Born To Win: A Ricky Carmichael Interview

BORN TO WINBy Simon Cudby and Donn Maeda

Victory comes naturally for Ricky Carmichael¿almost as naturally as eating, sleeping and riding two 45-minute motos per day, followed by 30 minutes of cornering and plenty of gym work at night. It is often said that you get out of life exactly what you put into it. If that’s true, then Ricky Carmichael is certainly reaping the rewards of a totally dedicated lifestyle. Having spent time with RC at home and witnessed his daily routine of training, riding and training some more, it is easy to understand why success comes so frequently to the Carmichael camp. Ricky has been winning all of his life, and defeat is almost never an option.

With at least one championship per season since joining the pro ranks full time back in 1997, Carmichael has a track record that is second to none, and the kid is sure to do some damage to the AMA record books before he’s ready to hang up his leathers. Already tied with the legendary Mark Barnett for all-time 125cc National wins, this season Carmichael accomplished a life-long goal by winning the 250cc Supercross title and defeating the King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath. Along the way, RC won 14 out of 16 events, with an astounding 13 of them coming in succession.

As it stands, RC and MC are tied for records in both categories: most wins in a series and most wins in a row. Until now, it was believed that McGrath’s unreal record of 72 career Supercross wins would remain intact forever. Now, it seems nothing is for sure. The Ricky Carmichael freight train has reached top speed and there’s no telling when it will stop.

TWMX: When you finished third at the Anaheim season opener, did you think that the season would turn out as great as it did?

RICKY CARMICHAEL: I knew that I had my work cut out for me. I was kinda disappointed, actually, because I expected to do better. I had “first race jitterbugs” and all that. I struggled with a little bit of arm pump. But I think that in finishing third I used my head and exercised some self control. Winning the U.S. Open in Las Vegas in the off-season was a confidence booster also, since I had not won a Supercross race in a while, not since my 125cc days. Well, there was Daytona last year, but that isn’t a traditional Supercross.

TWMX: What was the defining moment for you in the series? Was it reeling in McGrath from so far back at the third Anaheim event?

RC: Yeah, for sure. That was a good race for me¿a good confidence booster. Until that point, there had always been a little bit of doubt about me beating MC. Before Anaheim three I had won San Diego and Phoenix, but at San Diego Jeremy’s pants came undone, and he got a bad start at Phoenix. We did battle hard at San Diego, though, and I think he ran out of steam. At the last Anaheim race, he was out front and I came from worse than 10th and reeled him in. Winning that way gave me a feeling of confidence that I almost can’t describe. That was definitely a great way to win a race!

TWMX: What did you do differently to prepare for this season?

RC: Well, obviously I hired a personal trainer. That was something that I did to try and tighten things up with my program. I actually hired Aldon Baker last season, but we really hit it hard during the winter months before Anaheim. Testing also went a lot better and my bike was working a lot better this year in Supercross than it did last season. In ’00, I felt like I was pushing it as hard as the bike would let me, but this season the thing was incredible. A big difference for me, personally, was the confidence I had gained on a 250 from winning the 250cc National Championship and the U.S. Open.

TWMX: You’ve always said that outdoor races are more your style and that you actually struggle in Supercross. Is that still the case now that you are the champion?

RC: Oh, yeah. I would definitely say that I didn’t struggle as much this year, but Supercross still isn’t easy for me. I grew up racing on outdoorracks and that’s what comes naturally to me. Supercross is very technical and my riding style is more wide open, so I have had to adapt.

TWMX: Do you feel that when you are racing Supercross, you are on the edge as much as you used to be?

RC: This year I feel a lot more in control. I didn’t have to ride above and over my limits this season, and that made a big difference. Everyone was waiting for me to ride over my head and crash real bad, but I was within my limits and I never did.

TWMX: What do you have to say to those people who doubted you and said, “Just you wait, he’ll crash out”?

RC: Well, I’ve won some championships, you know? I know how to win championships and I knew that I had the stamina and speed to win, and that the ingredient that would be key was consistency. I knew that I had to be there every week, battling for the lead. To the people who didn’t believe in me? Well, I don’t know what to tell them. I will say that there are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon now that I am winning, but I know who those people are. The people who have always believed in me are my real buddies and I appreciate them much more than the new bandwagon people.

TWMX: You are 21 now, and so was McGrath when he won his first Supercross championship in his rookie year. Though you’ve taken three years to win the 250cc Supercross Championship, you’ve already got two 125cc Eastern Region SX titles, three 125cc National Championships and one 250cc National Championship. Taking that into consideration, can you see yourself eclipsing McGrath’s records?

RC: Yeah…I do. I think that as long as I keep doing what I always have, things should be right in line. I’ve always seemed to win, since I was a little guy on 60s and 80s, and as long as I don’t change anything I don’t see why I can’t keep on winning. As long as racing is still fun for me and as long as I am competitive, I plan on racing for a long, long time. Hopefully, in the years to come, I will have as great a career as Jeremy.

