Catching Up with…Tanner Ward

By Billy Rainford

We grabbed Tanner Ward for a chat as he prepares to race Amsoil Arenacross in 2018. | Bigwave photo


Tanner Ward is from Woodstock, Ontario, and is one of those racers we’ve all watched make his way up through the Amateur ranks in Canadian Motocross. He and his dad, Jeff Ward, could always be found logging thousands of miles to get Tanner to the biggest amateur nationals all across the United States. He lined up for his first Pro races last summer as an Intermediate rider and showed everyone that he’s the real deal against the best we have to offer. In fact, his 2-2 moto scores at Deschambault gave him 2nd overall after going a remarkable 9-for-9 during the ECAN.

We grabbed Tanner for a chat as he prepares to take the next step in his Pro career and line up for the eastern rounds of the 2018 Amsoil Arenacross series.

Direct Motocross: Hello, Tanner. Thanks for chatting with us today. First off, what did you get up to for Christmas?

Tanner Ward: I’m here at GPF right now, but I flew home December 22nd and spent a bit of time with the family and now I’m back at GPF getting ready for Amsoil Arenacross. It was a short and sweet kind of Holiday season, but it was nice.

So, after the Mini O’s you went straight to GPF to start preparing for Arenacross?

I took a week off after Mini O’s and came here around December 1st and started getting ready for 2018 Arenacross.

Did you get any cool gifts for Christmas?

Ya, I got a little bit of money and a Polar (heart rate monitor) watch and that’s about it.

You had a really good second half of the summer last year. Can you take us through how your first Pro race (as an Intermediate) went at Gopher Dunes?

It was good…definitely nerve racking. I felt like I had a lot to prove but I was doing it for myself. I wanted to learn and try to get an upper hand on this coming year, considering this year will be my first Pro year.

Gopher Dunes is just 20 minutes from my house so that helped a lot. I just knew I had to go out and ride by myself and enjoy the process. The first moto was a heart-breaker. I was running 5th all moto and it would have been great to finish there, but I made a simple mistake (on the last lap) and ended up DNF’ing that moto.

The 2nd moto, the first lap, I fell in the exact same spot (in the Pro section), got up and came back to 8th. It was good but that’s the whole part about learning, to know that I was a top 10 guy for sure.

Going in, I was just hoping for a top 15 finish and finish both motos at Gopher but that didn’t go well. But to know my speed was there really helped build a little bit of confidence and the rest of the summer went really well.

He was plagued by a little arm pump in the Pro classes at the Mini O’s, but still managed a 5th and a 10th overall in the ultra-competitive classes. | Bigwave photo

Ya, you had some really solid finishes. What was the highlight for you?

I mean, I’d be silly to say my highlight wasn’t Deschambault. That was a spectacular day from start to finish. Even the entire week, I went 9-for-9 in the Amateur (ECAN) and Saturday it just started pouring rain and it’s been a while since I’ve had a true mud race. In any mud situation, it’s either going to go really well or really bad.

Sunday started out, I think it was my second lap out on the track, I went out and got the fastest lap and I actually got caught behind a couple people and I pulled off and I was kind of frustrated but then I saw I had the fastest lap and I said to myself that there’s no way I’m falling out of the top 10 here!

I ended up going 2-2 on the day behind (Ryan) Surratt and that was awesome.

That podium was interesting, it was Surratt, you, and then Jason Benny.

Ya, Surratt went 1-1, I went 2-2, and I think Benny went 6-4, I believe, for 3rd. It was awesome for him, he led a few laps in that 2nd moto and was consistent. I think Maff (Shawn Maffenbeier) went 3-DNF and (Jess) Pettis…I don’t know if he DNF’d that first moto, but he wasn’t up there in the first moto, and then got 3rd in the 2nd moto.

For me and Surratt, we were consistent, but after us it was crazy. I’d have to look at the results to see where everyone was.

Following the Canadian series, you headed down to Florida for the Mini O’s to race the Pro classes. How did your week go there?

I definitely wasn’t where I wanted to be. I’m not a fan of short little sprint races. It’s hard for me to get into the zone that quick. I’m not a fan of being on the edge. I like to be in my comfort zone, riding comfortable, but down there you’re in a full on sprint. I didn’t really ride the best and struggled with some arm pump.

Once I started just riding like myself, I put in a few decent results. I got 5th overall in 450 Pro Sport and 10th overall in 250 Pro Sport. I was happy with the 5th, but the 10th I know there’s room for some improvement.

It’s all about a start down there and I couldn’t get one to save my life until the outdoors came.

You mention arm pump. It seemed a little strange seeing you shaking your arms out in the air. Is this something you deal with or is this new?

I’ve struggled with it before but no matter what I did…it wasn’t even nerves because this was probably the first time I’ve ever come down here to a race and haven’t been really nervous. I was just, more or less, confident and I came in from the first moto and I couldn’t even hold on. I don’t know what it was. It was really weird. The track was also super-gnarly and hadn’t really rode a track like that in a while. The Canadian tracks, besides Gopher’s, don’t really get that gnarly, so it wasn’t fun.

