By John Basher
You’ll notice a new web feature every Thursday entitled, “One Photo & One Story,” that highlights one photo from the past, along with an accompanying background story. The idea is to give a nod to some of the most interesting historical racing moments, with nostalgic recollection from yours truly. Choosing the very first “One Photo & One Story” subject was an easy choice, because this rider was the essence of perfection.
It’s unfair to say that motocross was Carmichael’s strong suit, because doing so would detract from his prowess indoors. RC won 48 main events in 450 Supercross and five titles. Carmichael might have won the 2004 Supercross title had he not blown out his knee during pre-season testing. Instead, he missed out on the opportunity to win a fourth consecutive Supercross title. In hindsight, had Ricky remained healthy then he might’ve strung together six straight indoor titles. Yet outdoors is where Ricky Carmichael’s talents were on full display. Why? No one, aside from Kevin Windham at Unadilla and Washougal, Chad Reed every once in a while, or James Stewart in later years, could match Carmichael’s blistering pace during the summer months.
“VERY FEW RACERS GO OUT ON TOP. PERHAPS OVERCONFIDENCE BLINDS THEM FROM THE REALITY THAT THEY’RE JUST NOT AS GOOD AS THEY ONCE WERE. OTHERS CLING TO RACING BECAUSE IT’S ALL THEY HAVE EVER KNOWN. RICKY CARMICHAEL, HOWEVER, CHOSE TO WALK AWAY WHEN HE COULD STILL TROUNCE THE COMPETITION. THAT’S A STORYBOOK ENDING FOR A CHAMPION, AND RC LIVED THAT DREAM.”
From his rookie 450 season in 2000 until he called it quits after 2007, RC won 102 Nationals. He had two perfect seasons–in 2002 and 2004–and nearly had another one in 2005. It goes without saying that Ricky is one of the most celebrated motocross racers ever, if not at the top of the list, ahead of Roger DeCoster, Joel Robert, Bob Hannah and Ricky Johnson. DeCoster did more to popularize the sport of motocross, but Carmichael won more. Hence, the reason why the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time) moniker was bestowed upon Carmichael.
The Spring Creek track in Millville, Minnesota, was always one of Carmichael’s favorite facilities to ride. I can relate. The loamy dirt, elevation changes, picturesque background and punishing sand whoops make it one of the best circuits in the United States. It seemed fitting that Ricky’s last National would be at Spring Creek on August 12th, 2007.
The previous year, Carmichael lapped the entire field during the second moto. A torrential downpour turned the pristine track into a quagmire. I was there, standing to the outside of the first turn, shooting the race inside a plastic garbage bag that I took from the Moto XXX semi. I punched a hole through the trash bag and used my camera as a periscope to photograph the muddy racers as they sloshed around. Only Carmichael was manhandling a circuit that was treacherous to walk around, let alone ride.
Very few racers go out on top. Perhaps overconfidence blinds them from the reality that they’re just not as good as they once were. Others cling to racing because it’s all they have ever known. Ricky Carmichael, however, chose to walk away when he could still trounce the competition. That’s a storybook ending for a champion, and RC lived that dream. Casual fans thought his decision was selfish. Why leave millions on the table and turn your back on fame and glory? Then again, most fans are greedy. They believe that athletes owe them something. To Ricky it didn’t matter what people thought. That’s admirable.
Millville in 2007 was Carmichael’s curtain call, and he performed splendidly. Ricky scored a double-moto sweep, gapped the field by double digits in both motos, and celebrated on the final lap by doing a fist pump for the crowd over the “Holy Schmidt” jump in the photo seen above. Two months later, RC piloted Team USA to a crushing victory at the Motocross des Nations in Budds Creek Maryland. Indeed, Carmichael was the essence of perfection.