Behind each of the professional Supercross racers we watch every week is a story. We've heard many of these stories from their mouths. After going to a local race and seeing a moto mom helping her daughter at the gate and working on the bike, I had the idea for this feature. Moms play a huge role in our lives growing up, but we don't normally think of them as playing a huge role in our racing. But they obviously do. Whether it's emotional support, making food for the track, or going to the track and holding a stopwatch and putting fuel in the bike, moms play their role. For this fourth edition, I talked to Austin Forkner's mom, Julie.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: It's been a while since we've talked, so I'm glad to get into this. You know, you were the first professional moto mom I ever met.
Julie Forkner: Oh, my goodness. I don't know how professional of a mom I am, but I do have a professional son.
Vital MX: Well, that's what I meant, haha. It was 2017 at Thunder Valley on Press Day. That was my first race as media, and you were pacing back and forth, and I found that entertaining. Let's talk about that in a minute, and get to know you first. Where did you grow up?
Julie: I grew up in the country in a little town called Nevada, Missouri. I grew up on a dairy farm where we milked Holstein dairy cattle. When I was probably 16 or 17, my dad sold the dairy farm and started raising beef cattle. I grew up as a country girl in the middle of nowhere. We have Walmart, a Dairy Queen, and a Sonic, but that's about it.
Vital MX: All you need is a Dairy Queen. You're good if you can get a country basket and a blizzard. Were you competitive as a child? Did you compete in any sports?
Julie: Yeah, I was pretty competitive. I ran track in junior high in high school. I did the 50, 100, and 200, and high jumped. I played basketball in high school, and I competed in gymnastics. I grew up doing 4-H and FFA doing livestock shows showing cattle, and then we had horses. I loved showing horses and barrel racing. That was my favorite thing to do. It was just you, your horse, and the clock. So, I loved riding, running rodeos and jackpots, and things like that. I even did it in my adult life. When I had Austin, I was still rodeoing, but I sold my two horses, my truck, and my trailer and invested in his career when he needed another bike. So, that's the way that went.
Vital MX: So, I'm sure you can relate to the sport of motocross a bit. I've been told that going to the rodeo is somewhat similar to going to amateur races with all the people and motor homes, and it is very family oriented. There are some similarities.
Julie: Yeah, for sure. I was a little too competitive sometimes, but I got the idea. When I was little, my dad raced cars, so I spent the majority of the Nevada Speedway season watching my dad race cars. That was really cool. So, I knew a little bit about racing—nothing about motocross or Supercross or even racing motorcycles in general.
Vital MX: When did you learn about that? How did that come into your life?
Julie: I started seeing Mike (Forkner) probably when he was about 30, and he bought a bike, and I started going with him to some local races. There was one in Kansas City called KCIR, and he went up there and raced with some buddies. I thought, "Man, that looks fun and thrilling. Then I saw some people get hauled off in an ambulance, and I decided it was maybe a little bit dangerous, too. That's how I got to know about motocross.
Vital MX: Were similar injuries from motocross prevalent in rodeo? Obviously, bull riding is dangerous, but what about barrel racing?
Julie: Oh yeah. I've had three broken arms from horses that have bucked me off or other horses that were out of control that ran into me. Bull riding and all that kind of stuff is dangerous.
Vital MX: How old were you when Austin was born?
Julie: I was 38.
Vital MX: Once you find out it's a boy, is Mike saying, "Oh, we're going to get him a dirt bike. He's going to ride." Or did that come later?
Julie: Um, definitely not. In fact, I had him in boots and a cowboy hat and chaps cooling off my barrel horses and riding in the saddle with me. From the time he was born, I started him riding. I thought, "Yeah, he's going to head down that road." When he was little, he went to the races with me and Mike, and at about three years old, he was like, "I want to ride motorcycles." There was a little old PW that was kind of torn up in their shop, and Mike put it together for him, and he started riding it. He fell over when he was probably four, and the throttle got stuck, and it burned his arm. After that, he really didn't want to have anything to do with them for a while. Eventually, he said, "I think I want to get back on a bike." I was like, "That's cute." When they're little, they're so tiny and look so cute out there.
Vital MX: Knowing the mama bear that you are, you had to be pretty nervous fairly quickly. I'm sure it wasn't easy.
Julie: No, it wasn't. I had seen a lot of kids get hurt, and it took me a long time to have another child after I had my daughter. I guess I thought I would wrap him in bubble wrap and keep him safe for the rest of his life. Little did I know God had a different plan, and he was probably laughing at me, saying, "Yeah, we'll see about that. We'll show you about nervousness and safety and all that stuff." I started out when he was little, watching him. I watched every move he made and went to every race. I never took my eye off him the entire track. People say, "Moms don't always know a lot about the sport," but man, I can tell you that I know every bobble and pass he made. Sometimes, he would come off the track and say, "Did you see me pass so-and-so? Did you see me jump that double?" I'd say, "Yep, I saw it all." The older he got, he started going down more often, and then he had a couple of bad concussions when he was just little. That's when the nerves started coming into play a little more.
