What A Year!
2018 was a year that dreams are made of for Aaron Plessinger. Within 12 months, the 22-year-old won both the 250SX West and 250MX Championships, was selected to the U.S. MX des Nations team, got engaged, and experienced the birth of his first child.
The 2018 racing season in AMA Supercross and Pro Motocross hadn’t quite reached the halfway mark when 22-year-old Aaron Plessinger, almost alarmingly, looked up after getting suited up for an AMA 250cc National moto and spoke of the current reality of his surroundings: “This year has happened really fast. It’s been such a good year for me with winning the supercross title and then contending here like I am for the outdoor title. It’s crazy. A couple people just asked me how it felt and I told them it’s like a dream come true. I never thought I would be up here like this.”
By Eric Johnson
PHOTOGRAPHY BY HOPPENWORLD.COM, MONSTER MEDIA AND KIT PALMER
He said that late in July, mere days before he and fiancée Kendall Taylor awaited the arrival of the stork with their new son, Jake, who entered the world on July 30, 2018. Will this lead to another father/son champion duo? It’s happened in the Plessinger family before. You see, Aaron Plessinger’s dad, Scott, also excelled as a motorcycle-racing competitor. A four-time national champion with two Grand National Cross Country titles (1994 and 1995) and two AMA National Hare Scrambles Championships (1989 and 1992), Scott Plessinger slithered out of the streams, silt, bedrock and greasy trails of Ohio to become one of this nation’s greatest off-road riders on the 1990s. Now his son is one of America’s elite motocross and supercross racers. But the family didn’t really see it coming, believe it or not.
Scott says, “Aaron and I were at the Atlanta Supercross in 2010 and I kind of asked Aaron, ‘Do you think you can do this?’ And he said, ‘I think I can.’ It was funny back then because if he lost a race, I mean, he might be mad for 10 minutes and then you’d never even know that he raced. If he won, it was like any other race. He didn’t really show it too much. Even back then, he pretty much did well at everything. I come from going pretty well in racing, so I had high expectations of him.”
And so it is now, the off-season between the 2018 and approaching 2019 racing seasons, that Aaron Plessinger, the 2018 AMA 250cc Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and AMA 250SX West Champion, begins a new journey that will see him moving up and arriving behind the gate on a 450 for the opening round of the ‘19 Monster Energy Supercross Series set for Saturday, January 5, 2019 at Angel Stadium of Anaheim.
“I’ve been getting testing done on the 450 and have been able to catch my breath a bit,” says Plessinger, enjoying a December day off from the Yamaha test track up in the hills of Corona, California. “I’ve been helping my fiancée take care of our little one, Jake, and, yeah, that’s really about it. It’s been so nice just to spend a couple weekends at home with the family and not have to worry about booking flight or this and that. It’s been really good just kind of chilling at the house and taking my mind off racing for just a minute.”
Already typecast as something of a free spirit in the deathly serious American racing paddock, Plessinger is an athlete who looks for some sort of solace from the rattling dynamo that is professional racing.
“It is definitely tough to get away,” says the perennially laid back Plessinger. “You just have to find something that works for you that kind of takes you away from life. For me, I play some Xbox and then I’ve got my guitars. The guitars and the music help me the most out of it. I try to stay on top of it, but it’s hard.”
Whatever it is that Plessinger did as a member of the Monster Energy/Yamalube/Star Racing Yamaha team, it certainly worked, as the Buckeye strung together a season for the ages.
“I thought it was a phenomenal year,” he smiles. “I mean I couldn’t have asked for more. I won the supercross championship, got engaged, found out I was having a little boy, won the outdoor title and got to go race [MX of Nations] against some guys that I never raced before and always looked up to, so it’s been an unreal year. The Motocross of Nations didn’t go as planned, but I’m not mad. I went to represent my country as best I could, so that’s what I did. It’s all behind us now and we’re moving on to the 450 ranks.”
Seemingly perfectly positioned to provide the backdrop for Aaron Plessinger’s season of dreams, he and Team USA teammates Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia showed up at RedBud in Michigan the first weekend in October for the 71st annual running of the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations. As has been extremely well documented the world over throughout the past couple of months, it didn’t go well for any of them, Team USA finishing out in the Great Lakes wilderness in a less-than-stellar sixth position.
Ask Plessinger what really happened up in Michigan and he’ll tell you: “I’m not really too sure. We definitely had some momentum going into the weekend and that crash on Saturday kind of threw me off a little bit. I just think that we were off from racing for a little bit and those guys were still racing overseas and in the groove and in the zone, so I think that helped them out just a tad. I think they were fast. They were fast as hell. They just had it for us. And the track shaped up to be a sand race and you can see that even if you go back and watch it on TV. It just didn’t shape up like a RedBud-kind-of track. It was just all sand and no ruts and it was kind of wild. It was a wild experience, but I had fun with it and hopefully I get to do it next year and we’ll get some better sand practice in.”
Eli Tomac recently said that he would like to go to Assen, Holland next year and defend the American way of motocross life at the 2019 Motocross of Nations. And Plessinger?
