GNCC Racing

Tuesday Toolbox: Mike Witkowski

Tuesday Toolbox: Mike Witkowski

Tuesday, May 9, 2023 | 5:50 PM
Tuesday, May 9, 2023 | 5:50 PM

This week GNCC Racing caught up with our Hoosier XC2 winner, and third place overall finisher, Mike Witkowski. 

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Witkowski earned himself third overall and the XC2 win at the Hoosier.
Witkowski earned himself third overall and the XC2 win at the Hoosier. Ken Hill Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you first start riding? What was your first bike? When did you first start racing?

Mike Witkowski:  I started riding when i was 4 years old and started racing a year later. My first bike was a crf50. To circle back and now be racing Hondas so many years later is pretty cool to think about.  

Jumping right into it, tell us about the Hoosier GNCC. You and Liam Draper both had a stellar day. Leading much of the first half of the race on adjusted time from the XC2. You spent much of that time all over the rear wheel of Liam Draper. You made your move on the white flag lap to take the lead in the XC2 and finish third in the overall. Walk us through that race.

Yeah, the race was definitely an exciting race from start to finish. I got a good jump off the line but connected with another rider and actually his foot peg went into my front wheel collecting some spokes. I was pretty nervous I would have to make a wheel change on the first lap. But thankfully it held strong the whole race despite some clanking noise, and I was able to finish on it. Even with all that happening off the start i went into the woods first. I made a slight bobble in the first woods section allowing Liam to pass me. With how gnarly the track was it was best to follow to see what lines were good or bad. So I stayed back for a little bit until I had an opportunity to make the pass at the end of the lap. Liam and I pretty much battled it out for all 8 laps. He definitely had the most laps led but there were many passes back and forth throughout the race. I had no idea that we were leading the overall at the beginning but i figured we had to be pretty far up when i started seeing some of the xc1 guys within distance. Throughout the race i felt like I managed everything well and knew when to strike. I had a game plan on when I wanted to make the pass for the lead. Going into the last lap I knew when and where i needed to make it happen. Luckily my plan worked and i made the pass with about half a lap left. But unfortunately toward the end of the last lap I got stuck behind a lap rider going up a tricky section and Liam was able to make the pass. From there until the finish it was an all-out duel and I had one more spot picked out right before the finish that i knew if i greased it i could make the pass. Unfortunately that spot did not work out to make the pass, but we were still neck and neck coming into the last little mud hole before the finish. Going into this section everything was just a blur, Haha! But he had picked a line that a lapper got hung up in and i was luckily able to sneak around for the win! 

untitled-5 Mack Faint

You’ve been through the ringer the last few years. Ups and downs each season it seems. You’ve had your own share of physical hurdles to get through. Can you expand on that and what it takes to keep you going?

Yeah, it’s no secret that I’ve had my fair share of struggles since my best season in 2020. To sum up the last couple of seasons i had been battling some health issues that really took a toll on me. I had a lot of pressure to perform as at the beginning of both 21' & 22' i was the xc2 points leader. So when my health declined it just went south fast. Looking back i probably shouldn't have even raced and just got my body back to where it should be to perform. It took a lot of time and effort to figure out exactly what I needed to do to get back on track. I started to get back on track at the end of the 2022 season. But was never able to showcase it with a mishap at the Burr Oak when battling for the win. Then getting injured at the Buckwheat which put me out for the rest of the season. Going into the off-season i had done my homework on where i needed to be with my health. Im finally understanding what my body needs to be at my best on Sundays. Unfortunately coming into the 23' season although i felt ready i just wasn't at my most comfortable self yet to go the speeds needed to be at the front. I was very frustrated with myself, but the team stood behind me and worked with me a lot which im thankful for. I worked hard in between rounds and kept making small strides. Although i was still mid-pack guy i knew my time would eventually come the more i worked at it. That brings us to now where I got my first win with the phoenix Honda team and i feel like my season has just started! A famous quote Kobe Bryant used to say which really has stuck with me this season is, "Always keep going. No matter what happens, the storm eventually ends."

The pressure to continue performing at a high-level falls on the shoulders of any rider who dares join the ranks of the XC2 or the XC1. You showed this past weekend you still have the “it” factor that’s needed to compete and win. How much of a boost was it to not only win the XC2 on Sunday, but finish inside the top three overall?