Vital MX: The first one of these I did was with Jeannie Carmichael, who helped train her son. I wonder, did you ever see things while watching him that you would say, "You should have done this?"
Julie: Never. I didn't feel I knew enough about it. With my daughter on a horse, I would tell her, "You need to do this or this," because I'd been there, and I'd done it. But motorcycles? No, I had no idea. I could see when he got out of control or when he made a mistake, or when he did all the right things as far. Now as for giving him advice, that never entered my mind.
Vital MX: I mentioned the nerves, and as I was saying, when I met you, I didn't know who you were at the time; I just saw a woman walking in the infield of the track going back and forth, putting in a thousand steps. It was just back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. You never took your eyes off of him.
Julie: Yeah. I'm a hyper person anyway, and I'm always on the move. I thought pacing or moving around would help, but it didn't. Even when he turned pro, I would go stand by myself in stadiums and pace back and forth, watching, watching, watching, watching, watching, watching, watching. I became comfortable with that, and I thought that helped me keep my heart from jumping out of my chest or something. I guess that was my way of coping with it. I honestly can tell you I knew every time he went down. Even in the race in Anaheim this year, everybody was like, "I don't know what Kawasaki rider it was." Dude, I knew it was him. I just knew it, and I was way up in the stands, but I just knew that it was him.
Vital MX: Since he's been pro, have you made every race?
Julie: I hardly ever missed a race until COVID hit. Then there was a time when they didn't let spectators in, and they only had so many passes. Man, that first race when he raced in Salt Lake City, "Oh, my gosh," I had to watch it on T.V. That was horrible for me because I wasn't there, and they didn't show him all the time. That was crazy. I missed a few races that year and my granddaughter's first birthday party. I think outside of that, I've made every single race he's ever been in.
Vital MX: Going back to when he got into riding and he started racing, do you remember the moment or a moment when you thought, "Oh, this is going to be more than just a hobby?"
Julie: You know, he wasn't very good when he was little. We went to Loretta's, but he hardly ever got in the top ten. Then one year, when he got on an 85, we had just picked up a stock bike, and that was all that he had because his other one was not running well, and we went to Loretta's. He won both, I think he was 11 in the 9 to 11 class, and he won both the stock and the mod 85 class on that stock bike. That was my first realization that he might be going somewhere with this because that was an incredible feat to win both classes and both of them on a stock bike. That was just unbelievable. So, I think that was probably my realization that he had some talent and he might be headed for big things.
Vital MX: How did that make you feel? Do you remember?
Julie: This just made me think of another time. In the first Monster Cup, he won all three races, and it was a huge deal because you got invited to it. That was another time that I was like, "Wow, he can even do it under the lights with all these people watching," you know? I was excited for him because every little kid, I mean, he used to tell me all the time, "I want to be a professional motorcycle racer." I'd say, "Something like 1 in 1,000,000 makes it. But, hey, it could be you." So, I was excited about his dreams and goals and everything. Every parent wants their kids to be successful and to be happy and to make their dreams come true, but then I was a little bit nervous, too, not knowing what the future holds.
Vital MX: Did he play any other sports? Did he ever try anything else?
Julie: In fifth and sixth grade and junior high at the school where I taught, and he went to school he played basketball. Oh, my gosh, he was so good. He was so athletic as a kid. We would have track and field day, and he would outrun the big kids when he was in second grade. He was so quick and fast and just athletic, but once he started riding motorcycles, he never really wanted to do anything else. I think that was just where his heart was.
Vital MX: What was his personality like as a young kid before motorcycles and post-motorcycles? Did it change any?
Julie: No. I mean, he was shy. He was shy and quiet as a little kid. He didn't like to be called out for anything and didn't like to be in trouble. He was always happy, but he was competitive. If we played board games or something, he didn't like to lose. When he was little, he loved monster truck races and car races; oh, my goodness. We went to lots of car races, and he liked everything fast and loud. He also never liked school. His teachers said the kids wanted him to be the leader, but he would rather be a follower. He really came out of his shell with motocross as far as doing podcasts, YouTube videos, and interviews. Without this sport, he would not have done any of that; I don't think. He's still quiet. He likes to stay to himself and mind his own business. That's just the kind of person that he is.
Vital MX: As his amateur career progressed, he eventually got the Team Green Ride, which is a really big deal in the amateur scene. How much did that help family wise? Amateur racing is very expensive, and they provide bikes, which I would think is a big help in the program.
