THE MXA INTERVIEW: RICKY CARMICHAEL ON STARDOM AND DOMINANCE
ARE YOU THE GREATEST RACER OF ALL TIME?
I wouldn’t say that I’m the greatest of all time. Now, if we combine motocross and Supercross together, then I’m the winningest racer of all time. I was fortunate to be good enough at Supercross and awesome outdoors. The Nationals always came a little bit easier for me. I’m thankful that I won more races than anyone who has raced Supercross and the Nationals. I’ll take the title of the winningest racer. As far as the greatest, there have been so many amazing racers.
WHO ARE THE BEST RACERS EVER?
I would say myself, along with Jeremy McGrath, James Stewart, Chad Reed and Ryan Villopoto. The numbers don’t lie. I’ll throw Ryan Dungey in there as well. He’s so solid, which makes him one of the greats.
WHEN YOUR BIKE BROKE AT THE U.S. OPEN SHORTLY AFTER LEAVING HONDA AND SIGNING WITH SUZUKI, DID YOU THINK YOU HAD MADE THE WRONG DECISION?
I was a little frustrated at the U.S. Open. At the same time, we learned as a team. I knew that our bike had the power and handling, but the little stuff needed to be taken care of. It wasn’t long after the race that we started trying to develop better equipment that was more durable. I’ve always been a little tough on certain parts of the motorcycle. Suzuki learned quickly, and we never had a problem after that.
YOU WERE FAMOUS FOR BEING SECRETIVE ABOUT YOUR TRAINING REGIMEN DURING YOUR HEYDAY. WHY THE CHANGE OF HEART NOW THAT YOU’RE RETIRED?
It’s a good opportunity to share with others what worked for me while I was racing. More important, it’s good to explain which things didn’t work. I like to help other riders and watch them grow. It’s very rewarding to me. It has been a great thing that we have been able to do with the Ricky Carmichael University and Camp Carmichael. I also know that some things I did on the track won’t work for other riders. I’m pretty open-minded, but I still feel the base of my program can work for everybody. I share pieces of what I did throughout my career, and other riders seem to learn from my advice.
WHICH RIDING TIP CAN EVERY RIDER BENEFIT FROM?
Younger riders need to understand that any time they have the opportunity to ride, they should do it. You learn so much about the motorcycle and how it will react the more you ride. It’s important to have a good base with your riding. In terms of safety, it’s key to focus on cornering. Very rarely did I ever lose races because I didn’t do a jump. So many people get caught up in jumping, but that is normally not the deciding factor in the race. Also, ride within your means. The bikes are incredibly fast, and the tracks are faster these days. When you hit the deck, it hurts a lot more now. Be sensible and only do what you’re capable of.
WERE YOU RESPONSIBLE FOR ROCZEN LEAVING ALDON BAKER’S TRAINING PROGRAM?
Everyone thinks I was the reason that Ken and Aldon’s relationship broke up. That’s not true. I wasn’t a huge advocate of Ken riding and training with Ryan Dungey. At the same time, Aldon’s training program doesn’t work for everybody. It worked great for me and Ryan Villopoto, but it didn’t gel with Ken. There’s nothing wrong with that. They parted ways, and that’s how it worked out.
WOULD YOU HAVE TRAINED WITH YOUR TOP COMPETITION WHEN YOU WERE RACING?
There is no way in the world I would have trained with my main competition. That would have been like inviting Chad Reed and James Stewart to my place to go riding. Times are so much different now. Things have changed a lot since 2007. A lot of guys ride together now. I guess I am an advocate of guys riding together now, because there aren’t as many secrets as there used to be. Everybody knows what everyone else is doing. There are some things I’m working on to try to find advantages. These people can help with finding improvements in training and different philosophies. I still think the sport can be elevated to another level, but it’s going to take somebody special to do that.
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE SPORT’S PROGRESS SINCE YOU RETIRED?
