The road to the premier class in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is not an easy one. Aaron Plessinger found his way there off the beaten path, so to speak. Coming from an off-road background by heritage, Plessinger turned heads in the motocross scene and worked his way forward into Yamaha’s feeder system, first through the Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha team, and then Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing team. It all hit pay dirt for the Ohio native in 2018, earning both titles in the 250 ranks – 250SX West and 250MX – which translated to a promotion to the 450 class with the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing Team for 2019.

Every rider has a story, but Plessinger’s isn’t the same as the run-of-the-mill moto kid. There are a lot of similarities though, as, like most, racing was in the blood. His dad is a multi-time off-road racing champion, with two GNCC, and two National Hare Scrambles titles to his resume. Just because he came from that bloodline didn’t mean he was born in riding gear either. It turned out that it was definitely something that he took to at a young age and loved it.

“My dad was a two-time GNCC Champion, and then a two-time National Hare Scramble Champion,” Plessinger said. “I guess he wanted to get me a bike and let me start riding. I fell in love with it and was all right at it, so he let me stick with it, and here we are today.”

Where he is today is sitting in that sought-after Factory ride in the Supercross 450SX class. A class that has a talent pool so deep, a rookie has to figure out how to swim fast.

“This year is so crazy,” he said. “At Dallas, there were fourteen of us all within the same second in qualifying. I don’t even know when the last time that happened. There’s just so many fast guys out there and guys that have the potential to win; first to 12th, potentially anybody could win in that little group of us. It’s tight racing this year.”

It’s definitely tough out there, but one thing that Plessinger has in his back pocket is his roots. And those roots are grounded in off-road. He started out racing Hare Scrambles when he was around five-years-old. Not long after, he started to race some motocross, and even tried his hand at Arenacross as well, but it was GNCC where he found his home.

“We were all over the map there for a little bit,” he admits. “I think it was 2006, when I did my actual first GNCC race. I fell in love with that. I won my first GNCC on a 65. From there on, I really just focused on that, pretty much. We would do a couple amateur nationals in motocross, maybe three or four in a year, and then just do the whole GNCC series. I ended up winning five amateur championships in GNCC’s, and then moved up to the big bikes.”

Plessinger’s budding GNCC career was on an upward climb. He even had some pro offers, but it was his dad who suggested it would be a good idea not to rule out motocross. The plan was to spend the year focusing on motocross to see where it led. It turned out to be a good plan. It led to the launch of Plessinger’s career as we know it. That didn’t necessarily mean that it was an easy decision at the time to turn down a pro deal in GNCC for the young Plessinger.

“It was definitely hard to turn it down, but I knew that I could go a year in motocross and if it didn’t work come back and prove a point and show them I was the real deal in the woods,” he said. “I did a couple of GNCCs in 2013, but after I got the ride with Star [Racing] at Loretta’s, it was kind of like, all right, this is the real deal. We’ve got to really focus on motocross. That’s pretty much what I did after that. That was kind of the end of the GNCC career, but I hope to get back to it someday.”

If you ask him which sport he likes better, he can’t choose. Both are his favorite. And during his formative years, racing both of them helped him in each discipline.

“I think racing motocross definitely helped me in the woods, and then racing in the woods definitely helped me in motocross,” he said. “The woods helped me a bit more, with learning line selection, staying calm and just pacing myself. The woods pretty much shaped how I ride today. But then obviously sprint speed and having to race straight off the bat in motocross helped me a lot in GNCC too.”

“I think racing motocross definitely helped me in the woods, and then racing in the woods definitely helped me in motocross,” he said. “The woods helped me a bit more, with learning line selection, staying calm and just pacing myself. The woods pretty much shaped how I ride today. But then obviously sprint speed and having to race straight off the bat in motocross helped me a lot in GNCC too.”

Even though he’s full bore in supercross and motocross, Plessinger has not forgotten his GNCC roots. The four-time Youth GNCC Champion wants to give back to the sport of his formative years and look for ways to help up-and-coming riders in GNCC. On March 9, Plessinger will be the Grand Marshall for the Wild Boar GNCC where he plans to talk to the youth motorcycle racers competing at the event and looks forward to reconnecting with friends and former competitors.

“I am really excited to be the Grand Marshal of the Wild Boar GNCC,” he said. “I have so many great memories of my time in this series and like I said, many of the skills I learned then, I use today. I am looking forward to seeing some friends and past competitors as well as cheering on all the bLU cRU riders.”

When he made the transition from GNCC to motocross, it went pretty smoothly for Plessinger. After all, he spent most of his training time riding moto, but he readily admits, the hardest transition for him was supercross.

“I think the biggest and hardest transition was going into supercross,” he said. “Before supercross in 2015, I couldn’t even do a fifteen-lap moto. I was struggling. I was jumping off the track and almost going into the fences. I don’t know how I did it, but I got fifth in my first supercross. Still to this day, I struggle with it. These guys and their sprint speed; It’s pretty crazy.”

