AUSTIN FORKNER INTERVIEW: MIND OVER MATTER
AUSTIN FORKNER INTERVIEW
“It was back in 2016 that Austin Forkner turned pro and entered the 250 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. His impressive fourth overall clearly gave him the 2016 AMA rookie of the year title. Austin was the rider to watch in 2017, as he began his full Supercross and motocross season. Expectations were high within his team, himself, and the fans. While Austin’s speed and determination didn’t disappoint, his injuries did as they began to rack up as fast as his wins. The now 24-year-old looked to a different approach of riding “safer”, nonetheless injuries still came his way. After a rough 2022 year, Austin has a new approach to 2023, and has made changes to his program. We had a chance to catch up with the native Oklahoman to learn more about the now and the future. “
BY JIM KIMBALL
AUSTIN, YOU WERE INJURED DURING OUTDOORS, AND WERE SIDELINED. RECENTLY I SAW A VIDEO OF YOU RIDING AND YOU LOOKED LIKE YOU NEVER MISSED A BEAT. I am used to coming back from injuries, so it is not really that big of a deal to miss some riding time. The hard ones are the times you are longer off the bike, but this was maybe only three months. So, it was not terrible, but it was not just super easy either. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I have gotten used to just coming back from injury obviously because I have had to do it too many times.
There is nothing I really do different. I just know what to expect, know how to get back in shape, and back up to speed and pretty quickly without doing stupid stuff that could put me at risk. I have recently been riding with all the guys and doing a lot of motos with Jason Anderson, mainly Jason. We have been doing a lot of motos together. All our long moto’s we try to set it up where we do them together
All those guys are at the track every day. You have a pretty good idea just from riding with everybody, to judge where you are at. I am doing good.
I DIDN’T KNOW THAT YOU AND JASON WERE RIDING TOGETHER; THAT MUST MAKE IT FUN. Yes, by riding with Jason, it does not get much better. He won what, seven or eight races last year, nearly in a row in Supercross. It pisses me off whenever he is faster than me but then I am “okay, it is what it is.”
If I can be within even a second or a second and a half of Jason, I am riding good! But it does piss me off because I want to go faster, and some days, I think “damn, I don’t know what he is doing different that he is going so much faster.” Obviously, he is on a 450, but there are little things that just by watching him, you can pick up on. It is always good to be pushed in the motos, and he likes doing them with me too. He comes up to me almost every day, ready to go. We try to link up and do stuff together. We push each other a little bit, and it’s less boring if you are doing a moto with somebody than just by yourself.
The largest hurdle Austin has faced in his pro racing career has been injuries. Everyone knows that Austin has incredible talent but crashes have sidelined the Team Green rider multiple times.
TRADITIONALLY YOU SPEND THE OFF SEASON IN OKLAHOMA, SO IT SOUNDS LIKE THAT HAS CHANGED. Yes, I am full-time California now. It was not really my decision. It is just how things turned out to work.
I have made a couple of changes to my program. Robbie (Reynard) is still my trainer on the bike, but off the bike, I have swapped to a new guy. His name is Charles Dao. I worked with him right before I went pro, and maybe even my first year as a pro; just off the bike training. So, I am working with him again, and am full-time in California, which I have never been stoked about. But I am making some new friends and started riding BMX, and mountain bikes. It’s a big change but is what it is, and I am making the best of it.
BEING IN CALIFORNIA PROBABLY HAS ITS ADVANTAGES THOUGH. Yes, they wanted me to be out here to be closer to the team and make testing easier. If I want to test or they come up with new stuff to try, then we can just do it, and not have to ship it. But the tracks out here are not ideal. I am not a big fan of the tracks out here. Although I don’t know which coast I am doing, if you are trying to get ready for East Coast, this is the wrong place to do it because East Coast tracks have ruts.
Even some of the West Coast races, are on softer tracks. You cannot get rut practicing by living out here in California, which is why I preferred Oklahoma. The races get rutted, other than a couple of races a year, like maybe Salt Lake.
Austin’s and Jo’s bike sitting next to each other at the Pala National.
