OFF THE BEATEN PATH: MIKAYLA NIELSEN
Mikayla Nielsen has been slowly working her way to the top of the amateur motocross ranks in the Girls class over the last couple of years while also mixing it up on her supermini in the Women’s class. The Californian surprised even herself last year by winning the Girls (11-16) class at Loretta’s in a dramatic final moto, not even knowing that she took the title when she pulled off the track. Nielsen has managed all this while balancing an extremely successful career in the offroad scene, all while attending public school and playing water polo for her high school team. She wasn’t pleased with the 2nd place finishes she had this year at Spring A Ding Ding and she’s more eager than most to get back to racing so she can get redemption and put herself back on the top step of the podium. We had a quick chat with Mikayla to talk about what she’s been doing during quarantine, playing a bunch of other sports, and road-tripping with her old man.
How have you been finding ways to stay active and busy with everything that's going on right now?
Yeah, I was riding in the hills and then the sheriff kicked us off so I just got a workout room in my house and I've just been doing that. That's all I can do 'cause all the tracks are closed.
How long were you able to ride up there before it got shut down?
For about three weeks after we got back from Texas.
You were doing some pretty impressive exercises on your Instagram story, balancing on your bike and whatnot.
Yeah, KTM wants us to do more interaction on social media and we have eight weeks of stuff, so that was our week three thing. We had to work out with our bikes and I've seen some other KTM riders do it and some of 'em are pretty funny.
Was that all one take or were there some bloopers?
Sometimes I had a few bloopers but most of the time I had good balance. (laughs)
This has all given everybody a bit more free time. What have you been doing to relax when you're not training?
I've definitely been spending more time with my family because racing and public school normally takes away from family time; spending time with some of my aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Have you been binge-watching anything? Any video games? Or are you more of an outdoor person?
I'm not really a video game person 'cause I'm not good at it. I'm more of an outdoor person, I like going out on hikes or runs with my dog.
How was racing going for you at the beginning of this season before we went on a hiatus?
My offroad stuff was going great. I was winning my classes, racing the 125 classes on my supermini and I was still winning those which was pretty good. Spring A Ding Ding, I didn't really have the best performance and I was looking forward to Freestone but I only got one practice in and they canceled it. So definitely Loretta's should probably be a good come back for me.
The results weren't what you wanted this year at Spring A Ding Ding, but how was the race for you other than that?
Yeah, it's a really good track. Some of the jumps are pretty fun to hit and they groom the track really well. I just think it's a great event and it's one of the newer ones, but I think it will go a long way because it's such a good track and none of the other tracks really have those big booters. I think a lot of the kids have fun with it.
The podiums there are definitely one of a kind, what do you think about the podium celebration?
Yeah, they had music this year which is pretty cool 'cause you can hear it when you come off the track. The mustaches are always pretty fun, and the cowboy hats, it's pretty cool!
Talk a little bit about the close rivalries that you have in the Women and Girls classes because it always ends up being the same competitors battling for the win.
Yeah, there are definitely a lot of rivalries. The boys are kind of just friends with each other and the girls just aren't. Me and Tayler (Allred) hang out a lot, but none of the girls really like us because either we're taking the spot that they want or we're goin' at it, so yeah.
A lot of kids that you're racing against are focused solely on motocross, is it tough to balance both disciplines while racing offroad as well?
I think they balance out each other just for my riding style. I grew up doing offroad and I had to transition into motocross, so I think they balance each other out. Offroad gives me that rough track at the end of the day for a motocross track and then motocross is good for consistency and good technique for all of that stuff.
Additionally, you've played a lot of other sports and still go to public school. How do you balance all of that with your racing?
Yeah, I definitely did a lot of sports when I was younger. I did like soccer and volleyball and all the sports you could think of. I would always try one and try to be good at it, but my parents told me it was either that or motocross. I couldn't do three sports at once, I'd always have to do two. Right now my two main things are motocross and water polo. I do water polo with my sister and I like playing that with her, but I've done other sports during the high school season and it's been kind of cool. My parents didn't want me to be homeschooled and get that non-social personality, so they never think twice about me not being homeschooled.
It seems like you're pretty tight with your family and it's cool there's a sport you can play with your sister, but when you're on the road traveling to races it's just you and your old man. Talk a little bit about the extra time you get to spend with your dad.
Yeah, my dad is a little bit more laid back and my mom's more competitive so it's nice to have a dad that will talk to me and calm me down. It's a good time with my dad, I really enjoy it. He doesn't mind driving to races, so it's kind of like "I'll drive you to races if you perform good," and we work as a really good team. I love having him on the road with me.
Speaking of really good teams, this is your second year with Team Dunlop Elite. How has that been for you?
Yeah! After Mini O's Rob (Fox) called me and he was like "Would you like to support Team Dunlop and be on our Elite Team?" and I was like "That's crazy!" I remember Tayler was on the team and I thought it would be tough to be on that team because Tayler is such a good rider. I was amazed and I didn't realize how good of a rider I was until they asked me to be on a team at that high of a level. I was all happy and it's such a good team, Rob is such a good guy.
Your dad mentioned that at an offroad race in Glen Helen a couple of years ago, the guy that was doing the staging thought you were in the wrong class because you were lined up with the superminis and then you went out and won. Does that kind of stuff still happen to you?
It's happened a few times. If you see a ponytail, you automatically think Women’s class and when I was younger that happened a ton. Now that I've been getting up in the ranks and everyone kind of figures out who I am from other people, they kind of just roll with it and they know that I'm fast so that's pretty cool.
When you were a little bit younger and people would slight you like that, did it fire you up?
Oh, for sure. It definitely pushed me a lot. I would be like "I gotta win this to prove I'm not supposed to be in the Girls class."
What are your tentative plans for the rest of the season? Are you thinking about getting on a bigger bike?
Yeah, we talked about it and I think I'm going to run the 125 for the Women's class at Loretta's and see how that is. This is definitely my last year for offroad, it gets a little sketchy with the mini bike but this is my last year which I'm pretty happy about 'cause superminis are getting a little too small for me.
Will it be nice for you to get on a bigger bike and be closer to an even playing field in the Women's class?
Yeah, it'll definitely be better than racing them on the supermini. I'm comfortable on the supermini but it'll be nice to see where I'm at on the 125 and I'm sure I have way more training ahead of myself. But it'll cool to see where I'm at on the 125 for my first big race on it.