A VISIT TO RICKY CARMICHAEL’S GOAT FARM

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_1041697Ricky passes down wisdom to the masses.

By John Basher

As Dante Hicks famously lamented in the cult classic Clerks, “I’m not even supposed to be here today.” That’s exactly how I felt as Ricky pointed out one riding faux pas after another. He was making an example out of me in front of an audience that hung on his every word. Apparently, it didn’t matter that I wasn’t officially part of Camp Carmichael. Whether I earned my way into the “Suzuki 24” or not, I would have to endure the same criticism as everyone else. Ricky doesn’t believe in preferential treatment. I should have known as much. Ricky was never given any leeway during his career, despite 150 wins and two perfect seasons.

“KNOWN SIMPLY AS ‘THE FARM,’ CARMICHAEL’S SPACIOUS MOTO RESERVE IS A SMALL PART OF RACING HISTORY. IT LOOKS LIKE JED CLAMPETT’S DIGS BEFORE HE STRUCK BLACK GOLD.”

The only thing that kept me from bursting into tears was that I wasn’t the only one who had violated Ricky’s precious cones. Ricky constantly screamed, You’re only cheating yourself!” as his charges made one mistake after another. If you used too much rear brake, sat down too early before entering a turn or center-punched a cone, you heard him loud and clear—and so did the assembled riders. Ricky wanted his pupils to execute sound technique and build speed rather than come in guns blazing and go down like the Hindenburg. For 10, 20 or even 30 times, the group followed in a conga line through the appointed section as Ricky watched. Periodically, he would summon a rider over and offer instruction before sending him back out. RC only stopped the class when everyone had applied Carmichael’s techniques.
_1041890“Come on, Yates, get with the program.”

Fortunately for Ricky’s voice, the Suzuki 24 weren’t lacking in speed. That’s because the 24 racers at Camp Carmichael were Suzuki’s top Amateur contingency earners from 2015. Suzuki kept a running tally of every racer enrolled in its $3 million contingency program. For the past four years, the top 12 big-bike (250 and 450 four-stroke) and top 12 mini-cycle (85cc two-stroke) riders earned an invitation to Camp Carmichael. It’s Suzuki’s way of thanking a select few for investing in the brand and representing Suzuki at Amateur tracks across the country. Worth noting is that it’s not possible to buy your way into Camp Carmichael. A spot must be earned or, in my case, bestowed by personal invitation.

Motor homes and trailers from as far as Kansas and New Hampshire were sprawled out around Carmichael’s training facility. Many of the license plates were from Pennsylvania and Maryland. It turns out that Suzuki pays a good chunk of contingency in the southern Pennsylvania/Maryland/New Jersey area. Located on the outskirts of Cairo, Georgia, Carmichael’s place is unassuming. It’s not exactly the kind of track that you’d happen upon. Carmichael wanted it that way. Moto buffs would pay a pretty penny to step foot on the hallowed ground. Maybe that’s why the Suzuki 24 had a gleam in their eyes.

_1041873Working on The Farm.

Known simply as “The Farm,” Carmichael’s spacious moto reserve is a small part of racing history. J.H. Leale, Ricky’s manager and friend, pointed to a dilapidated house at the front of the property. It looked like Jed Clampett’s digs before he struck it rich. Leale beamed, “Ricky bought the place in 2000 and lived in that house for about a year and a half. It was total Rocky-style in those days. He would ride, train and live here.” Carmichael then moved a short distance away, but the land still served as Ricky’s primary training grounds all of the way through his retirement in 2007. During that time he won 12 AMA titles. Mike Brown and Jeremy Martin also trained at Ricky’s place while they won their National Championships. If only the rustic buildings could talk.

The three-day camp was well-structured. Carmichael scheduled the adults to ride and train exclusively on the first day. The second day was devoted to the minicycles. On the third and final day, the groups were given a split open practice session. Ricky doesn’t like the idea of 85cc riders and big bikes sharing the track at the same time because of the variance in speed and skill. I agree with his philosophy. Safety was a top priority at Camp Carmichael. Unfortunately, nature intervened on the first day and washed away the opportunity to ride. Ricky decided to move the big bikes to the second day, where they would share part of the track with the 85cc groms. However, instead of wasting the first day, Ricky fielded dozens of questions from the eager audience.