Plessinger has never had any illusions that the move to the big class was going to be tough, but he’s also never been afraid of hard work. He also knows what works for him.

“I always try to keep it light,” he said. “I wasn’t having too much fun in 2016 and it was really getting to me. I had a moment where I didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore. After that, I kind of sat back and was like, ‘all right, this is your shot and you’ve got to think about what you’re doing.’ I didn’t want to do anything else other than race dirt bikes, so I started just having fun and not letting the pressure get to me. It turned my season around and I got a few good finishes that year. Ever since then, I didn’t really worry about the pressure. I let the pressure fuel me instead of make me nervous. It was a good thing, too, because I think that’s what led me to my championships last year. It was just me fueling off of that pressure and letting it fire me up instead of letting it bring me down.”

Last year was a year that Plessinger will never forget. It was a big year both personally and professionally. He got engaged, his first child was born and he took home both the 250SX West and 250MX Championships. Even though he’s gone bigger this year with a factory ride in the 450 ranks, last year’s landmark season still hasn’t quite sunk in yet.

“2018 was probably the biggest year I’ll have for a while,” he said. “It was just so crazy. Things started clicking off. I was so focused. I had really good people around me. It was just one of those things where nothing could have gone wrong. It was a dream come true. I still don’t know if it’s sunk in all the way yet. I get chills thinking about it, watching those races. I had to talk myself into believing that’s me out there. It’s a pretty crazy feeling.”

It wasn’t just a personal victory either. It was shared by his family who helped get him there. “If it wasn’t for my family, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” he said. “Definitely my parents and my grandparents, they really believed in me. They really believed this would go somewhere, and they were right. I’d feel really bad if this didn’t go somewhere, because they gave everything they had for me to be here.”

Part of that family is Yamaha. He’s been with them for most of his career, and he’s hungry to deliver a title in the 450 class. “I switched to Yamaha in 2008, I believe. They’ve been so good to me ever since,” he said. “I haven’t wanted to leave them ever. It’s been a ride, for sure. Being a part of bLU cRU and just having Yamaha support me throughout this whole ride has been amazing. I hope we can click off a few more championships because I definitely owe it to them. They’ve stuck their neck out for me. I definitely think we’re capable of doing it. We’ve just got to get used to this 450 class and take her by storm.”

Words and Photo: Yamaha Racing

Round six of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross season featured the debut of the 2019 250SX East Championship, and Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing team’s Justin Cooper and Mitchell Oldenburg got off to a good start at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota, finishing third and sixth, respectively.

Cooper qualified second overall earlier in the day and finished third in heat 1, but got off to a tough start in Saturday night’s 250SX East main event. The 21-year-old kept his composure throughout the 20-lap event, and it paid off. A couple of riders went down, and Cooper was able to make some well-timed passes, which put the New Yorker in third at the finish for the first podium result of his young career.

His teammate Oldenburg qualified fifth and was the runner-up in heat race 2, but also got pinched off at the start of the Main. The Texan found himself shuffled all the way back to 13th position. Undaunted, Oldenburg used his racecraft along with some fortuitous rider attrition to work himself all the way up to sixth place at the checkers.

The Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing team’s 250SX East riders will be back in action next weekend for round two, which will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday, February 16.

Wil Hahn – Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing Team Manager
“Tonight was a solid start for us. We need to be better off the start and the opening laps, but leaving third and sixth… we can build on this and look forward to Dallas!”

Justin Cooper – Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing
“The bike was awesome all day and the team made adjustments to fix anything I was uncomfortable with. I was able to predict exactly what the bike was going to do throughout the race, even with the track conditions getting worse. I had a terrible start, but felt great on the bike the whole main and just had to maintain the race as best I could with all the chaos around me. Everything about the day went smooth except a little first race jitters in the heat race. First podium at my second Supercross race ever… what more is there to say? It’s a great feeling!”

Mitchell Oldenburg – Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing
“Today was decent. Practice went well for me, I felt really comfortable and the bike was working awesome. Tonight though, just wasn’t the best night for me. I didn’t feel that great. Not racing for a year was tough, and it showed tonight. I’m looking forward to building off of this and getting ready for the next few races and Dallas next weekend.”


JGRMX/ Yoshimura/ Suzuki Factory Racing has announced its race teams for the 2019 Monster Energy Supercross series that includes two-time 450 Supercross Champion Chad Reed and Justin Hill.

In addition, Alex Martin will join Jimmy Decotis, Kyle Peters and Enzo Lopes in the 250 class. The four-rider 250 program will race with the all-new 2019 Suzuki RM-Z250.

Weston Peick, a 450 class favourite, will also return to the JGRMX/ Yoshimura/ Suzuki Factory Racing Team for his fifth year. However, due to a serious injury at the Paris Supercross in November, where he suffered multiple facial injuries, Peick will not be competing until he is healthy and ready. Peick is hopeful to return to the track this season. Until then, he will be signing autographs and meeting fans at various Supercross races.

