Fighting Through The Pain: Tyler Bowers
Photos: Matt Rice
Most champions didn't earn the number one plate by riding flawlessly for an entire season, and becoming a champion usually means fighting through adversity. Many have had to pick themselves up off the ground at some point during the year, and for defending AMSOIL Arenacross champ Tyler Bowers, he has fought through the majority of 2014 while on the mend after breaking his ankle at round one in January. Now, with only four rounds left, the 22-year-old from Danville, Kentucky, has placed himself in contention to repeat when the season wraps up in March. We caught up with Tyler yesterday before he left for round nine this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
How's 2014 been so far for you?
It's been pretty crazy this year, really. The first weekend I got off to a good start on Friday night and went 1-1 for the overall. But then Saturday night, I got ran into by another racer during the first moto and ended up breaking my ankle [laughs]. I wasn't really sure if I broke it at first. It felt like I did some damage, but with adrenalin and stuff, our two motos are close enough together that I was able to go out for the second race and still finish it. The first moto I got 14th, and then in the second one I was pretty far back--I was in fourth or fifth and then crashed right at the end, so I lost the points lead there. I broke the bottom of my tibia, and then that Monday I had surgery and they put two screws in it to hold the bone together. It's another year chalked up to racing with an injury [laughs], and it was right at the beginning, but we went racing that following weekend. We've been dealing with it all season, but we were able to get the points lead back in Reno. I'm pretty happy because now I'm almost fully healed going into the points reset.
So you went from sweeping the first night to just trying to hang on to your season in the second night?
Yeah, on the second night I actually got taken out three times in the first main event [laughs], and it was the third time that broke my ankle. I don't know if I had a big target on me--guys were just trying to kill me. The thing that made me upset is that I can get taken out three times in one race--and they were clearly gunning for me--but if I even look at someone wrong everyone says, "Bowers is evil." I just don't think it's fair they let riders get away with running me over, and I can't do anything to protect myself.
Is contact in Arenacross more common than in Supercross?
Yeah, in Arenacross there's going to be some contact, but there's over the line, too. Usually guys are going to bump, and we know it's not really on purpose because our tracks are so tight. But if there was a Supercross racer in the mix or an Arenacross guy was racing Supercross, and there was a little bump, than Supercross guys can freak out because they're used to having a lot more room. In Arenacross, there's a little bit of bumping going on but not a lot of take-outs. This season has been a little crazy. We have a few new guys in the series, and it's just been wild.
Last year, you broke your collarbone and kept racing, too.
I broke my collarbone on a Tuesday right before the points reset, had surgery on Wednesday, and then I raced that Saturday. It was kind of a bummer and hard to do, but the collarbone was a little easier because the ankle you're always putting pressure on it. The collarbone felt good after a week, but with the ankle at least I broke it at a better time, because I had time to heal before this points reset.
Do you miss the larger tracks from your experience racing Supercross?
Yeah, I definitely miss Supercross. Last year I had the great opportunity to ride for Mitch Payton's Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team, and if I can get back to something like that I'd be ecstatic. Arenacross is my place right now, though. I signed a three-year contract last year, so I have the remainder of this season and then next season. That's my focus right now.
You're 22, right?
Yeah, I'll be 23 in March and 24 by the end of next season.
In a way it's funny, because when you think of Tyler Bowers, you think veteran.
[Laughs] Well, I've looked like this since I was 12, so that didn't help. I was on a 450 since I was 13, and then I went pro as soon as I could--once I turned 16 I was racing Supercrosses. I've been around for a while.
Who's been your toughest competition so far this year in Arenacross?
Definitely Zack Ames--my teammate and roommate. He's just been the guy who's been on it. He had the points lead for the majority of the season, and he led from the second weekend all the way until last weekend when I got it back. There was a 60 to 70-point gap between second and third place, but that's not due to Ames and I just riding great. Mike McDade was killing it, too, and he was in the hunt for the championship but then had a bad weekend in Idaho--two weekends ago--and broke his wrist. So he's just been struggling now, and I think Kelly Smith has been having a rough time also. Our main guys have just been having some bad luck.
For those who don't know much about Arenacross, there are a lot of aspects that are different than Supercross other than the smaller tracks.
Yeah, the point system is a lot different. In Supercross, you have more of a reward for taking that extra risk to get the win or to even get on the podium. From first to second place, there's a three-point difference, and then a two-point difference to third place. In Arenacross, it's 16 points for the win, 15 points for second, and then it keeps going down by only one point. At one time this season, I had nine wins, and Ames at two wins, and he was still beating me in points [laughs].
What do you think about the two-night format?
The two-night format I'm ok with. I still wish they were longer motos, but we added three laps this year--which still isn't a lot as far as Arenacross lap times go. Last year we were doing 12 laps and now we're doing 15 laps, but I think having two shorter main events makes it more exciting for the fans.
With the quick races, how crucial is the start?
The starts are key, but sometimes our second main event is inverted, which means the guy that got first place in the first moto has to start from the second row in the second main event. There are eight guys in the first row and eight in the second, and a lot of the time your starting behind the guy that got 13th in the first race. Sometimes you can pull some Houdini moves going into the first turn, but a lot of the time you're having to pass through the whole pack during the race. I think in Arenacross, one of the biggest keys is riding smart, because you get into lappers pretty quickly and often there are guys crashing all over the place. The lanes are pretty close together, so sometimes you'll have a guy go down on another part of a track and hit a tuff block over into your lane. You have to be able to stay out of trouble and have a quick reaction to things like that.
How about the Race to the Championship?
[Laughs] We work all season to have a big points lead and then they reset it at the end. Going into this weekend, I'll have one point on second and third, and only five over 10th place. What normally makes a champion is that you have to be there all season and push through no matter what, even on your bad days, and it kind of takes that aspect away. A lot of riders don't like it, but I guess it's exciting for the fans.
What's been your favorite venue so far?
Honestly, I have to say Kentucky, and not just because it's where I'm from [laughs]. Louisville was great because the track was a little bit bigger, they had a few bowl corners, which are great for passing, and also the dirt was really good.
Do you have any plans to race a few rounds of Supercross again?
If I had the opportunity I did last year, then yeah for sure. Riding for that team was just amazing, but now I kind of feel spoiled because I know what that team has to work with--it's not even fair [laughs]! Not just the bikes, the whole team! Everyone just works so hard at Pro Circuit, and it was a pretty cool experience. My team has also talked about hitting some rounds after the season is over, but right now our main focus is just on Arenacross and to get this championship wrapped up.