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In 2003, I hit another milestone when we bought a couple of the new YZ 450's. I spent the season learning to ride that monster, and won the last four rounds of the GNCC series in the fourstroke A class, making the top twenty overall twice at age 16. That winter I earned the #3 plate in the SETRA harescramble series. In '04 I ran the YZ 250 2 strokes in the GNCC 250 A class, earning the National #21 ranking for the '05 season. At the same time, I earned the #3 plate in the OMA National series in the Midwest, and the #12 ranking in the AMA National Harescramble series. At that point I believed I could handle the GNCC Pro class in '05; and I did! I almost couldn't imagine starting on the front line of a GNCC National (possibly the most competitive series in the world), along with 30 of the best racers in the world. In the Spring of 2006, I did it with the hard-earned, shinny #12 on my bike.

After a very unexpected mediocre first half of the '06 racing season, and eventually falling out of the top-20, my confidence was shaken, but my will was not. It took a lot of determination to get past the disappointment, and find a way to persevere towards success again. But as is the usual case, the important people in my life, never gave up on me, so I couldn't either. As my dedication and determination grew, race results naturally followed, eventually climaxing at the "Wisp" GNCC in late June.

As I stood on the podium of the toughest event in the most prestigious off-road racing series in the world, along with the former and current National Champions, Barry Hawk, and Juha Salminen, my mechanic (Uncle Chris), leaned forward, and over the noise of the cheering crowd said, " Congratulations kid, you've made it."

The summer of ’06 was full of intense racing, every weekend. It was the GNCC summer break, but we knew the factory teams needed riders, and were going to be watching all the top "up-and-comers" very closely throughout the next couple of months. So we didn’t let up at all; I slammed out a bunch of great rides. And with so much intense practice and training, I managed to bump my skill up to the next level. All through the fall, I just kept putting out solid rides. Our consistency and commitment didn’t go unnoticed.

We were extremely busy with sponsor deal negotiations and racing every weekend in the fall. It was going to be a challenge to finance my racing in ‘07, but we had it under control. Still, I made sure a couple factory teams knew I was interested in riding for them; they’re a direct route to racing success. None of them seemed very interested at first, so we decided that if there wasn’t room on a team for me, we’d build our own team. There are plenty of riders I’d like to have as teammates, we have a nice big race hauler all setup, and my sponsors were very excited about the idea. Organizing and managing it was going to be tough, although Uncle Chris and my Dad were willing to help, so not impossible. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, I was approached with an offer to ride for the world’s premier off-road motorcycle company, KTM, alongside David Knight and Robbie Jenks. A ride with the full factory-backed GNCC team! It finally happened. My greatest dream was about to come true!

It was everything I’d been working and hoping for, ever since we started this full-time venture, almost 7 years ago. I know we paid our dues; and everyone involved made huge sacrifices to help me get the "great opportunity". It all worked out, and somehow I had become one of the top off-road racers. But we all know, in this business, offers of a full factory ride are few and far between, and with KTM, a chance of a lifetime! And we were thrown off a little by their "offer of a lifetime"! You can imagine how you would feel if suddenly you were offered a position with an outstanding company to go out each day and have fun tearing it up on the best dirt bike made? That’s the kind of daydream I used to have in school! I didn’t actually think it could happen. It was just a cool dream. I’ve since however, realized that the really great dreams - and goals - require dedication and work to bring them about. But they definitely can come true!

A couple months ago, with only 2 races to go until the end of the regular season, the future of my career looked bright, and exciting. Soon, I got to meet everyone involved with the KTM team. The atmosphere in the team’s pits was great - everyone treated each other with respect and sort of like a family. They’re all very serious about racing, yet often joking around and having fun. I decided to concentrate on the KTM deal, rather than building my own team or pursuing other factory teams. I was certain KTM was going to be a perfect fit for me.

