graduated from Green Valley in 1993, he had turned pro and was running on the AMA supercross circuit.
Three years later, Hart ventured into freestyle motocross, which involves jumps and stunts and is judged by degree of difficulty and originality.
And original he was. In 2000 at the Gravity Games, a made-for-TV event, he completed a back flip on his 250cc bike. The “Hart Attack,” as it was dubbed, made him a worldwide sensation, and he appeared on late night TV talk shows and became a subject of numerous print magazine stories.
He was now part of the “X-Games culture,” an alternative to traditional stick-and-ball sports. His good looks and his spawning of tattoos all over his body made him attractive to fans and sponsors who wanted to attract the 17-34 demographic.
“I was fortunate in that my timing was good,” Hart said. “Television was starting to cover our sport, and I was having success and it all came together.”
Hart also became a savvy businessman. He saw the tattoo craze taking off and got involved with the business side of body art. The Hart and Huntington Tattoo Company opened in 2004 at the Palms, and now Hart has four shops across the country.
The original H&H shop moved to the Hard Rock Hotel in 2009, and the business has been marketed on TV through the A&E Network’s reality show “Inked.”
“It’s something that fit my lifestyle,” he said of getting into the tattoo business. “I learned a lot about business from my sponsors, paying attention to what they did to market me, and I worked closely with them. I didn’t have a college education, but I have a good sense for business.”
He also has his own supercross race team. Hart retired from competitive racing in 2012, but his partnership with Ricky Carmichael in RCH Racing has allowed him to stay active in the sport.
“That’s the great thing about it; I get to still experience the sport through the race team,” Hart said. “It’s great to work with the young riders and watch them develop.”
He also loves spending time with his family. He and his wife, Pink, the superstar pop singer, have a 4-year-old daughter, Willow.
Hart said being in a celebrity marriage is a challenge, with social media lurking everywhere and rumors of their lives being splashed across tabloid newspapers and websites. Hart said he can’t worry about what people say, but he and his wife try to shield their daughter from those prying eyes.
“You know what you’ve signed up for,” he said. “We’ve got a daughter, and we’re trying to protect her. We try to set boundaries that we hope people will respect.”
But tonight Hart, who lives in Los Angeles, won’t mind the attention as he comes home to be honored.
“I’m really looking forward to being able to share it with my family and friends,” he said.
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.