After compiling a total of eight overall victories through the first six rounds of AMSOIL Arenacross, featuring Ricky Carmichael’s Road to Supercross, Babbitt’s Monster Energy/AMSOIL Kawasaki presented by Maxxis rider Tyler Bowers held a commanding lead in the Arenacross Class standings. The opening six rounds served as a precursor to the inaugural Race to the Championship and Bowers took advantage of the opportunity to get his bike and his own program dialed in, opening a 67-point advantage on the field heading into the four-round playoff.
Per the rules of the brand new playoff-inspired battle for the title, the Race to the Championship would reset the points for the top 10 riders in the Arenacross Class, seeding them in accordance to their positions following the sixth round of competition and ultimately separating Bowers and his fellow contenders by no more than five points.
Despite the loss of his significant points lead, Bowers entered the opening round of the Race to the Championship in Little Rock, Ark., with the same motivation to win. Following an up-and-down evening, Bowers ended up posting his worst finish of the 2013 season, finishing fifth overall and falling from first to third in the championship standings. However, just one week later in Wichita, Kan., Bowers rebounded to take a much-needed overall victory and reclaim the points lead. He followed that up with a dominant performance at the following round in Kansas City, Mo., to extend his lead and give him 10 overall victories this season.
Following his latest triumph, Bowers revealed that he had suffered a broken collarbone while training for the first round of the Race to the Championship. After he was fortunate enough to undergo surgery to repair the break, Bowers headed to Little Rock mere hours after the procedure and cautiously raced to keep his title hopes alive. The news explained his uncharacteristic outing just a couple weeks prior, but made his back-to-back wins afterwards even more impressive.
Now, Bowers enters the final round of the 2013 season this weekend in Denver in control of his own destiny. Two nights of action will bring this captivating and historic season to a close. AMSOIL Arenacross spoke to Bowers recently to get some insight into what happened with the injury and how it has influenced his quest for a third consecutive Arenacross Class title.
Tyler, what exactly happened the day you got injured and how did that immediately affect your outlook on the remainder of the AMSOIL Arenacross season?
“It was the Tuesday before Little Rock, which was the first round of the Race to the Championship. Zach Ames, my teammate, and I were riding during the week and just doing the normal thing we’ve been doing all season. We just do two-lap sprints together and it helps us in the [Head-to-Head Bracket Racing], while also giving just that raw speed to put down some fast laps in practice and the Main Event and just get ahead right off the bat.
“In this particular sprint, Zach was ahead of me and coming out of a corner I was right on him. We hit a triple [jump] out of a corner and Zach slid out off the lip off the jump and was literally backwards staring at me in the air. I thought to myself ‘oh man, this is bad,’ because I was right on him. There was nowhere else for me to go, so his bike landed sideways, he high-sided and landed on his side and landed directly into his bike. My bike stopped and I flipped over the front. It really wasn’t that bad and I didn’t think it would be that bad, but I landed on the backside of my shoulder and rolled out of it. I popped right back up on my feet and though ‘well, that wasn’t that bad,’ and then felt a bee sting sort of sharp pain in my shoulder and wondered what it was. I reached up, touched it and my collarbone was just jagged with an edge on it. I knew it wasn’t good.
“Zach was still trying to catch his breath and I asked if he was alright. I told him I broke my collarbone, walked back to my truck and just started taking my gear off. It was just practicing during the week and something that Zach and I have always done. That one particular day he slid out off the top of the jump and took us both down. I’m just fortunate that a collarbone was all that happened and that I didn’t hurt Zach in the process too.”
Did it ever cross your mind that the season was over? Or did you immediately think that you had to see how bad it was in hopes to being able to still compete?
“I had to stay calm and evaluate the situation, and figure out what was wrong. I knew [the collarbone] was broken, even though I could tell myself it wasn’t until I got to the hospital. However, it just kept tightening up and I knew it was broke. I had no plan on racing that weekend. I went and saw my doctor, Dr. Navarro, and he said I needed to get it plated because if I didn’t race that weekend, he’d get it plated for me the following week for sure.
“I told him that if I didn’t race that weekend I’d be so far behind in the Race to the Championship that there would be no point. So, he talked me into getting the surgery with Dr. Greenbaum at Orange County Sports and Orthopedics. Dr. Greenbaum squeezed me in the following day on his lunch hour and just hooked me up and squeezed me in. I was just waiting there all day for a spot to open up. I talked with him for a little bit and asked if I already had a flight booked for the weekend. I told him I did and he suggested we do something with stitching that might help the wound flex [so I could ride]. That was the biggest thing. He knew with a plate that it would be solid and 100%, but the soft tissue like the muscles and the ligaments and the skin could open up and bleed out while I was riding. He stitched it so that it would flex if I decided to ride. I initially told him I didn’t think I could ride that weekend, but he told me that if it was done right and I felt ok come Saturday, then I was cleared to ride. However, he made it clear and said ‘do not crash.’
“I got out of surgery and felt pretty good that day, the next day, and the day after. Thursday and Friday was pretty rough because of the surgery and coming out of the anesthesia, but by the end of Friday I was actually feeling pretty good. I was already in Little Rock doing a lot of press and stuff like that, so sat on the bike Saturday morning and tugged on the handlebars and figured I could at least ride [the bike]. The plan then became to just get out of the weekend within 15 points of the lead. If I didn’t lose more than 15 points, I figured I could somehow make a miracle happen. I ended up coming out of the weekend only four points back, so I was really pumped on that and I’m just happy I survived everything.”
