The only overseas racer currently committing to a full season in American Flat Track, 20-year-old Australian Max Whale is making waves (sorry). Progressing from 14th overall in 2018, to ninth in 2019, Whale was runner-up in the AFT Singles class standings last year, as a Kawasaki-mounted privateer, and is currently second, with a slim, but mathematical chance of winning the Singles title in 2021. He has scored four wins this season, with two half-miles, one mile and a TT (Peoria, after Wiles was disqualified). Four wins is the same number as points leader, Dallas Daniels, in a very competitive class.
Whale joined the prestigious Red Bull-backed KTM USA team for 2021, and has recently signed a contract extension that ties him to the team until the end of the 2023 season.
We fired him a few questions at Max in the run up to the season finale at the Charlotte Half-Mile, on Friday 8 October.
Sideburn: KTM team boss Chris Fillmore is quoted as saying, ‘This year was an adjustment year for Max with a new bike, team, sponsors and responsibilities’. What can you tell us about those responsibilities?
Max Whale: Just the normal really, training, riding and staying healthy. Also it's my first year representing a factory team just learning about it all and taking in all the little things.
What are the main differences in the Kawasaki 450 you raced in 2020 and the KTM 450 you have been racing this year?
In 2020 my Kawasaki was very mainstream. It was me my good mate and some awesome friends/families that helped me get to the races and helping me on race weekend. This year, on a factory team, it is awesome. All I have to focus on is showing up with my A game. I'm not having to worry about anything except myself.
Where is home when you’re in the US?
I live in a small town in Illinois with my good friend and his parents.
Do you have a motorhome or do you stay in hotels for the races?
My dad and I bought a camper at the start of the 2018 season and we had it all the way till last year, and I lived out of that thing all last year. This year I have my own van and stay at motels on race day. It's just way easier for me through the week driving a van around instead of the RV.
Are your parents with you now?
My parents are not with me right now which really sucks! But I do have some awesome families in the US that are helping me out. The last time I saw my parents was in January.
What’s the best thing about being on the road in the US?
Getting to the race track. I hate driving.
If you could have one (non-human) thing from Australia with you, what would it be?
I honestly would bring my dog over.
What is the one creature comfort or reward you reach for in the tough and lonely times?
Hanging with good mates and playing some golf.
You’ve signed a two-year extension to your deal with KTM. Are both years on the single or will you race the rumoured KTM Twin?
Both years are on a single.
Have you ridden the KTM twin yet?
I have not.
A few of your fellow AFT Singles contenders have raced, and done well, in Production Twins. Are you envious?
Yeah. One day that’s my goal to end up on a twin, but as for now I’m super happy with where I’m at and I love my team!
Riders are remaining in the Singles class, or even moving back to it, in a way that has never really happened in the sport's history. Is that a good thing?
I don’t know, that’s a tough question. I think it's hard for the young kids coming up right now with starting out in such a stacked field, but you also have to see that there are very few teams in the twins class, so they are just doing what they can.
Shouldn’t every rider be trying to get into a twins class?
Every rider wants to end up in the SuperTwins class, the premier class, but there are not many teams and it costs way more to run a good twins program than a good singles program, so for all the privateers that’s tough.
What does SuperTwins look like from where you are?
I see SuperTwins having some of the best flat track riders in the world! But it sucks as a spectator seeing only 12-15 guys in it.
You’re 20pts off the series leader going into the final round at the Charlotte Half-Mile, and some people have been pointing to inconsistencies of riders’ ‘punishment’ when they’ve been taken out, and crashed from no obvious fault of their own. How do you feel about that?
Not entirely happy. At round 2 I was also sent to the back of the field in a semi, which also affected the outcome due to having to start from the back row in the main. I suppose it's their series and they make the rules, but if the rules had not been changed the last round would have been an awesome contest between Dallas and I.
You’ve had a great couple of seasons, what needs to happen for you to clinch the top spot next season?
Consistency is huge in a 18-round series and just saying healthy. But this year isn’t over either.
Thanks Max. Any shout-outs?
Just want to give a huge shout out to my whole team: Red Bull KTM, Rocky Mountain ATV, WP, Solid Performance and all my own personal sponsors. Arai, Australian Road Services, Coondoo Cattle Co and Serco Motorsports. Plus all the families that help me. Singletons, Baumans, Guenthers and the Texters.
For tickets for the Charlotte Half-Mile, or details on how to watch on online, visit AmericanFlatTrack.com
All photos: American Flat Track