Get used to hearing the name Dalton Gauthier. He might be the most naturally gifted flat track racer to come on the scene since Jay Springsteen.
That sounds like a huge claim, but veterans who have watched the sport for years seem to be in awe of the talent processed by the 20-year-old from Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. To give further weight to the claims of his prodigious talent, one needs to look no further than to what Gauthier (pronounced Go-Tee-A) did after a two-year layoff from racing. The kid got up off the couch and finished second in his first race back at the Daytona TT AFT Singles round. Then two weeks ago, Gauthier simply checked out en route to winning the Atlanta Short Track AFT Singles event.
This most promising flat track prospect was on a meteoric rise two years ago before things went off the rails.
Gauthier had dominated the first three rounds of AFT Singles that season, but after a random drug test at round three in Charlotte, Gauthier was DQ’d from his Charlotte win and suspended indefinitely from AMA Pro Racing for violating the sanctioning body’s substance abuse policy.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY LARRY LAWRENCE
Immediately after his suspension, Gauthier issued a statement:
“I had marijuana in my system when I was tested at the Charlotte Half Mile. I’m 18 years old and made a rookie mistake. I take full responsibility for my actions; it was nobody’s fault but my own. The rules are clear, and I violated them. My season is off to such an incredible start; a distraction like this is not what anyone wanted to see. I apologize to my sponsors, my fans, and everyone involved with American Flat Track. I am disappointed in myself, learned a big lesson, and promise this will never happen again. I plan to complete the Road to Recovery Program as soon as possible so that I can get back to racing. When I’m back, I’ll be gunning for the championship like always.”
It seemed like Gauthier faced up to his mistake and was ready to take the steps necessary to get back on the track. However, then nothing. The 2017 season went on and no return. Then 2018 came and went and still no Gauthier. Something was wrong, but little or no word was forthcoming on his return. Speculation ran rampant.
Finally, word came in just days before the Daytona TT that Gauthier would return racing for D&D Cycles of Pensacola, Florida, under the direction of D&D’s Rob Mclendon.
“Dalton called up late last year wanting to get back on track,” said Mclendon. “We made a deal that if he gave me 110%, I would do the same and take him racing. I’ve never seen a rider more motivated to get back on track and get back to winning. We couldn’t be more thankful for the opportunity to return to American Flat Track.”
The flat track racing community wondered if after such a long layoff Gauthier could return to competitiveness. They didn’t have to wait long for the answer. It was evident from the first practice session on that, in spite of being away from racing for nearly two years, the kid lost none of his speed. And then came the conclusive evidence that he was back with his victory in round two at Dixie Speedway.
We caught up with Gauthier at the Atlanta Short Track, and he gave us some insights as to why it took so long for him to return and how he plans to face the future.
Congratulations on being back. How’s it feel to be back on the track?
It feels great. It’s been a while, but I took time off, and I came back, and I feel pretty good. Lately, I’ve been riding a lot and training down in Pensacola, Florida. I feel really good. Honestly better than ever. Just glad to be back at the races.
What were your expectations coming back?
Honestly, for Daytona, I only found out I was racing a week ago before it. I just wanted to make the main and get some points. Our first race back was supposed to be Texas, so we had no clue that we were going to be able to race Daytona. So, to make the main would make me happy, but we did a lot better than that, and I’m stoked about it. All the off-season training really helped. I’ve been riding a lot, so that definitely helped me. I feel like I have a good shot at this championship run. I think it will be a good year.
You’re from Pennsylvania.
Yeah, I’m from Pennsylvania. I live in Florida right now with my trainer and my mechanic, Robby Bobby. It’s been really good.
They call him Robby Bobby. His name is Rob Mclendon, but they call him Robby Bobby. It’s been pretty good. I’m happy with it and happy to be in Florida in the warm weather and train all winter.
So that’s what you did? You came down to Florida and got ready for the season?
Yup, right around halfway through January, I’d say. I went to Florida, and I just started grinding and training a bunch at the gym, three times a week, and riding as much as I can. Rob owns his own track and everything in Pensacola, so we get to ride whenever we want.
Please give me a thumbnail sketch of how you got started in racing and how you got to the point where you were one of the top guys a couple of years ago.