Then a string of career highlights and milestones hit my world! Obviously, I didn’t want to do anything to jeopardize this deal as it wouldn’t be finalized for weeks, so we decided to just keep doing my thing. That’s what got me here, right? Well, I must have been subconsciously motivated, because soon I reached another milestone in my career. I was running fast in the "Iron Man" GNCC in Indiana, and by the end of lap 5, I set the fastest lap time - a career first for me. It defined me as one of the true "fast guys" that day. When it was announced, they tell me my pit crew was beyond happy. About an hour later, a completely opposite announcement was made to everyone at the race:” Williamson is out of the race”; another milestone was hit - my first DNF ever. I was about to move into 5th place, on the 6th lap, when my ignition stator began to go. Before starting out on the 7th and final lap, my pit crew rightfully figured that it was so late in the race; whatever the problem was would take too long to fix. It was acting up intermittently, so we put a new spark plug in, and hoped for the best. It ran fine for about a mile, acted up, then died completely. I kicked it over until the top 50 guys passed me. I knew I couldn’t catch the top-20, no matter what happened at that point. That was the first DNF of my entire career, and worse, I missed the top-ten ranking for the season. I thought I’d blown my dream job.

At the end of my first ever "walk out of the woods" without my bike, my spirits were raised when everyone started congratulating me on being the "fastest guy in the world" if only for 30 minutes. Juha won 2 GNCC Championships, 10 World Enduro Championships, and overalled this year’s 6-Day in New Zealand. There’s no doubt he’s the fastest guy in the world, and I beat even him on that lap! At first it didn’t seem all that significant. But after I got cleaned up and went around talking to everyone, I started hearing "Hey, if you can do it for one lap, you can do it for the whole race." Since it’s never been enough to match my past performance, I believe I can do it. The KTM team was excited for me too as I went down to their rig. They knew what that lap really meant. "How soon can you come to KTM in Ohio and let us give you a tour of your new place, and show you your new bikes?" they asked. They sure knew how to brighten up my day.

I told them we’d like to come in a couple weeks, after the last OMA National in Illinois. So that was the plan, but plans don’t always go as expected. We did arrive at KTM a couple weeks later to a wonderful greeting, even though circumstances had changed drastically. A day earlier, I’d informed them that their new factory rider had just blown his knee out . Crazy, huh? My first real injury in 12 years of riding and 320 races, and I pick that week, apparently to test fate, or something profound like that! What an unfortunate coincidence. The only good thing about it happening right then is that I had a good 3 months to heal up before the first race of ’07.

Let me back-up to about one week earlier, to the last OMA National of the year. Ten minutes into the race I had a minor crash and twisted my knee a little - at least that’s what I thought. It didn’t hurt much, and it didn’t swell much. Had it not been for the pending KTM deal, I probably wouldn’t have requested an MRI when the doctor told me he couldn’t find any problem with my knee. I didn’t want an injury to kill the KTM deal, but my new manager, who I respect very much, had a right to know exactly what condition his new rider was in. We went for the MRI.

I’ll be wearing knee braces from now on, because it obviously doesn’t take much to injure a knee. A torn ACL and MCL can be ‘deceptively painless’. Three days after the crash, I felt so good that I almost started training again. Instead I decided to wait one more day to get the MRI report. I should have prepared myself for the worst. I wasn’t ready to hear a doctor tell me for the first time ever "It’s not good. You’ll need surgery." My stomach was suddenly all tied up. I didn’t think about the inconvenience, pain, expense, stitches, boredom, regrets, painful rehab, or shame, not to mention any riding for months! All I could think of was how much I disappointed KTM, myself, my family, fans, friends, and on and on. It was not a good day in my life. I believed I’d just blown the best thing that ever happened to me.

As Uncle Chris and I left the hospital on the coldest night of the fall, I felt very down and empty. Uncle Chris was down too. The road was quiet, and we were just poking along, almost as if we had no place to go. We had been living like "racing gypsies" for almost 7 years, chasing a dream. We had only returned home each year at Christmas, for a few days or maybe a week. Then it was back on the road to the next race. In all those years, we were so dedicated; we never slowed down enough to take time off. There was just always something we needed to be doing; washing, fixing, training, sponsor stuff--7 days a week, never ending grind. I was beginning to think that all of our efforts had been wasted. And we were so close!

One of my main beliefs is to "never give up". That includes hope! There’s always hope, unless you give up on it. Just then I remembered something important while we were driving down the road. I said "Chris, you know how we were talking to someone a little while ago, I can’t remember who, and you were saying that every time something bad happens to us, there’s always something good that comes out of it?"

"Yea, I remember talking to somebody about that," he said." Why? What kind of good do you think we’re looking at with this one, Bud?"

"Well," I said "one thing’s for sure - if KTM still goes through with the deal, we won’t have any doubt that we’re with the right company. You know? It’ll mean they want me on the team. That’s good!"

