The 2014 ATV Motocross Nationals begins this weekend and MotoSport-sponsored rider John Natalie is prepared and ready to take the championship back from two-time winner Chad Wienen. Natalie won it all in 2011 and took second in 2012.
Last year, he got a late start training after leaving Can Am and as a result faced some mechanical issues he and his new team were unprepared to face. A crash in Round 4 left him without feeling in his hands for a few weeks but despite all that he managed to grab a tie for fourth-place. This year looks to be a different story as Natalie's training began in December and he's put a strong team behind him to handle whatever ATV Motcross racing can throw his way.
Defying age, Natalie, a 10-year pro who is approaching 40, feels he can compete with anyone 20 years his junior, and he's got the confidence and determination to succeed.
Years riding pro: 10
What age did you start riding and on what: Age 4 on ATC Honda 70
What do you ride now? Honda TRX450R
Hometown: Warriors Marks, PA
- USA QUAD Champion
- Dirt Riot Champion in CA
- Weston Beach Race Champion in England
- AMA Grand National Champ
- Great Outdoors Game Champion
- WPSA Champion - 2007
- ATV Motocross Champion - 2011
Other sports participated in: Football, Rugby, Water skiing, snow skiing, horseback riding
Other hobbies/interests: Fishing and hunting
1. How did you get into ATV riding and racing?
The riding part came when my parents bought me and my sister 3-wheelers for Christmas when I was four. After riding for years and going through bike after bike and wearing them out, when the first ATVs arrived friends of mine started racing and one of them decided they were going to take me to a race. I ran the C Class when I was 14 and ended up second or third. I crashed really hard but ever since then I was hooked.
2. Did you ever consider racing dirt bikes in off-road or Motocross?
I quit racing 4-wheelers for a couple of years in the early 2000s and raced dirt bikes. I ran Loretta Lynn's in the B class and ran a pro race at Mount Morris, PA on a Cannondale. I didn't do real well but qualified. I ended up blowing a motor in the first moto in the 450 class. I like dirt bikes and I was pretty fast but the ATV world feels much more personable, friendly and family focused. It feels like we are all family there. I knew there wasn't much fame or fortune but I was drawn to the family nature of the sport.
3. Last year you had a couple of rough outings yet you still tied for 4th place - was it a frustrating year or were you pleased with the results?
I hate coming in second let alone fourth so I was very frustrated with the results. We had a different kind of year coming off the Can Am team and running my own team and starting over. All in all it was a decent year, I was healthy but we weren't prepared at the beginning of the year to do battle. I had the speed but we weren't mechanically prepared for the year.
4. You had a scary neck injury in Round 4 - what happened?
I broke my neck in 2001 or 2002 and after that the two vertebrae fused together. Last year when I wrecked at Wild Cat it broke that fuse and that's where all the pain was coming from. I crushed some nerves. It was definitely scary but I was able to get back in the next round and do what I love.
5. Did it turn into one of those "moments" where you wondered if this was your last race and perhaps you were now dealing with a significant life altering injury?
The only time I felt that was back in 1998 when I hit a wall in indoor racing and got crunched in between the wall and my 4-wheeler. I had internal organ injuries and bleeding. I needed a chest tube and at that time I said I was done racing. They put me in a drug induced coma but after four days I woke up and said I was ready to go racing. As soon as the pain went away I was ready to do it all over again.
6. How did you ever manage to get back on your ATV after last year's injury?
I really wasn't scared. It's one of those things you don't know what you're going to do until it happens. You always feel invincible and once you get back on you feel nothing can touch you. I have a lot of faith in God and there's always somebody watching over me. I've already experienced other stuff where maybe I shouldn't be here so if it's your time it's going to happen one way or another.
7. How did you approach the off-season and have you done anything different to prepare for the 2014 season?
I got started a little earlier for the 2014 season. For 2013 we didn't start riding until after Valentine's Day, this year we were riding at the end of December. I got Ford Brothers racing to help me this year and I brought on a new suspension component specialist. There are a lot of good people behind me this year. We also started the "Natalie Experience" where people can come in and see what I do and learn how to get their own program going - that's been a help to me because the more I can help them the more I can help myself on my own.
8. The ATV MX season is pretty long with some significant breaks between races what do you do to keep the momentum in your favor when you're not racing week after week?
One of the problems I have is over training. No matter how hard I train I feel like I haven't done enough. If I miss one day in a month I feel like my whole season is shot. I have to keep training but keep at a reasonable pace so my body doesn't break down. Sometime you can over train and it doesn't work out the way you want it too.
9. What's it going to take for you to unseat two-time defending Champion Chad Wienen and take the ATV MX National Championship this year?
Just consistency and a good solid program to get out there and have no breakdowns and have all our ducks in a row. I think we're are ready and I am in better shape this season. It's going to be a good year for us and I believe we have the best shot out there to win this championship. The fan base behind me that keeps cheering me on and wishing me luck that's one of the motivational things to keep me going, to make them proud of me that this 38-year old man is still going there and giving it to the young guys. I'm pretty excited about this season.
The 2014 Mtn. Dew ATV Motocross National Championship series starts Saturday at Aonia Pass Motocross Park, 3030 Thomson Rd. in Washington, GA. Moto 1 starts at 3 p.m. EST. Check here for information on admission prices.
2014 Mtn. Dew ATV Motocross National Championship series schedule