Tom Drane is home from what can only be described as an incredible debut American Flat Track season.
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The Australian 16-year-old has ranked second in the 2023 AFT Singles Championship after 18 rounds of motorbike racing across seven months.
"I wasn't expecting that in the first year," the thrilled rider said on return to Forbes.
It's a dream come true to be riding full time, signed with Estenson Racing's factory Yamaha Monster Energy team - an opportunity Tom didn't even expect to have while still a teenager.
Transitioning to professional racing on the American circuit has been a massive shift for the multiple Australian title holder.
There was the transition from KTM to Yamaha bikes, then from the Australian granite tracks to the American clay racing surface.
"At the start of the season I didn't go the best I was hoping for, I had to get used to a lot of things," Tom said.
"Once I started learning, progressing, figuring everything out then it really turned to a good season."
It took about seven rounds for the Australian star to get established. From Round 8 onwards Tom had 10 podium finishes and four wins.
He and dad Matt, with the Estenson team, travelled from state to state to race every weekend: Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Washington, Kentucky, New York, Texas and more.
Riders compete in the flat track, half mile, TT (which includes a jump) or the big one, the mile.
Every competition starts with qualifying and heats for a chance at the final.
"There'd probably be 40 riders every time and only 16 make it," Tom said.
Racing with a professional team, having their backing and support through every stage of competition, has been an incredible experience.
"Anything you want they'll have it done," Tom said - and he's got good teammates as well.
That's helped immensely with the move away from his home town and country.
Friendships and friendly rivalries are developing - and Tom knows he couldn't do what he's doing without his incredible family.
"It took a little bit to get used to but once we got to know everyone it all just felt like home anyway, once we settled in," Tom said.
It was still brilliant to welcome his mum Lisa and brother Sam trackside towards the end of the season, when Sam also hit the US racing tracks.
Tom is now full time training: when he's not on a motorbike he's on a pushbike or in the gym preparing mind and body for racing.
"My heart rate's normally at 190 or nearly 200 most races," he said.
On the mile, he's racing at speeds of up to 200km/hr.
"It's a big battle at the front of the mile: there's probably 12 riders all in contention to win, they run a real close race and at real high speed so it's really cool," Tom said.
He's now looking at his plans for the 2024 American Flat Track season and talking to Estenson again about that.
It's a dream and goal fulfilled for the boy from Forbes, who's been racing since he was seven and claimed numerous State and national titles here.
"It's really cool I can do this - race and do the thing I love," Tom said, but added it's also good to be home for a break.
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