"Yea, your right about that kid; that’ll be really nice," he said.

He seemed a little happier, and I felt a lot better. For some reason I never seem to stay bummed for very long. Realistically, if a factory team as sharp as KTM would take me with a bum knee, I would never again doubt my ability or potential. They know what they’re doing in the racing industry. I figure, I’ll just get up each day, get this knee going again, follow their program and give it my best shot. Eventually,... we’ll win.

Well, the next morning I called the KTM North America Off-Road Team Manager with the bad news. I told him the doctor said 3 to 6 months. The response? "Justin, it’s not a big problem. I’ve been through this with other riders. A torn ACL and MCL will heal just fine. It’s just a part of the sport. When can you make it to KTM to finalize the deal with us?" he asked. Man, I could hardly speak! I just heard the best reassurance I could possibly imagine! I hung up and Uncle Chris said,"Good news, huh".

"What?" I joked.

"Who do you think you're kidding?" he asked. "I've known you for 19 years. Whenever you're extremely happy about something, you try so hard to hide it; I know what that little hint of a smile means". We headed out for Ohio right away.

KTM North America is housed in two big complexes - offices, tech centers, parts center, warehouses, and the off-road team operations. Walking in there for the first time was exciting. Everyone was cheerful and friendly though they didn’t even know who I was. My Team Manager took us on a tour, and we met some great people. As he pushed through the last set of doors heading toward the back of one of the complexes, it opened into a huge room, 2 stories high. The whole race team semi was parked inside it, in its usual spot, taking up only a third of the space. The next third was comprised of 3 amazing workshop bays, each equipped with all the tools, lights, lift stands, lubricants, benches, air, cabinets, you name it, that you could ever wish to have in the perfect shop. At the end of that area sat 12 brand new, showroom orange KTMs with their racer’s name tags on them. The last third of the place had several offices, a computer area, and a special engine and suspension building room, on the main floor. Above that, on the upper level, was a gigantic team parts warehouse with all the shelves stocked and organized. We had just walked into a motorcycle racer’s heaven.

Soon the smiling face of my friend Donnie, the team mechanic and truck driver, was headed our way. Donnie took us over to a shop bay and said "That’s yours, Chris. You’ll be spending some time there. Set it up however you like it." I could tell Uncle Chris was impressed and a little blown away. He’s used to working on my bikes in the middle of our friend’s hay field or driveway, under an EZ-up, which is fine unless it’s cold, wet, windy, or hot; which it is half the time. All of the Michelins filling the racks from floor to ceiling, 2 stories high were cool to see too. Next, Donnie showed us all through the semi. It’s an amazing, smaller version of the huge shop with 2 complete levels and everything we could imagine needing at the races. Then we went upstairs to see all the parts. He said "You’ll never have to order parts again. Our parts guy will restock it. All you have to do is put it on the bike, and go ride."

"Hey, Justin," Donnie hollered "do you see your name on a couple of those bikes?" I spotted my new 250 XCF’s. It’s the best one out there, and it feels really light. I knew, in a few months I’d be swinging my leg over the best ride in the world, everyday. I get new bikes every year, but I still get that wonderful feeling every time I see them for the first time. They look so perfect when they’re new. Then Donnie added "There are more on the way." Wow!

A cool part of being on the KTM team is that I can still work with Uncle Chris if we want, yet he'll have a lighter work load because the KTM team support operations take care of so much. They're a very professional organization. I can finally afford a mechanic, which I figure Chris will keep doing for a little while anyway. But soon, he'll also have time to do some things he enjoys, like playing his guitar, hiking with Smokey, and hopefully putting together a lot more of our cool videos.

The next thing to do was to get moving on my knee surgery, as soon as possible. It was Monday, and we got an appointment on Wednesday in Jacksonville, FL with a great surgeon. I got on the computer and got my ticket out of Cleveland for the next day. Everything was happening fast, but the goal was to get back to 100% health. We read the contract over that night. The next morning I sat in the team manager's office as he explained to me that KTM is interested in a long-term relationship with me. Signing that contract was, by far, the proudest moment of my life!

Then I went up to see the guys in the KTM Hard Equipment Division, where I signed the contract to run the official KTM racing gear, a part of their KTM Hard Equipment line, which is mostly ma

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