Morgen Mischler: From Weekend Warrior to Title Fighter

As a general rule, the flat track community does a remarkable job of identifying its future stars. The NFL – a multi-billion dollar entity employing hundreds of full-time scouts and supported by a multi-billion dollar feeder network in NCAA Football – would spend billions more if it guaranteed even half the accuracy in talent projection Progressive American Flat Track enjoys.

In fact, Jake Johnson is the only rider to win the Grand National Championship since it was reunified as a single title in 2010 who wasn’t also a Nicky Hayden AMA Horizon Award winner as an amateur.

Along with reigning Mission SuperTwins presented by S&S Cycle king Jared Mees, modern-era premier-class champions Briar Bauman, Bryan Smith, and Brad Baker were all bestowed the honor of being recognized as the nation’s most promising flat track racer prior to turning pro.

Several other Horizon Award winners went on to win world or national championships in other classes or two-wheeled disciplines, including the late Nicky Hayden (who won the award which has since been renamed for him in its inaugural year), Roger Hayden, Jeffrey Carver, Jr., Dan Bromley, Matt Weidman, Stevie Bonsey, and Dallas Daniels.

Recent winners Trevor Brunner and Kody Kopp are already taking checkered flags in Parts Unlimited AFT Singles presented by KICKER Main Events, while last year’s recipient, Chase Saathoff, has flashed the potential to become the series’ latest rookie winner this season.

These much-heralded, can’t-miss prospects have traditionally ruled the sport; blending extraordinary talent with extraordinary support makes for a formidable combination.

The downside of this uncannily predictable pipeline is riders who don’t enjoy the same levels of early hype risk being labeled ‘can’t-hit’ prospects and, as a result, sometimes go overlooked due to that perception long after their results warrant a reconsideration. But podiums and race wins can only be written off as due to luck or conditions so many times.

Exhibit A: Morgen Mischler, who, despite a relatively undecorated amateur career, has been a frontrunner pretty much his entire professional career.

While previously viewed as a hot-and-cold rider who excelled on specific types of tracks and occasionally cashed in big due to a propensity to roll the dice on unconventional lines, Mischler’s rightful claim as one of the class’ elite finally became undeniable in 2021.

The Wisconsin native was the interloper amongst a class dominated by factory-backed entries, notching up eight podiums and a victory en route to an eventual third-place ranking.

Less a breakthrough than a crescendo, Mischler was at last rewarded with that long-sought factory-backed ride with Turner Racing Honda for 2022. Just two races into his new role, he’s already added a third-career victory while upping his career podium tally to more than 20.

According to Morgen, that’s just the start.

“I have to prove myself worthy of this ride. I was never a top amateur. I was never that fast. I really wasn't a standout. This wasn't something I saw as a career path… It was all about fun. I never recognized my potential.

“I was just a weekend warrior out there having a good time. The equipment was pretty good but nothing special. I would just show up and ride what I had. I didn't know anything about suspension and set-up. It's something where I'd feel bad if the dude that beat me now was me back in the day. That is for sure.

“It’s easy to get overshadowed. It all comes down to the opportunities. To be where I'm at now… I know I'm one of the guys who's up front, and I'm always working on just making myself better.”

That desire to continually learn his craft and improve has helped put him in his current position, even if he started down this path before he saw it as a viable career.

“I’ve always been a podium presence since like 2018-on when I first did a full season,” he said. “I always had a handful of podiums each year. My bike worked good for certain kinds of tracks based on how it was set-up and my lack of knowledge. But you throw a little bit of intelligence and experience behind a kid who’s ‘only good on one kind of track,’ and it's crazy how much it can pay off.

“I'm very fortunate to have Jimmy Wood in my corner. He's had a great deal of impact on my success, as far as suspension set-ups. I owe that dude quite a bit.”

Now armed with one of the fastest bikes in the field in the works CRF450R and backed by a powerhouse team along with the might of American Honda, Mischler has outgrown his former spoiler status.

We've finally got all the right pieces to the puzzle, that's for sure. It's something I've always wanted but never thought would be a reality. It's awesome, honestly. It's opened a ton of doors as far as what I want to achieve and what I can. It's a lot of the right things falling together.”

