MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 24, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Wilson Fleming put in some of the best results of his amateur career during the 2016 racing season. He earned his first major national championship victory at the Daytona RCSX and backed that up with another one down at Loretta Lynn’s Ranch. The Connecticut native didn’t really kick his program into overdrive until 2014 when he moved down to Millsaps Training Facility and began training full-time. He’s improved leaps and bounds since dedicating his life to the sport and all the hard work is finally starting to pay off. Fleming is currently contesting the AMSOIL AX series in an attempt to collect all of his Road to Supercross points. He didn’t have the best of luck adapting to the unique indoor racing at the first round in Cincinnati, but he came back swinging in Baltimore and grabbed a couple points to build his confidence heading into Nashville. We caught up with Wilson to chat about his roots in the sport, what it was like to win his first ever Loretta’s championship, and what he’s got set up for 2017.
First of all, how old were you when you first rode and how’d you get into the sport?
I think I was about three years old when I first got a PW50. Umm..it’s kinda a long story on how I got into it, but basically we lived in Connecticut and we had a house in Vermont; it’s pretty close to Canada, so there’s a lot of mountains there. My Dad was pretty big into skiing and he loves to do that, so we would go up there like every weekend, and during the summer we would go up there, too. Him and some of his buddies kind of had some bikes and rode around in some of the sand pits and trails, so that’s how my Dad got into it and knew about it. Once I got on the PW50, I kinda just rode it around the house for a little bit, and then when I was about five or six, my Dad heard about a dealership and got me a KTM50 - one of the big wheel ones - and he kinda asked them “Where’s some good places to ride ‘round here?” And there was a small club forty-five minutes north of where we lived in Connecticut; it was a pretty small club, so they only had like two to three hundred members, and there was a little bit of a waiting list. So, we got on the list and once I got in, it was kinda game over from there. They had night time races on Fridays...and I did that until I was about fifteen or sixteen years old. I found out about MTF and kinda the whole national scene from one of my buddies (Pete Davis) who moved down to MTF when he was like twelve or thirteen. So, I always buggin’ my Dad, gettin’ really upset, saying “Why can’t I go down to MTF? Why can’t we go do all the nationals?” His biggest thing for me was that he wanted me to get a good high school education, and the town that we lived in had a really good high school. He kinda steered away from the whole home schooling thing - there’s definitely nothing wrong with it - but that was just his opinion. At the time I was super pissed at him ‘cause that’s what he wanted for me, but looking back at it now I think it was a great thing for him to do for me. Just being down here now...maybe if I would have came down here earlier I would have gotten a little bit burnt out and all that, so it was a good plan. Ever since I got down here this is all I want to do.
Instead of going off to college after graduating, you made the move down to MTF, what was it like moving down to a training facility like that without ever being exposed to it?
It was crazy. It was my senior year in high school and the idea was circulating with my Dad; I brought it up a couple times, but he never really said we’re gonna do it. So, when the time came around about halfway through my senior year to start applying to colleges, I kinda just was like ‘I’m just not gonna do it,’ and hope that my Dad lets me go to MTF. I think the whole time I knew that he was going to, but it was just a funny little gamble. So, when I got down here it was crazy - that year (2014) was actually my first year making it to Loretta’s, so I met some of the guys ‘cause one of my buddies down here is from Connecticut and lived like thirty minutes away from me. We’d been friends since I was like ten years old, he introduced me to some of his buddies that were down here at MTF, so I kinda knew some of them. Dylan (Walsh) actually got here the same time as I did, so we kinda became buddies ‘cause we didn’t really know anyone. The training was really good; it’s gotten a little bit different now since this is my third year here. Y’know, Colleen welcomed me with open arms, I had a good bit of natural talent but there was definitely a lot of room for improvement as there still is now. It’s just been full bore ever since then.
What was it like balancing the amateur racing with being a full-time high school student when you were back in Connecticut?
