MPG / DAILY BREAD / MARCH 3, 2017
Austin Watling didn’t take the normal route that most amateur racers follow on the path to chasing the professional scene. The Ontario native spent his younger years riding trails and competing in local races in his home country of Canada, but eventually began to take the sport more seriously once he made the move onto bigger bikes. Watling decided to travel down to the U.S. and try his hand at some of the major nationals such as Loretta Lynn’s and Mini-O’s -- he was able to podium in the C class at the Ranch and win a title down at Gatorback in his first year racing on the bigger stage. After some impressive results towards the end of last year at the Walton TransCan and Mini-O’s, he garnered the attention of the GDR Honda team and they’ve put together a deal for the 2017 season. This will provide Watling an opportunity to work with one of the most successful active Canadian riders, Colton Facciotti, as well as a highly touted up-and-comer, Dylan Wright. The newly signed GDR Honda rider has been putting in the work down at Real Deal MXTF in South Carolina, going the extra mile to step up his program in order to contend for titles and podiums this year in the B class on American soil. In addition to the major amateur nationals, Watling will be contending the intermediate class in some of the Canadian Nationals, eventually making his pro debut at his home track of Gopher Dunes in the MX2 class on July 9th. We caught up with Austin to chat about his first race in America, penning a deal with the GDR Honda team, and where he hopes to fit in throughout the 2017 season.
You just signed with the GDR Honda team for 2017, talk a little bit about what it’s like working with those guys and being a part of the team for this season.
Yeah, I finished last year and they kinda helped me out at some of the Canadian races. Then I went into Mini-O’s and as soon as that finished, I went home and as soon as I got back I went down there and spent about a week with them, just gettin’ to know the team and everything. Then uhh...near the end of the week, we signed the deal for the remainder of this year for my amateur season in B class and intermediate in Canada. Yeah, the whole team’s really cool...there’s Dylan (Wright) in the 250 class and Colton (Facciotti), so I think I’ll be able to learn a lot from them this winter, and then comin’ into the 2017 season should be good.
Have you got to a lot of riding with those guys yet?
Yeah, I’ve been riding with Colton for a while and then Dylan should be comin’ down to Real Deal in the next couple weeks, so hopefully we’ll be doin’ some training together. Then in the summer I’ll be with Colton so hopefully I can pick up on some stuff he’s doin’ and hopefully that will progress throughout this year, and then hopefully I’ll do good enough this year that they’ll wanna sign me as their 250 rider.
You rode a CRF250 last year with WCK Honda, but what’s the difference hopping on the GDR bike and what do you like about the ’17 Honda?
It’s awesome. WCK is still helping me out this year, they’re kinda workin’ together. GDR built me a race bike, so I’ve been riding the race bike the past couple days, just gettin’ ready for the spring nationals, and that thing’s a rocket ship. So that’s good, and then we’ll have a couple practice bikes and get the new 2017 450 in the next couple weeks. For spring nationals, I’ll probably just ride my 250 in the 450 classes and then comin’ into Loretta’s and stuff, I’ll be on the 450.
What’re your plans for 2017 with the team? Are you going to race some of the Canadian Nationals as well as amateur in the States?
Yeah, I’ll do intermediate in Canada and then 250 B Mod and probably both 450 B classes, and then I’ll probably do Collegeboy or something like that, just to get four classes in. We’re doing all the spring nationals except for Daytona, and then we’ll try to stay in Canada a lot ‘cause that’s what the team wants. So, we’ll be doing that and then we’ll do some of the nationals down here like Mini-O’s and we’ll obviously do Loretta’s. We’ll do Walton TransCan and two or three of the eastern rounds...so, we’ll do Gopher Dunes, Ulverton, and hopefully one more.
So, I know you’re from Ontario -- is Gopher Dunes like your home track?
Yeah, it’s about an hour from my house. So, we ride there a lot -- it’s probably good that we do ‘cause you either love or you hate that track; it’s really rough and like never-ending sand.
Did you race minis and youth classes a lot in the States when you were younger or when did you start taking it seriously and coming down here to race?