Fourth on the all-time Supercross win list, with 44 main event victories, Reed is easily one of the most popular riders in the paddock, and will contest the 17-round 450 Supercross series on a Suzuki RM-Z450. The 36-year-old had a busy off-season, sweeping the S-X Open in New Zealand and capturing the International FIM Oceania Championship. He looks to carry that success into 2019.

 

 

The New Zealand Supercross Championships wrapped up in the deep south on Saturday with new champions crowned in every class.

Taupo’s Cohen Chase showed that consistency counted most when he wrapped up the premier senior SX1 title, his 2-3-2 score-line at the series opener in Tokoroa a fortnight ago backed up by 3-2-2 results at Saturday evening’s final round at Winton, just outside Invercargill. He finished the series 13 points ahead of Nelson’s Reece Walker, with Dunedin’s Campbell King claiming third overall for the championship. Mount Maunganui’s Josiah Natzke was again in scintillating form at Winton, scoring another hat-trick of wins in the senior SX2 (250cc) class, giving him a clean sweep for the series and he took the title by a massive 34 points from Mangakino’s Maximus Purvis, with Waitakere’s Ethan Martens claiming the third podium spot for the championship.

In the senior SX Lites (125cc) class, the result was declared after the Tokoroa opener, with insufficient numbers entered for this class at Winton. Ohaupo’s Carlin Hedley, therefore, had done enough at Tokoroa to take the title for 2018, ending the championship ahead of Waiuku’s Nate Adams and Upper Hutt’s Brock Sullivan.

In the junior 250 class, Rangiora’s Korban Paget kept up the high work-rate to ease his way to the title. He had a solid lead after Tokoroa and won both of the early races at Winton. Even an out-of-character fifth placing after crashing in the last race of the series could not undo all the good work and he took the title by 13 points from Winton’s Connor Newell, while New Plymouth’s Curtis King completing the junior 250 podium.

In the Junior Lites (85cc) class, the two brothers who had been leading the series after Tokoroa, Hamilton pair Nicholas and Dylan Westgate, were no-shows at Winton, opening it up for Rongotea’s Rhys Jillings to dive right in and take the title. Invercargill’s Jack Symon actually won this class at Winton, his 1-2-1 score-card giving him the edge over Jillings’ 2-1-2 results, but he had to settle for overall runner-up, finishing just four points behind Jillings. Winton’s Jordan Newell claimed the third podium spot for this class.

This South Island round – billed as the “world’s southern-most supercross” – again attracted an impressive crowd of onlookers and the riders didn’t disappoint.

Motueka’s former Kiwi international Josh Coppins actually won all three SX1 class races at Winton but, as was the case with Oropi’s Ben Townley when he won all three SX1 races at Tokoroa, it was the sole supercross outing of the season for these two men and, with incomplete campaigns, they really had no chance of winning the title. In the end, Townley had still done enough to finish sixth overall, the Bay of Plenty rider on identical points to Coppins, although Coppins was awarded fifth overall on the count-back rule.

Motorcycling New Zealand supercross co-ordinator Noel May said he was feeling positive about the sport after this year’s series.

“We had been struggling a bit to get the entries up in supercross over the years, but we are now starting to see good growth,” he said. “We have a strategic plan that, over the next five years, we will be able to rebuild the junior segment to flow through and full the senior ranks. We had 85cc and 65cc support classes and 50cc demo races in the supercross this year, to introduce the sport to the young ones in the early part of their racing careers. Tokoroa has said they would keep their supercross track intact and we plan to have supercross events there during the summer. The same down south in Winton and Timaru, where the tracks there will be used regularly to help to keep the momentum going.”

The Tokoroa event this year, hosted by the South Waikato Motorcycle Club, was supported by Craig Stevens Yamaha and the Winton event, hosted by the Southland Motorcycle Club, was supported by Brent Scammell Honda.

 

Leading final standings in 2018 New Zealand Supercross Championships:

SX1 class: 1. Cohen Chase (Taupo) 98 points; 2. Reece Walker (Nelson) 85; 3. Campbell King (Dunedin) 76.
SX2 class: 1. Josiah Natzke (Mount Maunganui) 137 points; 2. Maximus Purvis (Mangakino) 103; 3. Ethan Martens (Waitakere) 102.
SX Lites: 1. Carlin Hedley (Ohaupo) 60 points; 2. Nate Adams (Waiuku) 47; 3. Brock Sullivan (Upper Hutt) 45.
Junior 250: 1. Korban Paget (Rangiora) 111 points; 2. Connor Newell (Winton) 98; 3. Curtis King (New Plymouth) 84.
Junior Lites: 1. Rhys Jillings (Rongotea) 99 points; 2. Jack Symon (Invercargill) 95; 3. Jordan Newell (Winton) 69.

 

Credit: Words and photo by Andy McGechan