MPG / DAILY BREAD / JANUARY 5, 2017
Words / Lake Kilpatrick
Although motorcycle racing is considered somewhat of a niche sport, it’s not too often that riders move back and forth between various disciplines of two wheeled racing. There’s always the standouts that are able to excel in both disciplines such as the legendary Jean-Michel Bayle, but it’s often rare to see any crossover between dirt and tarmac except for training based purposes. The South Carolina native of Max Markolf happened upon a chance to do just that as he struck a deal with KTM that rewarded him for his good results throughout the 2016 season. He managed to grab a couple of titles at the Daytona RCSX as well as Mammoth, also racking up multiple overall podiums throughout the season. Therefore, they put him on a KTM RC 390 race bike and let him loose at New Jersey Motorsports Park for the final round of the MotoAmerica series. We caught up with Max to talk about riding on slicks for the first time ever, his future in the professional ranks, and what he would be in a fantasy world.
You’ve been backed by KTM for a about three years now and it’s all kind of come full circle with the announcement that you’re going to spearhead the new Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM Amateur Elite Team.
Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s really cool to be, y’know, the first kid to back this Amateur Elite program with the Rocky Mountain ATV/MC KTM team. KTM believed in me when no one else did like two years ago, y’know, when I was on superminis. Yeah, I guess they saw something and they were stoked, so they gave me an amateur ride. So, to now see it come full circle and to see a pro ride come out of it, and uhh...to see an end game. Man, I’ll tell you what: I feel really blessed and I feel really fortunate, so I can’t wait to get it started and make all those guys proud.
KTM provided a pretty unique opportunity to you a couple of months ago by hooking you up with the chance to race the KTM RC 390 Cup at the final round of the MotoAmerica championship, what was that experience like?
Yeah, it was awesome. Actually, me and Christy at KTM had a bet. So, she brought it up to me the summer of 2015 and she wanted to know if I’d be interested in something like that. So, I looked into it and said “Sign me up.” So, she was like “Alright, alright. I’ll make a deal with ya. If you do good this year, then we’ll do it.” So, she kind of like hooked me on it, y’know. Obviously, I put my head down and we did good; we got a couple championships this year at the amateur nationals. So, it was awesome, man. The day that I turned eighteen, they flew me out to uhh...Sacramento, and I met with their road ambassador, Chris Fillmore. He picked me up from the airport with two or three bikes with him and we went straight to the track. We had two ride days and uhh...right at the end of the ride days, they were like “Alright, looks like you’re just good enough to race.” So, sure enough, two weeks later we headed to New Jersey. It was such a fun weekend, just to kinda be there and do something different. It was cool, because it was a no pressure situation. I didn’t have to good or anything, it was just literally for the fun of it. I went in with zero road experience, I’ve literally never ridden anything on the street in my entire life; got two days on this bike that I was gonna go race with against all the - I guess you would call them - amateur pros. So, like the class is kind of like an A class, kind of how you would explain it. It was awesome just to be doing that. I learned the whole time; every time I hit the track I was learnin’ new stuff, so I was grinning ear to ear all weekend. We didn’t beat a lotta kids, but we beat a few kids, so that’s what we went there for and I’d love to go back and do it any other time, for sure. Hey, listen to this...you know what I’m doing tomorrow? (Dec. 15th) I’m going for the company ride day for KTM, it’s like two hours away, and it’s road racing. So, I’ve got my road racing suit and everything and I actually get to go do it again tomorrow.
That’s awesome, man. Those guys are gnarly, too. People don’t realize it…
You have no idea, man...when you’re coming into a corner at eighty miles per hour and you’ve got dude’s elbows on your inside and your outside, and they’re leaning on you...aww, man. It’ll make your butt pucker! Hahaha.
Hahaha! So, you mentioned you didn’t have any road racing experience, never rode on the street or anything like that. Have you ever done any cross training in flat track or supermoto?
No, I’ve never had any flat track or any kind of supermoto experience ever. I’ve literally never been on slicks, I’ve only been on knobby tires, that type of thing. But, that’s what I did come to find out: a lot of those kids don’t road race full time. Most of them flat track full time and do stuff like supermoto, and then they come and race this stuff. It’s like their full time thing, but not how they train for it. So, it’s pretty nutty, but I’ve never done it. I’m actually trying to figure that out right now - how I can get some flat track experience - because that looks pretty wicked to do on two wheels, too.
You mentioned KTM had Chris Fillmore out there in sort of an instructional role to ease the transition for you. He’s been with KTM a long time and has a lot of experience as a road racer in both AMA Pro and MotoAmerica. How was it working with him?
Yeah, he’s awesome. He’s so cool, super mellow. Like I said, he picked me up from the airport and everything when we did the ride days. He was way helpful. If it wasn’t for him especially, and all the other RC Cup kids…’cause I guess a lot of them follow moto and stuff, and apparently a lot of them knew who I was pretty well. They were all really, really stoked that I was coming and racing their thing, so if it wasn’t for Chris Fillmore and all the other RC 390 Cup kids that were so helpful, I wouldn’t have been able to do it, for sure. Their expertise on it was way good, and just everybody at the race was so cool. They were making me track maps, y’know, putting the shift points and the braking points up there for me. So, that stuff like sped up the process so much, like the learning curve of it. Definitely, all the RC 390 cup kids were cool about that, too...which it isn’t really like that in moto, so it’s just a little different; they’re wired a little different, but they’re all really, really good people like I said...and Chris Fillmore, too.
Yeah, it’s interesting you say that...my uncle used to race AHRMA, WERA, and AMA stuff back in the day, so I spent a lot of time at road races when I was younger, and the paddock is a little bit of a different atmosphere compared to moto.
