This article was originally printed in our February 2018 issue of TransWorld Motocross.
By Eric Johnson | Photos By Mike Emery
Aaron Plessinger hails from a state that is that is very much cloaked in forest. So much so that 8.1 million acres, or roughly 31 percent of this entire state, are covered with trees. It rains a lot in this state too, nearly 40-plus inches a year. Factor in streams, swamps, and wind-blown silt over weathered bedrock, and you have the state of Ohio. This flown-over state is a nirvana for off-road motorcycle competitors. It's also the state in which Aaron Plessinger learned to not only ride, but to deftly maneuver a motocross bike through the same ruts, trails, and wooded sections traversed by his father, Scott Plessinger. As a talented and accomplished racer, the older Plessinger blitzed the woods and all else that goes with off-road racing to win two GNCC championships in 1994 and 1995, and two National Hare Scrambles titles in 1989 and 1992.
Aaron, whether aware of it or not, used those same ruts, mud, trees, and lengthy trail rides and races to create a unique skill set that would later transfer over to the Supercross and motocross circuits of professional racing in the United States of America. Nowadays, Plessinger spends much of his time in Corona, California, but he hasn't forgotten his roots.
"Yeah, I just did a ride today up there at the Yamaha test track and it kind of wore me out," Plessinger said an hour or so after bashing out laps at the Yamaha track. "I'm just getting back into the grind. I rode motocross on a 450 for a couple of days and I just started riding Supercross on the 250. It's going pretty good. I've been riding and I got into a schedule with Gareth [Swanepoel] and he's really put me to work. I went from doing a couple 10-lap motos to straight into 20-lap motos, so it was kind of a culture shock a little bit. But I'm doing really good with it. I'm coming back pretty strong. I'm keeping up with the guys on the team and it's looking pretty good so far."
During the past three race seasons, Plessinger has been able to hover inside the top six of both the 250 Supercross and motocross title fights. These are especially impressive numbers and results for a racer who, almost reluctantly, wandered out of the woods and into the fray that is American amateur motocross. "My dad was a two-time GNCC National Champion and a two-tine National Hale Scrambles Champion, and I guess he wanted to get me into motocross," Plessinger said. "However, when I first started riding, I really took a liking to the woods. We would go out and race in the woods on the weekend. Sometimes we would do motocross because some of my buddies that raced talked me into it and my dad wanted to give it a try. We were going back and forth on that pretty much my whole amateur career."
All of this can be illustrated when taking a look back on Plessinger's trajectory trough the amateur ladder system. While a regular at the Loretta Lynn's Amateur National Championship from 2004 through 2012, the kid from Hamilton, Ohio, was by no means a standout. "I didn't do a lot of the amateur nationals around the time I would have been riding the Schoolboy and Supermini classes," Plessinger said. "We didn't really do a lot of motocross. We just really stuck to the GNCC side of it, and for a little bit, I was kind of wanting to go pro in GNCC and turn that direction. In 2013 my dad said, 'Hey, why don't we focus more on motocross this year because we've never done that before and we can see where it goes.'"
From there, Plessinger found himself at former Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki racer Matt Walker's Moto X Compound down in Georgia, and it was there that the two got to work on applying a singular, razor-sharp focus to Aaron's motocross program. "I went down to Matt Walker's place and we really jelled pretty good and he pretty much took my motocross to the next level," Plessinger said. "I did all the amateur nationals in 2013, and I ended up winning six championships, including the 450 B Limited and 250 B championships at Loretta Lynn's in Tennessee.
"I won all my motos there. That's when we really got serious with Star Racing, and through 2014 I raced all the amateur nationals again and did pretty well," Plessinger said. "After Loretta Lynn's, I went to California in September and started training with Gareth Swanepoel, and I actually ended up winning the Amateur All-Star class at the Monster Cup. After that, Bobby Regan and Star Racing signed me with a pro contract, and we got ready to go straight into Supercross in 2015."
Prior to the start of the 2015 racing season, Star Racing was a fierce place to be. Cooper Webb and Jeremy Martin, both young and aggressive racers who, in their quest to be the best 250 rider in this nation, wanted absolutely nothing to do one another. When he began preparing for what would be his rookie season, Plessinger got a quick wake-up call in just how serious things at the pro level could be.
"It was a little bit of a change, for sure, because Jeremy and Cooper were really serious about racing," Plessinger said. "I was coming in and still having a pretty good amount of fun and keeping it light on myself. When I went in there it was serious, but I still had fun with it and I kind of kept tension really, really light around the truck, and I think they liked me because of it and they kind of took me under their wing that year and pretty much helped me out."
