Main image by Mitch Kendra
After an injury at the 2023 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship that sidelined him for half the year, Austin Forkner returned to the paddock in July. Even though he was not 100 percent healthy, Forkner needed to get in some gate drops so he returned to racing mid-way through the AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Around that time, he stared working with former Pro Circuit Kawasaki Ryan Hughes. Hughes is known for his on the bike technique coaching, which has been his focus since his own professional racing career ended.
At the 2024 250SX East Region Championship opener over the weekend, Forkner claimed a heat race win then rode home a wire-to-wire holeshot to checkered flag main event win hours later. After the race, we caught up with Ryno to get his thoughts on Forkner’s strong night to start the season, how their relationship has grown over the last six months, his expectations, nerves entering the weekend, and more.
Racer X Online: It's obviously a pretty strong night for Austin here in Detroit. Talking about the off-season work you guys did, he mentioned a lot of technique stuff and he said quality over quantity. So, walk us through the off-season.
Ryan Hughes: Well, the thing is I see a lot of Austin in myself as I racer. Like, I couldn't go fast enough, and my speed was too much for my technique to handle. So, that's the same thing when I watched Austin the last few years is like, he has the ability to go so fast, but his technique can't handle more speed because there's some faulty points in his technique. So, when I came to him, I said, “Hey, look, I'm not gonna train you. I'm not about lap times or stuff like that. I'm never gonna tell you to go faster, but I'm gonna fix all your little imbalances, I'm gonna fix all your little weaknesses and then you will go faster because you have the capability of going faster and you want to go faster. Now you have the technique that can handle it, right?” So, we worked on a lot of that stuff and then I worked on his head, too, because we can't bring the past into the present. He's had a lot of bad past, so, I have to make sure that he doesn't bring that into the present. Because whatever you were prepared for, well, you get, right? So, if you're preparing from the past with an injury or crash, well, guess what's coming to you? So that and trying to just really make him present. And then a couple of other tricks we have just mentally and stuff to stay away from that has helped a big lot. For me, the biggest thing is technique because that's how it rides a motorcycle and then the computer [points to head] which controls the technique, the mind. We really worked on that. And he has a great mechanic, and I think Pro Circuit has the best bike this year.
In life you get tested enough and tested enough and tested enough and you always show up. Well, I feel life, I feel God, whatever you want to say, rewards you after a while and he's needed a reward. [Laughs]
You mentioned the team in the bike and everything. I think the stock bike is, for the most part, the same as last year’s model. I think the team found some stuff race setting wise, but not a ton of changes to the stock bike, same team and personnel so, not a ton of changes to his program aside from working with you. So, how does that help him for you guys to just pick up where you guys left off last year? Because you guys starting working together last race season. This way you could get right to work.
Yeah, we started working, last year in July-ish. So, in the beginning of the year [our time together] it was just kind of getting to know me. I didn't dump a lot of stuff on him, I wanted him to trust me. And then, you know, we worked and worked, and then January first is when I cracked down. [Laughs] So, we worked hard, but then I really put the intensity in in January and you see the difference. The bike is better, you know, they've made changes with the engine, they made changes with suspension.
He's happier, you know. One, he's gotten married. So, that's a big kind of weight off all of our shoulders when we have someone that is gonna be in our life. And then also he has a new trainer Charles [Dao], which myself and him see eye to eye. And then he brought somebody in that is really specific with technique, you know, I mean, I pretty much changed the sport. And he felt the difference and now we see eye-to-eye and so whatever I say he does, no question. It’s not “How much?” “How long?” Or “why.” Just, “Okay.” So, it works out well.
Still less than a year working with him. But have you seen a big difference working with him?
Oh yeah. Yeah, it just a different rider. He didn't look comfortable to me last year in the nationals. I don't know if he was really that confident, you know, just coming off injury. Then also me coming in, and I'm kind of outside the box and everybody has their stupid opinion of me until they work with me. And they're like, “Oh, yeah [I get it].” So, that was kind of it. I think he kind of just got thrown into outdoors and I don't know if he was really ready, you know what I mean? Then him and myself just started getting closer and closer and then January it was like click [snaps finger]. I told him, “Hey, I'm just gonna be here, you know, I'm gonna do this, but January, get ready.” I said, “Get ready,” and then we put the screws down. And I told him right in the beginning the year, I go, “You're gonna win the first race,” and everybody's like, “Oh.” I'm like, “No. You're gonna win the first race. We gotta go with the mindset to win. That's it.” If it doesn't happen, cool. If we gotta back it down and get fourth, cool. But you go to the race to win, not just to be careful.
And so where are you guys? Has it all been in California?
Yeah, southern California, all the Kawasaki track and stuff like that. So, it's been really good weather this winter.
That was a big change for him compared to going into last season, right?
Yeah, he would always be, I think, in Oklahoma. So, weather is colder, maybe not as good riders [around]. And then, just, like I said, just a different coach to someone that looks at the little things, someone that really pays attention to the roots. I’m not watering the leaves, I'm watering the roots, you know. [Laughs] It's pretty fun to do that and that's what I like to do. I don't really care to be a trainer. I'm not a trainer. I'm not a trainer that I'm a technique coach and I'm a doctor [points to head]. I fix your problems. [Laughs]
Obviously, there are the nerves the first race of the season brings. Everybody has the nerves. Anaheim 1, now this first East Region race. You have a two-week break before the Arlington round. Is it kind of nice just to get a little bit of the nerves out and then you get the win tonight? Not that you’re going to take it easy, but, “We got that monkey off our back. We're comfortable, we got the win.”
I mean, yeah, he got the monkey off his back. I don't really think he was that nervous. I think I was more nervous than he was, you know! I want to see him do good, you know. I've been in the same boat of injury, injury, injury. And then even for myself, man, I just needed something good to go in my life. My last five years of my life has been f&%$^@g hell. So, that was a big thing for me. I would much rather race next weekend because of this momentum, not take three weeks off. And then again, it's almost like the butterflies are starting again, you know what I mean? It's like, once you get going, then you kind of get that ball rolling. But it is what it is for everybody. And it's just three more weeks with the red plate. So, it's cool. [Laughs]
Do you know if he feels the pressure from the outside, the team, pressure from himself?
I mean, yeah, he definitely feels the pressure because he's 25. He's been in this class for a while and he hasn't made what he was, I guess, promised to be to making with those results. And so, yeah, there's a lot of pressure because kind of, “Hey, this is your last year.” If you don't get on it, if you don't do it, then everybody's gonna have this idea about you and you're gonna fall off the way side and that's just the way the sport works, right? So, yeah, there's times when you gotta buckle down, you gotta pull your big boy pants up because this is your last shot. And it's not because you've been lazy, it's not because you're slow, it's not because anything. It’s just the way the cards have fallen, right? But yeah, I think we're good and we got a good team. He's happy. Yeah, I think we win the championship.
Anything else you like to add?
No, I don't want to give anything away. [Laughs] Thank you.
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