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Rejuvenated and healthy, Austin Forkner is prepared for 2021 Motocross season

Zach Osborne joins Motormouths to discuss the upcoming Motocross season, as he prepares to defend his 450 class championship.

With the 2021 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season only days away, Austin Forkner finds himself in an unaccustomed position: He’s healthy are ready to ride at Fox Raceway in Pala, Calif. Saturday, May 29 on Peacock and NBCSN.

A series of injuries over the past few years sidelined Forkner and kept him from reaching to his potential - at least where championships are concerned. Those hardships have changed his perspective. Instead of racing to prove something, Forkner is ready to take each race as it comes. He knows better than most the age-old truism that in order to finish first, one must first finish.

“I’ve missed a lot of races.” Forkner told the media in a preseason press conference. “I’ve missed probably more races than I’ve raced each year. It’s really made me appreciate racing in general. Not about the results, but just being out there on the track racing. It’s made me appreciate that a lot more.”

Over the past three years, it seems that Forkner’s injuries have been strategically placed to keep him out of the outdoor Motocross season.

This year, after finishing on the podium in the Supercross 250 season opener in Houston and riding ahead of an on track incident that sent him home sixth in Race 2, Forkner injured his collarbone during qualification for Round 3.

He would not return for the remainder of the season.

Abdominal injuries in June, 2020 and a knee injury in April, 2019 also sidelined him.

“As far as not racing outdoors for the last two years, it’s obviously sucked,” Forkner said. “I’ve wanted to, but I’ve been coming off injury right at the end of the season and the team’s like ‘Nah, there’s no reason to go back and race two races or so.’ It just hasn’t worked out.

“I’m excited for this year and I’m excited to be coming in pretty healthy. I don’t have any lingering injuries right now.”

Forkner has been forced to miss the past two Motocross seasons.

He finished seventh in the points in 2018 and was 13th in 2017.

But a healthy Forkner is capable of contending for the championship. He was fourth in his rookie Motocross season of 2016. Forkner was third in both the 2019 250SX East and 2020 250SX West championships.

“I feel good,” Forkner said. “But that’s the thing: I felt good riding last year; I felt good riding the year before, I just haven’t raced so I don’t know where I fit in.

“Every year it’s different about who’s fast, who’s the guy to beat. I haven’t ridden in a few years so I don’t know who is going to be good. I’m not really worried about anyone in particular. I’m just going to go in and see where I fit in the mix.”

As he acclimates to the other riders, they will need to do the same with him. Forkner’s presence on the track is often unmistakable. He is one of the most aggressive riders under the best of conditions. Add in an aching hunger after racing only twice in the past year and a comparison to a bear waking from hibernation comes to mind.

But one thing his injuries have taught Forkner is how to balance his innate aggression with the need to finish races.

“There are times when you have to hang it out and go for it and there are times when you have to know when to settle for a second. Some of my injuries haven’t been related to that, but that’s just part of the learning process. Some of my injuries haven’t even come from racing; they’ve happened in practice, so I’ve taken what I’ve learned from each kind of thing that has happened and tried to apply to my racing the best that I can.”

And while fans might expect Forkner to be rusty. Forkner disagrees.

“I actually have ridden quite a bit of outdoors in the past couple of years. Even though I haven’t raced it, I’ve ridden quite a bit,” Forkner said. “When I came back from my knee, I rode at least two months outdoors before I started riding Supercross again. When I came back from my internal thing last year, I rode all summer, hoping to be able to go race. It was the team’s decision more than my own - because I wanted to go - but by the time I was ready, it was kind of late in the season.”