Max Vohland, a top amateur and son of former GP and AMA star Tallon Vohland, was supposed to be on an unorthodox path to the pro ranks. Tallon and Max had a slow path, spending an extra year on 125s and even planning to spend months in Europe racing the EMX125 series. Unfortunately, COVID-19 ruined those plans. In the meantime, KTMs 250F plans changed when the Troy Lee Designs/Red Bull squad moved to GasGas bikes, leaving KTM with a need for a new 250 rider. They gave Max the shot, and it will start in Monster Energy AMA Supercross in 2021. This wasn’t the way the plan was supposed to go, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.
We talked to Max and his dad at last week’s KTM team intro.
Racer X: Okay Max, first of all, what happened to the #711?
Max Vohland: Um, it ended up being taken. The dude that had it didn’t want to give it up, but that’s okay. So we ended up taking the lowest number that was available, which was 115.
So you have no connection to that number?
None at all!
So before we get into supercross and turning pro and all that, dude, everybody knows 2020 was all messed up, but you actually missed out on more than most. You had a master plan to race EMX125 races in Europe, and that got ruined.
Yeah, unfortunately, we had planned to go there and do three races in the EMX series. We got in about and month and a half over there, but we definitely missed out on a lot more. We were going to get to train with [Jeffrey] Herlings, [Tom] Vialle, and Rene Hoffer. We were going to do sand training with them, and then before the races in Spain and Portugal—which were the set on original schedule before COVID—we were going to go train with [Jorge] Prado and [Tony] Cairolli in Italy. COVID ended up shutting that down, and we went home.
Man! So the racing experience would have been good, and then the training was another part. Let’s first talk about the experience you wanted to get racing in EMX125.
Yeah, it’s a lot different than being an amateur, it’s full pro racing. Even in the 125 class, those guys are serious, they’re doing 30 minute motos on rough tracks. It ended up not working out.
Let’s talk about the training. You were planning to go all over Europe?
Yeah, we went all over the place, I still got to ride a good variety of tracks. We were just North of France, I honestly don’t even know where it was, you can’t even pronounce the names of some of these places! I got a good amount of hard packed experience. The practice tracks over there are so rough and gnarly. One of the tracks we went to, it was so hard and rocky, it was pretty much like concrete, so you can’t even prep it! Same bumps have been there since….since my dad was racing there! [Laughs]
[Laughs] I knew that was coming! Yeah, I have heard that sometimes a track doesn’t even have the equipment needed for heavy grooming.
They really don’t! It’s so different than anything we have over here, the race tracks and the practice tracks. They’re just brutal. Brutal.
Did you ride any of the gnarly sand tracks?
Yes, I did. I rode the same track where [Jason] Anderson and [Zach] Osborne and those guys trained on for Motocross des Nations.
[Laughs] Yeah, Team Fried before the des Nations! That track was endless sand, but when we were there it never stopped raining. We never saw the sun once! It’s the only track you can ride during the winter over there. It was brutal. All the top guys where there the day we went—Herlings, Prado, [Tim] Gajser, Cairolli. They actually rented the track.
So do you have the right of passage story where you’re on a sand track and some dude you’ve never heard of goes blowing by you? I’ve heard this from every American that went over there
Uh, yeah, my dad has that exact story! For me I didn’t have that because they had rented the track out. But even when you go on a local day, like we did, there are so many people out on the track at once that you can barely ride. It was the only track open. But one cool story. There was a dude there who had a 125 frame, and a two-stroke 50cc motor with gears in it. And they race them over there! It was the weirdest thing! Three speed, 50cc two stroke, it has a clutch and he was riding the deepest, roughest sand track I’ve ever seen in my life. I guess they have a whole series over there for these things.
Do you have the “I couldn’t believe how much faster these guys were on sand” story? Again, it’s a story I hear from a lot of Americans who hit these tracks for the first time in Europe. Heck, even my guy GL [Grant Langston] has stories like that from when he first moved there.
Not really, but I was on a 125 and most of those guys were on 250s, so I wasn’t close. But yes, those guys are so efficient the way they ride the sand. Sand riding is such a different style of riding, it’s almost like supercross, the more efficient you get, the faster you start going and the less energy you use. But we never did long motos, the short time I was there we just worked on speed in short rides. So I never got to where I was so tired where that was happening.
So who knows? If the pandemic hadn’t hit and you got to ride those sand tracks more you would have eventually had those stories?
I definitely would have! My dad had the same stories. Some dude with a black helmet blowing by him, five-six seconds a lap faster. Then the guy shows up at a GP and my dad beats him. Just sand specialists over there.
So let’s move to supercross. You’re not brand new, everyone remembers you at Straight Rhythm blowing some minds on a supermini.
Yeah, the first Straight Rhythm I did I just practiced on a Supermini.
You were hauling!
I just did practice, but I was doing pretty good. After that I wanted to race it, I was feeling so good! But my dad wasn’t there so I didn’t race. Last year we came back on the 125, but that didn’t go as planned either! [Note: Vohland crashed and broke his collarbone.] But it was going pretty good up until that point, I had good qualifying times and felt good, I just overcommitted in the whoops.
Maybe Straight Rhythm isn’t the best scouting, but the point is, supercross isn’t totally new to you?
Yeah, I raced Monster Energy Cup in 2018 and I won that in Supermini. I did Supercross Futures the last two years, so I have some experience.
How has it felt out here on the test track?