“Yeah, yeah, I would love to go back, too,” Plessinger says. “I don’t think I would say no. Next year, say if I do get to go, I’m going to take some time and probably try to get overseas a little bit before the race and just ride sand and get used to standing up a lot and hopefully that will bring the competition to an equal match. They grew up in that stuff and they ride it every year. It’s hard, but you have to do it one way or the other.
“You can say they ride outdoors all the time and all year long, but they’re good at what they do, you know?” Plessinger says. “You can’t call them world champions for nothing. They are unreal. Especially Herlings and Cairoli. They’re just on another level, I think. With some discipline on the outdoors, I think we could really put it to them, but we have a whole season to worry about before the outdoors. Then when the outdoors starts, we have that to worry about. It’s definitely rough, but it happens.”
In his comprehensive tale of revisiting two titles, Plessinger speaks in detail about his mindset in going after the two radically different disciplines of racing.
“With supercross it was really important to me that I could win that one, because I’ve had to overcome a lot of stuff and beat some habits out that I’ve always had coming from the GNCCs and stuff, and having to pace myself for those long, long races. I had to get over that and work on my sprints and all that. I had to overcome a lot to win that championship. I mean once that kind of set in in supercross, meaning that I knew I could win and that I could actually take the championship, that changed my whole mindset.
“Right after Houston, I was like, ‘I can really take hold now and win this thing.’ That kind of changed my mind off of being worried or being scared that I wasn’t going to win to just going for it every weekend and putting it on the line. As soon as I got that points lead, I just kind of stayed calm and always tried to win the races. I just kept clicking them off and, at the end of it, it was just sweet success.
“When I won the outdoors, so much weight had been lifted off my shoulders just because that’s what I looked forward to winning all my life. That was kind of the one thing that I wanted to do. And it was gnarly. Twenty-four motos without getting hurt and staying consistent is not an easy thing to do. It’s so gnarly because for three months you’ve just got to give it your all. It’s a different monster than supercross, for sure.”
Plessinger also talks about how important preparation, testing and training are in pulling off the double title sweep, adding, “The off-season training before the year started really helped me with that a lot, because we changed it up quite a bit this time. We put in a lot more work and it helped me get through the season a lot easier than in years before. I kind of came into the season hurt the two years before this one and it was just kind of me trying to catch up. This year I kind of took my time and I healed everything up to the maximum and then just started training and putting in the most work that I could and it definitely showed. When the West Region went East with that six-week break, I can’t even count how many motos I had put in before Hangtown. I think I had an entire season done before Hangtown. That just carried on. I could go however long I wanted without getting tired, so it was definitely the training that helped with both those championship. It also kept me calm because I knew that I had done the work. If someone was better than me that weekend, as long as I was on the podium, I didn’t really have a worry.”
His 250cc tour of duty with Yamaha now complete, it was announced over the summer months that Yamaha’s premiere Monster Energy Yamaha 450cc outfit was calling him up for the big show in 2019.
“I think the 450 class is going to suit me really good,” Plessinger says. “I think I ride 450s pretty well so far. I’ve been trained not to use the clutch that much and to use the power of the bike to go around the corners and flow, and I think the 450 really suits that riding style. I think carrying momentum on the 450 is really important for some tracks. I think it will suit me pretty good. I don’t expect myself to go out and win A1, you know? It’s a tough class. A couple of top-five finishes and a maybe a podium this year and I’ll be really stoked.”
And what of getting in the 60,000-seat ring with such champions as Jason Anderson, Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen to name a few come the winter of 2019?
“There are some gnarly dudes out there!” he says. “It’s definitely going to be one of the harder years, but I’m going to learn as much as I can and try and stake my claim in the first few races. If I go out and kill it and get top five or podium, I would know that I just need to keep doing what I’m doing. If I do go out and don’t do very good, I know I’ll have some homework to do. I’m going to keep an open mind and not get my hopes too far up unless I’m maxed-out at the practice track, then I’ll get my hopes up! I’m going to keep an open mind and keep having fun. I think that will help me do good.
“I’m in full swing now, you know? It will be 17 supercross races and then 12 outdoor races and 24 motos. I think it’s definitely one of the gnarliest sports in the world. It’s definitely a dog-eat-dog world and it’s going to be pretty crazy this year with me, Joey Savatgy, Zach Osborne and Justin Hill all moving up. I think it’s going to be one of the gnarliest 450 classes that people have seen in a while. It’s going to be challenging, but I’m going to learn a lot. I’m going to try and stay consistent and I think that’s the key.”
If anyone knows Aaron Plessinger it is his father, Scott. Now settled back in Ohio for the month of December before heading out west for the beginning of the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross Series, the old man, while playing things cool, couldn’t quite conceal his enthusiasm for his son’s debut in the Formula 1 of motocross.
“I think he’s going to be great on a 450,” says the elder Plessinger. “I know he sure loves being on one right now. I think the 450 is going to be a good thing for him. I really do. And I think everybody knows it.” CN
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