Taking the High Line: Morgen Mischler in 2021

AFT Singles ace Morgen Mischler decided to stick around in DuQuoin following last weekend’s rain cancellation. If he wasn’t going to be able to further hone his craft in Southern Illinois, he figured he might as well pass along the lessons he’s already learned to the future generation of Progressive American Flat Track superstars in town competing at the 2021 AMA Flat Track Grand Championship.

While his return to the amateur nationals brought back plenty of memories, it served primarily to remind him just how far he’s come -- and how improbable his climb.

Today’s fully loaded AFT Singles class is overflowing with riders boasting amateur national championships on their résumés, all the way from the podium down to those who fail to advance from the Semis.

Mischler is not among them. A multi-time district champion, yes, a Dairyland Classic legend, sure, but his biggest takeaway from his trips to the AMA Flat Track Grand Championship was there existed an elite level of rider and he was not included in that exclusive group.

That realization wasn’t enough to stop him from racing, however, nor from improving beyond any reasonable projection.

Mischler’s career trajectory has mirrored his trademark riding style -- oft-times following paths avoided by other riders, building slowly as an afterthought, generally taking the long way around to his destination, before at last finally emerging at the front with a freight train of momentum.

When asked what kept him going in those early days when it seemed so obvious that he simply wasn’t cut out to be a top-level pro, Mischler said, “I don’t know -- it’s just something I wanted to be good at. And it took a while, but we were never well funded...at all. I just kept figuring more stuff out. Every day when I’d get home from school when I was 12 or 13, I’d go out and destroy my bike in the mud. It’s just something I always enjoyed.

“But I never saw it panning out the way it has. I mean, I was a freshman in college still debating whether I should quit racing and focus on school. I was just trying to figure out what path I should take, and I didn’t really quit racing. I just toughed it out through school. We were actually out (racing) in Vegas when I sent in my last assignment and graduated from (the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater).

“I just kinda kept going. Did I see myself racing like I have been? No. But I’ve always wanted to. So now it’s just a matter of doing it.”

Even after Mischler broke through in the biggest way imaginable -- defeating AFT Singles legend Shayna Texter-Bauman head-to-head at the 2018 Texas Half-Mile by 0.094 seconds with a heroic final-corner stand -- he wondered aloud if he really, truly “belonged.”

That’s no longer a question in anyone’s mind. The current power hierarchy of the AFT Singles class is the chosen few with direct factory backing plus Mischler, and then everyone else.

The Mission Roof Systems rider is a constant presence at the front, bold and innovative in his line choice (‘I like to ride where nobody else is at... It’s really easy to pass somebody if you’ve got a different line’), while gracing the category with a specific dash of creativity and excitement that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

In fact, it’s more than a bit mystifying that Mischler is still seeking a second-career Progressive AFT victory, having racked up 14 podiums since his maiden win at Texas Motor Speedway more than three years ago.

More impressively, a full half of those are runner-ups, all with margins of defeat of less than a second and all coming to the eventual class champion (with the exception of this year’s runner-up result, which came by less than a second to the current championship leader).

“No one wants to play second fiddle,” Mischler said. “Obviously, it’s frustrating. I still have that little bit of that… I still ‘belong’ I guess, we’re still on the podium, but…

“It’s just been so much of a learning curve. I just try to take everything in and all that I learn is the most valuable part.”

That perpetual second fiddle status is more a badge of honor than a stain when you realize he’s been the underdog in every one of those oh-so-close match-ups.

“The past year, I’ve only had one bike,” he said. “Back in 2018 I only had one bike. Having a good back-up bike would be sick. But it wasn’t financially do-able. So there’s a little bit of pressure not to destroy anything of mine. That doesn’t do me any good. (The factory-supported competition) don’t have that many worries regarding what they have for equipment.

“If we look at the comparison of budgets…” Mischler laughed before finishing,”...it definitely is a David and Goliath situation.”

The hope is the impression he’s making now earns him the type of support and opportunities that elevate him from underdog to overdog status in the near future.

“I’m hoping that it’ll all have a pretty good payoff,” he said. “It’s something where, as the sport becomes more well-known it becomes something that sponsors want to get behind. It only takes one person to get you to the next thing. You make the right connections and a lot of doors open.”

For the past week, however, Mischler has been on the other side of things; he’s the one the amateurs are looking to connect with, hoping his knowledge and insight can open doors for them. And he’s been more than happy to do what he can toward those ends.

“They’re all somewhere that I’ve been before,” he said. “I’m trying to help out all that I can. It’s one of those things where it’s nostalgic for me. But with what I’ve learned throughout the years, it’s taken a lot. Trust me, I wish I was 16 right now with what I know now. My life would be a lot more simple.”

Simple perhaps, but not nearly as interesting. The outside line to flat track stardom may take longer to come good, but Mischler is up to full speed now and with the checkered flag in sight.