Ricky Carmichael switched from Kawasaki to Honda in 2001, but the fans were not happy. Did Ricky make the switch for the $2,000,000 check?

No one at Team Honda could figure out what happened. When they signed Ricky Carmichael away from Team Kawasaki they thought they were buying the ultimate package–a champion who was fast and popular. Wrong! Something happened between September 2001 and the first of the year in 2002 to turn the crowds against Ricky Carmichael. The first time it happened was at the 2001 U.S. Open in Las Vegas. It was Ricky’s first ride on a Honda and when he was announced, there was a large percentage of boos emanating from the crowd. It got worse. As soon as Ricky spoke, claiming that he hadn’t gone to Honda for the money, the crowd erupted in boos. And the booing continued unabated for the whole weekend.

Carmichael reportedly felt that someone had put the crowd up to booing him, but who? Certainly not Jeremy McGrath, who got a dose of boos when he whined about the Las Vegas track. Jeremy immediately made amends to the crowd and ended the Vegas weekend with the loudest applause of all.

Ricky CarmichaelRicky Carmichael on a factory Honda CR250. 

Most Honda personnel thought that the booing was an isolated incident, but there were those on the team who remember the Jean-Michel Bayle incidents when he was soundly booed at the opening round in 1992–and it caught on across the country. No matter what Bayle did, Supercross fans booed him. French journalists believed that he was being booed because he was French, but the source of the booing was most likely based on the fact that Bayle wanted to quit motocross and become a road racer. To the loyal fans in the stands, he didn’t seem to be one of them.


Ricky Carmichael

(1) Switching teams: To the fans Carmichael looked greedy and ungrateful for leaving Team Kawasaki. Ricky signed a $2 million dollar a year deal to switch and many fans were resentful when Ricky tried to claim that he didn’t do it for the money.

(2) Personalities: No matter who the fastest rider is, he will always be compared to the rider who came immediately before him. Jeremy McGrath was the rider that Ricky knocked off the top step–and in direct comparison to Jeremy, Ricky wasn’t as warm, outgoing or genuine (at least in the eyes of the casual fan). The fastest guy wins the races and earns the titles, but he doesn’t always earn the love the crowd. Bob Hannah, Ricky Johnson, Doug Henry, Marty Smith, Guy Cooper and Jeremy McGrath were loved by the fans. But, most champions fail to ring an emotional chord in the hearts of the fans. Jeff Stanton, Jeff Ward, Mike Kiedrowski, Mark Barnett, Broc Glover and Jean-Michel Bayle were admired for their dedication and speed–but not loved. Ricky had to live in the shadow of McGrath (while being overshadowed by the teenage popularity of Travis Pastrana and the old school admiration for Mike LaRocco). The fans grew to love Ricky–but it took time, a lot of wins and a change in personality to get the fans back in Ricky’s corner.

(3) As motocross got more and more professional, with bigger trucks, large sponsorship deals and less grass-roots interaction, the fans felt as though they paid for the right to voice their opinion. They may have feared that Carmichael would have won every race he entered and ruin their chance of seeing tight racing. There is no doubt that a certain segment of the Anaheim crowd cheered when Ricky crashed at the opening round in 2002 and placed 20th–and several Team Honda mechanics came close to being tempted into fights by fans who taunted them in the tunnel and the pits.


It is hard to stay angry at a rider that sets records like Ricky Carmichael did. 

For Team Honda, Ricky Carmichael’s sudden and unexpected unpopularity was a concern. Not that Honda wouldn’t sell bikes because of Ricky’s public persona–riders aren’t the best salesmen in the world (after all, Ricky’s phenomenal win streak didn’t help Kawasaki on the showroom floor). But, insiders at Team Honda hoped that the booing would stop–going so far as to feel that perhaps Ricky’s crash at Anaheim would gain him crowd support in the coming races. Or, at the very least, that the booing was solely a West Coast thing–that would stop when the series went east (because a percentage of the Anaheim crowd was in Vegas, and a percentage of the San Diego crowd was at Anaheim and so on).

Did they boo Ricky all season long? Nobody thought so, but Jean-Michel Bayle didn’t think so either. Boos or cheers, all Ricky could do was smile and take it. There was no such thing as fighting back against 45,000 people. The fans got over it. It was hard not to like Ricky’s win at all costs racing.

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