MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 20, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Austin Forkner generated a lot of hype coming into the professional ranks last year in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. He was one of the most decorated amateur riders to make the jump since Adam Cianciarulo, ironically doing so onboard a Pro Circuit Kawasaki. The Missouri native showed promising speed from the early stages of the season as he scored a podium finish in the second round at Glen Helen - notoriously known as one of the most difficult tracks of the season. He backed up the hype in the latter stages of the season as well with multiple podiums, a moto victory at Washougal, and the overall win at the last round of the year in Indiana. He created a lot of buzz about his Monster Energy Supercross debut as he had gone completely undefeated at the Monster Energy Cup throughout his amateur days. Two rounds of racing have elapsed in the 2017 SX season and although Forkner hasn’t landed on the podium yet, he has continued to show the speed and potential that he possessed outdoors. The Pro Circuit Kawasaki rider will undoubtedly get his hands on some champagne at some point this year, it’s just a matter of when. We caught up with Austin days before the series’ return to Anaheim to chat about his first impressions of the season, what he thought about his first outdoor series, and what sort of music he has on his ‘starting gate’ playlist.
So, you’ve got two rounds of 250 supercross under your belt so far…what’s your first impression now that you’ve got some race time?
Um, it’s good. I mean, it’s obviously tough and you have to get a good start, you have to be really consistent and consistently fast. You have to pretty much do everything the same every lap. It’s hard, all the guys are aggressive...I mean, you kinda have to be to make a pass. It’s good, but it’s tough though.
You didn’t have any experience in the old format other than Monster Cup and so on, but how do you feel about the timed main events?
I mean, at that point you’re obviously tired, so I feel like with fifteen laps you can sprint more. If it’s four more laps, or three, maybe even two on some tracks...you can still sprint, you have to sprint. But, it’s just two or three laps longer, so it’s just that much longer that you basically have to sprint. So it’s nice, it’s different, but I prefer personally goin’ by laps instead of time, because if it’s laps then I kinda know like how many laps - you can find a halfway point in the race. But, when it’s minutes you don’t really know for sure, ‘cause sometimes you cross the line with five seconds left and we have to do a whole nother lap before we get the white flag...so umm, I dunno. I mean, I would probably prefer it to be laps, but y’know, we all gotta ride the same thing so just deal with it and make the best of it.
Obviously you’ve got lots of racing experience with the indoor discipline now after racing Monster Cup, and Road to Supercross, etc...was there anything that surprised you when the gate dropped at Anaheim 1?
Hmmmm, I mean...not a lot. It was pretty much how I thought it was gonna be. I feel like for supercross - it’s not easier to go fast, but it’s harder to go fast and make up time, because the lap times are only half as long and most of us are doing the same rhythm. I mean, so it’s harder to make up time if you get a bad start. If somebody gets a holeshot and you’re in fifth - battling with guys - they can get gone real quick. It’s like third lap and you’re like ‘Aww, dude. I gotta make up like six seconds on the leader now.’ I mean, you can have the first five or six guys in qualifying be within a second, so it’s just close.
You had a pretty gnarly get off in the middle of your first main event. Racing is all about finding a rhythm and a flow on the bike, how difficult is it to get back in that rhythm after making a mistake like that?
Yeah, I mean the crash kind of took me by surprise, because I didn’t even know I was crashing. Me and Hill came together in the whoops and I had to brake to not run into his back wheel. I was like ‘Okay, I’ll just brake and then I’ll just single the last couple whoops out or whatever.’ Whenever I braked, my back wheel was in the air from blitzing the whoops...and it locked up, so that shut the bike off and made it come over, and then I hit the last whoop with my front wheel. There was nothing to keep the bike moving forward and it just came on over and I fell. As soon as I got back up, I was like ‘Okay, calm down.’ Then I did like a lap, I mean obviously I was pissed off, but I did like a couple laps and made some stupid mistakes afterwards. Because I was so mad and I was trying to ride so hard, I made little mistakes afterwards. Then I calmed down for a couple laps after that and fell into a groove; I started riding really good and picked off quite a few guys.
You’re one of those racers that likes to get in the zone on the gate. You’ve always got your game face on, and your headphones in. What’s going through your head when you’re trying to prepare for the race?
I mean, I dunno. I try not to think about it too much, because if I think about it too much then I start overthinkin’ things sometimes. I start worrying about stuff, so I try to just put my headphones in and pretty much whenever it’s time to get on the gate, just go. I really try not to think about it and overthink it, just kinda try to chill and relax until it’s time to go race.
