In 2015, Vann Martin quit racing. While preparing for the start of supercross that year, Martin had a big crash and broke multiple bones in his face. After undergoing facial reconstruction, he decided to step away from the sport. “It was my nose and my eye and it was just really bad,” he said of the surgery. “They had to cut me open from ear to ear. Now I have this mesh plate in my forehead.”
During his recovery, Martin went to work full-time with his dad at Honda of Houston. Martin enjoyed the daily grind of working a 9-5 job—that is until he was cleared to ride again.
“Six months later I got released to ride and I was feeling better than ever. The hunger was back,” he said.
Martin returned to full-time racing in 2016 and scored points in both supercross and outdoors—it was his most successful year to date. We caught up with Martin in between trips to the MXGPs on Monday to get his take on his season and why he’s one of the only privateers attempting the world championship races.
Racer X: What’s going on, Vann? You just got in from the Charlotte last night?
Vann Martin: Yeah, I’m going to ride a bit later on today and then hit the road for Glen Helen tomorrow morning.
There are only a few privateers doing the American MXGPs. Why did you decide to do them?
I’m doing it for fun mainly. One of my friends is helping me out and sponsoring me. I know these races don’t pay, but my friend said that he would pay to get me there so I said all right! I was on my way to Unadilla and I thought, “Why not race the GP?” After all it was only fifteen hours away. [Laughs] That’s not far for us when we drive twenty hours every weekend. I thought it would be really fun. I really had to rush sign up. I had to talk to the people at the AMA. I didn’t care which class that I raced because I knew they were filling up quickly. It was only $150 to sign up because I already had an FIM license. It was cheaper to sign up than the outdoor races. I was like lets go have some fun.
With one race in the books what did you think of the event?
I thought it was all right. In practice I think it dried out more than they expected it to. They didn’t rip it super deep, so the first practice was flat and really fast. As the day went on it kept getting better. When the lights came on it got worse because the lighting wasn’t that great. I thought it was a really fun track with a good flow. It was fun, but also very fast and not very technical. There wasn’t much to separate us all until later on in the day.
You mentioned it being a fast track; it was pretty cool watching how fast everyone was going around the first turn off of the start.
Yeah, that corner right there was crazy. In the first practice you literally were just holding it wide open around the whole thing. I have never hit a corner like that. It was pretty cool, but it was also kind of sketchy.
Are you able to compare this race with Daytona?
It was somewhat like Daytona. After the whoops you had a right and then a left, which was similar to Daytona. The dirt wasn’t as sandy. It was just a lot faster and wide-open. I will say that there are some similarities with the tight switchbacks.
How do you feel like you personally did riding-wise? Were you happy with your result?
I feel like I did okay. I didn’t ride the best. In the first moto I didn’t get the best start and the first three laps I didn’t hang it out like I needed to. I started to pick it up after that and finished well. In the second moto I got a better start and raced better laps. Then I started slowing down a bit. The lights were just sketchy to me. The second moto I was just trying to be solid the entire time. I had fun and did pretty well with a 20th in the first moto and 18th in the second moto. Even though there weren’t that many guys I was still happy with my results. I finished behind a lot of really great riders and I wasn’t too far off on the lap times. Overall it was a good race for me.
Plus you had a new experience of riding a different series.
In practice I jumped in behind [Jeffrey] Herlings and I was like, ‘Dang, I’m right behind Herlings!’ He only pulled me a couple seconds a lap and that was in the first practice when they weren’t even taking times. It was crazy riding with Herlings when I’ve never seen him in person before. I’ve just seen him on the internet and TV at home. Then here I was latching onto him in practice. It was cool to ride with different riders. The GP schedule is a lot better than outdoors here, as far as being relaxed and not having to rush everything. It was a cool experience. Now it’s pretty cool that I can say I scored four points in the world championship.
Glen Helen is next. I assume you’re driving to that one as well?
Yeah, it’s about 21 hours. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video series that I’m doing, it’s posted on Vurb. I’ve got four of my friends driving with me, so it isn’t too bad driving to all these races. My friend just graduated college and I think we filmed the last five outdoor races. We started at Millville. He’s been looking for jobs around here and wasn’t having any luck. I offered to throw him a couple bucks here and there and to pay for his food if he’d come film. That’s what we did. It’s been going pretty good.
Are you gaining a lot of new fans because of it?
