Sarah Whitmore may not always be the fastest rider in the women's division, but she has long been one of the most popular. Part of that is no doubt due to what I will call the 'Anna Kournikova' syndrome, but it is not Sarah's fault that she's pretty. It is also due, in no small part, to her fun-loving personality, her love of the people around her, her willingness to engage people of all ages in conversation, and her ever-apparent love of anything having to do with motorcycles and racing––not to mention the smile that never goes away. The girl is never brooding, and we recently caught up with her for this interview.
Racer X: Hey, Sara.
Sarah Whitmore: Hey, today was beautiful, but I was kind of hoping it would rain!
C'mon, you know I always win Steel City when it rains!
All right, now I just overheard you say that your last lap is always your fastest. So, what's the deal with that?
I don't know. I guess my endurance is really good but my sprints suck! I think that I just get more and more comfortable with the track and with myself, the bike, everything as the laps go on. And I mean, I'm in good shape so I'm not getting tired, so I just need to be as aggressive those first couple of laps as I am on the last lap.
Is that a matter of confidence or just getting to know the track?
Just confidence and getting comfortable with myself out there. I absolutely love my bike. The team is so awesome and they are helping me out so well and so much, but I only signed with KTM a month before the nationals started, so I don't have as much time on the bike as everyone else does. Every week we are learning more and making more adjustments. I'm feeling more and more comfortable every time. I just have to stay off the ground. That's all I have to do.
Now, you were with Yamaha for a long time, and you have been on a couple of different brands here lately. Is it difficult for you to adjust to different bikes? How is that transition for you?
Well, I really thought that I was going to finish my career on Suzuki, and then when they dropped me in December it screwed up my whole program. I didn't have a ride, like I said, until a month before the nationals started and I am just so grateful to KTM for coming through and offering me a ride. So, it is a little different switching––luckily I like this bike more than I have any of my others, and I am getting way more support now than I would have if I had stayed with Suzuki.
Were you partly just a victim of the whole 'economy' thing with Suzuki?
Yeah, it was the whole 'economy' thing or whatever. So I was so bummed at first, but as they say, God doesn't close a door without opening a window, so it always, always works out for the best in the end. So I am very happy with where I am right now. Everyone on the team has been so awesome.
Well, you are kind of at a transition point in your career aren't you? We are seeing more and more of the off-road stuff. What is the emphasis with KTM? What is your primary focus?
Obviously, KTM is really big into the off-road. I have a lot of fun doing off-road, but I love racing––anything. I love motocross, and I plan on racing motocross. Next year, I am contracted to do more WORCS, but still plan on doing motocross, too. My heart’s in motocross. My heart’s in racing motorcycles anyway and if I could race every weekend I would. I love traveling, I love riding, I love racing, I love competition... So, I don't know, I'm not going full WORCS. I am definitely going to be racing motocross, so don't worry.
So, come next season, you expect to be in the mix with Fiolek and Patterson?
Yeah, even before the end of this year. I plan on going out with just a 'bang'! [big smile] We have four more races left. We have Colorado in two weeks, and before that we will be doing some more testing on the bike and then after that we will have a full month off before Washougal. So, come the next two races, we will definitely be doing a lot better.
Just how frustrating have these early rounds been for you?
I've never cried so much in my life, I don't think. I've had my heart broken before by boys, but man, losing my ride with Suzuki and then struggling so far this year has been the most heartbreaking thing ever. I have never done so bad in my life as I have in these first few races, you know? The girls are fast this year, and I keep crashing on the first lap, and they gave us just four laps––like Glen Helen, there is just no way you can pass enough in just four laps. So it's so heartbreaking because I had been working very hard in the off-season and being really focused and this is what I want, so I don't know. It’s pretty depressing.
But the girls must be happy with having same day races this year?
Yeah, it's really cool. MX Sports is really trying hard to get us in. It's awesome. They are giving us a little bit longer motos and we are right here on Saturdays with the guys and we are part of the actual races, so that's cool. That is what it is in Europe, that's what it’s like in Canada and that is what it has needed to be like here, so it is awesome that MX Sports can do that for us now.
And what about your relationship with Ashley Fiolek? I mean, you have been really close for a long time.
Yeah, Ashley is one of my best friends and I just love that girl to death. It's just good that not everyone knows sign because the stuff we say to each other when we pass each other in the pits doesn't even need to be repeated. We are just always goofing around––don't tell her I said that. So no, we are always serious.
Well, I was actually talking with the Dungeys about that earlier, where it is such a great opportunity to do something like this for a living, and while everyone wants to win – that’s the whole point of doing it – the hard part is how to keep a balance between maintaining the enjoyment of what it is you are doing and taking it seriously at the same time.
Yeah, exactly, it's a really fine line. I think I’ve been trying too hard. Like, I want to do so good, and I just keep crashing and landing on my head because I'm just trying instead of just like relaxing a little bit and focusing. I just get too wound up because I just want it so bad. But, you know, back to Ashley, there is no point to letting any of our competing come between us. Racing is so important to both of us, but then again, we are only going to be racing for so long, and Ashley and I, after racing, we still want to be close friends and we want to hang out––we want a friendship that is going to last forever. So people have asked me, "Well, what if you guys get tangled up on the track?" and we actually have – a couple of years ago we collided, and that's going to happen when you’re racing. But then again, it is no secret that Patterson and I don't really like each other, but on the track we have always had respect for each other, and if Patterson and I can have that then I am pretty sure Ashley and I can, too.
Now, is that a competitive sort of thing with Patterson, or just clashing personalities?
Okay, I can only answer that off the record...
Okay. You did mention the time frame earlier, and it seems to me that your blog has said that you are just the average 23-year-old for like the past half-decade...
(Laughs) Hey, I don't update that part. That's up to them, if they want to say that I am 23 forever, I will let them say that I'm 23 forever. I don’t mind.
I must say that I have always enjoyed 'Sarah Smile' in Racer X, and there have been a number of those where you have gone beyond the surface, where they had more substance to them.
Well, thank you. I don't know, it is hard to actually write about yourself. I don't know if people actually find that interesting or not.
Well, that's just to say that I will start checking out the blog more regularly when you have more of that on there. The old blog stuff (her old blog, not the new 'Sarah Smile' on Racer X) was often just what you did last night and hanging out with so-and-so. With the article, your stories were often humorous and you had a number of them where you ventured more into the human-interest side of issues and relating the racing experience to the rest of life, which I always find interesting.
Well, thank you. There is more to me than just racing.
It has always been a pleasure to watch you and I've enjoyed talking to you. Thanks for taking the time to chat.
Thank you very much.