We haven’t seen or heard much from Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki’s Austin Forkner, who went down at round three of the 250SX East Region with a broken collarbone. That makes three supercross seasons now thwarted by injury, but at least this time Austin will be healed up and ready for the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, which he missed in 2019 and 2020.
We talked to Austin on Tuesday to get an update on his injury, his career, and his outlook on racing in general.
Racer X: First of all, I guess you’re riding a dirt bike again?
Austin Forkner: Yeah I’ve been riding for a little over a month now, just setting up the bike for outdoors, and busting out motos. We had a better idea of what to do after setting the bike up for supercross, even though you set them up different, we at least had a better idea of what to do.
It’s really weird. You haven’t raced outdoors the last two seasons. Have you even ridden or tested outdoors? I guess last year a little bit?
Yeah it’s funny. I was actually trying to come back for the end of outdoors last year, so I did a lot of outdoors, but it just didn’t work out with the timing and the team and everything. I came back from my stomach thing pretty quick so I was able to ride quite a bit. But I haven’t raced outdoors in two years now. So, I want to do really well but I don’t have any expectations. I just want to go race!
So will you race these Salt Lake rounds?
It’s still kinda up in the air right now. I’m physically ready, I feel fine, I want to but it’s not just my decision, it’s the team and what they think. They might want me to just ride outdoors and not worry about these last two rounds. It’s about time to make that call so I expect to hear from them over the next couple of days. Either way, I’m fine with it.
Have you gotten back on a supercross track?
I haven’t, but I feel like we were in a good place with the bike at the beginning of the year. Now we’re at about the time where you would need to get back on a supercross track, so that’s why I’m waiting on the decision. I give them my input. We’ll see what they come up with.
So now the bad news. When you went down in Houston, you looked so bummed. Was it even physical pain or was it just frustration over the series, points, the title, those things?
Yeah it was just a collarbone, and for us riders that’s like the most common thing. It was broken in four places and one part was even flipped upside down. It was bad for a collarbone but for a rider, even a bad collarbone break isn’t a big deal. I hit and then I got up, I could feel like a sharp pain there, but I thought I was fine. My adrenaline was going so it didn’t really hurt, I thought maybe I had just pinched my skin or got a cut or something. Then I rolled my shoulder and I felt the bones moving around in there. I was just like, 'Are you kidding me? Really. Wow.' It was unbelievable. Then, immediately, as I’m walking off the track, my mind is going a million miles an hour. Is it broken? Can we get it fixed with a plate? How long will I be out? All of that was just cranking in my mind, and then I started to tell myself, 'Maybe it’s not broke!' Then I took my jersey off and the Alpinestars Medic crew could see it poking out. They did some X-rays. Then I was just broken. I didn’t even want to go back to the rig and even show my face. I felt so embarrassed. I felt like I had let a bunch of people down. Again. When you’ve gone through injuries, you know the feeling. You’re bummed, then the doubt sets in, then you wonder if there is light at the end of the tunnel. I’m back to being okay now. But, I’ve had bad, season-ending injuries the last two years. It sucks so bad to go out over a pointless bone. Collarbones are so stupid, they barely do anything. To take myself out of a championship [battle] over something so stupid…it wasn’t that bad of a crash. It was just that everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.
Was there any chance of trying to come back early?
No. It was a thought. If it was a clean break or a hairline fracture, maybe, but when the doctor got in there Monday morning, he was like 'It’s bad.' A week and a half later I went to a doctor, and I was not expecting to be able to race, but I wanted him to tell me what he thought. He just tapped on it, not hard, and it hurt. And he was like 'Yeah, and you want to go race?' I was like, 'Okay.' I just needed him to tell me that. Then, with the schedule, I would have only had a week to come back for the next three races. Even if you can somehow get back in two weeks, I would have missed three races, and I already missed that night [at Houston]. That’s what I was processing in my brain as a walked off the track. Just like, 'Come on. No. So…I guess we’ll just how to see how we do outdoors.
You mentioned having doubts creep in. I think you have this aura of extreme confidence in yourself. But I remember what you said when you were coming back from the ACL last year—it wasn’t immediate to get back to that old level.
Yeah, you can be confident, but it’s hard to be assured you can do it again until you actually do it—until you actually do win a race again. We saw that when Cooper Webb won the championship in 2019. He won early in the season, Anaheim 2 I think, and it was like 'Okay. It’s game on now.' You need to get that result you’re looking for. You’re waiting until you get that point. I was happy with the podium at the first Houston this year, and I would have been on the podium at the second race if I didn’t take [RJ] Hampshire and myself out. I could have left the second race as the points leader, but it still would have been like, 'I need that win. I want that win.' You have to get that result, and each race that goes by where you don’t, it's just weighing on yourself.
Good example, Cooper Webb. He had two bad years in the 450 class but I had asked him if he ever gave up hope, and he said he would always go back to the USGP in Charlotte, which you happened to be in, where he was able to beat Jeffrey Herlings. He said he knew if he could beat Herlings, he must have something special. That gave him hope. Do you have a situation like that, that keeps you going in the low times?