I started racing when I was four. My dad took me everywhere, all over the States. I think that really helped me with racing on different surfaces and different track types.
Yeah. Always rode flat track and grew up on it, so I’ve been used to it for my whole life. I’ve raced with a lot of top kids and definitely a lot of competition growing up. I think that definitely helped me where I am now. I think it’s only going to get better from here. I think growing up and racing on all them different tracks definitely helped me and how my riding style is and how I ride in different tracks.
What were your amateur career highlights?
I won a couple championships. The last year I was an amateur I tried to go for the Horizon Award. I didn’t get it, but I won two championships that year. I won the 85cc mod 7-11 championship; 65cc championship I won. That’s about it. My amateur career wasn’t that great. I didn’t get to go to the amateur nationals too much, but I definitely went there a couple of years. Not as much as the other kids. It was pretty good. Once I got on the big bikes, I feel like I stepped up a lot. Definitely getting on the big bikes helped me a lot.
So your dad was the one that got you into racing?
Yeah, he was my mechanic, worked on all my stuff. Basically, it made me who I am now. I appreciate everything he’s done for me.
What’s your dad’s name?
Did your dad race or how did he get into it?
He was a former speedway racer. He raced speedway. That’s how he got into flat track. I never rode a speedway bike before, but in the future, I plan on trying to get on one and see how I do on one. I think I’d be pretty good at it, honestly. I grew up watching it and stuff. My dad raced speedway. I just got on a little CRF50, and he made it for a flat track bike, so that’s what I started on.
What’s your dad do for a living?
I don’t really talk to my dad anymore.
What was he doing coming up?
He worked at a steel machining place. He was a mechanic on all the machines and everything.
So there’s some friction right now between you guys?
Yeah, kind of. I got to block it out kind of and just do my own thing. That’s why I’m working with Rob. I’m really happy working with Rob.
What happened between you and your dad?
Just a whole lot of stuff ever since I got suspended. Just a lot of family problems. I really don’t like to talk about it, honestly. Try and keep it blocked out.
When did you realize that you had a lot of natural talent? When did you first really recognize that you might be able to do this on a pro level?
When I was 15, I just got on my brand-new Yamahas that my dad built for me, and we went down to Savannah, Georgia for the first race of the season. I was still fifteen. Didn’t even have my pro card and I ended up winning the super singles class. There was Jared Mees in it. Chris Carr was riding a Rotax. Brandon Robinson, JD Beach, all the top guys were in it, and I ended up winning on a DTX bike against a bunch of framers. So that was pretty cool. I figured if I can beat those guys at such a young age, I can probably do this for a living. I just worked really hard after that. I started getting better, and ever since then, it’s been pretty good.
Where do you think your natural talent comes from? You obviously have a feel for the bike many people don’t have. What do you attribute that to?
Just riding on different tracks, like I was saying, I think really helped me. Traveling, doing different races, racing against different people.
Yeah. I grew up riding 100s a lot, too, which helped me, I think. Honestly, I just go out and do my best every time I go out on the track.
How long did you do AFT Singles?
I’ve been pro since 2015. My first rookie year I did not do all the races. I think my second year when I won Daytona Short Track, I did the whole season and I finished second. That’s honestly the only season that I’ve done my full season. So I haven’t really got to do a bunch of full seasons yet. I’m still learning everything. I haven’t done a full season since 2016.
So it was 2017 when you had some really breakout wins?
Yeah. We went three in a row. They don’t count Charlotte as a win, but I won Charlotte, Dixie, here, and then Daytona TT, which was pretty special and for the inaugural TT first time there. It was pretty cool to win it. Got second there two weeks ago. I think the season has kicked off pretty good for not racing for two years almost. I think we’re in the right direction and I think it’s going to only get better from here.
Some of those wins you won by a pretty good margin if I remember right.
Yeah. I was still working with my dad back then, so he had my bikes working pretty well. He knew what I wanted. I just can’t thank Estenson enough for giving me some great bikes. It sucks that it ended the way it was, but definitely was happy the way I was riding. I had some very good steeds behind me. I think that helped a lot too, having good motors and fast bikes. I never really got to have the fastest bikes. That’s why I think another thing why I’m so good at it is I wasn’t on the fastest bikes growing up, and it made me try harder.
