MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 30, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
It may take a bit of time to recognize Vann Martin on the track this year for those that have watched him compete in recent years; something is different about the Texas native’s set up -- most notably the #96 sitting pretty on his front number plate. That’s right! Martin put in one of the best seasons of his budding professional career throughout 2016, despite suffering an injury at Anaheim 1. He put in results throughout the remainder of the season worthy of a two digit permanent number for the 2017 season. Martin is currently contesting the west coast rounds of the Monster Energy Supercross season in the 450 class, but only in preparation for the 250 east division. He has gotten more and more comfortable on the ‘17 Honda CRF 450 throughout the opening rounds of the series, coming closer to making the main event with each passing weekend. The Texas native will have quite the advantage heading into the commencement of the 250 east regional series with a multitude of racing experience already under his belt. We caught up with Vann to discuss his perspective on the 450 SX class, living with Cooper Webb out in California, and one of his worst travel experiences to date.
So, you’ve kind of hopped around between racing the 250 and 450 throughout your career, but you never really raced 450’s in SX. What’s your first impression of the premier class indoors so far?
So far I’ve noticed that it’s way gnarlier, like all those guys have so much experience, y’know. Even the guys that I’m battling with way in the back have the experience in the 450 class already. It’s a lot tougher just trying to figure out the track right away compared to the 250 class; those 450 guys have so much experience that they can just jump out there, and by the second or third lap they’re hittin’ the big rhythms where I’m just gettin’ used to the track -- like the same thing the 250 guys would be doin’. The 450 guys just got the experience and they’ll hit those rhythms right away.
How do you feel about how you’ve ridden so far in the first three rounds?
Well, the first two rounds I was really struggling with that new bike; I only had like a week on the new Honda 450, just in general I was struggling with the whole new bike. It feels completely different and my suspension was way off. Factory Connection didn’t really have time to test with us, so they just gave me a ballpark setting. It was decent for the first two rounds, but we went ahead and revalved everything before the third round, and they gave me a new setting...going into A2 I felt like a completely different rider. A2 was a big improvement as far as the whole day goes. I just felt so much better and so much more like myself, so we made big improvements just considering the suspension and the new bike. Last weekend (A2) was tremendously better than the first two, so we’re doing good.
How have you been adapting to the new Honda and what do you like about the bike?
I’m now starting to like it a whole lot. At first it was super rigid and I think...just me gettin’ the new bike with super stiff SX suspension and going straight to riding SX -- I never even had a day on it on outdoors. I just had to go straight to SX and it was super rigid and super stiff. It’s incredibly fast compared to the old Honda, so I was kinda strugglin’ with all that: having a bike that is such a handful that won’t settle in the corners being so stiff and harsh. It was tough at first, but now that it’s kinda broken in, the chassis broken in, I got my suspension done, and I’ve kinda done some things to tone down the power a little bit...I’m really starting to feel at home on it now.
What have you really been focusing on throughout the week to try and get better on the weekend?
Last weekend I noticed in the heat race that my intensity wasn’t there the first two laps, and then once I warmed up I started feelin’ really good. I’ve just been working on bringing that intensity right from the gate drop and not taking a lap to warm up, because once I get warmed up I’m fine, in the LCQ I rode really good straight from the gate drop. I’m just working on trying to get that intensity up, and doing sprints to help going straight to wide open and not taking time to warm up.
You had one of your best professional seasons of your career last year and finally earned a national number, what’s it like to be sportin’ the #96 this year?
Yeah, I was pretty pumped about gettin’ a two digit number. That was a big goal of mine goin’ into last year. I mean, I got hurt at A1 last year so uh....goin’ into it was kind of a rough start. We had some goals that we wanted to accomplish, but after that injury I knew that 2016 was going to be a learning experience. Now this year, I’ve finally got that good experience and I’m ready to put my name out there now, and having that two digit is definitely pretty cool ‘cause not a lot of people have done that. It adds some confidence, for sure.
You go way back with Cooper Webb as you guys have been friends since amateurs. He was nice enough to let you crash at his place while you’re out west. Do you feel like it helps you as a racer being around someone with that champion mentality?
Yeah, for sure. Cooper’s always been super nice to me and for sure havin’ him next to me -- being able to bicycle ride with him -- just his confidence level is so high. Tryin’ to duplicate it is definitely a big confidence booster, hanging out with someone that’s so talented and has done so much. He’s got a lot of advice to give me, too. It’s definitely a good thing having Cooper as such a good friend, and it adds some confidence, too.
One of the weirdest things about the beginning of the 2017 season has been all of the rain that California has been getting, has it been tough sticking to the normal program and trying to find places to ride during the week?
