Austin Forkner has competed in three AMA Pro Racing events in 2023. First off, the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki was taken out of the 2023 250SX West Supercross Championship when he crashed in the opening race of the season at Angel Stadium the first week of January. Badly tearing his right ACL as well as fracturing his tibia and fibula, Forcer was immediately put in the injured reserve list by team owner Mitch Payton.

After missing virtually the entire 2022 AMA Pro Racing season due to a shunt suffered at Arlington, Forkner hoped that 2023 would be a turnaround year. That didn’t happen.

“I felt good (at Millville and Washougal, where he made his return to competition),” he said. “It is so hard to come back for the outdoors. Supercross is one thing because it is a little bit less fitness-focused. Natural talent comes into play a lot in supercross versus motocross. You don’t have to be the absolute fittest person. It’s more about bike skill in Supercross. You can sprint for 15 minutes, you can go really hard for about 10 minutes and then you can ride out the last five minutes, you know? Outdoors, 30 minutes plus two laps is pretty serious, and that’s twice and in the heat. It’s a lot harder to come back in the middle of an outdoor season versus supercross.

“Maybe that’s because I’ve raced a lot more supercross in the past few years, so it is coming more naturally to me maybe because I’m a better supercross rider than a motocross rider now. I don’t know. Either way, I think it is a lot harder to come back from injury mid-outdoor season than Supercross season. I knew it was going to be that way. It wasn’t a surprise. I knew it was going to be tough. Right now I’m right around a 10th place guy. That is not far off from where I figured where I would fit in. I really had no expectations coming into it. I hadn’t raced the outdoors since the first round at Pala last year, so that was over a year since I last raced if you don’t include the A1 heat race I crashed in.

“The last couple of races, I knew that I was a little bit slow in the first 10 minutes and that I needed to work on my sprint speed a little bit, so we’ve been working on that. With working on certain things like that, you’ve got to just throw yourself in the deep end now and then to learn those things. You can practice all you want at the practice track and you can be the fastest guy, but race day is so much different. That’s why I didn’t get my expectations up super-high or super-low. I just kind of went in to just go in and to see where I fit in. From there, I could work on those things that I needed to work on. That’s where I’m at right now.”

Forkner addressed some of the major changes he has made to his racing program to get things back in order.

“I changed off-the-bike trainers to Charles Dao,” he said. “I changed on-the-bike trainers to Ryno (Ryan Hughes). Now I’ve moved to California and I’m there full-time. I’ve changed a lot of stuff and missed a lot of racing. With a combination of those two things, I really did not know where I was going to fit in at all. I didn’t know if I was going to be fit. I didn’t know if I was going to be fast. I didn’t know anything. I just knew that I needed to go race.

“Some people criticize me for making a recent change to Ryan Hughes,” continued Forkner, speaking of Hughes, a former works racer who competed in both America and the FIM Motocross World Championship circuit.

“Then there was the whole moving to California thing. That’s really wasn’t my decision, that was kind of forced on to me by Mitch and the team. They wanted me out here. I’m also still good with Robbie Reynard. I love Robbie. Robbie is like family to me. I’ve known him forever. He’s partially like a father figure to me. But I need somebody I can work more hands-on with while out here in California, so I made the switch to Ryan Hughes.

“I got some criticism for that. I’m not opposed to trying things. I’m not saying that everything that I’ve been doing has not been working, but certain things haven’t been working. Obviously, the whole getting hurt thing for me. That’s my Achilles’ heel, you know? That’s the whole thing that has held me back in my career, basically. The injuries have really set me back. My speed has never really been a huge issue. It’s usually just getting hurt and missing so much racing. However, now at this point, my speed has become an issue because I’ve missed so much racing, so certain things are kind of starting to present themselves with the amount of races that I have missed.