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What would you ask a 15-time AMA Champion? I suppose it depends on your interests. Given the racing mentality at Camp Carmichael, most of the questions focused on training and nutrition. Would you believe that Ricky suffered from arm pump his entire career? How about the fact that he rode just as hard during practice as when he raced, because otherwise “you’re just doing junk laps.” Carmichael even talked about his slow metabolism, at one point joking, “I couldn’t drive by a McDonalds without my pants getting tighter.” From arm pump to cardio (Ricky loves racquetball) to riding versus training (he thinks riding is more important given the option), RC didn’t hold back.

I sat in a far corner of the building during the Q&A session, a fly on the wall so to speak. Of course, it was hard not to be noticed when Ricky Carmichael looked in my direction and called me out: “Hey, media guy, don’t you have any questions? You’re awfully quiet over there.” My face turned a deep shade of red. I hadn’t been called out in front of a group since my high school science teacher scolded me for chatting up the pretty girl in class. In a panic, I blurted out a question about James Stewart’s performance-enhancing drug ban. The crowd leaned in as Ricky gave the question some thought. Carmichael replied, “The rule is the rule. Everyone wanted drug testing implemented. It was implemented, and there you go. What happened is what happened. One thing I’ve learned about sports is that people’s memories are very short.”

_1041588Ricky stresses the fundamentals when he teaches, and he doesn’t need a bike to demonstrate the proper form.

It’s not easy to put Ricky Carmichael on the spot, even when he makes himself vulnerable. He’s a witty prankster to his friends, amiable to strangers, and just as confident as when he won all those titles. Sure, his vernacular would make an English teacher cringe, but that’s part of his charm. At one point he looked at me and said, “This is fun. I feel like there’s real friendmanship here.” I howled in laughter, since friendmanship isn’t a word, but somehow Carmichael made it work.

There are plenty of funny stories from my time at Camp Carmichael. Ricky addressed his class after completing a drill and mentioned how it would be fun to skip out on the remaining drills and play-ride instead. He paused and then said, “Meannie wouldn’t like that, though, would she? We better not, or else Meannie will have my butt.” Ricky was referencing his sweet mom Jeannie, who earned the “Meannie” nickname for cracking the whip on Ricky during his racing career. Those in Carmichael’s close-knit circle of friends usually took the brunt of his jokes, with J.H. Leale getting the lion’s share. Poor guy.

“SURE, HIS VERNACULAR WOULD MAKE AN ENGLISH TEACHER CRINGE, BUT THAT’S PART OF HIS CHARM. AT ONE POINT HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID, ‘THIS IS FUN. I FEEL LIKE THERE’S REAL FRIENDMANSHIP HERE.’ I HOWLED IN LAUGHTER SINCE FRIENDMANSHIP ISN’T A WORD, BUT SOMEHOW CARMICHAEL MADE IT WORK.”

Nine years removed from professional motocross racing, Ricky is still busy with a myriad of projects. He’s a race-team co-owner (RCH Racing), race promoter (Daytona Amateur Supercross), trainer (he’s currently working with Joey Savatgy), track designer (Monster Energy Cup), Suzuki ambassador, family man, and he does the Ricky Carmichael University series throughout the world. Ricky has many goals, one being to revitalize Suzuki’s stake in Amateur racing. “I like to think that doing things like Camp Carmichael helps Suzuki get back into the Amateur scene. I wanted to help the movement, because Amateur racing is the grassroots of the sport. It’s important to get young riders on the product. We want to see kids spending their Amateur careers on Suzukis and then rolling into the professional ranks with Suzuki support. We’re pushing hard, and I’m glad to see that Suzuki is stepping up.”

_1041681The real GOAT’s goat.

To find out more about Camp Carmichael and sign up for Suzuki’s contingency program, you can visit www.suzukicycles.com. This is your opportunity to learn race secrets from the GOAT and earn free money from Suzuki. As for my time at Camp Carmichael, it had a big impact on me in more ways than just my riding skill— I’ll never be able to look at a traffic cone again without hearing Ricky’s voice.

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