The road to the premier class in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Championship is not an easy one. Aaron Plessinger found his way there off the beaten path, so to speak. Coming from an off-road background by heritage, Plessinger turned heads in the motocross scene and worked his way forward into Yamaha’s feeder system, first through the Cycle Trader Rock River Yamaha team, and then Monster Energy Star Yamaha Racing team. It all hit pay dirt for the Ohio native in 2018, earning both titles in the 250 ranks – 250SX West and 250MX – which translated to a promotion to the 450 class with the Monster Energy Yamaha Factory Racing Team for 2019.
Every rider has a story, but Plessinger’s isn’t the same as the run-of-the-mill moto kid. There are a lot of similarities though, as, like most, racing was in the blood. His dad is a multi-time off-road racing champion, with two GNCC, and two National Hare Scrambles titles to his resume. Just because he came from that bloodline didn’t mean he was born in riding gear either. It turned out that it was definitely something that he took to at a young age and loved it.
“My dad was a two-time GNCC Champion, and then a two-time National Hare Scramble Champion,” Plessinger said. “I guess he wanted to get me a bike and let me start riding. I fell in love with it and was all right at it, so he let me stick with it, and here we are today.”
Where he is today is sitting in that sought-after Factory ride in the Supercross 450SX class. A class that has a talent pool so deep, a rookie has to figure out how to swim fast.
“This year is so crazy,” he said. “At Dallas, there were fourteen of us all within the same second in qualifying. I don’t even know when the last time that happened. There’s just so many fast guys out there and guys that have the potential to win; first to 12th, potentially anybody could win in that little group of us. It’s tight racing this year.”
It’s definitely tough out there, but one thing that Plessinger has in his back pocket, is his roots. And those roots are grounded in off-road. He started out racing Hare Scrambles when he was around five-years-old. Not long after, he started to race some motocross and even tried his hand at Arenacross as well, but it was GNCC where he found his home.
“We were all over the map there for a little bit,” he admits. “I think it was 2006 when I did my actual first GNCC race. I fell in love with that. I won my first GNCC on a 65. From there on, I really just focused on that, pretty much. We would do a couple amateur nationals in motocross, maybe three or four in a year, and then just do the whole GNCC series. I ended up winning five amateur championships in GNCC’s, and then moved up to the big bikes.”
Plessinger’s budding GNCC career was on an upward climb. He even had some pro offers, but it was his dad who suggested it would be a good idea not to rule out motocross. The plan was to spend the year focusing on motocross to see where it led. It turned out to be a good plan. It led to the launch of Plessinger’s career as we know it. That didn’t necessarily mean that it was an easy decision at the time to turn down a pro deal in GNCC for the young Plessinger.
“It was definitely hard to turn it down, but I knew that I could go a year in motocross and if it didn’t work come back and prove a point and show them I was the real deal in the woods,” he said. “I did a couple of GNCCs in 2013, but after I got the ride with Star [Racing] at Loretta’s, it was kind of like, all right, this is the real deal. We’ve got to really focus on motocross. That’s pretty much what I did after that. That was kind of the end of the GNCC career, but I hope to get back to it someday.”
If you ask him which sport he likes better, he can’t choose. Both are his favorite. And during his formative years, racing both of them helped him in each discipline.
“I think racing motocross definitely helped me in the woods, and then racing in the woods definitely helped me in motocross,” he said. “The woods helped me a bit more, with learning line selection, staying calm and just pacing myself. The woods pretty much shaped how I ride today. But then obviously sprint speed and having to race straight off the bat in motocross helped me a lot in GNCC too.”
Even though he’s full bore in supercross and motocross, Plessinger has not forgotten his GNCC roots. The four-time Youth GNCC Champion wants to give back to the sport of his formative years and look for ways to help up-and-coming riders in GNCC. On March 9, Plessinger will be the Grand Marshall for the Wild Boar GNCC where he plans to talk to the youth motorcycle racers competing at the event and looks forward to reconnecting with friends and former competitors.
“I am really excited to be the Grand Marshal of the Wild Boar GNCC,” he said. “I have so many great memories of my time in this series and like I said, many of the skills I learned then, I use today. I am looking forward to seeing some friends and past competitors as well as cheering on all the bLU cRU riders.”
When he made the transition from GNCC to motocross, it went pretty smoothly for Plessinger. After all, he spent most of his training time riding moto, but he readily admits, the hardest transition for him was supercross.
“I think the biggest and hardest transition was going into supercross,” he said. “Before supercross in 2015, I couldn’t even do a fifteen-lap moto. I was struggling. I was jumping off the track and almost going into the fences. I don’t know how I did it, but I got fifth in my first supercross. Still, to this day, I struggle with it. These guys and their sprint speed; It’s pretty crazy.”
Plessinger has never had any illusions that the move to the big class was going to be tough, but he’s also never been afraid of hard work. He also knows what works for him.
“I always try to keep it light,” he said. “I wasn’t having too much fun in 2016 and it was really getting to me. I had a moment where I didn’t know if I wanted to do it anymore. After that, I kind of sat back and was like, ‘all right, this is your shot and you’ve got to think about what you’re doing.’ I didn’t want to do anything else other than race dirt bikes, so I started just having fun and not letting the pressure get to me. It turned my season around and I got a few good finishes that year. Ever since then, I didn’t really worry about the pressure. I let the pressure fuel me instead of making me nervous. It was a good thing, too, because I think that’s what led me to my championships last year. It was just me fueling off of that pressure and letting it fire me up instead of letting it bring me down.”
Last year was a year that Plessinger will never forget. It was a big year both personally and professionally. He got engaged, his first child was born and he took home both the 250SX West and 250MX Championships. Even though he’s gone bigger this year with a factory ride in the 450 ranks, last year’s landmark season still hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
“2018 was probably the biggest year I’ll have for a while,” he said. “It was just so crazy. Things started clicking off. I was so focused. I had really good people around me. It was just one of those things where nothing could have gone wrong. It was a dream come true. I still don’t know if it’s sunk in all the way yet. I get chills thinking about it, watching those races. I had to talk myself into believing that’s me out there. It’s a pretty crazy feeling.”
It wasn’t just a personal victory either. It was shared by his family who helped get him there. “If it wasn’t for my family, I don’t think I’d be where I am today,” he said. “Definitely my parents and my grandparents, they really believed in me. They really believed this would go somewhere, and they were right. I’d feel really bad if this didn’t go somewhere because they gave everything they had for me to be here.”
Part of that family is Yamaha. He’s been with them for most of his career, and he’s hungry to deliver a title in the 450 class. “I switched to Yamaha in 2008, I believe. They’ve been so good to me ever since,” he said. “I haven’t wanted to leave them ever. It’s been a ride, for sure. Being a part of bLU cRU and just having Yamaha support me throughout this whole ride has been amazing. I hope we can click off a few more championships because I definitely owe it to them. They’ve stuck their neck out for me. I definitely think we’re capable of doing it. We’ve just got to get used to this 450 class and take her by storm.”
Photos / Words: Yamaha Racing