When I was younger, I never really got into it seriously. We kinda rode trails -- that’s how I got started with my parents. Then I rode a couple local series around my house and then about end of 85s comin’ onto 125s, I started to actually take it seriously, so it was only like two or three years ago where I was really no one back then -- I was gettin’ like midpack or whatever, and then as soon as I got on bike bikes it kinda clicked. I started working way harder and realizing that this could actually turn into a career, so as soon as I got on 250s I started working my butt off. Now we’re two-three years into big bikes and I’m lovin’ it.
Do you remember your first race in the U.S.?
The first big race we did was probably just the Baja Brawl and then the year after we did C class, so we kinda tried hittin’ the bigger nationals like Mini-O’s, Loretta’s -- I podiumed at Loretta’s in C class and then Mini-O’s I won a title, and Baja I won a title. Yeah, it was all surreal from there ‘cause you come over here from Canada and the competition is way deeper. The top three or four in Canada in all the classes are pretty quick, but you come over here and you need a start -- all the guys are just quick.
Did you take a liking to Baja kinda growing up an hour away from one of the gnarliest sand tracks in the area?
Yeah, I actually started on clay tracks. When we started goin’ to Gopher Dunes -- I hated Gopher when I was on little bikes, and then I got on big bikes and I could just get through it way better. I was gettin’ a lot stronger, so I could muscle my way around. The last couple years I’ve been gettin’ pretty good with sand and that’s why I like Baja; it’s kinda clay and sand, so you get some ruts. The first pro race is Gopher, so hopefully I can make a good statement there.
You’ve been putting in motos and practicing down at Real Deal MX Training Facility in South Carolina, what’s the program like down there and what do you like about the facility?
Real Deal’s really good. We get up in the morning; do a warm up, we go out and do our motos, do our drills, and then we do a work out, do a bike ride, and then we stretch after everything. It’s really scheduled down here which I like -- there’s always something going on, so as soon as you’re done with your stuff, you can start working on your bikes. All the kids down here are great, it’s not a huge facility right now. It’s starting to get bigger and a lot of kids are starting to come here, so we’re gonna have to put more hook-ups in and stuff. Sherry does the work-outs and Rob does the on track stuff, it’s great.
Is there any particular thing that you’re focusing on with your training or on the bike to improve heading into spring nats this year?
I’m just tryin to work on everything -- as soon as I get on the bike, I’m always asking Rob what I can work on. I’m tryin’ to work on standing on the balls of my feet more and stuff like that -- just when I get in the gym and on the bike, he’s always givin’ us talks about how we’ve got to give it our all and you’ve just gotta think about someone else that’s working harder than you. You’ve gotta stay motivated down here, you gotta think of things that wanna make you do stuff. So, when you go out on the bike ride, you gotta push it. Wearing a heart rate monitor and a LitPro out on the track helps, ‘cause you can always better yourself and make sure you’re working harder than you were last time. So, everytime I go out on a bike ride I’m always trying to beat my time, every time I’m in the gym I’m always trying to beat the guy behind me; I’m always trying to better myself.
What do you like to do with your free time when you’re not riding or training moto?
Ehh, not much. I say this, but I don’t do much. I try to get my school stuff done as much as I can, I dunno we’re always doing something -- there’s a basketball court, we’re always goin’ into town, going on bike rides -- there’s tons to do around here.
Looking back on the 2016 season, was there any particular race that sticks out to you as the highlight of your year?
Ummm, probably Walton. I was working hard and I came into intermediate -- I rode junior the year before (the C class in Canada) and I did pretty well in that class; I won like three championships. I came into intermediate and just didn’t know what to expect ‘cause there were so many fast guys. I worked hard at the end of the nationals and I was leading the 450 class and then my bike blew up, so that’s when the GDR crew started helping me. I didn’t win a championship there, but that was probably one of my best races considering how many people were there and just had some bad luck.
It was pretty muddy up there at Walton this past year at the beginning of the week from what I heard.
Yeah, there’s almost one or two days at least every year and like I’m a good mud rider, but I hate it. As soon as it rains, I hate it but I get out there and usually I’m the only one that stays up and makes it easier on myself.
Does that put you in a different mindset on the gate?
Yeah, it definitely does. It did rain the one day and the GDR crew helped prep everything -- like we never really have done everything different, but they put foam on my helmet, foam in my brake and shifters, and they were doin’ a bunch of stuff. So, I went out there confident and ready to race, going up there knowing that I had those guys behind me just made it a lot better. As soon as you get up front on the start it’s a lot easier -- you’re not back on the straightaway pulling six or seven tear-offs.
