Last year was one of Maximus Vohland’s best years racing amateur motocross from a statistical perspective. The Orange Brigade backed rider out of Northern California received lots of flack on social media for being too big on the supermini, but none of that seemed to matter when the gate dropped. Out of all the DIRTY 100 Events that he contested, Vohland only lost one overall in the entirety of 2019 as a result of a first turn crash at Spring A Ding Ding. After sweeping all six motos last year at Loretta Lynn’s, he made the transition to the 125 and debuted at Red Bull Straight Rhythm in October. He was clearly one of the fastest riders in the 125 class and looked poised to take the victory, but he made a mistake in the whoops that left him with a broken collarbone. Vohland claims he learned a valuable lesson from that crash which he has carried with him into the new season and he has immediately gelled with the KTM 125 SX. Him and his father have made the decision along with Roger DeCoster and KTM to undertake a new challenge in 2020, contesting the first three rounds of the EMX 125 series in March. It’s uncertain whether or not he will race the entire season, but if things go well then he will continue to split time between the 125 All-Star races in the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series and the EMX 125 Championship. We had a quick conversation with Max about his feelings on flying over to Europe to race, training on a 250 two-stroke, and one of the gnarly battles he had last year at Spring A Ding Ding.
So, you raced at Glen Helen this past weekend at the one of the first Road to Mammoth races, how'd that go?
Yeah, it was really just about getting some gate drops in. I pretty much pulled the holeshot in every moto and did my thing.
You mentioned you had some meetings with KTM about Europe and were doing some suspension testing the other day. Has your involvement on that side of things ramped up a little bit since officially joining the TLD program and moving up onto the bigger bike?
Even when I was on superminis I was already kind of on the same program, just being on little bikes it's not officially part of the TLD team, but I was still doing all the same things I was doing now when I was on superminis, so it's not that much different. We're really just getting things figured out and getting everything lined up to head over there (to Europe) because it's really only been about twenty-seven days we were officially like "This is what we're doing, we're going over there." So it's really been short notice so we've had to do a lot of stuff and get a lot of things organized, and we're still even running wide open now getting stuff ready last minute.
What's the plan for Europe?
The plan is to head over there next Thursday (February 20th) and land Friday. My mechanic, TJ Rowen, is flying over to Austria a couple of days earlier than we are and they're going to have a van for him and everything we need. We shipped our best race bike that we had here over there in boxes and parts, it went out today. The only thing we haven't done -- we run VP Racing Fuel over here but with the rules there you have to run Shell 100 octane pump gas, so that's the biggest problem right now -- just getting over there and getting that dialed for the race at Matterly Basin on March 1st.
Are you really stoked on this opportunity? Obviously your dad made a career for himself racing in Europe and I feel like the tracks over there kind of suit your style.
We've talked about and had the idea of goin' over there and racing those guys. Obviously, at des Nations, everyone sees that the Europeans are definitely faster than the Americans right now. We're just thinking about ways to help me be as prepared as possible coming into my pro year, so we kind of had that idea and we mentioned it but it was such a long shot at that point. But then, Roger (de Coster) had a meeting at KTM and the guys there were like "This is what we wanna do." So I'm pretty much the test dummy for it, no one's ever done this before, but it makes a little bit of sense for me to the first one because my dad has raced over there; lived over there on his own; been there and done that. He has friends that are picking us up from the airport and stuff like that, so it made sense. I'm excited though!
Have you traveled internationally before doing the MX Master Kids or anything like that or is this going to be a first for you?
Unfortunately, we've had years where we've been picked to go over there and do that race but the AMA has always pulled out because it's always during Loretta Lynn's for the years I was picked for it or wanted to go. So this will be my first time flying overseas and riding anywhere out of the country.
Is the EMX 125 series where the influence came to concentrate on the 125 and stay off the 250? I know there was talk of you picking up a 250 from the dealership on your way back from Loretta's last year.
Really, that was another thing -- we thought for sure we were gonna be ridin' 250s as soon as Loretta's was over and had a 250 practice bike lined up and everything. It ended up being another one of those meetings where it was like "This is what we're doing, we're gonna do 125s only all year." We were originally gonna do 250s and 125s because we wanted to do the dream race at all the Pro Nationals but then we just ended up keeping our focus on one bike so you don't have to switch back and forth which has kind of always been what we've done, so we stuck to our roots on that one.
What're your plans following the first few rounds of the EMX 125 series this year?
Well, the plan is that we're gonna go over and do the first three rounds and see how that goes. If it's going good and maybe I'm leading the whole thing, then we'll do the fourth round and we'll fly back right after to do Hangtown. I think the fourth EMX 125 round is in France and it's like the weekend before Hangtown, so we'd fly back and do the Hangtown 125 All-Star Race and do all the Nationals because there's a huge window over there after France where there's a whole bunch of rounds without EMX races. So that'll leave the window open to do the all of the Pro Motocross 125 All-Star series, we're gonna do as many of those as we can if not all of them. And if we're still doing good over there or I'm leadin' it then for sure we'll head back over there and wrap it up.