Great. Felt awesome. I’ve adjusted to the 250F pretty quick, had about a month and a half on it. Everything has been awesome with the team. I’ve had fun with the suspension guys from WP. It has gone great.
So along with the plan to race EMX125 this year, from some of the things you said at Loretta’s, it seemed like you were going to do some more amateur races to adjust to the 250F [Vohland raced a 125 to two championships at Loretta Lynn’s in August]. Now that’s changes?
Yeah, the plan was to turn pro outdoors in 2021. But with GasGas coming in and a couple of things switching up, KTM didn’t have a 250 guy, and Roger [De Coster] and Ian [Harrison] said I was their first pick. They gave us an option and said if we weren’t comfortable doing supercross the first year—because a lot of rookies come in and get hurt doing supercross—to just let them know and they would find another guy for supercross. But we weren’t going to give up an offer like that. We ended up getting an extension of one extra year, through 2023, so it’s not such a risk this first year. No pressure. Got lucky with all of it, but I’m excited about it.
Okay, let me ask you something about your dad. He never even acts like a guy who raced. He never brags, he never tells how much he knows and how smart he is. Honestly, if I didn’t know he raced, I wouldn’t have even been able to tell. So, does the gnarly “I was so good, I was so tough” dad come out behind the scenes?
Well, yeah it does. He’s definitely a racer when it comes to training and racing.
[Tallon Vohland walks up]
Ah, let’s ask the man himself! Tallon, I don’t feel like you go big on selling how great you were when you raced. You don’t even seem like a guy who did race. You seem so low key about it. Behind the scenes do you get gnarly?
Tallon Vohland: I always have to pull out certain stories! But the one nice thing about it, with all my experience, I can just say that you’re always going to have bad situations when you race, but I can always tell him it could always be worse. I’ve seen it all. So I can always tell him he doesn’t have to feel that bad.
But you don’t use it in the, “I went uphill to school both ways you kids are soft” style?
Well that’s what I sense! You seem humble about it even though you have been there and done that.
[Laughs] Well I will say, now that he’s 17 and a half, I do have to throw one down every once in a while to let him know what’s up. I have a speed clip ready to go at any time. When it starts getting tough I just pull the phone out, I show him the clip of me passing [Ricky] Carmichael and it just shuts him down so I can live another day!
[Laughs] That’s awesome. Yes, 1999 you were giving RC a run in the 125 nationals. Didn’t you pass him at High Point?
Glen Helen! Come on man. Nineteen ninety nine was good.
Ricky gave you the biggest complement ever. When he moved up to the factory Kawasaki team didn’t he recommend Mitch [Payton] hire you as his replacement?
He did! He did. Ricky is always cool. But hey, RC is the best ever, so if you pass him one time, you’ve got to use that every time!
So what a bummer. You had this big plan to race in Europe but it didn’t work out.
Oh yeah, it was crazy, and I’ve got all these kids around and I’ve got to figure out what to do.
Oh you mean you were there when Coronavirus was breaking out!
Oh yeah, because we were in Italy at the time. I called my sister just asking, “What should I do?” It was serious! It wasn’t in the U.S. yet. In the U.S. there were three cases and in Italy there were 1,700 cases. So then I’m talking to the KTM people trying to figure out what to do. Then, I had to think about, Max had only done one race over there and it didn’t go so good, so I didn’t want it look like “Oh hey we had a bad race let’s pack up our stuff and go home.” That would look crappy, right? So I said we needed to stay there and keep riding, but as soon as I saw them close the borders in Italy, I was like, “Okay this is getting bad, we’ve got to get out of here, guys.”
That was a good plan you had, before the pandemic, to race in Europe.
Yeah, even though it’s been a long time since I had raced it Europe, and now we have the internet and things have changed, it’s still pretty challenging over there. Gas stations, grocery and things like that are just different, so it still took us like a week to get everything going good. But training and riding, those guys ride such rough tracks. Over here, our tracks that are open, I think they want to make smooth tracks because that’s what most people want to ride. You go over there and the tracks are just brutal.
Max: You’ll see riders on any size bike or any skill level on those rough tracks.
So you’re not talking the race tracks, you mean the local tracks.
Tallon: Yeah in some ways the local tracks are actually worse because they want to get more of the veteran guys, the professionals, because they think that will bring in some spectators. So they leave it rough and the pros come because that’s what they want to practice on. In Europe, they don’t care about the customers. If the regular guy wants the track smoother, they don’t care!
Max: Those guys, they’re just happy to have a track to ride on. Here, we’re so spoiled. The tracks in America have such good dirt. That’s what gets the money coming in.
Yeah, so you’re saying if they left the practice tracks rough like that in America, no one would come ride?
Max: Yeah, guys like us would love it, pros, but no one else would want to ride it.
Tallon: We got to do a few full-on Euro tracks. We were going around with Joel Smets, and he took us to a track he hadn’t ridden in 30 years. But the bumps are still the same! We were meant to go to Lommel but it rained so much that even Lommel wasn’t open! How do you like that!?
No chance of an extra year in Europe to try this again?
Tallon: Well, we would have liked it, but with the changes with GasGas coming in this opportunity came up. You know how I’ve been—and I’ve seen people already saying, “Hey you guys said you were taking the slow road and now you’re racing supercross.” We intended to take the slow road. We were thinking of maybe just starting with outdoors, but with this opportunity, you have to do supercross. So we ended up asking for an extra year on our deal. We know the risk is high going into something like this, but now he has three years, so I think we’ll be okay.
Main Image: Spencer Owens