LET’S RETURN TO THE INJURY THAT PREVENTED YOU RACING OUTDOORS THIS PAST SUMMER. Well, firstly I tore my Labrum in like December of last year, right around this time. I tore it by just practicing and then got it fixed. Obviously, that is why I did East Coast and then at the second race, where I crashed with Jett Lawrence, I broke my collar bone – which was on the same side that I tore my Labrum a couple of months prior. So, it re-tore. We did not really know it because my shoulder hurt.
Even if it was re-torn, there was probably nothing they would have done about it then, because it was not painful enough that I couldn’t ride. After I got back from my collarbone, it hurt a little bit, but I was able to deal with it.
It was not so painful that I could not ride. There was probably nothing we would have done about it, I probably just would have said, “screw it, I am just going to keep riding.” Then I crashed testing for outdoors, three weeks before outdoors started.
NOW I’M STARTING TO RECALL ALL THIS. It was a little tip over in a corner; not even that bad. It was a standard crash. I just tipped over, but I landed right on my shoulder, and it popped. Then I got back up and rode another lap or two, and I felt “oh yeah, I can’t ride anymore.” So, I got that checked out and they said it was re-torn, and most likely was partially re-torn. That is why it took a little crash to do it.
I got that fixed since outdoors started, and I feel good now. I probably could have raced outdoors. I told the team that. I said “I could race but just know that I might do better, or I might do worse. It is not going to get better until I fix it. If you guys are expecting me to go out and win, that is probably not going to happen.” Sixth place is not what I wanted to be by any means, but it was a solid start. I felt it was okay with a bum shoulder. But the team said, “just get it fixed.” So, I got it fixed and I am good now.
With 23 rolling around the corner and a roster of healthy athletes, we’re eager to see who will be the top player for the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki team.
WITH A SITUATION LIKE THAT, IT MUST BE A DIFFICULT DECISION TO DECIDE TO STAY IN IT AND RACE, OR SIDELINE YOURSELF. Yes, it is. But it is just kind of one of those things. You just decide and roll with it. Obviously, you think about it before, but you just decide. Robbie and I talked about it and then we ran it by Kawasaki and everybody over there. We said, “this is what we think we want to do”, and they were “okay, you go get it fixed and don’t look back. You just worry about getting better”. You could dwell on it. But you decide and move forward.
AUSTIN, YOU AND I HAVE TALKED ABOUT INJURIES BEFORE AND OBVIOUSLY YOU HAVE HAD YOUR SHARE. IN THE PAST I COULD TELL YOU WERE VERY FRUSTRATED OR DISCOURAGED, BUT YOU SEEM TO HAVE A BETTER MINDSET NOW. That was somewhat of a decision that I had to make two years ago. It was 2021, and I got hurt again. I broke my collarbone at the third race and was not where I wanted to be in outdoors. I think my best finish that season was sixth. That was at the point that I thought “okay, do I want to keep doing this or do I want to not want to keep doing this? Do I want to quit racing or do I want to keep racing?” I decided that I wanted to keep racing.
I would say that almost every dirt bike rider has always had that conversation with himself. Whether it is after an injury, or after terrible finishes. “I am done, why do we want to keep doing this?” That was that year for me. I decided to keep going, and that was the last time I was going to have this conversation with myself. I am going to stop threatening myself with quitting, just get that out of my mind and, whatever happens, happens. I am not saying I will never have those thoughts again, for the time being, that is out of the equation.
Austin had a big crash at Foxborough.
YOUR PARENTS SPLIT UP, EVEN THOUGH YOU ARE AN ADULT, THAT MUST HAVE AFFECTED YOU. They chose to keep me out of it which obviously I would prefer. I don’t really want to be in the middle of all of that. I have enough stuff going on with myself. But it sucks and is not ideal. It is not what you want, for sure. I still have good relationships with both my parents, even though they don’t have good relationships with each other. That is a bummer, but bad stuff happens. I am not going to dwell on it, and it is not anything in my control
If you asked Rylee (fiancée), she might say it affected me, but I don’t really know. I don’t like to talk about a lot of things. Maybe I should be a little better at that but when things bother me, I just keep them to myself.