Julie: It was huge. It was huge financially for us because I was a teacher, I made $20,000 a year, and Mike was a farmer. He didn't make that much either, and that sport is expensive. I remember going to races, and I would see kids that had like six bikes, and Austin had one. When we got the team Green Ride, it opened up areas of other sponsorships, too, such as clothing, boots, helmet, and goggles. It got you noticed by other sponsors. Financially, it was great. That was the dream and the hope of the family as he got older. To be approached by one of the longest, most knowledgeable sponsors in Team Green out there that had won lots and lots of titles was definitely the ultimate. I think that was definitely a dream come true.
Vital MX: Along with that dream coming true, sometimes, with those teams, there's a lot of added pressure. Did you feel that for him? Do you think he felt that?
Julie: For sure. I think there was more pressure because it became a job instead of a fun family amateur weekend out riding motorcycles with your friends. I knew that he would have to leave. Oh man, this gets hard. I knew he would have to leave home and go somewhere and train. That was the hardest part for me because we had always been really, really close. His sister is 14 years older than him. So, by the time he was four years old, she was off to college. It was just me and him, and we jumped on the trampoline, we rode bicycles, and we took walks. We played baseball in the front yard, and he went to school with me every day. He said in an interview once that he was a mama's boy, and I would have to agree with that when he was younger. So, him packing up and leaving home at 16 was a hard thing for me. That's probably the hardest thing in his career, other than a few of the injuries that I've had to deal with. I guess kids go away to college at 18, but I think it was just different.
Vital MX: Did you ever feel because he was so dedicated to motocross that, he was missing out on any other childhood experiences?
Julie: You know, he had a few friends at school, but most of his friends were the kids that we saw every weekend at the races. He got invited to their birthday parties, and they came home with us sometimes. He went and spent the night with them. I'd pick them up, and we'd go to skate parks all over everywhere. He missed out on prom and graduation and some things that, as a mom, I was sorry that he missed out on. As for him, I think his friends and the things he got to do, were just different because it was with the moto family instead of the kids at school. So, I don't think he missed out on anything.
Vital MX: He becomes very successful towards the end of his amateur career, and when it's time to go pro, he signs with Pro Circuit. This is the next step up for Team Green. What do you remember about that time period?
Julie: We were so proud. We never sent him to a training facility when he was younger or did all the things that some of those people did. We were just out here having fun as a family, and if he makes it, he makes it. We felt that would be unbelievable, and when he did make it, I was so proud that everything we had worked hard for and sacrificed, and especially all that he had done, was kind of a big payoff. For him to be able to do something that he just truly enjoyed and to do at a professional level, how much better could it get than that? Fulfilling your dreams and having a career that you love is just awesome.
Vital MX: In his rookie season, he got fourth overall. Was that any surprise to you?
Julie: I remember them saying in his first year, "You're not going to win a championship. Let's not focus on that. Let's focus on learning the tracks, learning the sport, and getting used to it." There's so much outside of just riding and racing, you know? "Let's just deal with everything else and do the best that you can. Let's get your starts and get you used to the atmosphere and the daily routine of racing." We were pleasantly surprised. I don't think there was ever a focus on, "You need to go and do this that first year. Then when we head into the following year, we'll get things rolling and see if you can't go out there and show 'em what you got."
Vital MX: As that happened, there were a lot of expectations from Austin. The media and fans all expected him to win championships. Unfortunately, he's had many injuries that have been the story of his career so far. I've talked to him about this, and he's heartbroken every time he's hurt. As a mom, you're probably doubly heartbroken because you feel your kid's and your own pain. How have you dealt with that, and how do you deal with him when he is depressed?
Julie: Every time he's been injured, as you said, it's heartbreaking. I would say he was majorly depressed after Salt Lake City, that really bad wreck during COVID. It took him a long time to come around, and he saw a sports psychologist. It's a tough road to haul when you're repeatedly injured. I don't think people understand, it's not just like you get injured, and you go to the hospital, and you get well. There's so much rehab and so much frustration with having one arm or one leg. You can't even do the normal things for a month to six weeks. I attempt to stay positive and keep him on the right track. We've had the conversation of, "Do you want to continue doing this?" Because it's been quite a journey for sure. He always says yes. My dad used to say, "When you get bucked off the horse, get back on." It's just getting right back on and getting back on the motorcycle and getting back out there and doing what you love and figuring it all out.
Vital MX: We talked to him recently, and he's ready to go. He's ready to get back on the horse. I know in '22 and '23, he didn't even get to get through the first round either year, which was just gut-wrenching, but he seems to be in good spirits and in a good place. He's engaged, and about to get married to Rylee (Kirk), so he has some positive things going on.
