MAX VOHLAND INTERVIEW: THE NEW 17-YEAR-OLD FACTORY RED BULL KTM 250 PILOT
Does the Vohland name ring a bell? You might have heard of Max Vohland while he was a hotshot amateur. Maybe you saw him on TV when he won the Supermini class at the 2018 Monster Energy Cup or when he crashed big at the 2019 Red Bull Straight Rhythm event in the whoops. Or, you might recognize the name from his Dad, Tallon Vohland’s AMA Supercross, Motocross and MXGP World Championship racing career which spanned from 1989 to 2003. Or, maybe you remember his uncle, Tyson Vohland who won the 125 Supercross Main Event at Anaheim 1 in 1989. Max Vohland has grown up with first-class guidance from his Dad and now he’s set to make his Pro debut in 2021 as the only Red Bull KTM 250 rider. With a three-year contract on his deal, the 17-year-old from Sacramento, California, is excited to go racing.
By Josh Mosiman
MAX, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO BE TURNING PRO WITH THE RED BULL KTM TEAM? It feels great. It probably was the biggest dream we had coming through amateurs, I mean that team is such a successful team, especially with Ian (Harrison) and Roger (Decoster) managing it. We were really working towards that and we got really fortunate to get the ride that I have now, to be going into the Supercross season with this team.
YOUR DAD RODE FOR ROGER DECOSTER BACK WHEN HE RACED PRO, RIGHT? Yes he did in 1994 on a Pepsi Honda.
YOU AND YOUR DAD WILL PROBABLY BE THE ONLY FATHER-SON DUO TO BOTH RACE FOR ROGER DECOSTER. (Laughs) I didn’t even think about that.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU KNOWN ROGER? Almost really since 65s. My Dad rode for Roger Decoster a long time ago (1994), Roger would always come and watch me race out at the Hangtown amateur day almost every year because he was there and I was racing the amateur day the Friday before the National. Probably the two big events where they saw talent, or at least they saw something or else they wouldn’t have picked me, would probably be Monster Cup in 2018 and Straight Rhythm in 2019.
DID YOU SIGN A THREE-YEAR DEAL WITH RED BULL KTM? Yes I did.
HOW DO YOU FEEL GOING STRAIGHT INTO SUPERCROSS AND NOT STARTING YOUR PRO CAREER AT HANGTOWN? Of course the plan was to go Pro in 2021 at Hangtown and do my first Pro season on Outdoors first. But since the Troy Lee Designs team switched to GasGas, KTM needed a guy to race Supercross this year. They picked me first and they said if you’re not willing to do Supercross first, we can take another guy, but I wasn’t going to pass up on that offer. But, part of the negotiations was since we are doing Supercross in the first part of this year we wanted an extra year on my contract. I know it was hard for them to convince Austria to do that. But they ended up getting it done, but we figured that if we got another good two years on the contract after my rookie year, then yeah, we’ll take the deal.
ARE YOU GOING TO BE RACING EAST OR WEST NEXT YEAR? It’s always up in the air, we’re mainly leaning towards West Coast since were going to be living out here and it’s just the first year and everything’s close. And I did the Supercross Futures at Glendale a few years and since the first West round is going to be there I know the stadium, I know the dirt, so I think most likely we’ll be doing West.
WILL YOU BE TRAINING WITH ALDON BAKER IN 2021? This first year we won’t be training with Aldon. We’ll just be doing our own thing, just me and my Dad. But, you know, in the short future most likely I’ll be working with him. We’re going to Florida so we might stop by and check it out. We’ll be there a couple times and get the feel for it. But this first year for sure we’ll just be doing our own thing.
HOW DO YOU LIKE WORKING WITH YOUR DAD. DOES HIS TIME AS A PRO RACER HELP YOU OUT? Yeah, I think it’s one of my biggest advantages that I have compared to a lot of other rookies that have come into the class. My Dad has won races, he’s been all over the world racing so he’s been through a lot of that stuff that rookies go through, so he helps me try to avoid a lot of it which is a big advantage.
WHAT IS SOMETHING THAT YOUR DAD HAS TAUGHT YOU THAT STICKS OUT? Our main thing is risk management. He’s crashed a lot in his career and he’s gotten hurt. That’s the main thing that we’ve always focused on from day one, just managing risk. Not taking too much risk, not doing something that someone else is not doing, like a big triple or a quad or something. Say nobody is doing it, even if I feel like doing it, we won’t even think about it because it’s not worth the risk. Even if like one guy does it, if it’s only one guy, I’m still gonna think of not doing it because if you get hurt then you’re out and it can really set you back.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU KNEW THAT YOU WANTED TO TURN PRO IN 2021? Well, we really went off of the average age of when top guys turned Pro. It’s always been a plan since about Superminis. When I was riding Superminis is when we really started looking deep into stuff and really trying to figure it out. When is the right time, when’s the perfect time. That’s another thing we’ve always worked on, we’ve always tried to do what ever we could to make sure we had the best chance at getting a good result. We always tried to make sure I had the best chance of winning anytime we went to a race and I won a lot of races. I won my last 12 motos at Loretta’s. We’ve always used that strategy. If you have the best rider, the best bike, the best chances, most likely you’re going to get a really good result.
