Austin Forkner: Starting experiences separate 2024 from 2023
The past two season openers could not have been more different for Austin Forkner. In 2023, racing in the 250 West division, he was tagged from the side and crashed coming out of the gate and injured his knee badly enough to end his Monster Energy Supercross season. In 2024, he stormed into Turn 1 and narrowly missed an accident that sent more than half the field to the ground.
When the gate dropped, Forkner’s teammate Cameron McAdoo ran out of room while trying to thread the needle between Henry Miller and Tom Vialle. The start of the accident was similar to what Forkner experience last year, but McAdoo was much further down the track and about to enter the corner. When he lost control of his bike in Detroit, McAdoo slid underneath Vialle and the momentum carried the crash all the way to the outside of field.
Vialle was directly behind Forkner at the time.
“I heard it going in,” Forkner said after the race. “When we started braking, I could hear tires grinding and bikes clanking. I knew there was some sort of a pileup or else guys just got really sketchy. And then when I came around, there were guys still down.
“I think both of my teammates were still down. ... I had to weave - I should have went inside them but I went outside of them. That’s why I feel this win is so special to me because I was there last year. I blew my knee out. I was done for the season in a very similar deal.”
Chance Hymas earned the holeshot, but Forkner had the lead by the time the field crossed the finish line to complete the first lap.
Forkner would hold that lead for the remainder of the 21-lap affair, building it to a little more than five seconds at the end of Lap 18. The next three laps may have been even more important.
Before the race, Forkner told NBC Sports: “That’s been my Achilles Heel over the past few years, staying healthy. If I can, I should be up there racing for podiums and wins and a championship - if I can stay healthy for the whole season.
“You can’t really work on being healthy but we worked on things that will keep me healthy all season, some technique work to make me a smoother, more in-control rider. Not that I’ve been super-sketchy or super out of control but sometimes things tend to happen.”
The work Forkner spoke of was in matching his technique to his speed, realizing that many of his injuries have come because those two elements were out of sync. In the past few seasons, Forkner has not been guilty of racing over the edge as much as being a victim of the edge finding him.
Max Anstie took second from Hymas on Lap 13 as Forkner held a 3.4-second lead over the field.
Once Forkner saw the pit board notification that Anstie was in second, he concentrated on laying down a few fast laps and added another 1.6 seconds to his advantage.
He then modified his pace to ensure he kept control of his Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki.
Forkner cruised to his 13th 250 win, tying him with Jeremy McGrath and Jett Lawrence for third all-time. Forkner is now two behind Nathan Ramsey and five behind James Stewart.
But it all came down to the start.
Accidents are part of Supercross racing and riders do not always control their fate. Nearly a dozen racers learned that lesson at Detroit in Turn 1. As with “Big One” crashes on a NASCAR superspeedway, however, simple mathematics show that the further forward a rider is in the field, the less likely he is to get involved in someone else’s mistake.
Forkner had a long time to reflect on his 2023 Anaheim crash. He returned at Spring Creek, raced in the last five Pro Motocross events last year and in one round of the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship, but that was less than 20 percent of the combined seasons.
“The mindset was that (crash) may not have happened if I had gotten a better start,” Forkner said. “That’s still my mindset this year. It flipped and I’m glad I got a good start so that didn’t happen. It came full circle that it flip-flopped basically.”
While it took more than a year to execute, this was a lesson Forkner brought with him into 2023. Forkner described this same attitude - using the same vocabulary - to NBC Sports during Media Days prior to 2023 and he climbed onto his bike in Anaheim knowing he had a shot at that championship.
Forkner struggled with dark thoughts in the days that followed Anaheim.
“It’s so tough to deal with this right now, I had such a good offseason coming into this year,” Forkner said at the time. “Super lowkey, super chill. Honestly, at this point I feel embarrassed. I’m obviously extremely disappointed in myself; I’m just disgusted. Unless you’ve been in this situation or something similar, it’s hard to explain, but I don’t even want to look people in the face.
“This is the third straight year that I’ve been out of the championship after two races, max. I didn’t even make the first race this year and now I’m out for a while. This one’s tough. It’s really tough because of the past couple of years.”
A year later, Forkner clung to his hard-learned lesson. During the offseason, he remained determined to apply the lessons learned in 2020, 2021 and 2022 - and his positive attitude returned.
“I feel like I made it a point to surround myself with people who are there to lift me up,” Forkner said after winning Detroit. “I feel like that is important in this sport. You can have one good race and be on the top of the world and you can have a bad one and get so down. Having people around you who can keep you on the right track so you can focus on what you need to focus on is so important.”
And so Forkner returned to victory lane in Detroit - the site of one of five wins from the 2019 season. Forkner finished third that season behind Chase Sexton and Justin Cooper. Both of those riders as well as the 2023 250 East champion Hunter Lawrence are in the 450 class this year, which means the sky is the limit in 2024.
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