Julie: I'm so excited about that. They've been together a long time and have a wonderful relationship. She's kind of taken over the role of helping him to stay positive, recover, and recuperate from all the injuries. She's there for him and gives him medicine, changes bandages, and all those things. She knows the whole routine, and she's wonderful. They're great together, and I'm excited about having a daughter-in-law and my son being in a relationship with someone else who is in our support system for him.
Vital MX: Yeah, we love Rylee. She's great. A couple more things. Life is a lot of peaks and valleys, and Austin's had a lot of valleys in his career. With that comes the keyboard warriors of our sport that say things like, "Why does he keep doing this?" Or "He sucks," etcetera, etcetera. I ask all the moms about this because I'm sure it's painful to see those messages. Do you ever respond? Do you have any thoughts towards those people, or do you just let it go?
Julie: Well, I'm glad you asked me this question. At first, I did because people would get on there and say things that they didn't know anything about. They'd say, "Oh, he's privileged. He should be winning, blah, blah, blah." I'd think, "Dude, you guys don't even know him. You don't know where he came from." Sometimes I would privately message people, and then they would say, "Oh, oh, I'm sorry, Mrs. Forkner, you're right. I don't know, and I'm so sorry. I'll take my post down," or whatever. When they sit behind a computer, they don't care about who they hurt or what they say. In this world we're living in, there are a lot of hateful, angry, unknowledgeable, unkind people out there. As he got older, I think after Salt Lake City, honestly, someone put on a post that Rylee made, "I hope you die." How could someone say that when he's lying in a hospital bed with severe internal injuries? How could someone say that? I could never, in my wildest dreams, imagine that someone could get on there and say something so cruel at such a time when he was really injured. After that, I was like, "I can't read any more of these" I couldn't believe people can say that stuff and not have any remorse about anything. As he's gotten older and he's had more injuries, I just quit reading it. I look at the post, and I'm like, "Way to go, son." I don't ever read what people are saying because we know who's our supporters. We know who's on our team and in our family. Those people would never say stuff like that. So, those people don't mean anything to me.
Vital MX: I've got three more questions, and they're all going to be positive. I want your best memory of Austin as a child, and it does not have to be moto related.
Julie: Oh, gosh. A really funny story is one time we decided to go to Branson, which is a place where there are a lot of shows and go-kart tracks and all kinds of stuff. We decided to take him and a kid that he raced with to Branson, and we were coming back from an indoor swimming pool, and they were trying to beat us back to the hotel pool. Both of them ran. I think both of them ran, and they had just laid new tar in the parking lot, and they slipped and fell and had tar all over their bathing suits and all over them. It's the funniest thing. I mean, you'd have to have been there, but it was hilarious because I couldn't even believe it. They just took off. I have so many memories. His first win at the Mini O's on the podium and the smile on his face. I will never, ever forget that. His first win at Loretta's and his first win as a pro the year he had the red plate. There are hundreds of memories and so many memories from the sport of motocross. I'm so thankful that I've been able to be a part of all that.
Vital MX: What are you most proud of Austin for?
Julie: I think I am most proud of his mental capacity to overcome injuries and everything that's been thrown his way. As a parent, nobody prepared me for a child to enter the realm of professional sports. It is a whole different world, and I had no idea what it was all about until Austin got into it, you know? We come from a little bitty town in the middle of nowhere, and I had no idea about the business aspect of it and the sponsorship things. It's such a big road to go down, and nobody prepares you for that as a parent or as a child. We didn't know how to prepare Austin, and I think he has stayed true to himself. I'm proud of that. I'm proud that he didn't become somebody that the media or social media, or sport wanted him to become. I'm obviously so proud that he's never given up and he's persevered through so much. That's just amazing. He is such a great kid. If you get to know him, he has such a big heart. I'm just proud of who he's become, despite everything. Life throws trials and struggles at everybody, but he has really stepped up and become quite a wonderful young man in my eyes.
Vital MX: What do you see for his career and for his future?
Julie: I'm gonna step out on a limb and say that he's going to get that championship. Every time he comes back, he's still competitive. Even with all the mental and physical things that have gone on, he still gets out there, still competes, and is right up at the top. Then I think about the 450s, and it's obviously such a competitive sport. There are so many good riders out there. I think God has a plan and a purpose for his life, and only he knows what the future holds. I am sure that he didn't bring him all this way to not let him see his championship dream be fulfilled. I think he's going to come back, and he's going to maybe not be a surprise, but a lot of people are already saying it's going to be impossible for him to win. He's older, and he's been hurt a lot, but I tell him, "Impossible is just a word. You go out there, and you show them what you have got." I think he's going to be great.