So it's nice that you'll have your mechanic TJ with you over there since you've been with him for a while. Will your dad be flying over there with you as well?
He's flying over with me this next Thursday and he'll be there the entire time until after the race and he'll probably be there for the week after Matterly Basin just to help settle in really and get everything set up. Then he was talking about flying back here for his work the week and then flying back over for Portugal and Spain.
Are you excited to rip some of those tracks there? There are a lot of proper motocross tracks.
Yeah, they're no joke. I'm pretty sure I'll be riding Lommel and then get to ride Matterly Basin, mainly be in the same environment as the top guys. There are thousands of people that are watching and you just gotta get that experience under your belt.
You’ve been mostly riding on a 125, but I saw that you spent a little bit of time on a 250 two-stroke as well. How’d you like having that little bit of extra power?
Yeah, that was my dad's idea because when he was back training and racing that's what he did and he was fast enough to pass Ricky (Carmichael), so if it worked for him then it should be able to work for me, and it has. At the point that where I'm at now I'm being pretty tall and just hammering the 125, I can't ride those bikes for thirty-minute motos because they'll be destroyed after one day. I do an hour and a half of riding per day; I go through five gallons of gas so we got the 250 two-stroke to hammer that thing out because you're not ringed out on that thing so much, you can just ride it in high gear and lug it around with roll speed. The program that we've come up with has worked pretty well. I've only legitimately been training for almost two weeks.
So you were mainly doing a lot of riding before that?
Yeah, we did the Supercross Futures at A2 and Glendale so we were doing Supercross only, four-lap heats and six-lap mains. So we're not doing that much riding or that much training but as soon as that was over we decided it's just been grinding since then.
Now it's a lot less fun stuff in the training program?
Yeah, exactly! I mean, the 250 two-stroke is fun to ride but it's also not fun to kill yourself for thirty minutes on a heavier bike that you're not used to.
Obviously it helps with your physicality to ride a bit of a heavier bike, but does it make a noticeable difference when you step back down to the 125 just because it feels that much lighter?
Well, that was dad's whole plan because that's what he did. He rode the 250 and once he got on the 125 you can just ride it that much harder because it's lighter, easier, and you definitely have to ride it more intense, but it's not as hard on your body. That's what he did, that's what we're doing and it's been working so far. I was racing Talon (Hawkins) pretty close back on superminis and now it's kind of a big gap.
Do you almost feel like you're back on the supermini again when you drop back down to the 125?
Yeah, that's pretty funny you mention that because we were out testing a new set of outdoor suspension right after Glendale actually. It was like the first outdoor testing on the new WP stuff and he came out with a shock he called "the Vohland special shock," because me and my dad kind of have our own setting and man, it instantly clicked. It was two seconds faster, I was riding way harder, scrubbing everything, and I came in after the two laps of testing and I was like "Man, that felt like I was riding a supermini again." Suspension guys might not like us so much, but if you go fast then what does it matter? (laughs) As long as you win, it doesn't matter.
Red Bull Straight Rhythm was more or less your debut on the 125, how was that race for you? Obviously not the result you wanted, but you rode really well and got to mix it up with some guys you normally don’t get to race against.
I wouldn't say it was all negative because I definitely learned a big lesson on that crash. I mean, Jett Lawrence earned the same lesson I did racing at A2 -- got in over his head, got too excited, and ended up throwing it away which is exactly what I felt like I did there. The year before Straight Rhythm I rode practice on the supermini during Friday night press or whatever and I was actually like the fastest guy there, so I had some confidence coming into that race. Really that was another last-minute decision where we didn't know if we were going to be able to do it or not, because when you switch new bikes there's so much stuff that goes on -- selling the old bike, gettin' the new ones set up and ready with suspension. We only had like two weeks of riding before that race also and I was just a little bit underprepared and was just short on confidence in the whoops. We didn't quite work the whoops long enough; we just didn't have the time. I ended up just overcommitting, got too excited, and ended up crashing. I mean, I learned a huge lesson. I've already told myself in the back of my head at other races or even practice that it's not worth it to send it that hard, just come through safe and get to the next one.
The beginning of the 2020 season has been all about Supercross Futures in terms of the amateur scene, you had the opportunity to do a couple of those. How was that experience for you?
It was pretty good. The main thing about those races for us is just being in the same stadiums that I'll be racing in the near future, but also the tracks have gotten a lot better since the very first one they did at A2. I mean, the track was meant for the 50s, it was terrible; we were flat landing everything, there were no rhythms, no whoops, no nothing. Every round that I've went to this year and I've seen in videos they've had a full whoop section which is good for a guy like me being tall....and especially after Straight Rhythm we definitely worked a lot of whoops. (laughs) The tracks were definitely more technical which was good for us top guys but also, you know, easy enough for vet riders and C riders not to destroy themselves. It's a pretty good balance right now; there could be a little more tweaking but it's pretty close. It was a lot safer racing from what I remember.
I know you’ve mentioned before that you really enjoy supercross in terms of the rhythm, timing, and the technical aspect of it. Has that same feeling translated to the bigger bike?