Yeah, all the rain in SoCal has been really tough. There was one week where I only got to ride one day and we were still tryin’ to test suspension. It was just a struggle -- the whole first couple weeks we’ve been here really -- we haven’t got to ride a perfect track until last week. It was tough...leavin’ Texas it hadn’t been raining in a while, and then I came to California and it starts rainin’ here and it never rains here, it usually rains in Texas. It was definitely weird havin’ that going on and it was tough finding places to ride. I’m trying to set up my bike the way I want and not gettin’ to ride wasn’t helping at all. A couple days I rode on completely rutted, wet SX tracks and you’re not really gonna get a good race setting from that.
That has also kind of affected the way the schedule works on race day, do you have to approach qualifying any differently when they drop the free practice session to preserve the track a bit?
Yeah, it’s been tough for me not havin’ that free practice ‘cause I’m kinda one that takes a little bit to warm up. I’ve been doin’ better and better the past couple rounds, but just not having those free practices was tough on me ‘cause I was just having to go out and try to hit these rhythms right away -- that led to me over-jumping and stuff, or casing it really bad just havin’ to huck it right away. Usually in that free practice, I would kinda feel it out, go a little bit bigger the next time and then actually hit the rhythm...with no free practice I’ve been struggling quite a bit, but I’m gettin’ better at it.
You had a really cool opportunity towards the end of last year to do a training school out in Hawaii, what was that whole experience like being out there?
I’ve never been to Hawaii and it was super cool getting to go out there! The way I actually lined that up -- my second cousins actually live in Hawaii in Oahu where I was stayin’. It’s a coincidence, but they actually ride dirt bikes; they mainly ride on trails. They actually help with that whole track in Hawaii, set up the races, help with cleaning up the track and everything. They’ve been telling me for years that I need to go down there, but this year I was luckily able to save up enough money where I could actually afford to go down there. Me and my girlfriend hung out the whole week, I did the training school, and then we got to just have a vacation after that. It was the first real vacation I’ve had and I got to train some kids and teach them my knowledge. It was really cool that I got to do that and help out the kids, and then it was super cool that I got to have some relaxing time myself.
You’ve done loads of traveling across the country from weekend to weekend doing the privateer thing. Do you have any traveling horror stories or things that have gone wrong on the road?
Uhhh...I mean, there’s plenty. We would leave every Thursday and drive twenty plus hours to each outdoor and then drive back after the race each Saturday night...just drive straight through the night. There was always something that went wrong. Whenever something would go right, that would make me feel weird about the weekend. Something had to go wrong for me to feel comfortable goin’ to the race. But, one particular incident we had was last year actually when we drove to the last six, I think...and on the way to Millville we had this spare tire mounted on the front of the little trailer we were pullin’ around; it was pretty solid, it was mounted on there good. We were driving about three hours down the road and all of the sudden we just hear something like a big crashing noise. Forrest -- he was driving at the time -- looked in the rearview mirror and we just see the spare tire flipping down the highway. It was nuts! It almost hit a semi next to us, tore up the side of the trailer a little bit, but it wasn’t too bad. So, we pull over and back up to go try and find the spare wheel. We backed up for like half a mile, got out the truck and walked around...we looked for the spare wheel for like a solid hour -- even the cops stopped and tried to help us -- and we couldn’t find a whole spare wheel! It was just gone. I dunno how that happens, but it must have flipped way off the highway. We don’t know where it went.
What’s one thing that you can’t travel without?
I’m not too particular...I guess headphones. I’m always listening to music, I always gotta have something to kinda get me pumped up...always jammin’ to music either when I’m flying or when I’m driving. I gotta have some music playing and definitely gotta have my headphones. I’m into kinda rap, but I’m also into country, and I’m into EDM music a little bit -- the happy kind, not the too extreme kinda dubstep. EDM music, like with a girl singing, just gets me pumped up and ready to race.
What’s your favorite gas station snack?
Ummmm, I’d probably say beef jerky; I’m always trying different kinds. Beef jerky and a Starbucks coffee will get me driving through the whole night, just having something to chew on and having that little bit of caffeine...and sunflower seeds! Beef jerky, sunflower seeds, and one Starbucks frappuccino -- I can split that into three different ways and keep drivin’ like six hours straight.
Who would you like to thank for helping you out?
Allsouth Sprinkler Company, Honda Of Houston, Legends and heroes, Fox, scott, DVS shoes, Yoshimura, Speed Graphics, Powered By Naveen, Rekluse, Factory Connection, Works Connection, Renthal, Twin Air, Dunlop, Dubya, EVS, Ride Engineering, Vertex, Hotcams, Pivot Works, Cycra, Motorex, Ethika, Moto Tape, West End bikes, Vmac Tracks, EMI Construction, Grill Your Ass off seasoning, Texas Fireworks, Freedom MX, @theunion_mc