Top Prospect: Thomas Covington
Photos: Chris Kimball
The 2013 season unleashed a handful of highly touted rookies onto the pro motocross scene, and now that we are in the offseason, we have a little time on our hands to sit and think of who will make their professional debuts next year. Thomas Covington, the Traxxas backed Monster Energy Kawasaki Team Green rider and 2011 Loretta Lynn’s 250B Modified National Champion, is slated to line up at the 2014 Hangtown Motocross Classic come May. For those who are not yet familiar with the 17-year-old Alabama native, Covington can often be found ripping laps at local tracks in Southern California where he now resides, and as one of Mitch Payton’s top prospects for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team, we wanted to catch up with Covington to see how everything was going.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Alabama and moved out to California about three years ago. I’m 17 years old, I ride for Monster Energy Kawasaki Team Green, and next year my plan is to race Hangtown on Mitch Payton’s team [Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki], so I’m just getting ready for that right now.
You just raced in your first GP over in Europe?
Yeah, I went over and did the Matterley Basin GP in the European MX250 class. The European MX class is kind of like the class Searle and those guys are in, but one below it. The competition was definitely still there, though. I had a really good time over there, and it was a cool experience to go and see what it’s like.
How did the race go for you?
Qualifying there—the qualifying race isn’t really about the lap times—I actually ended up winning that, which is pretty much just like winning a moto because you have all the guys in it. Then on Sunday, I was in second and closing in on the leader, and I hit a big bump and went over the bars. The track was really rough over there—probably the roughest track I’ve ever raced on. Overall I had a good time, though, but with that crash there I kind of blew it.
What did you think of the whole “European experience” going over there with the fans?
It was awesome! All of the fans and kids over there love the Americans coming over. When going to the track and practicing during the week before the race, all of the kids just pull off to the side and watch, and then afterwards they come take pictures with you and they’re just pumped to have you over there.
2013 is coming to a close; how did the year as a whole go for you?
I sort of had a rough year—my speed was there at Loretta’s, but I just had a few crashes and I couldn’t really stay off the ground there all week in the mud. But it wasn’t a terrible year either, and I got a win at the Daytona amateur race after that. I’m really just looking forward to these last few amateur races and to try to go out on top—and then get ready for Hangtown.
You were out here today at Pala grinding out 35-minute motos; are you feeling on that level to go pro right now or do you feel like you still have a lot of work to do?
I definitely have a little work to do if I want to be up there in the top five next year with those guys. It’s just my goal of mine, and Johnny [O’Mara] and I are going to be working hard all through the rest of the year and through the Supercross season to be as ready as we can be.
So is that your goal for next year after you turn pro: to be in the top five?
Yeah, I really want to be up in the top five with those main guys. It’s easier said than done, but I’ve got Johnny O’Mara here with me in my corner and he knows what it takes. I think as long as I stick with the program and work hard I can get there.
How long have you been working with O’Mara?
Actually for a while now—coming up on a year. He’s been going to the track with me everyday and pretty much mentoring me and setting up my whole program, so I’m really thankful to have him.
What’s the next event coming up you’ll be racing in?
I’ll be at Monster Cup for the Amateur All-Stars race.
You went last year as well, right?
Yeah, but I blew out my knee during practice so I didn’t get to race.
Do you feel a lot more confident going into it this year?
Yeah, this is my third Monster Cup so I feel pretty familiar with it, and hopefully I’m a lot more relaxed going into it this year.
The Coach: Johnny O’Mara
The “O’Show,” Johnny O’Mara, is a former 125cc National champion and 250cc Supercross champion, as well as an AMA Motorcycle Hall of Famer. O’Mara was also part of the first ever U.S. team to bring home a Motocross des Nations title back in 1981, and followed up that success by helping Team USA reel in three more MXoN championships to boot. Stylistically, O’Mara is one of the greatest riders in MX history, and for an up-and-comer like Thomas Covington to have a legend like him in his corner says a lot about the young amateur’s capabilities.
Tell us about your history working with Thomas.
I’ve been with Thomas for about a year now, and the main objective for me coming in was to prep him for his pro debut next year, so we’re just working towards that. We’ve got him on a pretty structured training program on and off the motorcycle, and they also wanted some of my expertise and guidance on his path towards the pros next year with Mitch Payton. It’s been going good, and I definitely like the project because he’s so young and I have some opportunity to create what I want with him instead of working with someone a little older. I enjoy working with him a lot, too—the [Covington] family is great, and it’s all been going pretty much to plan.
There are a lot of fast kids coming up these days; what do you see in Thomas that you don’t see in anybody else?
The first thing that comes to mind is that he has a lot of natural talent on the bike—his skill levels are what I’m looking at. He has a lot of room to improve with his speed, and being able to go faster is the bottom line. Some of the guys I see—if I were to pick people apart—are a little toped-off already, and with him his technique and skill level should enable him to keep raising the bar and hopefully go in to get the speed that the top pros have. That’s what I like the most about Thomas. In other areas I try to strengthen him up with his body and mind and stuff like that, but the first thing that comes to mind is that he has great technique.
So you work with him off the track as well with fitness training?
Yeah, we address all that stuff with his cardio and fitness, and he’ll be one of the strongest guys in the Nationals no doubt about it. He won’t be one of those rookies coming in where they just get tired—we’ll cut that out completely. Hopefully we’ll have the speed necessary to run up front, and have a good chance to run with the top five guys and at least the top 10.
So top 10 and possibly top five will be your expectations for him in 2014?
Yeah, I’d be really disappointed if there was anything in there past a top 10, for sure. We want to get in there and be top five like some of the rookies this year—like Martin and Webb.