I've always been a pretty technical rider just from my dad comin' from Europe and having the European style. But the supermini to 125 really wasn't that big of a jump, it's pretty similar just a bigger frame. When I ended on the supermini though I was way too big for the bike, so getting onto the 125 felt normal. It wasn't too different and riding supercross on a big bike is obviously better than being on a supermini -- you have bigger wheels, a wider spread, and more suspension so it's been all good since then.
You were too big on that supermini, dude? That's the first time I'm hearing that. (laughs)
Never heard it. Not one comment on my Instagram about that. It's funny though because me being one of the top guys or the top guy, I mean I did sweep all the motos at Loretta's last year. I remember looking at every comment on my Instagram, "you're too big for the bike," "get off the thing," and you go look at everyone else I'm racing who are just as big as me and they've got nothing. It's all "you're doing great, keep goin!"
You came from a BMX background, too, right?
Yeah, actually before I started -- well, the story was I got on a bike and I almost whiskey throttled and crashed, I don't even remember. So my dad was like "Alright, that's it. We're going to put you on a bicycle first, so you can learn your balance and technique." Really, I'm glad that's the direction my dad put me in because I probably wouldn't be where I'm at now with riding if I didn't have that foundation of racing BMX.
You post a lot of videos of you riding on your Instagram page, do you prefer the SoCal practice tracks or the NorCal river beds?
Well, I mean the thing about the SoCal practice tracks (Pala and Glen Helen) is that everyone's down in SoCal, so there are fast dudes on the track all the time. But there are also a lot of slower guys on the track and it gets pretty crowded at times, so it's also a risk. Up here in NorCal, our local tracks aren't the greatest compared to down there and we also don't have as many riders up here compared to down there so the tracks don't get as rough. They're pretty smooth on practice days and really the only rough tracks we have up here are river bed tracks. Currently, we've only got one that we know hasn't been washed over because we had a flood up here a couple of years ago that pretty much washed all the tracks away. So we only have one river bed track up here and it's still about an hour to drive there from my house and you've got to take back roads with potholes everywhere. You get there and it's about two miles away from the track and it's just this dirt road but the potholes are so bad that you have to go two miles per hour so it takes us another forty-five minutes just to go two miles.
What do you do when you're up there to stay fresh on the bike or keep up with your training?
Where I live, I'm just across the street from a lake and there are mountain bike trails all over the place, so it's definitely a benefit that I can just go straight out the front door and hit the trails across the street and that's what I have done. Really, the main focus is just as many hours of riding as possible and if you feel good enough to do more then do as much as you can. But sometimes, especially after riding the riverbed, you're pretty much shot after a couple of thirties. I'm glad we have at least one track that gets to national level roughness.
Another thing I saw was you doing a 360 wheelie on your mountain bike. Do you do any trials riding or enduro riding in your downtime or where does that skillset come from?
I mean, I don't know why but I've always had a thing for just gnarly hard enduro; I think it's so sick and so fun to do! I've only really been trail riding about twice and I just tried hitting as much stuff as I could when I went. On the bicycle, that's just me having free time on my hands if I'm not doing anything then I'll just go outside and pop some wheelies and stuff. I don't know where I learned that or how I thought of it, but it kind of just happened. (laughs)
Obviously, Spring A Ding Ding is coming up here next month and you’ve been there both years so far. What do you think about that event in general?
Yeah, I'm really bummed I'm missing it this year because that's honestly the best track I get to ride all year. It's my favorite one, too! I remember last year hitting that big 'ole wall jump triple or whatever and that was like the gnarliest thing I've ever done on a damn dirt bike. (laughs) I'm kinda bummed I'm missing it; the races that you guys put on there and just the compound, the dirt, and the track is just the best amateur track we've had ever since I've been racing. It's honestly the best preparation for anything at a national level; the track's wide and it has multiple lines which mean good racing. I mean, the first year was great considering it was the first year... how well it was handled and organized and how everything was put together. The second year was even better and more people realized how good it was; it's just a really great track.
You ultimately came out on top despite one bad moto there last year, but you guys had some hectic motos in the Supermini classes.
Yeah, it's funny you say that because I remember that exact moto because I got a terrible start and I was like "Man, I gotta do some serious work or I'm not gonna win this race." I had one of the kids that first hit that back triple (a C rider that I know from my local area in NorCal named Mikey Durden) and he's like "Yeah, dude. I hit it!" and I was like "No way!" But then he showed me a video of him doing it and I was like if he can do that then for sure I could, but you never want to send something during the race so I think I did it the second lap. The first lap I was coming through the pack and I was probably about 5th coming over the finish line and then I don't even know where I made the passes at, but the main reason I won the race was because I was the first one to start hitting that jump. I did that little triple-table before and when I scrubbed that I kind of looked over and spotted the landing from that jump and I just remember clickin' a gear, about holding it wide open, and just launching that thing. It wasn't like dead smooth either; it was rough all the way up the top of it so it was like almost a dragon's back. That was the main reason I won; I was getting like two seconds right there each lap and then I ended up passing another guy, another guy, and then ending up passing for the lead on the last lap.