Do you have a specific song that you listen to on the gate to get you zoned in or do you jump around between different stuff?
I have a playlist of like more hype songs that are not really super relaxing. They’re kinda more like, I dunno, just to hype you up or whatever. Some rock songs, like some Metallica. But, mostly rap...I’ve started listening to some of the old Eminem stuff and it’s pretty good, so just kinda everything though. Whatever songs I can find during the week and if I like ‘em then I’ll add ‘em to the playlist and run ‘em at night.
Do you feel like you were more nervous sitting on the gate at Hangtown or at Anaheim 1?
Ummm, I dunno, probably about the same. I felt like at Hangtown, I had a lot longer to think about it. For some reason, SX feels like once you get started it goes by quick, like when you’re racing it. You do your heat race, you go back and you watch some film and talk about what you need to do, then by 450 semis you start getting stuff ready to go to the line. So, I feel like I didn’t really have as much time to be nervous in SX. But, once you get into the stadium and you see everybody there, I mean you’re obviously pretty nervous. I wasn’t like freakin’ out, ‘cause I’ve done Monster Cup before, so I kinda know that feeling. But, umm...I mean, it’s pretty much like that at every single race I go to. It really wasn’t anything different, so I was probably more nervous at Hangtown since that was my first race. Since I did outdoors, I was at least comfortable lining up on the same gate as those guys, whereas at Hangtown everything was new.
You had an exceptional rookie year in the 2016 outdoor season. Mostly, you’ll have a rookie come in and kind of start strong and taper off towards the end of the year. You went the opposite route and really came on strong toward the end of the year, were you satisfied with the season when it was over?
Yeah, I was really happy. Umm...I really wanted to to get my season started sooner, like have more finishes like Glen Helen early in the season. I had a four race rut where I just couldn’t get a start, like I would ride good. There really wasn’t a race where I rode really bad; I just wouldn’t get a start, or I would fall, or if I would get a good start then I’d fall. We just had stupid stuff happening. I was just in a rut. I finally got a podium at Southwick and that was what kind of set it off. Southwick was good, I rode good at Millville but I went down twice in the second moto, and the second time I went down was pretty hard. So umm...that was a bad race. But, then after that it was a podium at Washougal, Unadilla, Budds Creek, and Ironman; that was good. I ended up winning Ironman and I won a moto at Washougal. So, I ended the season really good, I just wish I could have got that in the middle of the season. I only missed being third for the season by like a couple points, so if I just fixed the middle of the season a little bit, I think I would have gotten that, but oh well.
What did it feel like after the second moto at Ironman when you rode up to the podium and saw your mechanic and your Dad standing there so happy for you?
I actually wasn’t one hundred percent sure if I won, ‘cause Olly didn’t put it on my board, like ‘ride smooth, overall,’ or anything like that. He just decided he didn’t wanna make me think about it too much. I was pretty sure like a one-three on the day...I was pretty sure that I had it, but I wasn’t one hundred percent sure. I got off the track and he was like “Yeah, you got it!” So, I was pretty pumped at that point. It was really sick, just to end the season like that was really good.
You put in a lot of time at (Robbie) Reynard’s place training with him and all of that hard work obviously paid off during outdoors. Could you talk a little bit about the training program down there?
I think we have a really good thing there. We have a bunch of fast guys, and the tracks get good and they get rough. Along with all of us pro guys that are there, we have amateur guys there too, so that helps the tracks get rough and race realistic. Just having fast guys there pushes all of us. It’s hot there in the summer, it was really hot some of the days. It’s good for training and it’s really close to my house in my Missouri, so I really like that.
Do you think that super gnarly, three minute per lap sand track helped you out for Southwick a lot this year?
Yeah, we rode there quite a bit. We rode there pretty much everyday leading up to Southwick, so I think that it helped. But, just riding that track during the week...there’s like zero jumps, it’s brutal. It’s whoops the whole way, so I think it helps for really any track; it kind of gets you into shape and it’s tough.
You went down to the Ranch to watch Robbie race. What was it like being on the other side of the fence and watching him race for a change?
Yeah, it was cool. He actually wasn’t even sure if he was gonna race. He kept tellin’ us before that he wasn’t gonna race, because he hadn’t been riding, he’d just been like training us and stuff. And uh...he just decided to race the last minute on the 125 and it was pretty crazy that he ended up doing as good as he did. I mean, it was cool. I thought it was rad that he was ridin’ the 125 and he was beatin’ everybody, and that he rode basically three days all summer before Loretta’s.