Uhh, it was pretty difficult. Through middle school it wasn’t too big of a deal to miss school - that wasn’t really an issue - a lot of my teachers and the guidance counselor understood it. When I got to high school, it was kinda like a full one eighty twist on me, because they only allowed twelve absences throughout each semester...if you exceed twelve absences then you lose credit. So there were a couple times where I was really close just to go racing, ‘cause sometimes we would go do like area qualifiers that were the Friday-Saturday-Sunday races. That was probably the hardest thing for me. Before I could drive, I would ride maybe once or twice a week just because my Dad was working. Luckily that club had lights, so we could go ride up there at night. But, once I got my license I would pack the truck up after school and go riding - usually just like three times a week - but definitely the biggest thing was just the absences in high school, ‘cause it got pretty close to where I had to make up some extra credits and stuff.
Reflecting on 2016, your season started off pretty good with a championship at the Daytona RCSX, how’d the racing go down there for you?
Yeah, this past season is definitely gonna be one to remember. The start of 2016 was good; I was riding well. Y’know, we were training for Daytona, and I’ve always kinda been pretty good on SX tracks - even though Daytona isn’t like a traditional SX track - when I get on the tighter tracks I seem to excel. I went down there and I was feelin’ good. The year before I won one of my heat races, and was leading another race until I hurt my ankle. But, I was confident coming in ‘cause I knew the year before was good for me. The day before the main events I got second in both of my qualifiers, I was feelin’ really good. I think my first race was the 250 B race - I got a terrible start and I think I finished somewhere in the top ten, it just wasn’t good, and I was so mad at myself ‘cause of how well I was riding the day before. The 450 B moto comes around…and, um I was really pumped up on the gate. The two main guys that I knew I had to beat were Max (Markolf) and Jake (Masterpool). I just went out there and got the holeshot, I led like the first three laps and they red flagged it. I was freakin’ out a little bit in my head at first - I was so mad. But umm...the trainer here, Tony, he’s amazing gym trainer, but he also teaches us a lot of life lessons...and I thought about some of the things he’s said and calmed down, and got back in the zone. I got the holeshot again and I think Max was behind me the whole race - kinda kept it at like a second, second and a half - and that was my first real national championship. I was so pumped! I mean, I had worked so hard - everyone works so hard - but when you finally get to see it pay off, it’s insane.
Later in the year, you had your best week ever at Loretta’s and won a championship and ended up third overall in your other class, how’d the week at the Ranch go from your perspective?
It was surreal, because I had been trying to qualify for Loretta’s since I was like nine or ten, I think. I had always gotten so close. Y’know, they do the three moto format at the regionals; I would be fine in the first two motos and it would come down to the third moto, and something would happen. I didn’t go to Loretta’s until 2014 and when I got there I was just so happy that I made it that I didn’t really care what I got. And then after a year at MTF, I went back to Loretta’s in 2015 and had some bad luck, but this year after Daytona I was just like ‘I wanna work harder, I wanna do every single thing that I can to try and go there to win.’ My goal was to win and to see that happen was just surreal. Comin’ into that last moto, I knew who I had to beat ‘cause me and the other kid were tied...and um, when I got that holeshot I was just like ‘I’m just gonna go, just gonna go.’ I came off that moto and I was so tired that I was honestly a little bit dazed, just ‘cause it was so hot. It was like a six o’clock moto and the track was so rough. I was trying to soak it all in, but at the same time I was just trying to take deep breaths. But, at that point I was just so happy. Every single kid dreams about winning at Loretta’s and when it finally happens it’s just the greatest feeling in the world.
Mini-O’s wasn’t the best for you to end the 2016 season, things didn’t really go your way throughout the week. Could you talk a little bit about what happened down there at Gatorback?
