Thomas Covington took a radically different route than most American rookie professionals. Instead of jumping straight into 250 Supercross, the Alabama native packed his bags and made his professional debut on the FIM World Championship stage. It’s been five years since he headed to the GP Series, and during that time he amassed four MX2 wins and established himself as a contender at each event. In a somewhat surprising move, Covington signed with the Rockstar Energy Racing Husqvarna team to contest the 250 Supercross and Nationals in America in 2019. We caught up with the likable rider this week at Milestone MX Park, where he was shaking down his new race bike…
Welcome home, Thomas. Is it good to be back stateside?
Yeah, It's definitely good to be back home. It's honestly a little weird knowing that I’ll be staying here because over the last five years I’d only come home for a few weeks. Living back at home will take some getting used to, but it's good.
Where will be your home base, Alabama or will you be in California?
I'm from Alabama, but I’m going to base myself in California for now.
What prompted the decision to come back to the states? I know you previously made a conscious decision to chase a World Championship…
Yeah, for sure. I suppose I started thinking about coming back to the states last year, in 2017, and I began talking to Bobby Hewitt about it. I actually signed a letter of intent pretty early, I believe it was at MXoN last year in England. After that, I started to second guess my decision a little and thought about staying overseas for another year. At the end of the day, it worked out better for me to come back this year since Bobby had a spot available. I eventually wanted to come back to the states anyway, and I didn’t want to pass up a chance to come back with such a great team. I like everyone on this team, it's almost a family-like relationship. I'm looking forward to this journey.
What are your thoughts about picking-up Supercross at the age of 22?
I think people make it a bigger deal than it actually is, at the end of the day it's still racing dirt bikes. I've developed a good skillset after riding a variety of different tracks over in Europe and across the world. I'm sure it will take some time to get used to it, but I have no doubts that I'll be able to learn it. I think the first year will be more of a learning experience for me, and then I'll really go for it in my second year of supercross.
So it’s not as big a deal as people think?
Yeah, definitely. A lot of people think that I went to Europe because I didn’t want to race Supercross, which wasn’t the case at all. I'm really looking forward to racing something different, especially after several years of pounding motos out in the freezing cold rain. It's a pretty nice change of pace and it almost sparks a new form of motivation for me.
Every American that races in Europe talk about how gnarly the tracks and racing is over there. After spending so much time overseas, have you toughened up?
I think I have, for sure. Racing over there makes you so much tougher, both physically and mentally. You don’t see the sun too often while spending those freezing winter months training and racing. It's easy to get pretty depressed and down out there, but you’ll come out a lot tougher if you can get through it.
What about the tracks overseas? There is a lot of talk about how you guys practice on arguably the toughest tracks in the world, while in America we have nicely groomed tracks each morning.
Yeah, I think that's why we see a lot of guys going over to Florida now. All the tracks in California are so smooth and don’t resemble race conditions well, so I'll probably end up going over to the East Coast for outdoor prep. Obviously, in America, Supercross is the main show, so it makes sense for more guys to focus on that. Back to talking about this years MXoN, I definitely think the conditions were more in favor of the Euros. I feel like Jeffery and Cairoli are riding so well, and everyone is progressing because of it so they can stay competitive.
Are you looking forward to the Nationals? You haven’t really raced against the AMA guys…
I'm definitely excited for the Nationals, I think that's where I can do the most damage. However, I have to get through this first Supercross season before that, so I just want to learn everything I can and stay healthy. Once Supercross is over, I can really start focusing on outdoors.
How many MX2 wins did you earn?
I have four overall wins to my name.
What's your favorite moment from those wins?
Four GP wins sounds okay, but I could have had so many more, just this last season alone. I had a lot of moto wins, but I seemed to mess up the other moto too many times. My favorite win was probably in Arco di Trento this last year. It was awesome battling with Prado for basically the entire race, and then making the pass on the very last lap was so cool. The crowd was going nuts, I remember being so excited when I crossed the finish line that I fist-pumped with both hands, it looked stupid but I wasn’t even thinking at that moment (laughs). That was my all-time favorite race.
How did the fans accept you over there?
Everyone was awesome, especially in the Paddock. Maybe at first they were a little questionable about me, because of the things previous Americans had maybe said. After they got to know be a little, everyone was super welcoming and made me feel like family. It didn’t matter what team people were on, everyone was super nice and helpful. It would have been hard to do what I did without everyone being the way they were. The fans accepted me pretty well too. Especially during my first year, where I had some pretty terrible results (laughs). I mean I had some bright moments, but I also had my share of bad rides. However, the fans were always awesome and supportive.
What are your goals for this year?
It's hard to say at the moment. I don’t have many expectations for supercross, I just plan on taking it as a learning experience and doing as best as I can. However, in the Nationals I feel like I should be a top-five guy and be battling for podiums.