Yeah, even just that 2019 year. I only lost one race until I tore my ACL. I know I can be that guy. I was so confident. I remember at Indy I went down in the first turn in the heat race and I had a bad gate pick for the main. I picked a gate with a terrible rut. My team was like, 'Don’t pick that gate. It was left there for a reason.' And I was like 'Chill, guys. I got it.' Holeshot. Won. But that level of confidence and that I’m the man feeling, it was showing that year. Or Salt Lake last year, I was able to beat [Dylan] Ferrandis straight up, I even passed him in the second one. That was the best race of my life, basically. So I know I can do that. I guess that’s how we work.
You had a great amateur career and you started your pro career so strong. Now you’ve missed a lot of races. Have you noticed that your phone rings less? Were there people who were trying so hard to be your friend and get in with you that don’t even care anymore? I’ve heard this from so many riders. You’ve ridden the highs and the lows the last few years.
Oh yeah, it’s funny. But it’s just that old saying, you’re only as good as your last race. In and out of the industry, if you’re out injured, people just start not to care. I’ve seen the good and bad of it. You just have to get used to that and now that I’m aware of it, you have to just not care what people say. If they’re not in your corner and not in your circle, you just have to not care what anyone says. That’s my mindset now.
I feel like that’s your mindset in general. You don’t seem to care what people think. You say whatever you want, you post whatever you want, you reveal things about your personal life. You don’t seem to be too concerned with getting haters or lovers.
Well, you can’t please everybody, and I’m not going to be anybody but myself. I don’t want to come across as the perfect person that always does the best interviews and always says the right thing. If you always say the right thing and you’re always that perfect person, is that who you really are or is that who you’re just portraying and trying to be? Some people don’t like me and some people do. I’m 100 percent fine with that. That’s just life, everyone has different favorites. I’m just myself and if people like that and like me, that’s awesome and that’s great. Clearly a lot of people do and clearly a lot of people don’t. I’ll say one thing and I’ll hear, 'Yes! That’s why you’re my favorite rider and that’s why I love you,' and then I’ll hear, 'See, that’s what I never liked this kid.' It can be over the same thing! Some people like it, some people hate it, but you’ll never please anybody. All I can be is be me. I’m not going to be fake and be someone I’m not.
A few years ago in outdoors you got taken out two weeks in a row. Alex Martin got you at Southwick and then, I’m not sure if we can say Aaron Plessinger took you out, but we can at least say lines came together and you went down. So we sent the TV pit reporter over both times and gave you 100 chances to talk trash or get mad, but you didn’t do it. You didn’t get mad battling Ferrandis last year.
I’ve made aggressive passes on people before, I expect people to make aggressive passes on me. I don’t get super mad about that stuff. I’ve been in championship battles with guys like Ferrandis and [Zach] Osborne. They’re aggressive riders. I’ve been pushed around, I guess you can say. But I put myself in their position—if I were going for a win, would I have done the same thing? I’m hard on myself, I don’t make excuses. Yeah, Plessinger hit me and yeah Martin took me out, but that wouldn’t have happened if I was two or three seconds further out front. Or if I didn’t take the outside. I’ve always been hard on myself like that.
What’s your take on the Hampshire crash at round two?
Man, I went into that rhythm section, we were doing different rhythms. My visual, my perception of what I thought would have happened, was off. I thought I was going to jump in and we’d be going into the corner at the same time and I’d be able to just pinch him off. But when I was landing the triple and going into the corner, he was already up at the apex, and I was like, 'Oh, no.' My perception of what was going to happen, it wasn’t going to happen like that. I knew it when I was in the air, but I was already committed and I was too late. Then I knew there was going to be contact, and I was like, 'We’ll see.' We went in and we hit. It was my fault, totally, and I never said it wasn’t anyone else’s fault. I thought I was going to be closer going into the corner. To me, it was a racing thing, but I’m sure he has a different take on it. You always have a different take depending on if you’re the guy getting taken out, or you’re doing the takeout.
For a while, you were following the perfect staircase for your career. You were good as an amateur, you rookie season was good, you got better with each supercross season…and now you’ve had these injuries. Meanwhile, a lot of these underdog riders who weren’t as well-known early in their career are doing well. Do you feel a certain pressure, maybe more pressure than most, to deliver? Because you were always “supposed” to do it. Do you feel that when it doesn’t work out?
There’s always that bit of extra pressure. 'We expect you to win a championship.' I mean, every team that signs a rider, they’re signing you because they expect results. That was my case. I got signed relatively young with that in mind, that’s why they got me early, because they thought I was good and they thought I would be winning championships. So that’s obviously a disappointment that I haven’t won one yet. I’ve heard some other riders tell me, compared to me as an amateur, they are like, 'Man, I didn’t envy that part.' Having all that pressure. I’ve had guys tell me that. But, hey, it’s just something I guess I learned to deal with at a younger age. Yes, there is that part of it, at times. Now I look back and wish I took time to enjoy it more, gone and rode boats at the creek more at Loretta’s, just enjoyed it more. Seeing the different level from amateur to pro. You think as an amateur you have to win every race or you’re not going to go pro or you’re not going to make it. You put so much pressure on yourself. I can definitely see that side of it.