I’m very happy with where the sport has gone. All of the races are live on TV. There’s a lot of growth. I still think there can be more open dialogue between teams and race promoters. It’s a work in progress, but the sport is growing.
WHAT WENT THROUGH YOUR MIND WHILE RACING TOWARDS TWO PERFECT OUTDOOR SEASONS?
During those two years, our bike was so good, especially in 2004. I really enjoyed riding that motorcycle. I had fun practicing every day on that bike, and I couldn’t wait to go racing. The only time the pressure got to me was the last moto of the season. I thought about how I went down to the wire and hadn’t lost a moto. That’s when it hit me—I had gone so far, and I felt pressure to win and not throw it away. That’s the only time it messed with my mind. Honestly, my biggest goal was to win the championship. Along with that came two undefeated seasons. Looking back, what frustrates me most is not going undefeated in 2005. I couldn’t get the 24 motos and only won 22 that year. I fell at Southwick, and then Bubba and I had the run-in at Unadilla. I was so close to being perfect in three National seasons. That season upsets me.
WHAT WORDS WERE EXCHANGED WHEN BUBBA LANDED ON YOUR BACK AT UNADILLA IN 2005?
None. James was knocked out, and I didn’t see him on the podium. I don’t know if he even came back the rest of the season [note: Stewart returned at Millville but crashed out in the second moto and was done for the year]. I think James called me a week after Unadilla and apologized. He told me that he didn’t mean to land on my back. I told him it wasn’t a problem. That was the only conversation we had about the incident.
DESCRIBE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS WITH CHAD REED AND JAMES STEWART DURING YOUR CAREER.
In the early years, I had a better relationship with James than I did with Chad. Reed and I were fierce competitors. I didn’t really know him growing up, and then he came into the class and did well. The problem came from the entourages. They made a big deal out of things that really weren’t anything. It wasn’t a pleasant rivalry, because we always wanted to beat each other. I always respected Chad a tremendous amount. As for James, I’ve known him since he was an Amateur. The relationship with James was much different than it was with Chad. Now in our older years, I have a much better relationship with Chad than I do with James. James does his own thing. He’s not an open person. I don’t think he has anything against me. He probably just sticks to his thing and does his own deal. I am who I am. Chad and I talk a lot more, and we bounce things off each other.
WAS STEWART’S PERFORMANCE-ENHANCING DRUG BAN FAIR?
A rule is a rule. Everyone wanted drug testing implemented. It was implemented, and there you have it. What happened is what happened. It’s unfortunate. One thing I’ve learned about sports is that people’s memories are very short. Other than talking about it right now, I haven’t even thought about Stewart’s suspension for a long time. Memories are short in racing.
WHY DID YOU OPEN UP AND EMBRACE STARDOM AT THE END OF YOUR CAREER?
I got older. I learned to speak better. I grew as a person. Things changed from the age of 20 to when I was 27. I gained experience, got married and had children. I grew up as a human being and became more educated. That’s really the only reason I can point to in regard to opening up. The older you get, the more you appreciate things.
ARE THERE ANY PARTICULAR RACES FROM YOUR CAREER THAT STAND OUT FROM ALL THE OTHERS?
Not so much races, but seasons stand out. The 2003 Supercross series was extremely hard for me. Looking back, 2000 was a blur. Nothing really exciting happened, other than winning my first 250 Supercross. Then again, it wasn’t a legitimate Supercross, because it was at Daytona. I won my first 250 Outdoor Championship, which was great, but that’s about the only memorable thing for me from that year. The one race that does stand out was my last Supercross race at Orlando in 2007. James and I were racing at an incredible rate of speed, yet it seemed so easy. That was a lot of fun.
WAS IT HARD WALKING AWAY FROM THE 2007 NATIONALS WHILE LEADING THE POINTS STANDINGS?
[Laughter] Maybe a little bit. Roger DeCoster really wasn’t happy with me. I think he still holds a grudge against me for calling it quits, because he was begging me to keep going. I had made up my mind about retiring years in advance. I stuck to my plan. No regrets.