Austin Forkner: ‘Injury isn’t the hardest part’ of an accident

Forkner injury
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When Austin Forkner entered the 250 East season opener in Minneapolis in February, he was determined this season would be different and that he would ride all nine rounds injury free. A hard crash in Texas ended that resolve, but healing from a collarbone injury wasn’t the hardest part; it was dealing with the bad thoughts that followed.

To start the 2022 season, Forkner couldn’t afford to let go of the aggressive riding style that landed him in the Supercross and Motocross series, but he could control it. And he needed to.

Several injuries over the past few years kept him from making a legitimate run at championships and for a while, that seemed to only amp him up more – make him more aggressive and prone to mistakes.

The 2019 season was his to lose. Through the first six rounds, Forkner beat the 250 East competitors in every race. The only time he failed to win outright was in an East/West Showdown and even then, he was the top rider in his division. He had a full-race lead in the points and might have cruised to victory.

But then came Nashville. He had a hard off in qualification and injured his knee.

He tried to return to racing a few weeks later – perhaps too soon. He landed hard on a jump and tore his ACL to put him out for the season.

His 2020 campaign went much better. Forkner won four races in the 250 West division, but two bad rounds in which he finished outside the top 15 was too much to overcome and he landed third in the standings.

The 2021 season didn’t last long. Forkner broke a collarbone ahead of the third race and was out for the season.

So Forkner knew he could not keep doing things the way he had. At Minneapolis, he finished fourth in his heat and second in the Main. Round 2 brought the 250 East riders to Arlington, Texas, where he dominated Race 1 of the Triple Crown, finished fourth in Race 2 and was set to challenge Jett Lawrence for the overall win.

Forkner and Lawrence were battling for the third in Race 3. When Forkner completed the pass just before the finish line jump, Lawrence kept the pressure on. Lawrence clipped a Tuff Blox at the top of the jump and his bike was pushed to the right – and into Forkner.

Forkner was slammed to the ground hard and rebroke his collarbone where it had been repaired with a screw.

You know, this isn’t my first rodeo as far as injuries go and this wasn’t really a bad injury,” Forkner told NBC Sports prior to the season finale in Salt Lake City. “I mean it’s a broken collar bone. Broken bones are never good. But I was only out for four weeks. Relatively speaking it’s not that bad of an injury.

“It wasn’t really a hard thing to come from, the harder thing was coming back and not being at the top right away. I didn’t want to take any steps back from before I got hurt.

“The injury is never the hardest part: it’s everything that’s around the injury – the not racing, everything you’re dealing with mentally, the negative thoughts that come along with it. ‘Why did this happen again?’ In my case getting hurt over and over and over again and feeling like I was going to have a good year this year and then something out of my control happened. It wasn’t really the actual injury that was hard to get over, it was the mental things that came with it.”

Regarding his performance, Forkner had no reason to worry. Less than two months after breaking his collarbone, he returned to action in Atlanta and immediately won his heat.

He won the main in his next outing in Foxborough ahead of Lawrence, fueling speculation about how closely the title might have been contested.

In only his second race back at Foxborough after breaking a collarbone, Austin Forkner beat Jett Lawrence in the Main. Feld Entertainment, Inc.

“A lot of people said, you know, you look so much different riding from the first couple or races, before I got hurt,” Lawrence said “I agree, but at the same time I was just trying to get the season started, I knew it was going to be a long season, I wanted to be there at every race, and make smart decisions based off how I felt that night and how I started. Make smart decisions based on what was handed to me throughout the race.”

Forkner rode aggressively, but with a great degree of control

“At Foxborough, I didn’t really do anything crazy,” Forkner said. “I didn’t get a great start and was just working up through. A couple of guys made mistakes and I got into second and then got off on Pierce [Brown] and he missed that rhythm and I went to the front.

“A lot of people said that they hadn’t seen me ride like that, with that sort of aggression, but I would argue that you saw me ride like that at the first race at Arlington, when I won the first of the three-race format there. It comes with the injuries and the level of maturity that you have to take what’s given to you sometimes, not always try to force the issue. Because that is when things can go wrong.”

If 2019 was the championship that never happened, 2021 may have been even more so. It was a new Forkner that mounted his Monster Energy / Pro Circuit Kawasaki – a Forkner who bore the scars and had the hard-earned maturity that went along with them. He was determined to show his critics what those scars taught him.

“As much as you don’t want to think about that, there are times when you just have to make smart decisions and that comes with time. I’ve made changes on the mental side of things this year – being okay with not being the fastest guy at times.

Forkner injury
“Bad thoughts start to creep in,” Forkner told NBC Sports about his Arlington injury. “But this time it wasn’t my fault and it was almost easier.” Feld Entertainment

“I feel like it worked and it’s why I was really bummed to miss the middle of the season due to something that wasn’t really my fault. I felt like mentally I made good changes coming into this year and I didn’t really get to show them that much. Which is why right now, I want to show what could’ve been this season. Atlanta, obviously the A Main didn’t go that well, but the heat race was pretty impressive and then last weekend, winning the main.”

As disappointing as it was, the second broken collarbone is one more building block for Forkner.

“To be honest this (injury) was easier to take than past ones where it was my fault,” he said. “I’m not the type of person that has to get yelled at to get a point across. I can walk the track and my trainer, my dad, or whoever, never had to get in my face and yell at me that I rode bad. I would come back and be pissed if I didn’t run well. I’m self-motivated.

“It was almost easier this time because it wasn’t my fault. When the crashes were my fault, I would be kicking myself. I’m destroyed after, ‘Like dude why am I making these mistakes? What do I have to do to quit making these mistakes’ and that would annihilate me and get into my dark places, thinking ‘why can’t I figure this out?’

“The bad thoughts start to creep in. But this time it wasn’t my fault and it was almost easier, because the changes that I made to try to prolong my season and get hurt less seemed like they were working. A lot of people said that they saw maturity, they saw the changes I was trying to make. They were notable. I just had to chalk this one up to it being what it is and this sport is brutal. This sport is not golf, it’s not tennis. Sometimes things happen that are out of your control. It’s just bad luck – the card I drew that night.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.