This was huge for me. It certainly helped with the confidence, and to be on the overall podium was a surreal feeling. I dreamed of that since i was a kid racing the youth ranks. It’s something i can now check off the bucket list.

Talk about life under the Phoenix Racing Honda team? In six rounds of racing we’ve seen two different winners from the Phoenix Racing Honda team; two for Ruy and most recently you added your name to the win column. Cody Barnes has established himself too, with four podium finishes. What’s clicking for you guys?

The Phoenix Honda team has been amazing to work with. The moral we share as a team is special, and im thankful to be a part of it. David the team owner is one of the best guys I’ve met. No matter what kind of day you have had he's never gonna loose hope and he will be there to support you no matter what. He deserves this year’s teams success more than anyone in the paddock. Also all the staff on the team is great to be around at the races and really uplifting and positive. I feel like Myself, Cody and Ruy could all agree that we have all the tools possible to win. With that it brings a sense of relief that all we need to focus on is getting the job done!  

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Witkowski sits seventh in the XC2 points after a rough start to the 2023 season.
Witkowski sits seventh in the XC2 points after a rough start to the 2023 season. Ken Hill

I know home is now South Carolina. But you’ll always be a Hoosier in my eyes. I remember calling your name in the youth ranks at locals back in 2012 and 2013. I even remember making jokes, like “Whoops, we blinked, and Mike Witkowski has made another lap with a huge lead in the youth overall.” So it’s very cool to see you grab a win on the national stage back on the “stomping grounds” of where you and I started. Even Steven Squire of SSR Training Facility made a comment about how proud he was to see some “SSR OG’s” taking the XC1 (Johnny Girroir) and XC2 (Yourself) wins. Winning is great, always, but I have to think doing so in a place where you sort of cut-your-teeth has to be even sweeter?

Haha! That’s funny, Yeah, I grew up in Indiana obviously and would mainly race just the locals there until I made my way over to GNCC in 2013. We had such a strong local series of fast riders that it helped make the transition easy. It certainly is unreal to win again in front of my hometown crowd. My family and friends came out to watch which was really special. My brother Tyler hasn't been to a race in years so to have him there to help support and cheer me on was an awesome feeling. But yeah, the amount of support I received was truly unreal. I’m so thankful for my Indiana family and friends, and even the amount of support I got post-race! My mechanic Alex Noel is also an Indiana's own which was also special for him. 

What has training looked like for you throughout this past off-season and throughout this year?

So yeah, like I stated above, I’ve really learned a lot about myself and what i need to do to be ready on Sundays. I’ve got some awesome people in my corner. One of them being Robb Beams. He's had my back since day one and is always monitoring my data to make sure im on track to firing on all cylinders. Then also my girlfriend Kaitlin, she's been amazing about figuring out my nutrition and making sure im fueled up and ready to compete. A whole host of people have been great contributors to dialing in my program. As far as the training goes, I’ve just come up with a good balance that has been seeming to work for me. Also been riding with some fast company which has helped tremendously. One of them being my teammate, Cody. 

CMB_1745 Ken Hill

How have your goals with racing changed and evolved over the last few seasons?

This is a good question; I feel like my mindset has changed a lot over the last two seasons. But my goal remains the same which is to become champion. With over coming what i have the previous years I feel like i can overcome whatever is thrown at me. With this recent win it’s a huge positive, anything is possible.

When you’re not racing or training, what do you like to do for fun?

I’ve been finding the love for more outdoor hobbies such as fishing, Jet-Skies and anything that gives a thrill Haha! 

Who are the sponsors and people you’d like to thank?

Long list of some great people that supported me since day one. Firstly thank you Phoenix Honda for the opportunity to ride for such a great team. Secondly my family & friends, Mom - Dad, brothers, and sister. My girlfriend Kaitlin. Steve & Shawnda, Scott Eckerman, Robb Beams, My mechanic Alex Noel and other team personnel that make it happen, Nick & Heath. My good friend Ross and everyone that helped along the way. Truly means a lot!

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Witkowski is looking ahead to the rest of the season, and is ready to battle for more wins.
Witkowski is looking ahead to the rest of the season, and is ready to battle for more wins. Mack Faint