IS YOUR DAD STILL INVOLVED AS MUCH INYOUR RACING? He is not my practice mechanic anymore. He does not want to come to California full-time. To be honest, I don’t think that is really a bad thing. I would rather have him be my dad as opposed to mechanic/dad. At times we may have gotten fed up with each other, being with each other every day. We talk about once a week or so, and everything is well.
It is just better for him to be a dad. I enjoy whenever he comes to the races, as well as when my mom can. I am not saying they should not come to races, just that it is nice when they can be just a mom or a dad, not a racing mom or dad.
Unfortunately at the beginning of the East Coast 250 rounds, Austin would be taken out of the 2022 when colliding with Jett Lawrence mid-air.
I WOULD LIKE TO HEAR ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH PRO CIRCUIT KAWASAKI, AND KAWASAKI IN GENERAL. OF COURSE, YOU ARE SIGNED WITH MITCH, BUT ISNT THERE A BIGGER RELATIONSHIP WITH KAWASAKI AS WELL? Yes, that is true. I was Kawasaki from when I was eleven years old. I was with Team Green and Kawasaki thinks it is awesome when they can have somebody that they brought up, then they went to the 250 team, and then to the 450 team. That was something that they wanted. I was on Team Green and then I signed my pro contract and in my pro contract, we had it established of when I was going to go to the 450 team, and how many years I would be on the 250 team.
That has changed a couple of times now because I have been injured and have not pointed out. That was always up to being able to be changed, but it was in my contract that I would be guaranteed a year or two or on a 450. They have a lot of money staked into me. I am not saying they don’t with the other guys, but they have years of working with me. They have invested a lot into me from whenever I was on Team Green all the way up to now.
Their goal is to have somebody that is on Team Green and then 250 Pro Circuit and then Factory 450. But now I am with Pro Circuit Kawasaki. And if one of my teammates is doing better than me when my contract is up, maybe they could get the Kawasaki 450 ride. I am not really worried about that stuff right now, but obviously they want wins and championships – and that is what I want too.
Had Austin remained healthy in the 2022 season, his future may have led to a 450 ride immediately after, but now the future remains uncertain.
LET ME ASK YOU, AT THIS POINT, WHEN ARE YOU SLATED TO RACE THE 450? I am already prepared for it a little bit. I know it is most likely that I am going 450 for outdoors this coming summer. That is the plan as of right now. But, as I said, I am not really thinking about that right now. I am focused on the 2023 Supercross season coming up. I am sure that I will start testing the 450 sometime in Supercross season, but I will cross that bridge when I get to it.
EXPANDING ON SUPERCROSS, DO YOU HAVE ANY SPECIFIC GOALS THAT YOU CAN SHARE? Somewhat, but I quit making plans. My plan for this year was to go and be there at every race and if I was not the fastest guy, well then hey that is fine. If somebody passed, I would not freak out, and a second or third was still fine in the big picture. Then I got cross jumped and taken out. I lost a shot at the championship anyway. This was when I was trying to ride safe. Now I feel “screw trying to ride safe. There is no guarantee just because I am settling for a second place, or a third-place finish that I still won’t get hurt. Some things are just out of our control.
Austin has remained incredibly resilient despite the setbacks. We’re excited to see what 2023 has in store for the Kawi rider.
ALTHOUGH YOU HAVE BEEN RACING A LONG TIME, YOU ARE STILL ONLY 24 YEARS OLD. I feel like I have been racing pro for a long time now, but I am still young, I guess. Maybe I don’t feel young, but I am still pretty young relatively.
I AM PROUD OF YOUR ATTITUDE. I have had to go through a decent amount of not being mentally strong to get to the mentally strong point. I feel like I have been through a lot that has not been pretty or fun. There has been dark days and I have made some pretty bad decisions from being down in the dumps. But it is what it is, and I live, learn and try not to let it happen again, and move forward. There is no telling what can happen in racing or just in life in general. You just wake up in the morning, run with it, and see what the day offers you.