This article was originally printed in our October 2018 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
My Old Man
Aaron and Scott Plessinger: A Prolific Motorcycle Racing Family
By Eric Johnson | Photos by Mike Emery and Jim Talkington
Aaron Plessinger--a few hours removed from riding laps at Milestone MX Park in baking-hot Riverside, California--was both happy and at ease, yet one could also tell that a sort of new reality was setting in on the 22-year-old. "The due date is Monday," Plessinger said, citing the fact that the stork was flapping its wings toward his and his fiancée Kendall's home with a new baby on board. "Everything is going real well. Kendall's definitely antsy to get him out. The doctor says he's healthy and looks to be about six and a half pounds."
Plessinger is the 2018 AMA 250SX West Region Monster Energy Supercross Champion and runaway leader in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship 250 series. With number-one plates and a new child, it's been a whirlwind of a 2018 for Aaron Plessinger of Hamilton, Ohio. "This year has happened really fast," Plessinger said. "It's been such a good year for me with winning the Supercross title and then contending for the outdoor title. It's crazy. A couple people just asked me how it felt and I told them it's like a dream come true. I never thought I would be up here like this."
As has been well documented throughout the past racing season, his father, Scott, was also an excellent motorcycle racing competitor. A four-time National Champion with two Grand National Cross Country titles (1994 and 1995) and two AMA National Hare Scrambles Championships (1989 and 1992), Scott Plessinger slithered out of the streams, silt, bedrock, and greasy trails of Ohio to become one of this nation's greatest off-road riders in the 1990s. Whether it all be innate to the Plessinger surname or through timing and instinctual lessons gleaned from the handlebars and footpegs of a race bike, Aaron Plessinger reached for another gear in 2018 through the actions of his father.
"He's just proud," Aaron said of his dad. "He actually texted me after I won again this last weekend and was kind of in shock by it all, as I am. I think we're having the same feelings shooting through us."
So did Scott and Aaron Plessinger, a father and son one-two punch from Ohio, purposely set out to take their seat-of-the-pants-learned off-road racing talents and techniques and apply them to klieg-lit fun and games glamour of motocross and Supercross? Hardly.
"Nah, he never did," Scott Plessinger said. "We were at the Atlanta Supercross in 2010 and I kind of asked Aaron, 'Do you think you can do this?' And he said, 'I think I can.' It was funny back then because if he lost a race, I mean, he might be mad for 10 minutes and then you'd never even know that he raced. If he won, it was like any other race. He didn't really show it too much. Even back then, he pretty much did well at everything. I come from going pretty well in racing, so I had high expectations of him."
It's pretty damned remarkable to wander back in time a decade and see how the Plessinger family made something of a collective decision to go racing. It wasn't really about fame, fortune, and career opportunities whatsoever. They were, in many ways simply, to just go out and line up with their motorcycles.
"We'd pretty much break it up every weekend--one weekend we'd do moto and the next weekend we'd do GNCC--and we just kind of bounced back and forth," Scott said. "Aaron would always do well in both. We'd go to an amateur National and he'd usually be in the top five. Then he'd go to GNCC and he'd pretty much win all of those races. And all of it did make him a better rider and racer. It definitely made him more versatile."
During the late summer of 2013, the Plessingers sketched out a master plan to see how they would do if they made a concerted run at the AMA Loretta Lynn's Amateur Motocross National Championship.
"It was the summer of 2013," Scott said. "It was actually after Aaron won his first XC2 Pro Class title in GNCC. "We went to Loretta's, and Aaron went six-for-six in his motos. He definitely had a good year that year and he turned a lot of heads. After he won at Loretta's and all that, we were definitely in for the moto thing.
"Moto was a big step to take," Scott said. "You see all these kids that don't make it. He was always shadowed by some of the other riders. I don't think Aaron beat Adam Cianciarulo his whole amateur career. It was good to have Adam there, though, because it kind of gave Aaron someone to look up to and see where he needed to be. Then again, Aaron has always been a late bloomer."
Renowned for his lighthearted ways and fun-and-games persona, some mistake Aaron Plessinger for not having a serious side. However, he has predator-like focus and determination that he can turn on and off at any time.
"He's definitely taking it way more serious now," Scott said. "Off the bike, he's so much stronger than all these kids. It takes a lot of drive to do it. You just don't jump out there and do it. It takes the mental side, it takes everything. He's sure a lot different this year. You can tell when he gets out there that he is really wanting to go to the front. He's not just going to sit there and ride in whatever place he is in. He's definitely shown more and more that he really wants it this year. He's not out there to just be out there. I've preached to him quite a bit in just trying to get him on the ball. I told him this is a short-lived sport and you've got to make it while you can. There have been these other kids that have been at it longer than he has who still haven't made it. There are so many of them."
