The 411 on the 101

Words: Ben Townley

With 2015 ending on a high, there were big hopes that Ben Townley’s 2016 season would be the same, but bad luck and a nasty crash put paid to what was a strong comeback on the MXGP scene. Now, back in New Zealand, Ben Townley has taken on a role as an ambassador… to get the full story, we let BT tell it himself.

I’ll start the story in Europe before it heads back down to New Zealand, which is actually starting at the bottom and moving up, really.

It all starts with a perforated bowel.

As the official press release from Team Suzuki Racing explained, the injury occurred during a mishap while training, which was taking place in Italy. In the days following the MXGP of Mantova, we got some more time on the track that had seen a lot of rain. Even though it was over 40 degrees – that’s Celsius, too, of course – the track was quite dry in parts but with huge puddles in certain sections. That saw me carrying a lot of speed into a large volume of water and the bike shifted. Basically, the bike lost forward momentum, while I did not. I hit the ‘bars really hard and the impact perforated by bowel. To say it was painful is an understatement, but I still didn’t know what was wrong.

In an enormous amount of pain, I went to the local hospital, where I spent a good part of the day. But, after eight hours, I was told to leave, as the place was overloaded and it looked like nothing was wrong with me.

Early the next morning, I called my parents, who were in Italy (having attended the Grand Prix). In short, I told them to come see me first thing in the morning and get me back to Belgium to see my team’s doctor.

Arriving in his office, we were there for all of two minutes and he said that there was definitely something serious going on, sending me to the hospital. Within five minutes of arriving at the hospital, the specialists could see that I definitely had a perforation in my bowel. The injury was serious enough to stay as a patient for close to a fortnight, all under the watchful eye of specialists, followed by two months of not being able to get back to a normal life – that is hard for a professional athlete.

That was a tough end to my season, but it hadn’t been going as expected, though. Prior to that, I’d picked up a bug from one of Stefan Everts’ kids, which really got the best of me. There was no doubt that was due to my immune system being so low, at the time, so I got absolutely nailed by the illness. Since it was only the third round of the series, there was no way I wasn’t going to line up on the gate, especially for something like having a cold. But, in hindsight, I should never have done it. By doing so, I just depleted any energy I had left. Again, hindsight’s a great thing. To race in that state, really, it turned out to be a disastrous decision – I was wrecked for the next few weeks.

Up until the accident, I was feeling really good about how things were going, which is what made it worse. I’d just raced in Thailand and done really well. As far as what Stefan and I had planned, I was ahead of schedule, coming away from the MXGP of Thailand with a heat race win and a second (in the Sunday’s moto). In fact, I was far ahead of schedule, as we had set pretty realistic goals for the first six rounds. From that point on, there was no overseas racing – being based in Belgium, that is, not New Zealand – and we were expecting even more. But we could never get the ball rolling. From problems with my feet (that required injections for the pain) to the illness and finally the accident, it was a shocker of a season. There are no excuses, though: I just wasn’t able to get the job done as I’d expected. It was nowhere near the ability I’d shown in Ernée. Personally, that’s what I expected from myself. The expectation and reality were way out of check. It was so frustrating that I’ve only just started to get over it… in fact, writing this might have just opened up another can of worms!

Heading Home

Once I got home, things changed.

Now, I’m working hard at launching Troy Lee Designs in New Zealand, which has come with a big learning curve. As expected, it’s been a big change from going from a professional racer to distributor of an iconic brand. It was a long time coming, too, with the original plan to have it based out of Australia. But, as a Kiwi who loves to deal with Kiwis, I knew it had to be closer to home. That’s why I set it up with two friends, Brody Henricksen (of Division X) and Renny Johnson (of Sevenee), who both know the industry. Brody has a lot of experience in buying product and in the numbers needed for such a brand, while Renny has strong relationships with the dealers and has his own product range, too. I felt that it was a good fit, as we all bring something to the table, which will make for a strong brand in New Zealand and have a great reputation.

But with taking on that role, it has seen me change my outlook, which is why I have to say it: my racing days – as a professional, that is – are over.

It was time to put more focus on what we were going to do with Troy Lee Designs, which couldn’t come at a better time, despite the pain and frustration caused by the accident.
As they say, one door closes and another opens, which is a great way of looking at it.

Still at the Gate

You know, going from racing for Troy to being an ambassador for the brand, it’s cool that this whole journey has come full circle. I have a long history with Troy Lee Designs, which began when I raced for Pro Circuit Kawasaki and continued when I raced Hondas for Troy’s own team, but it will go beyond just wearing the racewear.

In February, Troy’s son, Max, is going to come out and race the final two rounds of the New Zealand Motocross Nationals. He’s going to stay with me for a full month, training and preparing for those two rounds, which makes me smile to think about how far we’ve all come.

Hopefully, in March, we’ll also get Troy out to Crankworx in Rotorua. See, along with the full range of moto gear, we’ve also got the Troy Lee Designs bicycle gear, too. That is a whole other animal for me, but it’s great to have my eyes opened as to how far the gear can reach, both in moto and other two-wheeled sports.

Along with helping out the next generation of racers and being an ambassador, I’ll still be lining up at some races, as I’ve only retired from being a professional racer. Now, the racing will be for fun, as well as having me at the racing and supporting the guys in the gear. I’m really enjoying being back in New Zealand, despite knowing that my professional racing career is over, as I can just enjoy my time at the race.

There will be a few races, too, which began with the supercross in Winton (part of the Burt Munro Challenge). The whole event was not only a success, in terms of racing and getting the punters to came out to watch, but it was also a lot of fun. Over the week, I had a blast traveling and spending time with Cody Cooper, just like old times. Even though I’m no longer a professional racer, the team at Winton Motorcycles made me feel like one, having my bike prepped and giving me the support I needed – to take the win, no less.

From here, I’ll be racing Summercross and maybe a round of the Nationals, as I do love the tracks at Rotorua and Taupo. But it won’t just be moto, as I’ll also race a few off-road events, like the Tarawera 100.

Let’s just say, I found my love for racing, which I hadn’t felt in 16 years.