With increased opportunity comes heightened expectations. Fortunately, any additional mental stress that comes with title contender status has been more than offset by Morgen's newfound luxury of concentrating on his riding rather than the upkeep of his equipment.

“It's nice just having all the pieces there. There’s less for me to worry about on a weekly basis. I don’t have to worry about bike maintenance like I did before, and especially the overall worry of anything going wrong.

“Before, I always had to be on top of everything as far as ordering parts, keeping sponsors happy, and making sure everything was lined up properly.”

There’s also the obvious benefit of receiving guidance from a talented and proven crew.

“Along with (the ease of mind) comes the knowledge those guys have. Usually any question I have, there's an immediate answer. And if not, they'll do what it takes to pick it apart and figure it out to find what works best for me. There's no more guessing involved.

“If there's something I don't like, I don't even have to go through and mentally figure it out… ‘Okay I'm feeling this, so this is the adjustment we have to make.’ Instead it’s, ‘Hey, this is what it feels like and it's not doing exactly what I want it to do,’ and they know what to do to make it better.

“I get to complain about what I dislike, and then I don't have to worry about what adjustments to make. I just ride.”

At Texas Motor Speedway, that improved workflow transformed a day marred by a massive practice crash that could have easily robbed Mischler of his confidence into one that will be better remembered by his assured, inch-perfect ride to victory.

“Someone must have went underneath the groove and threw some marbles up on the last lap of practice. I was getting a pretty good drive out of the corner and all at once it Marquez’d me. It stepped sideways and the back end passed the front, hooked up, and shot me to the moon. I smashed my face on the ground pretty good. It hurt my ankle and my wrist was spun up, but I’m lucky the airbag suit was amazing. I'm super impressed with that thing.

“From there, I chilled in the pits. We changed gearing one time and that's it. The rest was kinda up to me. I didn't have any complaints about the bike and I was on top of my starts -- shout out to (multi-time premier class champ and Turner Honda Rider Coach) Kenny Coolbeth; he was one of the best starters in the business. I'm fortunate to have that guy.

“When we had to show up, we showed up, and made it count when it mattered the most.”

Mischler led every lap of a tense, once-stopped affair. Difficult one-line conditions that saw the preceding Mission Production Twins presented by Vance & Hines Main Event red-flagged three times were made all that much more trying due to the intense pressure applied throughout by Red Bull Factory KTM Racing’s dynamic duo of Kody Kopp and Max Whale.

Or at least it looked tense from the outside.

“It would have been,” Mischler said. “But just with how I was feeling and how everything was working, I didn't have to push the pace. I knew my pace would be tough to beat.

“As far as hitting my marks, I didn't have any issues with that. I’ve got pride in being able to maintain a foot-wide variable the entire race, and it never really differentiated from that.

“I could hear them back there. I wasn't sure what the gap was, and I wasn't going to turn around and check. But I knew where I was at on the track and that they would have really had to want it to get past. I'm really glad Kody was a veteran about it and didn't make a move that would have cost us both positions.”

It’s very early, but Morgen is now second in the points, six back of Kopp. After all those years as the overlooked underdog, anything less than genuine title contention will feel like a bit of a letdown.

Mischler has embraced that challenge.

“I know what my weak points are, but that just lets me isolate them. It allows me to concentrate on what has needed work in the past. I'm not known as a good cushion rider, but I really don't have any worries about cushion. Coming from the third row to get third at Lima last year, I feel like that was kind of a cementing moment for me where it's like, 'Yeah, I can figure these things out.'”

While incremental improvement is a never-ending pursuit, Mischler’s ‘21 results should have pretty much retired any concerns regarding the sturdiness of his all-around game. Eight podiums, ten top-fives, and 13 finishes of seventh or better underlined his place as a week-in, week-out contender, and that came while still scrapping as a privateer.

“I can pick it up on TTs, but outside of that, I know the equipment that I'm on is some of the best. It's just a matter of me being able to manipulate it and validate why I'm here.

“Making the most of opportunities is all I've ever done. It's nothing that I take for granted. I understand the potential that's there. I just want to do everything I can to make sure I take full advantage of this opportunity in front of me now.”