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
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
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
"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
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,...
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,
"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
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
"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
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