Three months after nearly being paralyzed in a testing incident, Blake Young finished fourth in both races at New Jersey Motorsports Park. The crash that broke his back came dangerously close to severing his spine-he didn’t know it at the time-and the fact that he was competitive after such a long lay-off, let alone nearly finished on the podium in both races, was a victory in itself.Young couldn’t have expected it after his testing crash at Barber Motorsports Park in early June. The Rockstar Makita Suzuki rider broke his L1 vertebra on the first day of the test. Unaware of the damage, he tested a second day, then took part in the Schwantz School before driving his motor home back to Wisconsin, unaware that had the damage been only slightly more severe, the injuries could have been debilitating. “That was the thing,” Young began. “When I got the first phone call, I didn’t, I guess, really understand how serious it was until I sat down with some doctors.”As soon as his doctors saw the damage he was put in a body cast, essentially a two-piece plastic clam shell. There was a very brief discussion of surgery, but it was rejected. Young was advised against it because of his age and his fitness, “and above and below the broken vertebrae, the disks look really, really good. So we don’t think going in there and fusing a couple vertebra is really the way to go about. They think the thing will heal up really really well on its own.”But I just had to be patient and sit in this cast. Sit back and take these calcium pills and eat healthy and do whatever you realistically could do to speed things up. But I mean, absolutely, it was brought up, but it just didn’t really make sense. And actually, to be honest with you, that operation they said would be about the same time recovery. Yeah, it would not speed things up any quicker, because of the physical therapy coming off a fused vertebra like that is pretty hard. You take away flexibility. What they told me is it would be weaker, because it’s going to be fixed in your back.”Young was uncertain about how he’d perform in South Jersey. A few days earlier, he was back on his race bike for the first time since his on the adjacent NJMP Lightning course, “which I think helped out a lot. But I guess in all up until the very minute of sitting on the grid of Saturday’s race, I really didn’t know if I could go the distance or how I was going to get back into the swing of things and dice with some guys and battle in the race.”I was actually quite surprised on how I actually felt. I don’t think I really physically hurt too bad as far as my back goes and my injury goes, but I guess I was pretty happy with the way I raced. Obviously, I would’ve liked to be up front and battling for the win, but I think being off the bike for three months and coming back, I was really surprised how good I really did feel.”Young’s fourth was distant on Saturday, but on Sunday he came within .025 sec. of the podium. M4 Monster Energy Suzuki’s John Hopkins, who’d tested on the NJMP course prior to the race, edged him out.”I mean, yeah, obviously Sunday’s race was kinda disappointing,” Young said. “Obviously it would’ve been a highlight of my weekend to get back on the podium and for sure to get that third. And to miss out by that little margin that we did, for sure that kinda bummed me out. Nonetheless, we brought the bike home. We didn’t tear up nothing. I guess we really can’t complain.”Young’s recovery focused on strengthening the spine. His mobility was limited and he wasn’t allowed to work on his core strength, which is essential in road racing. That affected the way he rode the bike and the way the team set it up. On Saturday the team set it up soft, but rideable, and tire grip was compromised. Sunday morning, after Young watched Saturday’s race, he asked crew chief Peter Doyle to make changes.”Hey, let’s stiffen this thing up. Let’s go that direction, let’s try to go faster. If we just find a couple more tenths a lap here, we could be a lot closer,” he told Doyle, adding, “Let’s push the envelope a little bit and see what happens here and that’s what we did. I told him, ‘I think a realistic goal for Sunday is, let’s takes take Saturday’s time from me to the leaders and let’s cut that in half.'” Young not only cut the gap in half, from ten secs. to under five, but his average lap time was a tenth of a second faster.”I think it was good. I think it’s progress,” he said. “It’s pretty hard to be happy with the way the weekend went, because I didn’t really get the results I wanted. I’m never really happy until I’m up front and battling for a win, but I think as far as coming back off an injury like this, I don’t see where it was a bad weekend.”Having two weekends to further strengthen his core, Young is confident he can play more of a role in the championship at Barber, a track where he’s experienced the good and the bad. Last year he lost half of the pinkie on his left hand, and then there was the testing crash. Yet the day before he lost part of his finger, he finished second in the Superbike race.Still, he said, he’s “excited to go back this year and try to get back up front, for sure, whether it’s helping out Tommy (Hayden) or just getting to race with them.” Hayden can use every point he can get: He trails Team Graves Yamaha’s Josh Hayes by 22 points going into Barber.As for what he sees beyond Barber, Young said there were talks with Yoshimura about staying put.”Obviously, a lot of things that have to fall in place first, whether it’s sponsors or what have you,” he said. “They’ve obviously shown interest that they would like to continue working with me, that’s for sure. That’s pretty much it. For the most part they want to see how the season ends and then see how I come off this injury and we’re more excited about how the weekend went, for sure.”
Blake Young Talks Injury, Barber
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.