TWMX: What makes you so much better than your competition?

RC: Well, since I have been winning so much, I think the other guys may have settled into a mental rut. They know what place they are gonna get, and they have accepted seconds and thirds. I won’t accept seconds and thirds, and that is a big part of my success I think.

TWMX: Do you have to work hard at racing? Are you naturally talented, or do you have to work hard at going fast on a motorcycle?

RC: I have more of a natural ability outdoors. In Supercross, there are definitely a lot of guys who are more gifted and natural than I. I have to work really hard at it, but that’s part of being a champion¿overcoming your shortcomings.

TWMX: They say that staying on top is actually harder than getting there. What do you plan on doing to stay ahead of everyone else?

RC: Well, I plan on staying on the bike¿getting a lot of time in the saddle. I am going to keep doing the same thing that I did this year. Being mentally strong is the biggest part, and I know that I can win again.

TWMX: As you won race after race and gained more and more confidence, you also gained speed…

RC: Well, winning the 250cc Supercross title gave me more confidence than anything else has. Now I know that I can win the title and that’s half of the battle right there. You can have a good bike and have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t believe in yourself and know that you can win, you will have a hard time at the races. Now I know that I can win the championship, so there is absolutely no reason that I can’t do it again and again.

TWMX: In the past we’ve always seen you and McGrath speaking at the races. Was there ever a point this year that MC stopped being as friendly?

RC: Yeah, I think so. I think there was a point when he was getting a little frustrated, but I would do the same thing if I were in his position. You know, he’s probably wondering what the deal is. He was doing all the same things he’s always done and all of a sudden he was getting beat. I also think that it is getting harder for him as he gets older¿it definitely doesn’t get any easier. Racing is a business and his job is to focus on winning, as is mine. We don’t have to be all buddy-buddy at the races. We don’t have anything against each other.

TWMX: Do you think that running his own team takes away a little of McGrath’s focus?

RC: I think that at the beginning of the year there might have been some distractions for him, but he has got some really good people working for him and I am sure they take good care of him. So I would say no, I don’t think that was a distraction for him all year long.

TWMX: This year at the races, your autograph line was just as big as Jeremy’s…

RC: I’ve been winning, so of course everyone wants to get my autograph and say hello. That’s the way every sport is¿when you are winning everyone loves you and when you are not winning they don’t love you. The real fans stick with you no matter how you are doing, and they are the ones that are special. Every sport is like that.

TWMX: How heavily does the “role model” status weigh on you?

RC: Not too much, actually. I just try to be myself. I think that I am a good person and that should, in turn, make me a good role model. But honestly, I don’t look at myself as a role model.

TWMX: A few years back, the “party boy” scene was big. As a notoriously hard trainer, do you think you’ve helped bring that era to an end?

RC: Definitely. I think that in this day and age, there is a lot of hard work required to become a champion. I think that I am one of the guys who helped turn that around, along with guys like Ezra Lusk and Mike LaRocco. We all work really hard.

TWMX: What has your trainer Aldon helped you accomplish that you couldn’t on your own?

RC: Well, I think that just having someone to work with and train with every day helps out a lot. Being physically better and stronger also makes you mentally stronger, so I would say that he has helped my program all around.

TWMX: You’ve undergone some pretty big changes in your physical appearance. How much weight did you lose?

RC: I lost 20 pounds between Anaheim ’00 and Anaheim ’01, and I think that helped out a lot. I started the season healthy and that made a lot of difference. I got hurt before the start of the ’00 season and I played catch up for a while.

TWMX: So what size leathers did you use to wear? You were a 36, weren’t you?

RC: (Laughs) No, I used to be a snug 32, but now I am still a 32. Snug! (Laughs)

TWMX: Is it easier to race without the extra weight? It didn’t seem to affect you when you raced 125s…RC: Yeah, it is. But I lost my weight gradually, so it wasn’t like “Woah!” I feel lighter and I could tell a big difference. More than anything, it just feels better. On a personal note, it is just better to look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. I look a lot better now.

TWMX: We understand that Shaun Palmer stayed at your house this winter and trained. We hear that you and your mom busted his ass…

RC: I think we all did! (Laughs) He came a long way in the time he spent here. It’s been a lifelong goal of his to race and qualify for a National, and now he is getting his chance. He is more than capable of qualifying for Glen Helen. I think he got tired of the routine out here during the last couple of weeks and he got burned out. He was over it and he flew back to Cali. He should do good.

TWMX: Can you comment on your plans for ’02? The hot rumor is that you’ve signed with Honda. Why would you change teams, considering that you’ve been winning on Kawasaki? Is money the main motivation?