Yeah, I actually am. We’ve been getting a pretty good fan following. It’s not as big as Stank Dawg or anything like that, but I’ve been having a lot of people come up to me at the race telling me that they’ve been keeping up with my videos. It’s sick because I’ve never had that before. It’s definitely good to get some exposure. That’s what it’s all about these days. You’ve got to stand out as a privateer. I’ve gained a lot of new followers and people are paying attention to where I’m finishing. It’s been pretty cool.
As far as 2016 goes, how do you feel your season went?
I went into the year with only three supercross races under my belt. I just wanted to get through every race healthy. At Anaheim 1 I broke my collarbone in the 450 class. I was doing really well before I crashed. That took me out of the West Coast rounds, which wasn’t that big of a deal. I raced the 250SX East Coast and made three main events. My best finish was a 16th at Foxborough and I was happy with that. I also had a 17th place and qualified for the East/West shootout.
Outdoors was up and down. I’ve only had one season of outdoors under my belt too. I was just learning at each round. There were tracks that I had never been to. I finished 19th at Unadilla and scored eleven points throughout the year. It’s looking like I might have a two digit number. I might be #98 or #99. Overall I think I had an awesome year. I wish it could have gone a little better, but I think everyone feels that way…unless you’re Webb or Roczen.
You raced your 250 in the 450 class at one point too, which is an interesting story.
I did it at Dallas, which was the weekend before Atlanta. I literally just started riding from my broken collarbone that week. It was only four hours from the house and I had my race bike that I had only ridden one time. I thought that I might as well test it in a race scenario. I didn’t make the main, but I did make the night show. It was pretty cool to race it in the 450 class.
You’re pretty laid back about everything aren’t you?
Yeah, I just enjoy this. I get nervous at the races and I put pressure on myself. I’m also pissed at myself after the races I don’t do well in, but it’s just fun being at the races. This is all I want to do. Just being there and racing the fastest riders in the world, sometimes beating them, or being first privateer, is just fun to me. If I’m healthy and walking away it was a good day. I just love doing it.
A lot of people probably forgot or don’t know that you’ve had to come back from some serious injuries early in your pro career.
All throughout amateurs I was never really hurt. I had some wrist injuries and my collarbone, but nothing that ever took me out of Loretta Lynn’s. I never missed amateur nationals and I would build at each one. I got really good my last two years as an amateur and then right after I turned pro it was injury after injury. The first year I turned pro I did the last four nationals after Loretta’s and I did really good. I scored a bunch of points. I was inside of the top twenty in six of the eight motos that I raced.
The next year I broke my wrist and missed all but two supercross races. I raced all of the outdoor races and I was struggling with my wrist and I wasn’t feeling too great on the Kawasaki I was on. That year wasn’t too great. The next year I raced Dallas and then broke my wrist in Atlanta. That put me out all of supercross and then I came back and did well outdoors. I scored points and barely missed out on a national number. Getting ready for 2015 I broke my hand and came back and crashed again. I broke a bunch of bones in my face. It was my nose and my eye and it was just really bad. They had to cut me open from ear to ear. Now I have this mesh plate in my forehead. That took me out the whole year and I was actually going to quit. I was over it. I spent everything I had as a privateer not making any money. I was risking my life to get enough money to get to the next race.
What did you do with the time off?
I started working with my dad at Honda of Houston. I was enjoying it. I was working 9-5 and I didn’t have to train. It was really nice just hanging out with my friends like a normal person. Six months later I got released to ride and I was feeling better than ever. The hunger was back. I raced three outdoor races while I was working full-time and I got ready for this year. I’m just looking forward to killing it next year.
What is next for you after Glen Helen?
I’m going to take a couple weeks off the bike. These last couple races, I’m still having fun, I’m not burnt out, but I just feel really sluggish and tired lately. I need a little break. I’m going to have fun and then start training for the East Coast. I’m going to go to Hawaii with my girlfriend as well. I have some family that lives there and I’ll put on a training school as well.
Vann would like to thank: Honda of Houston, Fox, Scott, Yoshimura, Speed Graphics, Powered By Naveen, Factory Connection, N-Fab, Dunlop, DVS Shoes, Twin Air, Renthal, Works Connection, Rekluse, Vertex Pistons, Pivot Works, Hotcams, Mandingo Pickles, Dubya, Ride Engineering, Cycra, Motorex, Think Technology, Texas Fireworks, Texas Truckworks, Ethika, Allsouth Sprinkler, McCullough Properties, I.T.I.S.i.D, Compression Generation Services, Legends and Heroes, and EMI Construction.