You went through something similar like this in 2010 when you suffered a pair of broken legs while leading the championship. Did that experience ever enter your mind and make you want to keep going?
“No, it was more frustration about the situation in the points. I had pretty good control over the championship [prior to the Race to the Championship] and over a 60 point lead, but then it all got reset to just a one-point lead [over second place]. In a normal situation, it wouldn’t have mattered because I could have taken two or three weeks off and come back for the last round to defend the remaining lead I had. However, in this situation I couldn’t help but feel like my year was over. I tried not to care, tried not to let it get to me, and just let it play out. Surprisingly, it went a lot better than expected.”
What was your motivation to keep it under wraps and not say anything until the previous round in Kansas City?
“There are two things that came into play. One was Zach being my teammate, my roommate, and one of my good friends. We were riding together [when it happened], so he felt really bad and kept telling me he was sorry. I kept telling him it wasn’t a big deal, because I knew he felt bad about it. I finally told him that if I’m not going to win [the championship] then he has to win it.
“I didn’t let everyone on the team know. Everyone knew I was hurt because I told them we crashed during the week and I was sore. That was what I told anyone that asked. But, Zach knew and my mechanic Junior Jackson knew because he’s had to race with broken bones before and, of course, he knows there’s something not right when he sees me riding not up to par. Nobody knew because I didn’t want anyone to pressure Zach too much. I knew he was putting a lot of pressure on himself after everything that happened, so I wanted to make sure that if I couldn’t perform because of the injury, that he didn’t have some crazy pressure on him to make sure he performed. I just wanted him to go out, do his thing, and win races, which is exactly what he did that weekend. I gave him a big hug on the podium because he went out there and got it done.
“The other reason was I didn’t want to give anyone confidence. If they knew something was broke or if I was riding guarded, they’re just going to run circles around me. They’d get overly confident and probably ride faster and more aggressive. Especially the aggressive part, I couldn’t take the chance of somebody clipping me in a turn and me falling down and ripping the stitches out. So, it was best for me to keep it quiet. It was nobody else’s business and if you look at it, it worked out great.”
How hard was it to race in Little Rock that weekend?
“It was difficult, but it actually got a lot better every time I rode. It was really, really sore and stiff in the first practice. It was miserable. I didn’t even make it in the top 20 in times. But, I went out in the second practice and tried to get my adrenaline going to get me out of it instead of letting it hold me back like I did the first practice. That helped me out a little bit and boosted my confidence knowing I could make such a big advance in speed by just telling myself to go do it. All in all, it was hard, but like I said, it got better every time I rode. My neck was really sore, so every time I hit a jump it was killing me because all the muscles and tendons in that area were just firing. It was hard to ride to my full potential because of the worry of crashing, but if I kept telling myself to do it, I ended up just riding better because I went for it. It was hard not to race with guys the way I normally would on the track, but I knew I had to just chill out and make it through because I’d be in a lot bigger trouble if I crashed.”
Now you’ve bounced back to win the last two rounds and are back in control of the Race to the Championship. Are you back at 100% and riding the way you are used to riding?
“I think every week is just a huge difference. That’s kind of why I rode the way I did in Kansas City, because I knew we had an extra week between there and Denver that would allow me to rest even more. They said it would be 4-6 weeks before it was healed and that will be right around Denver. I’m feeling better every week, I feel stronger, and I feel more rested because I don’t ride during the week now. Wichita was very surprising for me because it was the week after. I was expecting the same scenario as the week before, but I got out there and was ripping. I knew if I could focus on my starts I’d be in good position. That’s what I did and we ended up pulling off a win.
“Going into Kansas City it was the same sort of deal. I didn’t expect that much improvement. I went in there a little confident because I knew I could win, but I still knew I wasn’t 100%. However, Kansas City went amazing. I was almost a full second faster than everyone in practice, which was the most I’ve been all year. I went in there and it kind of freaked me out because I realized I must really be getting better. It was just all about being smooth and just keeping momentum. Just feeling good on the track. So, going into Denver, its just more of the same. It just makes me happy because every day it just that much better and is only going to get better. If my worst was Little Rock, then I think everyone is in trouble.”
Now that you’ve shown that you’re able to overcome so much adversity and still have control of your own destiny in the championship, does that make this all sweeter?
“Yeah it does, but it still sucks to have to go through this. I just wish it was easier on me. Last year was really tough on me as well because I had a lot of small, nagging injuries because I kept hitting the ground. This year, it felt like easy street for a while and things were going really good. I wasn’t sure how the rules and the format changes would affect things, but it all ended up working out still, so I was pumped. With the collarbone, I thought it could maybe one day just be a cool story to talk about down the road. But now, it’s getting even sweeter because of how everything has gone. If I can pull this thing off, it would be pretty amazing for sure.”
The Denver season finale of AMSOIL Arenacross, the fourth and final round of the Race to the Championship, from inside the Denver Coliseum kicks off with two nights of action on Friday, March 15, and continues on Saturday, March 16. Both nights of action begin at 9 p.m. ET. Broadcast coverage of Saturday night’s competition can be seen via tape delay exclusively on SPEED on Sunday, March 17, beginning at 12:30 p.m. ET.
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