The original plan was for Max Vohland to turn pro during the outdoor season of 2021, but when a ride opened up with the Red Bull KTM team to run Monster Energy 250 Supercross that year, the opportunity was too good to pass up. Plans can be stubborn and have a way of making themselves sometimes, however.
When Vohland signed the contract and began preparation to run the supercross season, he told reporters that Red Bull said he was their top choice to sit atop their 250 East bike, but they also gave Vohland a choice.
If Vohland was not comfortable with the plan, the Lucas Oil Motocross ride would still be open.
On the highly technical courses inside arenas, rookies can get hurt. There is not a lot of room for error.
Vohland opted to run supercross and the first three races progressed as they should. In the opening three races at Houston, Vohland finished ninth in Round 1, eighth in Round 2, and sixth in Round 3. His first top-five was in reach until a crash in qualification in Indianapolis dislocated his hip and forced him to miss the remainder of the supercross season.
“I had like three or four months on the 250 (entering the season),” Vohland told NBC Sports. “I definitely had a lot of the track down, but in the whoops, I was under prepared. I ended up crashing the whoops, so preparation could’ve definitely been better. I think we still prepared the best we could for the situation I was put through.”
Back to the original plan: Vohland qualified for 12 MX features and finished ninth in the points. He earned his first holeshot in the opener at Fox Raceway, but it took three races to reach the top 10. He was ninth overall at RedBud MX Park in Buchanan, Mich. during the 4th of July weekend after finishing with 10-11 in the two motos. He hovered in that range for a while, finishing 11th overall at Southwick and Spring Creek in his next two starts and then earning a 10th overall (9-12) in Washougal, Wash.
His highly anticipated top-five came the following week at Unadilla in New Berlin, NY.
“A lot of this sport is mental for sure,” Vohland said. “This sport is highly mental, when have enough strength to do it. I feel better technically than other guys.
“I can see what (the other riders are) doing, and I can see why they’re doing what they’re doing. But there’s only a handful of riders that I see and think ‘that’s what I would do’, or ‘that is what I’m doing’. I’ll be doing something and see someone in front of me wanting to do it. I feel like I have a different gateway of seeing things to be able to make my decisions – different line choices.”
In the final MX race of 2021, Vohland narrowly missed scoring his first professional podium. Finishing 5-4 in the motos, he was fourth overall, but the experience allows him to enter the 2022 SX season with confidence.
“When you put that helmet on everything just switches off and the only thing you know is how to ride the bike,” Vohland said. “For me that’s the only switch that’s on. Everything goes away and the only thing you can focus on is riding.
“I think it’s a lot of knowing the feel of it, especially when you make a mistake and something steps out on you. It’s not a technique thing. It’s knowing how to fix it without having to think about it. That’s a lot of what I’ve learned in supercross this year. It’s not a lot of technique. We’ve been working on technique, but really it’s just knowing the feel of it and being able to do it without thinking.”
The reason Vohland does not worry about technique, it because that was ingrained from childhood. The son of Tallon Vohland, Max was literally born to ride.
“I feel that’s one of my stronger points,” Vohland said. “I feel that I’m more of a technical rider.
“Always dissecting the track, always watching and seeing how it’s developing. We’ve been working a lot on whoops since those deteriorate so much in the Main event. A lot of time they turn into jumping whoops, so we’re always watching that and getting ready to cover all of our bases. I feel like that’s one of my strong points, to always know when it’s the right time to pull back and the time to go.
“It’s very difficult to be picture perfect especially on a supercross track. It’s so easy to make mistakes. A lot of that comes from the preparation in the off season, the better prepared you are the faster you can recover. It’s definitely not easy but it’s not impossible either.”
Staying healthy will be critical for Vohland supercross season. If he picks up where he left off in motocross, he has an opportunity to make a run for the championship in what will essentially be his rookie supercross season.
Even if he starts 2022 like he did 2021, he has an opportunity to finish high in the points. But for a rookie contender with a lot of external pressure on his shoulders that is not the most important thing.
“(I want to) prove it to myself,” Vohland said. “I always think like I can do better, in the back of my head, I know there’s always room for improvement. It’s always, ‘he’s good but he could be better’. Also (I want to prove it) to my dad. He’s raced all his life and now owns the company. He taught me everything, so I think I owe a lot to him. I need to prove a lot to myself because I know I can be there (at a high level), but I need to do it to prove it.”