An Exercise in Focus: A Pre-Season Chat with Briar Bauman
They say that heavy is the head that wears the crown, and one would assume the same applies to the rider brandishing the Grand National Champion’s #1 plate.
It’s pretty much universally accepted across the sporting world that as difficult as it is to win a championship, it’s that much more challenging to successfully defend it. And yet, from talking with newly crowned AFT SuperTwins presented by Vance & Hines king Briar Bauman, one would swear he’s immune to any added pressure that comes with his elevated status even as the 2020 American Flat Track season rapidly approaches.
Bauman celebrates a championship clinched with brother Bronson at 2019 Minnesota Mile.
It all boils down to perspective and mindset. Bauman achieved a lifelong goal when he clinched the Grand National Championship last September, but it didn’t really sink in until months later, and it wasn’t until a week ago or so that the further implications finally took root.
Bauman said, “The ‘Oh wow, I won it’ feeling didn't hit until halfway through December. (Fiancé and AFT Singles superstar) Shayna (Texter) and I were baking Christmas cookies, and I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I think it finally set in that I won the championship!’
“But it was only a couple days ago that it sunk in that, ‘Oh wow, now I have to defend it.’
The intensity in Bauman's eyes is an unmistakable marker of his determination on the track.
“Indian Motorcycle was cool enough to send my brother (factory Indian teammate Bronson Bauman) and me a couple motorcycles to ride while we're training down in Florida. The first time we fired them up and I sat on that thing, it was like, ‘All right, I guess this is the beginning of being in a far different spot compared to where I was at this point last year.’”
Despite that realization, Bauman is effectively insulated from any panic-inducing pressure due to his here-and-now mentality. With a tease of self-deprecation, he explained, “I don't know if it's good, bad, or indifferent, but I don't think too often. It's one of those deals... I thought about it a little bit this week, but after that I was just back to the grind. Shayna and I are super busy getting ready for the season and just with life in general, so there’s not too much thinking that comes out of this guy, really.
“I do a good job of just focusing on every moment and trying to be the best at that specific time rather than worrying about any bigger picture. I try to just look at what's in front of me at the moment.”
It also helps that, despite not wearing the #1 plate in 2019, Bauman was effectively playing defense all year long after getting his campaign off to a rocket start.
“The whole season -- from DAYTONA on out -- I was in the main spot. I wasn’t chasing; I was always the hunted, so this is nothing different. Maybe it would feel different for someone else, but I don't think it will for me. Like I said, I just focus on every moment and don’t get ahead of things.”
The reigning champ’s confidence is further buoyed by his peaking mental and physical condition on two fronts. The first is the continued improvement of his left wrist, which was broken during a training accident early last season and threatened to ruin his dream season as he secretly nursed it for the bulk of his title run.
Bauman nursed an injured wrist throughout a majority of his championship hunt.
“I'm solid. There’s still a little bit of pain, I guess. But we've been riding three or four times a week, whether it's flat track or motocross, and it doesn't bother me at all on the bike, so that's pretty awesome.
“It's a little funky to do a pushup, but as long as it doesn't affect me on the bike, I’m good. I'm pretty fortunate; I'm actually going to try to get in next week to try to work out the scar tissue and stuff like that to get as complete a range of motion back as possible.
“But other than feeling a little weird, everything is kind of back to how it was before in terms of training. A lot of indoor rowing, a lot of cycling, a lot of running, and a lot of gym work. The wrist isn’t preventing me from doing anything. The program is a little bit different now that I have some structure and aren't just on my own, but it's still the same stuff.”
That “structure” is directly related to the previously mentioned second front.
Bauman is now working with legendary trainer Aldon Baker to prepare him for his title defense. Race fans who follow Supercross even casually understand the game-changing potential of that development.
A two-time South African XC mountain bike national champion, Baker turned the AMA Supercross/Motocross world upside down when he brought his training services to the sport at the start of the millennium. Despite working with an extremely limited and exclusive clientele, Baker’s riders have notched up approximately three-quarters of the combined AMA Supercross/Motocross premier class titles available over the past two decades.
Bauman is already a believer. It's fair to say he was a believer even before the start of their association.
“Oh man, it's the coolest thing I could ever even imagine,” Bauman said. “I'm a pretty big fanboy -- I watch every video, documentary, and Instagram Story on all the Supercross guys. I've watched Aldon train guys like Ricky Carmichael, Ryan Villopoto, and Ryan Dungey, and then see them win championships.