And you managed to smash a rear shock again, right?

Ya, just like River Glade. Luckily, it was just practice for the outdoors and not a race. I got a lap in and I thought my rear holeshot device was stuck on and I looked behind me and my fender was touching my rear wheel.

I pulled off and went straight to Tim (Bennett) at TCD and they got that fixed really quickly. And at the end of the week I broke a spring in the front fork, too. Two fluke incidences that were obviously no one’s fault just that if it’s made by man it’s meant to break.

Luckily, I didn’t even notice the last one. It was my last moto of the week and my dad washed the bike and when he leaned it on the triangle the front forks were way down and I knew something was wrong. I didn’t even notice it while I was racing.

So now you’re off to Amsoil Arenacross. You got some help to go racing. What team are you with and how did this come up?

I’m riding for Team Carey, it’s called. A guy named Mike Carey got a hold of me during the summer and we’ve got a little bit of help from Woodstock KTM (in Illinois) but he’s more or less just doing it on his own and helping me and another rider out. He’s going to help me get to the races and supplying me a bike.

I’ll be carrying my bike to all the races, so I’m still kind of doing it on my own with his help, so I couldn’t be more thankful for that. My dad and I were going to do it by ourselves anyway, so this really helps. He’ll also help with hotels and entry fees, too.

And you’ll be doing the 6 eastern rounds, right?

Ya, that’s the plan, and then it leads right into the Canadian Arenacross, which is good.

At the time of this post, Tanner isn’t signed for the 2018 Canadian season but expects to stay with KTM Canada. He’ll get the support of Team Carey for the Amsoil Arenacross series. | Bigwave photo

The East Amsoil Arenacross ends in South Carolina the week before Abbotsford, so your plan is to head west and start Arenacross?

I mean, that’s the plan. I’ve not yet signed anything, so anything can change. That’s what my plan is…that’s what I want to do. I’ll be doing the Ontario ones anyways, so two rounds out west we can figure out a way to get out there.

Especially coming off of the Amsoil stuff, I’ll already be in race mode and, hopefully, I stay healthy right through the entire Amsoil and that way I can come into round 1 swinging and hopefully be battling for wins in the 250 class.

So, you’re still not 100% signed with KTM Canada yet? I mean, that’s where we’re expecting you to be but that’s not a done deal yet, right?

No, not yet. I’ve been talking with JSR, but nothing is signed, as of now. The plan and my goal is to go to KTM. I signed back in 2015 to the Orange Brigade and my goal was to be one of the riders on the team, and nothing has changed. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see me under the KTM Canada tent next year.

What are your goals in this Arenacross series? Would this also be to get your ‘Road to Supercross’ points so you’re set for the following season’s possibilities?

Honestly, just the experience. I’ve done the Amsoil series on a Supermini and now it’s going to be a whole new thing on big bikes, but it’s more or less just for the experience and it would be cool to get my Supercross points but that doesn’t really change anything.

I don’t want to say I don’t have any expectations or pressure, but nobody is expecting me to go out and win or anything.

So, your plan is to do the entire Rockstar Triple Crown Series in Canada next season, right?

Ya, that’s my plan. Like I said, who knows what’s really going to happen, but that’s what I want to do and I’ve talked to my dad a little bit about it so hopefully we can make it work.

Is GPF going to be your home base while Arenacross is going on?

I think I’ll be at home for the first few rounds and then maybe hit up a few little indoor tracks and then once it heads back south in February I think I’m going to Club MX Practice Facility with Kaven (Benoit). Hopefully, we’ll both be on KTM and we can train together. Obviously, he knows what he’s doing and it would be great to shadow and follow him.

Tanner went 2-2 at Deschambault for 2nd overall after going 9-for-9 at the ECAN throughout the week. | Bigwave photo

Is your ultimate goal to be a Supercross guy in the States?

Um, honestly, ya, that’s been like my goal since I’ve been a little kid. With how the Canadian stuff looks, if everything is going well in Canada, I don’t see why I’d come down. But I’d like to experience the whole Supercross deal but we’ll have to see what Jetwerx has planned for the next few years.

We’ve caught you today as you’re dressing to go ride at GPF today. What track are you going to ride?

Actually, I was just looking outside and seeing that it’s raining. It’s been raining for the last few days so I’m probably going to go ride my 350 on the outdoor track. I haven’t ridden since last Thursday I just want to get out and ride. Then I’ll be home this weekend to get everything ready to go to Dayton for round 1 so I’m just trying to ride as much as I can but the weather isn’t really cooperating.

OK, well thanks for the talk today. Good luck next weekend and we’ll see you there! Is there anyone yo’d like to thank before we let you go get muddy?

Ya, thank you. I’d like to thank Team Carey, KTM Canada, Thor, Oakley, TCD Racing, Team LTD, Alpha MX, and of course my family.