WHICH CLASS DID YOU WIN AT LORETTA’S IN 2020? It’s kind of funny, I raced 125s this year. I won Schoolboy 1 and 125 B/C.
WHEN WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU RODE THE 250F? We did get one bone stock 250F just a little bit before Loretta’s and I hopped on it and rode it for like a week, but then I started liking it too much so we had to put it away and stayed on the 125s. I’ve r been full time on 250 for about a month now on Supercross.
HOW MUCH RIDING DID YOU DO ON THE 250 FOUR-STROKE BEFORE JUMPING ON SUPERCROSS TRACK? It wasn’t very long riding outdoors before jumping on Supercross. Luckily, we did have the stock bike at home, so right after Loretta’s we could start riding it. I think it was only maybe a week of riding on the mod bike before I jumped on Supercross and I’ve been riding that for a month now.
WHAT DID YOU NOTICE ABOUT THE 250F ONCE YOU GOT OFF YOUR 125 TWO-STROKE? Coming from the 125 two-stroke, the only way I can explain riding the 250 is that it’s like you’re riding a modern bike. It just felt modern, it just felt good. The technology is there and everything felt solid. It was way better and way easier. All torque, you’re not shifting the thing up everywhere.
HOW MANY YEARS DID YOU SPEND ON A 125? Just one, I think my first 125 race was at the Red Bull Straight Rhythm at the end of 2019. I didn’t even get a full year on it.
SO YOU WERE ON SUPERMINI UNTIL YOU WERE 16, 125 AT 17 AND 250 FOUR-STROKE BEFORE YOU TURNED 18? Yeah.
HOW MUCH SUPERCROSS EXPERIENCE DID YOU HAVE BEFORE THIS LAST MONTH? I’ve had quite a bit over the years. This year we rode a little bit of Supercross before the Supercross Futures started. We did the first few Futures rounds. But it’s completely different when you’re riding a two-stroke like a Supermini or a 125 and then you jump on a four-stroke. So I’ve had that experience, but riding it has been great this year. The little bit of testing that we’ve done has been awesome, I haven’t had a problem. The team is just super solid, it’s such a nice and efficient team. Nothing has gone bad yet so we’ll try to keep it that way.
DID YOU RACE THE KTM JUNIORS RACE ON A KTM 50? No, unfortunately we couldn’t do that! We were planning on doing it, but I was too young the year we went to sign up for it and then it went away right when I was eligible to do it and then it came back one year after I was too old! So I just missed out on that unfortunately.
WAS YOUR FIRST TIME RIDING SUPERCROSS ON A SUPERMINI BEFORE MONSTER CUP? I would say that was the first time we got on Supercross seriously. It was actually the year before I raced it in 2017 that we jumped on Supercross, but that was the year that they were coming out with the new 85 and we had a few bikes and we didn’t end up doing the race. My first time racing Monster Cup was in 2018 and I won it in the Supermini class.
HOW DO YOU THINK RIDING THE 125 IN THE LAST YEAR HAS BENEFITTED YOU ON THE 250 FOUR-STROKE? I think it has benefitted me a lot. I learned pretty much all of my corner entrance speed on the 125 this year and it’s definitely transferred into the 250. A lot of these guys nowadays, they have so much bottom on the four-strokes and they start riding lazy. On the 125, before Loretta’s I was training with only 250 guys, so the only way I could keep up was if I was carrying a lot of entrance speed. I learned a lot of my corner speed on my 125 on Supercross and outdoors.
YOU ALSO WENT TO EUROPE TO RACE THE EMX 125 EVENTS AT THE FIRST MXGP ROUND. HOW WAS THAT? We raced at the first round of MXGP at Matterly Basin and it was a full blown mudder.
DID YOU RACE ANYMORE OVER THERE? OR DID YOU JUST PRACTICE AFTER THAT? We went over there a week early to practice, did the race and then stayed for about two weeks after that to practice on some cool tracks. Then, once the Coronavirus hit and the world was starting to shutdown, we quickly jumped on flights back to California. My mechanic and I jumped on a plane and my Dad took my bike and van back to Austria and flew home two days later. When my Dad got back was right when Trump cancelled all flights coming from Europe.
WERE YOU PLANNING ON DOING ANYMORE RACES IN EUROPE? On their original MXGP schedule, the Spain and Portugal rounds were back-to-back. So we were planning on just staying there to race those and train with the top guys over there like Vialle, Hofer, Herlings and maybe go with Cairoli and Prado in Italy. But it just got shut down so it was really unfortunate. It would’ve been a really cool experience and I would’ve learned a lot.
WHAT IS YOUR MINDSET GOING INTO THE 2021 SUPERCROSS SEASON? The main goal is not to get hurt and make improvements. Those are the two things that we’re focusing on. Results wise, they said as long as I’m improving that I’ll be good, no pressure. The only real pressure I’ll have is the pressure I’ll be putting on myself. I would like to at least podium one race, but I think the main goal is just to stay in it. So many guys crash out and get hurt, so we’re just going to try and stay healthy and maybe top three the Championship. That’s the main goal this year.