I went on a break after Loretta’s, and I kinda just didn’t have that same desire that I had after Daytona. And uhh...looking back on it now, I think I got a little bit complacent with what I had done - that was probably the worst thing I could have ever done. I talked about it with a few people here (Colleen and Tony), y’know, they said it’s kinda normal for that to happen. To me it seemed like nothing had changed; I was still working hard, I just lost a little bit of that desire and drive that I had coming into Loretta’s. I was riding decent, but not like I was before Loretta’s and that was really affecting me mentally. There’s so many guys here that you ride with everyday, so you know who you should be beating, you know what your lap times should be, and when you’re off it just gets to you mentally. I was still trying my hardest, working my hardest, and I went down to Mini-O’s and just had such bad luck. It was crazy, ‘cause I’m normally a really good starter - at Loretta’s I had four out of six holeshots - it was just a little bit of struggle for me. I’m not really used to workin’ through the pack and starting mid-pack. It seemed like when I would be up there then something would happen with another rider, and um...I think I only won one heat race there. It got to me, it just got to me mentally. That was about the biggest thing. Me and Mini-O’s haven’t really gelled well, but I try to take the good with the bad, and right now I still feel like I have that same desire that I did before Loretta’s. So, I’m excited to see what this season has for me.
So, you’re starting off 2017 with the Road to Supercross, what has your impression been of the AX stuff so far?
Yeah, the AX stuff...I guess if there’s one way to put it - it’s crazy. Everything is so tight and so close, it’s kinda like nothin’ I’ve ever done before. Umm, I’ve been training on SX here at MTF and I feel really good, like I’m only a couple seconds per lap off of the top guys here. I showed up to Cincinnati and I felt like a C rider out there. It was fine, I kinda went there with no expectations, I just really wanted to get my feet wet. But at the same time, I did want to do well just like every racer would. So, that one didn’t really go to well and I just got back from Baltimore which was much better. I got in both nights, but I still struggled a bit on qualifying so I had to start off the back row for the heats. Friday night - made the main event, then Saturday night I started from the back row in the LCQ and made it to like third in six laps, so I missed it by one spot. I was pretty proud of myself with how I rode, and I think once I can get up on that front row, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be on the podium in the main event.
How gnarly is it starting on the second row?
It’s challenging...just knowing that you have eight guys that already have a head start on you. It’s weird ‘cause it can sometimes play into your favor if something were to happen in the first turn, but it seems like every time that I was in the back row like no one crashed or anything. What I was doing, and what I think everyone else was doing was looking at the gate instead of the back tire of the person in front of you, but you’re so close to them coming down the start straight and it’s crazy...and you’ve got another six guys to the left of you. It’s wild.
What’re you focusing on this week and looking to improve when you line up this weekend in Nashville?
I’m gonna try and work a little bit on my whoops. It seems like that sort of can make or break whether you have a fast lap or not. Like when we’re working sprint laps here, when I go through the whoops good I’m like half a second faster than if I hit ‘em fine or not that good. Also, I’m gonna try and work some more on some sprint laps - just hanging it all out for a couple laps. I mean, it’s so close...especially this weekend with the whoops; you couldn’t really jump through them, ‘cause they didn’t break down like they did at Cincinnati. So, I think if I can get the whoops consistent and fast, it should get me close to the top for qualifying.
What’re your plans and goals for 2017 moving up to the A class?
It’s gonna be challenging. I have a lot faith in myself that I can perform and do well. I’m gonna get the rest of my Road to Supercross points and then do Daytona, Freestone, and Loretta’s. I’m gonna set my goals to be right around top three and top five at all the nationals, and at Loretta’s. It’s gonna be hard, just like anything. It’s gonna be tough, but I think if anyone can do it I can. But, I believe in myself so I think I should be able to accomplish those goals.
Who would you like to thank for helping you out?
I'd like to thank the whole crew at MTF, Answer, Scott, Bell, EVS, Pro Taper, FMF, Factory Connection, Nihilo Concepts, Ryno Power, Hinson, MGX unlimited, and Excel wheels.