Even though Scott pushes his son and reminds him that the clock is ticking if he wants to reach the top of the sport, the two have a strong relationship with little tension these days. "I'm pretty cool when I go to his races," Scott said. "I just go out and watch. If I see something that I think he can do better, I'll just tell him. If not, I'll just kind of keep to myself and enjoy the weekend. I don't like interfering with the team and stuff. If I feel there is a need to say something, I'll say it. Aaron is the same way. We get along good. I mean he's in California and I'm in Ohio, so I don't get to talk to him a lot, but I try to talk to him every other day. He stays pretty busy. We get along great. And you know what? I think he's going to be great on a 450. I think he'd love to be on one right now. I think the 450 is going to be a good thing for him, and I think everybody knows it."
While countless young amateur riders and their families chose to chase motocross stardom across the nation, the Plessingers just straight up enjoy being able to ride and compete. In fact, they've always had their own way of doing things that's allowed them to achieve their goals.
"You know, when I first started riding until I went full moto, we had about 36 acres in Ohio that we used to go ride at," Aaron said. "We always had a motocross track and then most of the land was covered by trees, so we would go in the woods and mess around in there. I always like riding trails and we had all kinds of good trails back in there. One day we would ride in the woods and then the next day we would ride on the motocross track. It depended on what was coming up. If I had a GNCC coming up, I'd ride in the woods, and if I had a motocross race coming up, I would ride on the moto track. It definitely made me a better rider all around just because to have that different skill set than anybody else, I think it definitely shot me over the top.
"My dad taught me a lot. He pretty much taught me everything there was to teach on a motorcycle," Plessinger said. "The biggest thing about the motorcycle that my dad taught me was to never give up and always keep trying. He's taught me so much over the years, but to never give up is the biggest thing. He's supported me from day one and always believed in me. And he still helps me. He'll actually have a radio in Supercross and tell me if I'm missing a line or tell me what I'm doing wrong, and we'll fix it and go back out there and get it done. In the outdoors he's been really helpful with line selection and telling me where I can go faster and where I'm missing a couple of seconds.
"We've obviously had our differences, but at the end of the day we're best buddies. It's pretty cool to have a dad like that. He's so supportive of me," Plessinger said. "I think he's one of the coolest dads in the world and one of the coolest people in the world that I know. It's crazy to think about, but we're best friends. When we were at the races, just seeing him want me to do good almost more than I wanted to do good kind of stuck with me."
As with any father and son who decided to make a run at any sort of sporting endeavor, Aaron and Scott Plessinger certainly experienced their fair share of highs and lows along the way in the amateur ranks. Oftentimes issues would arise that didn't necessarily manifest themselves at the race track, Aaron explained of the father and son dynamic between the two: "My dad yelled at me so many times for not training or doing anything leading into the bigger races we were doing. I would just sit on my butt and he would say to me, 'God's gift to great Earth.' He always wanted me to train and eventually I would, but as a 13-, 14-, or 15-year-old you think you know the best and you don't think you need to train too much. Yeah, he definitely had to light a few fires under me to get me going, and I think he did pretty good about it."
Still, the father and son due set out to attempt to win both motocross and Supercross championships with a simple approach enjoy riding and racing their motorcycles together. With the sport continuing to grow and teams looking for youth talent more than ever, it's a rare approach, but it seems to have paid off for Aaron in the same way it has paid off for other recent champions.
"Yeah, it's funny to look at it that way," the younger Plessinger said, ruminating on such things. "When I go back through the memories and actually think about everything, it puts me in shock. I honestly never would have thought I'd be here about five years ago. I'm speechless. It's still crazy to think about. I'm starstruck. It's crazy but everything is falling into place. I have a Supercross championship and a baby boy on the way and an awesome fiancée to come home to. It's falling into place, and right now I couldn't really ask for more."
So what are Aaron's thoughts on adding a third generation to the Plessinger racing dynasty?
"Well, I sure think my dad is excited," Aaron said, answering with a smile, a laugh, and a twinkle in his eye. "I think he's pumped about it. I hope he's pumped about it! Man, we're all pumped about it! We'll all go riding together."
Follow Aaron on Instagram: @aaronplessinger_23