“To be able to roll into his facility and be able to do our deal with him is honestly one of the coolest things I've ever done.”
But it’s not as if Bauman wasn’t plenty fit before. Are there actual sizable gains to be made, even considering Baker’s wealth of experience and track record of success?
“Honestly, yeah. A lot of it is mental -- just having someone to trust in. It’s like a dream for me. I watched videos of him and never imagined I'd ever talk to him, let alone go to his facility and get to ride, and go to his gym and do the whole nine.
“As far as gains, he's got me physically a little bit different than I was before, but the mental side is the coolest part.”
Bauman is not only going from strength to strength mentally and physically entering the 2020 season, the same is true with the team around him. He returns with the same outfit as in 2019 and will again throw a leg over a proven, all-conquering package in the works FTR750. He also has a familiar set of hands around him helping the cause... with one wrinkle.
The Bauman Brothers are often seen swapping notes and coaching each other before mounting their motorcycles.
“Everything is pretty similar except I have a new mechanic. Michelle DiSalvo, who was with me last year, had another offer come about. She's no longer in the flat track world. She's on to some better things, so that's cool for her. I can't thank her enough for everything.
“I'm a pretty mellow guy, and I try to be as understanding as possible. So when she told me there was something else she wanted to do, I told her it was her life and I wanted her to live her best life.
“We were fortunate to be able to get someone else right away. His name is Dustin Say. He was Jake Johnson's mechanic last year. I called Jake and asked him about Dustin and Jake said he's an awesome dude. Right away, I knew I would like to work with him, so I gave him a call and he was in it.
“So far, so good. I talked to our crew chief, Dave Zanotti, quite a bit, and he's all about him. He thinks Dustin is a great guy, and he likes what he's seeing. So that makes me pretty excited to get the season going.”
Bauman will need to be ready to rock from the outset because the target is now firmly on his back. But again, that’s a familiar feeling as a result of how 2019 played out. And, ironically, he has the man he wrested the title away from -- AFT SuperTwins legend and fellow factory Indian Motorcycle ace Jared Mees -- to thank for that experience.
The battle between Bauman and Mees was perhaps the most-heated rivalry of 2019.
“Jared Mees and I were pretty good friends before last season started. But as we got closer to DAYTONA, I don't know what happened, but that kind of went away a little bit. I already felt like he was putting the target on me.
“We kind of quit talking a whole lot. So it was one of those deals where I thought maybe that's a sign I'm doing something right, or he's kind of nervous, or something's going on that's okay.
“I've got a good group of people around me, and I'm fortunate in that, so I didn't get too worked up about it. But I did take it as a compliment.”
Of course, Mees isn’t the only rider he’ll need to worry about. There’s one even closer he’s already got his eye trained on....
“Mees is always one of the guys to consider, but I actually think Bronson could step up and be an even bigger threat than he already was, at least more consistently. He's riding really good. We were riding the last couple days on our Indians, and he's getting around really, really well. I think he's a big threat.
“It's a deep field. It's tough because guys like Brandon Robinson... he's incredible on the slick Half-Miles, but he doesn't do as well on a TT. I've actually been riding motocross with him quite a bit this offseason, so I know he's trying to put the effort in and get better. But even if he's struggled there, that doesn't mean I'm not going to consider him a threat to win multiple races this year. He did last year and he's only getting better.
“Guys like him and Davis Fisher, and I know Bryan Smith is going to be solid... Jarod Vanderkooi... There are quite a few guys to look out for. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. It could be a different guy that I'm battling with every week.
“It's going to be interesting. There's so much hype around the DAYTONA TT because it's the first race of the season, but it won’t necessarily indicate who's going to be in the mix for 18 rounds. There are quite a few guys who aren't great at the TTs, but who will be much stronger for the rest of the season. I think two or three rounds in, we’ll have a much better idea of how things are going to play out.”
Bauman celebrates his first win of 2019 at the season-opening DAYTONA TT.
There’s also the introduction of the revamped AFT SuperTwins rules that could impact how the season takes shape, but Bauman is adamant that the changes will not alter his game plan.
“Everything is the same as far as my approach. I just show up and try to be the best every time I'm on the racetrack.
“The only thing I focus on is my riding and what I can do on the racetrack. I think if I do that, everything else will fall into place.”