Forrest Butler stood still in one corner of the team managers’ tower. He tried to stay calm, but it was difficult—when one of his riders is doing well, the final ten minutes seem to drag on in dreamlike slow motion. It was the second moto of the Thunder Valley National at Lakewood, Colorado, round three of the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Blake Baggett was leading, and if he held position, Team Rocky Mountain ATV/MC-KTM-WPS was going to win its first major professional race after 14 years of trying.
Butler wasn’t surprised; his rider had come from a first-turn crash to third in moto one and set the fastest lap time of the race by over a half a second. But he still had reason to be nervous, even superstitious, as he had grown accustomed to experiencing heartbreak when victory was so close. At Unadilla in 2012, Michael Byrne led nine of the first ten laps before breaking his leg—without even crashing. In 2013 at Southwick, Andrew Short led the majority of a moto before defending champion Ryan Dungey passed him with one lap to go. He lost by six-tenths of a second.
This time it seemed different, and he had to tell his wife, Natalie, who was administering anesthesia in an operating room in Melbourne, Florida. She has also seen the toughest moments of owning and operating a professional motorsports team. She sees it on her husband’s face when he comes home from rough weekends; she watches from their bedroom while he sits in his adjoining office, staring emptily into the blue light of a computer screen at 3:00 a.m. When financial hardship comes from an imploded sponsor deal or a check bouncing, she feels the anxiety too. That’s why Forrest wanted her to hear it from him when the team won its first race.
Jinxes be damned, with two laps to go, Forrest tapped out a text to his wife. If he waited until the checkered flag, he’d lose his chance in the excitement and chaos of the celebration, and the already limited cellular service would get eaten up by any congratulatory incoming phone calls and messages.
She wrote back immediately, “Holy crap! Are you serious?!” The bad luck never came. Baggett won the moto and the overall, his first on a 450. The messages flooded in as well, 108 texts that continued to ping until the following morning.
Easily the highest moment of Butler’s professional life, the win was an achievement he’d been working on since 2004, when he deposited his first sponsor check. MSR had given $15,000 to what was then just a feel-good story: three brothers racing motocross together on their own team.
“I thought that was the only time we were getting paid,” Forrest says from a high-top table in his Orlando-area home.