“I tried Ryno out for a couple of days and I liked some of the things that he had to say to me. He was a good guy, too. He was easy to have a conversation with. I feel like he knows what he’s taking about on the bike. I felt certain changes that we made on the bike helped my riding. That is a key thing. People can tell you things all you want, but unless you feel the noticeable change and you can feel it, that stuff really doesn’t matter. It’s all about feel, and Ryno said some things and showed me some things that I liked and I felt good around him.

“I really do want to win. I’m doing everything that I can. This sport is brutal. I’ve had a little bit of a rough go at it. It’s taken a toll on my body. Certain body parts don’t work the way that they used to when I was younger and I had a bit more of the send-it mentality. I see a lot of people who say to me, ‘Man, you send it more! You need to go for it more like you used to!’ I’m not the person I used to be, you know? I’ve had 15 surgeries in the past five years. I mean, I wish I could send it a little bit more too like I used to. That’s just not me anymore. All f these things have taken a toll on my body and mental state. My mental state now maybe makes me think twice a little bit more than maybe I used to.

“I’m doing everything that I can. I’m checking under every rock and trying to work on things like the littlest and smallest technique things. I have also wanted to look at things that maybe might have been overlooked every now and then and that maybe do need to be worked on. I’m trying everything.”

A charger known for his never-say-die approach to racing, Forkner believes he has quite a bit in common with Hughes.

“Ryno told me that he used to be like this,” he said. “He used to be like, ‘More! More! Harder! Faster! That didn’t work out for him the way he wanted it to. That’s why he is going about training the way he is now.

“I showed Ryno some if the injuries that I’m dealing with and showed him some of my body parts. My left arm is so damaged. I broke my wrist a few years ago and I lost a lot of muscle, and I’ve had nerve problems in it ever since. My left arm is really not very strong anymore, and my grip strength is off. We’ve talked about certain injuries and things that hold me back and cause limitations and Ryno said, ‘Hey, that’s great. We’ll work around things. We’ll work with what we can and we’ll work around the injuries and we’ll work with those things instead of just trying to push through them.”

Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team owner Mitch Payton has gone on the record saying that his rider has the skill, speed and mindset to compete at the highest level the world over. He just needs the racing gods to smile down on him a bit more often.

“I do need some good luck,” Forkner said. “I hate just talking about luck. I like to be able to take responsibility where I can. Like even just last weekend at Washougal, or whenever I got caught in that dude’s rear wheel. That’s what happens when you get a bad start. I like to take responsibility where I can. Every now and then it is a little bit of luck and, yeah, I do just need a little bit of luck every now and then. I take responsibility for the things that I can, but every now and then it is like, ‘Man, I just a little bit of luck would be nice.’ I will take a little luck at this point.”

What will Forkner be looking for come the three week run set at Unadilla, Budds Creek and the Ironman and all points beyond?

“I would like to do the SuperMotocross World Championship races,” he said. “That would be nice because it’s just more racing and that’s just what I need to do. I get paid to race my dirt bike, not just to ride my dirt bike. I need to be out in the track. And if Mitch would let me go do those World Supercross races or any of the international races like that, I would be all aboard that stuff. I think that stuff is awesome. From the outside looking in, and I don’t know everything about it, but those overseas supercross races look so fun. You get to go over there and treat like a small vacation, but you also get paid to race your dirt bike. That sounds pretty damn good to me.”

“As far as the remaining outdoor races, I just want to improve myself, and hopefully if I improve myself, I expect my results will improve, as well. I want to try and throw it up in there and maybe get a top five. I mean I’m still just learning. A year off of racing has been a lot for me. I’m still just learning and still just trying to take it one race at a time and trying to implement what I learn from each race to the next race.

“As of right now, next year is my last year with Kawasaki. That’s the last year under my contract. I don’t know what the plan is for 450 and if that is still a plan or not. I think as if right now I am staying on 250s, at least for supercross next year. As if right now, I’m just kind of going along with whatever they want and then anything past next year’s contract is undecided.”