Ryan Villopoto interview from 2006 as an amateur: 

Every few years, a rider comes along who raises a red flag in the motocross industry. Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Mike Alessi have been the latest amateur whiz kids who have been given extra attention. For 2006, Ryan Villopoto will hold the distinction as “the next big thing.” The redhead from Washington hauls on a bike, is modest, and will team up with the potent Pro Circuit/Kawasaki team. It reminds us of a youngster who turned Pro full-time in 1997, a redheaded kid by the name of Ricky Carmichael. We sat down with Ryan on the eve of his transformation to professional racer.

YOU HAVE SIGNED ON WITH THE PRO CIRCUIT/KAWASAKI TEAM. HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH MITCH PAYTON? “It’s really good as long as I can put my time in. I need to concentrate on getting good starts and running up front when I’m out on the track. I’m hoping to finish inside the top five or top eight at the last three Nationals this year. Up until this year’s Loretta Lynn’s, I hadn’t even ridden the Pro Circuit bike, so there has been some intense testing going on.”

DO YOU HAVE A GUESS AS TO WHAT IT WILL BE LIKE IN THE BIG-TIME? “I know that I can run the pace of the guys running in the top eight. If I can enter the 125 Nationals the way Jason Lawrence did, then I should be in good shape. Riding out in California I can judge my speed off of teammates like Ivan Tedesco in practice. Of course, the top guys aren’t going to be killing themselves in practice trying to go as fast as possible, but I can hang pretty close to them.”

Ryan Villopoto 2005Ryan back in 2005 at the Ponca City Amateur National in Oklahoma.

MITCH IS A FIRM BELIEVER IN LAP TIMES. HE PAYS CLOSE ATTENTION TO THEM. “I know lap times are a big thing, and you want to throw down at least five good lap times in practice. I will also look for lines and find different places to pass. Since I haven’t ridden some of these tracks before, it’s going to be a game of getting the tracks down.”

HAVE YOU LEARNED ANYTHING FROM THE MIKE ALESSI FIASCO ABOUT HOW TO ENTER THE PRO WORLD? “My parents and I have never talked ourselves up. We just go and race and then are done with it. I’ll let my actions speak for themselves on the track. Whatever happens, happens.”

HOW EXCITED ARE YOU TO RIDE ON THE SAME TEAM AS GRANT LANGSTON AND BEN TOWNLEY? “I’ve never met Townley before, but I have talked to Grant a little bit. The guy seems cool, and it’ll be good to ride with him and hopefully he can teach me a few things.”

DO YOU HAVE ANY SUPERCROSS EXPERIENCE? “Well, I used to do a lot of Arenacross races when I lived up in Washington. All winter that’s all that we did, because the weather was so bad. I’m pretty familiar with the tight stuff. I can only see the whoops being a problem. Other than that, all of the obstacles won’t be a problem. Supercross won’t be a big jump for me, because I’ve raced on those types of tracks before.”

Ryan Villopoto 2005Ryan on the starting line racing a 2004 Kawasaki KX250 two-stroke.

WHAT ARE YOUR EXPECTATIONS FOR 125 SUPERCROSS NEXT YEAR? ”Right now I’m going to say top ten. Maybe if you talk to me after I start riding on the test track for a little while, then I’ll have a better indication [laughter].”

WHAT IS THE STRONGEST PART OF YOUR RIDING? “That’s a tough one. I like to think that my starts are usually pretty decent. Actually, if I crash, then I can come from behind very quickly in amateur racing, but I know that it won’t compare to racing in the Nationals. It will be a lot more difficult to come back after crashing.”

IT’S ONLY FAIR TO ASK WHAT THE WEAKEST PART OF YOUR RIDING IS. “I need to work on everything! There isn’t anything I’m great at.”

THE AMATEUR TRACKS AREN’T COMPARABLE TO A NATIONAL TRACK. HOW ARE YOU PREPARING YOURSELF FOR OVERCOMING THOSE OBSTACLES? “I know the tracks are going to be a lot rougher and the lines are going to be very different, because there won’t be any slow riders at the Nationals. I know at the outdoor tracks the lines will be more sweeping and the tracks are just a lot faster in general.”

SOME RIDERS SAY THAT THEY HAVE TO GO THROUGH ROOKIE INITIATION BEFORE ACTUALLY TURNING PRO. ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT THAT? “I’m just going to show up, ride practice and get to know the track. I want to get through the qualifiers and get good starts. If I do that, then the Nationals should go pretty decent, I guess [laughter].”

Ryan Villopoto 2005

WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO SIGN WITH PRO CIRCUIT/KAWASAKI? “That team is probably the best 125 team, unless you’re on a factory team, but even then I’d still say Pro Circuit is the best 125 team. I rode for Mitch all through amateur racing, and I wanted to stick with him.”