I gotta ask you about the Loretta Lynn’s Regional at High Point — one of the muddiest races I’ve ever been to, what was it like racing in those conditions with standing water all over the track?
It was pretty fun. When you get to the line and it’s raining and everything is soaking wet, umbrellas don’t really do much at that point. Umm, there was a whole puddle of water on the starting gate and people had about thirty tear-offs on and they were probably pulled by the first corner. I couldn’t tell you how I did there; I don’t think I did that well, but either way it was fun.
You did pretty well at Loretta’s this past year and came away with a top ten overall in 450 B Limited, how’d the week go for you at the Ranch?
It was pretty good considering I wasn’t really sure what to expect in the B class. I got lucky with most of my motos -- most of the time it rained in the morning and I had the later motos, so it wasn’t too muddy for me. I felt I rode really good, but just had some bad luck -- I stalled it in the one moto after I passed into second, I was running top five once I got good starts and then just had some bad luck. I think overall the week went pretty good; I got some top fives and some top tens overall, so hopefully this upcoming year I can stay on the podium the whole time and hopefully get some championships.
Mini-O’s went pretty well for you this past year as you came away with quite a few top fives, how was the week down at Gatorback for you?
It was pretty good. I need to work on consistency ‘cause I’ll end up going 2-15-2 or something like that, so I need to get rid of that one bad moto. It went pretty good, I stayed somewhat consistent. I think I got a couple top fives and then outdoors I felt really, really good. Usually goin’ into those races I was a lot more nervous before, but actually goin’ into Mini-O’s I wasn’t as nervous; I felt more confident. You go up to the line and you see a lot of those guys up there, and you just put in your head that you’re already going to lose, so that’s what I’m workin’ on -- be confident going into the races and know that I’m the guy to beat.
Is that something that they’re helping you with down at Real Deal as well with the mental aspect of the sport?
Yeah, that’s what Rob talks about a lot. He’ll give us speeches every morning on what we need to do, and he says “You’re gonna go out there and if you guys aren’t prepared, and you’re not puttin’ in all the work on the bike and in the gym, you’re gonna go out there and see all those guys and be scared out of your mind.” The mental game is huge -- as soon as you put in all the work and go up to the line knowing that you’re the guy to beat, it’s gonna make it much easier to get a start, and gettin’ the start makes it a lot easier to win.
Do you have any pre-race rituals or anything like that?
Umm, I don’t do much. I always try givin’ both people props beside me, I just think it’s good luck when I go out there, I dunno. Yeah, I don’t do much -- I just try to stay focused and then think of what I’m gonna do in the race and visualize...yeah, that helps.
When you’re on the road traveling between races, what’s your go-to gas station snack?
I try to stay somewhat healthy when we’re on the road -- I’m not a huge fan of like McDonald’s or anything, so I’ll get like a Gatorade and a salad or something we’re in a gas station. We try to keep it as healthy as we can, but sometimes you gotta get a chocolate bar or something.
If you do really well at a race, will you cheat on the diet a little bit?
Yeah, especially after a big race -- if I do good at like Mini-O’s or something, I’ll go out and have like a milkshake or some ice cream or something like that. The last couple years I didn’t really focus on my diet, but this year I am ‘cause you might not think it, but it does help a lot. Like if I go out and eat McDonald's, I feel like crap the next day. As long as you’re eating how you’re supposed to, it helps you feel a lot better the next day and on the bike.
Who would you like to thank?
Mom & Dad, Honda Canada/ GDR/ Fox Racing Team, Shift MX, Real Deal MXTF, Ryno Power, Frankfit Canada, New Era, WCK Honda, Humberview Group, Proven Moto, SSS, Marin Bikes, Honda Pro Oil & Lubricants, Yoshimura R&D, Hinson Clutch Components, Dunlop Tire, Wiseco Piston, Twin Air, Lime Nine, Works Connection, ARC, Cycra, Motoseat, Renthal, Dyco Tool, Toronto Digital Imaging, Xtrig, Evans Coolant, Vortex, Samco, BP Fuel, Galfer, Mechanic Wear, Matrix Concepts, Snap On
/ Words / Lake Kilpatrick
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