Yeah, for sure. That’s a whole nother thing, dude. It’s cool, ‘cause it’s not like you’re in dirt or anything, and the facility is MASSIVE; it is such a big facility, it’s unreal. They have like houses on the inside of the track, on the outside of the track, with balconies overlooking everything. It’s pretty nutty.
Yeah, they actually have a motocross track there, too. Right?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s another cool thing that we got to do! Right across the street - not even a football field away - is like a primetime motocross track. So, we loaded up one of my race bikes from Loretta’s or something when we drove up there. We would get done with like qualifying, or practice, or whatever race we were doing that day at like, y’know, mid-day. So, we’d go over there at like five or six o'clock and ride for an hour. They let us ride over there for free and everything. It was super cool, man. Thanks to everybody at New Jersey Motorsports Park and across the street at New Jersey Field of Dreams, like that track is mint...it’s pretty sick. If you ever get a chance to go there, it’s way fun!
Obviously road racing and motocross are two completely different disciplines of motorcycling, but after your experience racing in New Jersey, were you able to notice any similarities between the two?
Honestly, no. Probably the only comparisons I could tell you as far as that goes is motocross, in my opinion, I think it’s more physical. But, road racing is so mental, because you’re pushing every corner as hard as you possibly can. I mean, obviously I wasn’t pushing everything as hard as I can, but the guys out there that are like taking those 390 bikes to the absolute limit that they can go, they’re literally so in tune with everything that they know every inch of it. You’re hitting the same exact mark every time, the same exact race line every lap, and you’re just trying to go faster and faster every time. It’s kind of like moto, but I guess the biggest thing that I dealt with was like trusting the tires. So, everybody kept tellin’ me like “Your form’s good, so you can push it more.” and that was just hard, because I was thinking it was just gonna like ooogh, and slide out on me or something. Chris and all the kids were saying “Nah, you’ll feel it. It’ll start going skrrrt, skrrrt, skrrt.” I started feeling that a couple of times...awww, man. Like I said, it’ll make your butt pucker, haha. They only do like 110mph down the straightaways, but it’ll go as fast as you want in the corners, it’s gnarly. I’m not saying it doesn’t get more physical. I’m sure a 1000cc bike that does 200mph is way more physical, but just with the bikes we were on. As far as me, when I’m out there racing with the kids...I’m going into every corner with a checklist like 1, 2, 3...kinda trying to check off in my head if I’m doing everything. So, it’s not like moto where you’re so in tune that it’s like second nature and you know everything - you’re just reacting and your mind is turned off - my mind was turned completely on the whole time. So, it’s definitely different. But, if anyone ever gets a chance to do it and swing your leg over a road racing bike, I’d do it just for the experience, because it’s so much fun, and KTM makes a great bike to start out with, too. Hashtag sponsor plug, haha.
Yeah, for sure. The racing at the front of the field in those spec classes - when you put a bunch of kids on those bikes - is just crazy.
Dude, you have no idea. Oh my gosh, those guys...they battle so hard, because those bikes are all literally the exact same speed. It just comes down to a little bit of weight. So, I was battling this one kid that’s like eighty or ninety pounds which is like half my weight. I would be better like coming into corners and going through ‘em faster, but as soon as he got out of the corner, he was like pointin’ and shootin’. That’s when he would get me, so I had to work harder for that. But, most of the kids are all about the same and they’re gnarly, like they’re gettin’ crazy. They don’t get dirty, but they just get aggressive.
Yeah, I’ve seen some Moto 3 World Championship races with like sixteen rider lead packs, it’s insane.
Oh my gosh! That’s how it is, dude! They like break off into packs. Like, the pack that I was in was pretty far back. I think it was like twenty-eight kids qualify or something like that and I was in that like twenty-two to twenty-three, I think...I forget. But, like in that pack it’s crazy. If someone makes a mistake and drops out, it’s hard to get back. It’s crazy. That’s pretty much all I’ve got to say about it: it’s crazy, hahah!
You’re one of those guys that’s always having fun with whatever you’re doing. You did that with road racing, you mess around with surfing, skateboarding, mountain biking, and even golf…if you weren’t racing motocross, which one of these could you see yourself competing in professionally?
Yeah, honestly...we were actually just talking about this last night, like if we weren’t doing what we’re doing right now, what would we want to do in a fantasy world? And I’m sittin’ there ...and I’m like “Dude, I’d want to be a surfer musician.” Yes! That’s like it for me, man. Don’t get me wrong, motocrossers get to travel the world, not always in the most exotic places though. But, like surfers are literally going to the most exotic places on tour and stuff like that, and I’ve kinda been picking up guitar lately and I think the surfer musician thing would be cool. I don’t know, man...if we’re talking like longevity, I mean if you could could get good at golf, you could make some money in that, you can do it ‘till you die, so I dunno. I haven’t really thought about it honestly, but for some reason I’ve always admired surfers.
Yeah, and you’re out west right now, maybe hypnotized by the Cali lifestyle a little bit?
No, definitely not that. I’m definitely a southern boy at heart, so don’t get mixed up in that. I’m definitely southern bred and all that, I mean...I definitely go back to the roots. But, just as far as the places those guys get to go, that’s what trips me out. I’m like mesmerized kinda by the ocean, I don’t know. Something about it just trips me out, and those guys are all in tune with it, so it’s kind of a weird thing. That’s something I’d wanna do in a fantasy, but I think that’s pretty much all I got for now. Hey, lemme ask you, Lake...what would you do?
I would race dirt bikes, but that’s a fantasy world for me, haha. Any sponsors you’d like to shout out?
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