By Jim Kimball
After a successful 2016 at Loretta Lynn’s, Bradley Taft turned pro, and his focus towards the last three outdoor Nationals of the year. As a member of the CycleTrader.com/Rock River Yamaha Team, Taft would fill in for the injured Colt Nichols. It was at the final national; Ironman where Taft would take his best finish with 12th overall, and make a statement going into 2017 Supercross. Relocated from California to North Carolina, and training with Gareth Swanepoel, along with Cooper Webb, Aaron Plessinger, the 20 year old would be ready! Unfortunately just two rounds in, Taft suffered a huge practice crash, resulting in a severe head injury causing him to miss the entire Supercross series, and return to racing at round two of the outdoor series in Glen Helen. Getting back into he swing of racing, Taft has finished 15th in the last two outdoor races. We caught up with Bradley during the weekend off before Unadilla.
BRADLEY, WHEN DID YOU TURN PRO? I turned pro right after Loretta’s last year, for the last three outdoors. I had signed with CycleTrader.com/Rock River Yamaha just before heading to Loretta Lynn’s. So I was riding the Cycle Trader Yamaha at my last big amateur race.
HOW DID YOUR FINAL AMATEUR RACES AT LORETTA’S GO? It went well. I raced 250 A in Pro Sport last year, and I won it. I also raced in the Pro Sport, but had some struggles. The second moto, I crashed on the start. I went 3, 17, 3, so I didn’t win that class because of the mishap on the start, but 250 A went really well, and I won that, so it was good.
HOW DID YOUR MOVE INTO THE OUTDOOR NATIONALS GO? They went well in spite of not being use to longer motos. I had really good speed, but I just struggled to make it through the motos. I ran up front quite a bit, but I was not able to stay there. I finished 12th or 14th I think in every moto except for the very first one at Unadilla where I crashed a couple of times, and did horrible. But overall it went really well for what I was expecting.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST DIFFERENCE OTHER THAN THE LONGER MOTOS? In amateur racing you sit around all day, and you only race usually just once a day, maybe twice a day. That is the only time on the track, where obviously outdoors, you are only there for a day, so you are on the track a lot, from the practicing and the motos.
IS THE CYCLETRADER.COM/ROCK RIVER YAMAHA TEAM A PRIVATEER TEAM, OR A FACTORY TEAM? I SPOKE TO ALEX MARTIN AFTER HE MOVED FROM ROCK RIVER TO STAR YAMAHA, AND HE SAID THE BIKE WAS A BIG IMPROVEMENT. It’s somewhat both a factory, and a privateer team. Our equipment is pretty close, and very much the same as say Star Yamaha. There are just a couple of other things that are different. It is obviously not a factory team but I would not really consider it a privateer team either. Since when Alex was on it, they made some improvements now to where it was when Alex was on. I mean it would definitely be a step up to do a factory team, but basically the equipment I have is good enough to compete with all the other bikes. The equipment I have is definitely not holding me back from whatever I need to do.
YOU HAD SOME PRETTY GOOD MOMENTUM COMING INTO 2017 SUPERCROSS, BUT THEN HAD THAT TERRIBLE PRACTICE CRASH. Yes, I had done two Supercross rounds. Then it was in between the second and third rounds where I crashed. Qualifying and the heat races went well actually. I qualified pretty well, and then in the heat races, I got fifth in both heat races. I crashed in both mains that I did, so they did not obviously go super well, but you know, I was just learning, and getting experience out of it. I had raced Monster Cup three years as an amateur, so I rode Supercross a little bit leading up to that. I just needed to obviously not crash in the main event, and could have done a lot better. Overall, I feel that I adapted pretty well. The only thing I really struggled with was whoops, because obviously when I raced as an amateur there were no whoops and the first time I really ever hit whoops was this year, but other than that, it was not too bad of a transition going into that.
WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL TERM FOR WHAT HAPPENED? IT WAS NOT A CONCUSSION WAS IT? No, I had a traumatic brain injury, which is what it was classified as. From the time of the crash, I did not really remember much for five days after that. Then once I was out of the hospital, it was hard for me to sleep. The first week after I had some headaches, but other than that, I was not sick from it or anything like that.
HOW LONG DID IT ACTUALLY TAKE BEFORE YOU COULD GET BACK ON A MOTORCYCLE? It was about 3 ½ months, so it was a long time. I got released before that from the doctor and started road biking and like gym and stuff, but I was not able to ride a dirt bike.
THEN YOU RETURNED TO RACING IN THE OUTDOOR SERIES RIGHT? It was the second round; I came back during Glen Helen. I had only been back on the bike for about two or three weeks, so I definitely struggled for a while. But the last two or three races, I have been slowly seeing improvements and I am obviously still not where I want to be, but I think with how long I was off the bike, that I am doing well.
DOES THE TEAM FEEL PRETTY GOOD ABOUT WHERE YOU ARE? Yes, definitely. They know the extent of everything with the injury and how long I was off, so I don’t think they were really expecting much from me. With what I have done, they have been pretty happy, especially the last couple of weeks.
WHERE YOU ARE AT IN NORTH CAROLINA, ARE YOU TRAINING WITH ANYONE? I train with Gareth Swanepoel, so I am out here with Cooper Webb, Aaron Plessinger, and Colt Nichols. We just have a little place out here. Cooper has a place there too, and we have a track there, and stuff like that.
HOW ARE YOU FEELING GOING INTO THESE LAST COUPLE OF OUTDOORS? I feel good, just because obviously I raced these three tracks last year, and the two best races I have had this year were on tracks that I have already ridden. Having the experience of racing on these tracks last year helped me a lot, so I feel pretty good about them.
ARE YOU SIGNED WITH CYCLETRADER.COM/ROCK RIVER YAMAHA TEAM FOR NEXT YEAR? I am not that far along yet, but staying here is what I am hoping to do.
I ADMIRE YOU PERSEVERANCE; I CANNOT IMAGINE GOING THROUGH SOMETHING LIKE THAT. I went to three different doctors for it, and that was one of the things. At times it was difficult to get answers, and understand what had happened. I made sure that having that injury does not put me at higher risk of it happening again. All three doctors cleared me, so I took the right steps to do it, and I think that was the biggest thing.