WHO IS YOUR HERO? “There are quite a few. I liked to watch Jeremy McGrath when he was on top of his game. I still like to watch him ride. I also like to watch Chad Reed, plus he’s really nice to talk to. I also like Grant Langston and Ivan Tedesco.”

DO YOU GET ANY COMPARISONS BETWEEN YOU AND RICKY CARMICHAEL? “No, not really. I can see the red hair, but there’s not much of a comparison in our riding styles. I’d like to say that I try to ride like Ricky, and although he doesn’t have the greatest style, he’s no doubt the fastest and strongest. He trains the hardest. On the track though, I try to ride like Chad Reed. He has a really good style. Grant Langston is great at going around flat turns. I would have to say that my style is a combination of a few riders.”

IN YOUR MIND, WHAT HAVE YOU SET OUT TO ACCOMPLISH AS A PRO RACER? “By next year I want to be into the pro game, so to speak. I want to know exactly what’s going on and be up front in the 125 Nationals. Supercross is going to be a big learning curve, but I want to do well there. In five years, I want to have a couple 125 titles in Supercross and the Nationals, and depending, maybe a 250 title also.”

WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO DO OUTSIDE OF MOTOCROSS? “I like to shoot bow and arrow. I’m into archery, and I have a compound bow. I bought a few targets and I’ve been shooting at those a lot. I have also done a few archery shoots where you go around shooting at targets. It’s kind of like miniature golf, only with bows and arrows. I also like to fish, but that’s really about it. I’m not into mountain biking or anything like that.”

GROWING UP IN WASHINGTON, HOW IS THE SCENE THERE FOR MOTOCROSS? “Right now, Josh Hill is the only one who’s going to turn Pro soon, but there really aren’t very many places to ride around up there. In the winter, it rains so much you have to resort to riding Arenacross, and that isn’t going to help you any for racing motocross.”

WHO YOU THINK IS GOING TO BE THE NEXT BIG THING. “Nico Izzi and Kyle Cunningham will be the next riders to step up to the Pro ranks and do well. Looking further down the line, Adam Cianciarulo is going to do very well. That kid is so gnarly on a 50! As for Josh Hill, speed-wise he’s only going to get faster, but I don’t know how he’s going to handle his training.”

Ryan Villopoto 2005

WHAT ABOUT YOUR TRAINING? “I’m working with Randy Lawrence and I’ve been doing a lot of road biking and I’ve been going to the gym. The biggest thing is getting through the 35-minute motos without falling or dropping off the pace a whole lot. Dropping off the pace the last two laps isn’t good, but it’s not going to kill me either. If I die halfway through the moto, then it’s just not going to work out. I need to be there at the end.”

WHAT WOULD YOU CHANGE ABOUT AMATEUR RACING? “The tracks need to be a lot better. They also need to change the moto format. I mean, five laps? That isn’t going to cut it. Loretta’s is the best race, because you have 20-minute motos, and if you get a bad start, then you have time to come back and still do well. Lake Whitney, Las Vegas and Ponca City need to bump up the number of laps and do 20-minute motos.”

WHAT ARE THE POSITIVES AND NEGATIVES OF HOME SCHOOLING? “If you go to public school, then you won’t be able to ride all of the time because you’re going to be in class. Plus, you can learn when you want. I don’t think it’s a big deal. I don’t like school though. It’s the least fun thing that I have to do [laughter].”

YOU’VE RACED AGAINST JASON LAWRENCE. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF HIS CHANCES AT BEING SUCCESSFUL IN THE SPORT? “I know he’s pretty crazy, but that’s about it. We’ll have to wait and see who throws it down more at the last couple of Nationals. It should be good.”

Ryan Villopoto 2005

ARE GIRLS TROUBLE FOR YOUNG PROFESSIONAL MOTOCROSS RACERS? “It kind of depends on who the racer is. It also depends on how much you’re into the girl and what kind of person she is, too. If she’s a prima donna and she comes to the track all done up in makeup, then that doesn’t sound very good to me. It also depends on whether she’s going to want you at home all of the time or she’ll be cool in understanding that you have a job to do.”

WITH THAT SAID, WHO IS THE HOTTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD? “Jessica Simpson. I wouldn’t call her the hottest girl in the world, but she’s probably the best I’ve seen in a while [laughter].”

YOU DON’T SEEM AS SOLD ON YOURSELF AS SOME OTHER YOUNG PROS. WHY NOT BE A LITTLE COCKY? “I’m not going to bring out the red shirts with the target on my back [laughter]! Seriously, I’m not going to go into the Pro ranks thinking that I’m the hottest thing to ever hit the track. I don’t even know what’s going to happen when I race Pro. I just know that it’s going to be way different than anything I’ve experienced as an amateur. The riders are a lot faster, way more aggressive, and you have to ride two motos at 35-minutes each.


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