What were you saying about Charlotte –what happened?
When I got suspended, they took that win away.
When I watched you in 2017, I don’t mind saying I thought you were one of the most naturally-gifted riders I’ve seen in a long time come out. I’m sure many people have told you that. What happened in 2017 at Charlotte? Did you see it coming? Was it a random thing that they tested you?
It was just a random drug test that AFT does to everybody. They just got me. I’m not going to lie. I was being dumb, and I shouldn’t have been doing what I was doing. That’s just the past. I can’t really change it. I’m just going to look forward from here. It’s never going to happen again. I just want to move forward and try my best on the motorcycle and do as best as I can in this championship and see where it takes me.
What is the reason that you sat out last year?
I honestly had a lot of family problems and just a bunch of stuff. Didn’t really have a bike lined up. Robby only got a hold of me last winter around January, so that’s the only thing that really popped up. He seemed like he really was wanting to move forward with it. I think that’s why I’m here now is because of Rob. He’s honestly the main person why I’m here and why I’m racing. I just want to thank him a lot for everything he’s done.
Did you enter a program to get your license back?
Yeah. I had to restart the Road to Recovery. I was still with Estenson when I was doing my Road to Recovery when I got suspended in 2017, but just with all the family stuff that’s happened, it was just bad. Just a bad deal. I ended up stopping doing it and just took some time off. I think I needed some time off the bike. I’ve been racing since I was 4 years old, so it was kind of nice to get away from the racing side of things. After 2018 I really wanted to get back on the motorcycle and start racing again. I missed it too much. Missed the people in the paddock and missed all my fans. Always had fans asking me when I was coming back. They were kind of bugging me with it, so I wanted to come back and show them that I’m still the rider that I was.
You have. Do you have a job outside of racing right now?
I wouldn’t say it’s a job, but I work at D&D with Rob. He owns a shop. His parents do. So I work there and help them out a bunch. I just ride basically, train and work and D&D. That’s basically what I do now. It’s been pretty good. It’s solid. We’re just chillaxing there and having fun.
So that year away, you think it really made you appreciate what you missed?
Yeah, I really appreciate everything everybody’s done for me, especially Rob. He’s done everything to get me back to the races and stuff. So it’s been really good the last couple of months. I’ve been really happy with myself and how I’ve progressed on the motorcycle too. My training program is a lot better than years past, which I think is going to help me out a lot more this year too. Just appreciate everybody that’s helped me and is in my corner and all the fans that still support me and everything too.
So, walk me through what you were thinking in your mind when they go, “Hey, Dalton we’ve got to test you.”?
I thought I was good, honestly. That was the main thing.
You thought you had been far enough out?
Yeah. It had been almost a month already.
Were you concerned when you went in to do it?
No, I thought I was good, honestly. I didn’t have any consideration I was going to fail.
What happened when you found out?
I was just heartbroken about it.
How’d you find out?
The testing lab called me and stuff. I had talked to Chris Carr about it and everything, too. That’s how all that went down. It’s never going to happen again.
What was the feeling when you got that call from the lab?
It was just heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe it. I knew I had messed up. I didn’t know what to think, honestly. It was just a lot of things going on in my mind.
What’s your opinion – with marijuana becoming legal in many states and things of that nature, what’s your opinion on the future of drug testing for marijuana if it becomes a legal substance across the board?
I think it still should be a rule though, honestly, even if it is legal in other states and more states coming. I think it should be illegal to smoke marijuana and race motorcycles. Even though it happened to me, I still think that you should abide by the rules and do what AFT says. If that’s what they want, then you shouldn’t do it.
What’s the plan? What do you think is your path to getting to the Twins class?
Honestly, I just want to get this year done and over with and move up. I want to do good this year and try and put in some good results, get some wins, and fight for the championship. The main goal is to be up in the Twins class and riding with the big dogs. I just want to do really well this year, stay consistent. I know how to manage a championship, I think. I did it in 2016 to where I was somewhat close, and I got some wins, so I think I can do it again. I don’t see a problem why not I can’t. Just be consistent, that’s the main thing. Try not to have any bad nights. I think it will be good this year if I stay consistent.CN