Not only did Plessinger receive help from his fellow teammates in the form of them lending him their hand, he was also the receiver of some important lessons through training with them. "I would ride with Cooper pretty much every day, and he really put the aggression in at the test track and at the practice tracks, and it helped me out a lot going into the season."
On Saturday night, January 31, 2015, at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, the one and only Jeremy McGrath was watching the 250SX West main event when he made mention of something that caught his eye. "That Plessinger kid right there," McGrath said to this writer while pointing down to the stadium floor. "He can ride Supercross. Keep an eye on him. He's good." That same night, in what was only his fifth professional Supercross start, Aaron Plessinger was able to pilot his Yamaha YZ250F to a podium finish.
"That podium was really a shock to me," Plessinger said, reflecting on that evening. "I definitely went out there and gave it my all, but it was just weird to me. I had been watching these guys on TV from when I was a kid all the way up until I turned pro and there I was racing with them. When I got that podium, I was like, 'Wow, I'm really in this.'"
Ultimately, Plessinger wound up an impressive fifth in the 250SX West Region and then immediately turned his attention to the rough and tumble natural terrain world of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship.
"When I went into the outdoors it was really tough, and I just had to push. Gareth Swanepoel kind of helped me keep calm and helped me progress throughout the season," Plessinger said. "Then the final round of the outdoor series at Indiana came around."
It was then at Ironman Raceway where Aaron Plessinger won his first professional race. "I think it was just a clash with the hometown race and with all my friends and family from Ohio there, and it just pumped up a lot. I went out there and pretty much gave it my all and ended up on the top spot, which was just crazy to me. You know, the next week or two after that win I watched that race over and over and over on TV, and I was like, 'Holy crap! That's actually me out there.'" His father, Scott, who had always run well, and even flourished at the legendary Ironman GNCC race, was present during his son's eventful afternoon outside of Indianapolis. "He was ecstatic," Plessinger said with a smile, thinking of his dad's reaction to his Ironman overall. "He came up to me and was the first one and jumped on the back of my bike and gave me a hug and said, 'You did it!' Just talking about it gives me the chills."
A year later, Aaron Plessinger found himself in a titanic battle with Malcolm Stewart for the 250SX East title. "It was crazy battling for the championship in 2016," Plessinger said. "There was definitely a lot more pressure from the year before, but I think I handled it pretty well, being that it was my second year. I was all in and kind of shocked again that I was one point out of the championship at one point. I had to sit back and say, 'Man, this is real and you're going to have to put the work in.' It didn't go my way and I ended up 14 points out of the championship, but it was still a learning curve for me being that it was only my second year and I was that far up in the championship."
Second in the 250SX East and fifth in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship series, it was a very good year for the Buckeye, but still, one blighted by a host of inconsistent and off-song results. Inconsistency is a topic Plessinger is pretty well-versed in. It was that same inconsistency that kept Plessinger from making a run at a title in 2017.
"Inconsistent races kind of put me down and kind of put my confidence in the low terms. I still had some really good races, but to back that up, I still had some really bad races where I didn't even finish sometimes," Plessinger said. "I'm still learning, and this is still a learning curve for me, but I think this season ended up pretty well."
There is no getting around the fact that Aaron Plessinger is a unique personality. Be it his smile, his singing, or even his dance moves, the kid from Ohio is his own person. In this day and age where most of the sport's elite athletes tend to speak in sound bites and refrain from wearing their hearts on their sleeve, it's certainly refreshing.
"I have two guitars and I play them like it's going out of style," Plessinger said. "I love playing old music. I like Lynyrd Skynyrd and some Metallica. I just love music. I've got a passion for music. I've always been the one to sing in the car and really get after it. And I really like to fish. Fishing is kind of relaxation time for me. I've got a kayak, and I really love to get out there and rip some lips."
With the singing, dancing, and general fun-having, it's easy for some to wonder if Plessinger could find that extra drive to be a winner. Perhaps we've become too accustomed to the stoic, at times dry racers that rise to dominance, but they tend to be the ones who collect the wins. Even Plessinger admits he's working on his aggression, just without dropping his friendly attitude to do so. "It's definitely something I'm learning," Plessinger said. "I think that's something that's going to carry on throughout my whole career because the way I was raised by my parents was to always be a nice kid and to make friends with everybody. I think that's going to have to change. They say that I'm one of the friendliest guys at the track, and I want to keep that, but still be aggressive and take more risks with this being the year that I need to win. You know, my goal for 2018 is that I'm going out swinging. This is definitely the year that I want to win and my confidence is pretty high right now. I feel really good in Supercross.
The thing that's going to change this year is just confidence. I haven't had the best confidence going into the season during the past three years, but this year I think it's going to be really different, and I'm going to go in knowing that I can win. I'm really looking forward to getting out there and showing them what I've got, and hopefully, winning that championship in Supercross."