RC: No, money is not that big of a factor. I just want to be on the bike that I like the most and at the moment I am really happy with my Kawasakis. I think that I deserve to be on the best machine out there and I will base my decision on what bike I feel is the best when thatsame things he’s always done and all of a sudden he was getting beat. I also think that it is getting harder for him as he gets older¿it definitely doesn’t get any easier. Racing is a business and his job is to focus on winning, as is mine. We don’t have to be all buddy-buddy at the races. We don’t have anything against each other.

TWMX: Do you think that running his own team takes away a little of McGrath’s focus?

RC: I think that at the beginning of the year there might have been some distractions for him, but he has got some really good people working for him and I am sure they take good care of him. So I would say no, I don’t think that was a distraction for him all year long.

TWMX: This year at the races, your autograph line was just as big as Jeremy’s…

RC: I’ve been winning, so of course everyone wants to get my autograph and say hello. That’s the way every sport is¿when you are winning everyone loves you and when you are not winning they don’t love you. The real fans stick with you no matter how you are doing, and they are the ones that are special. Every sport is like that.

TWMX: How heavily does the “role model” status weigh on you?

RC: Not too much, actually. I just try to be myself. I think that I am a good person and that should, in turn, make me a good role model. But honestly, I don’t look at myself as a role model.

TWMX: A few years back, the “party boy” scene was big. As a notoriously hard trainer, do you think you’ve helped bring that era to an end?

RC: Definitely. I think that in this day and age, there is a lot of hard work required to become a champion. I think that I am one of the guys who helped turn that around, along with guys like Ezra Lusk and Mike LaRocco. We all work really hard.

TWMX: What has your trainer Aldon helped you accomplish that you couldn’t on your own?

RC: Well, I think that just having someone to work with and train with every day helps out a lot. Being physically better and stronger also makes you mentally stronger, so I would say that he has helped my program all around.

TWMX: You’ve undergone some pretty big changes in your physical appearance. How much weight did you lose?

RC: I lost 20 pounds between Anaheim ’00 and Anaheim ’01, and I think that helped out a lot. I started the season healthy and that made a lot of difference. I got hurt before the start of the ’00 season and I played catch up for a while.

TWMX: So what size leathers did you use to wear? You were a 36, weren’t you?

RC: (Laughs) No, I used to be a snug 32, but now I am still a 32. Snug! (Laughs)

TWMX: Is it easier to race without the extra weight? It didn’t seem to affect you when you raced 125s…RC: Yeah, it is. But I lost my weight gradually, so it wasn’t like “Woah!” I feel lighter and I could tell a big difference. More than anything, it just feels better. On a personal note, it is just better to look at myself in the mirror and like what I see. I look a lot better now.

TWMX: We understand that Shaun Palmer stayed at your house this winter and trained. We hear that you and your mom busted his ass…

RC: I think we all did! (Laughs) He came a long way in the time he spent here. It’s been a lifelong goal of his to race and qualify for a National, and now he is getting his chance. He is more than capable of qualifying for Glen Helen. I think he got tired of the routine out here during the last couple of weeks and he got burned out. He was over it and he flew back to Cali. He should do good.

TWMX: Can you comment on your plans for ’02? The hot rumor is that you’ve signed with Honda. Why would you change teams, considering that you’ve been winning on Kawasaki? Is money the main motivation?

RC: No, money is not that big of a factor. I just want to be on the bike that I like the most and at the moment I am really happy with my Kawasakis. I think that I deserve to be on the best machine out there and I will base my decision on what bike I feel is the best when that time comes. There are a lot of rumors floating around out there, but I will tell you that nothing is set in stone.

TWMX: Tell us about your new home.

RC: I bought a new house in Tallahassee right before I flew out to California for the new season. I’ve been dealing with some of the stuff, but my girlfriend Ursula has really been taking charge of all that stuff. We’re getting a pool built and it’s a nice home. I am really excited about it¿this is my first really nice home.

TWMX: Okay, back to racing. Your buddy Ezra played a key role in you clinching the title at Dallas. Even though you are on different teams, you guys are sort of like teammates, aren’t you?

RC: Definitely. We ride together on the track pretty good. We trust each other fully when we race against each other. I like racing against Ezra because the trust factor is so high. We ride and train together out here, and we have for years.

TWMX: What can we expect from Bubba Stewart?

RC: I think he is going to be really good. He rides from the heart and it is going to be interesting to see how he does. He is very competitive and he gets really bummed out when he doesn’t do well. That’s good to see in a young kid. Lots of kids seem to want to get in there and make the money, and party and live the lifestyle. He works hard and he is good with people. He will be good for the sport, for sure.

TWMX: Unlike a lot of East Coast guys, you’ve resisted the trend of moving to Southern California to be close to the factories and tracks, but it seems to have worked for you…

RC: Yeah, it definitely has. I think that even if I was in California I would still be winning, but I have a good system set up here. I have a hundred acres and I have my own Supercross track and outdoor track and there really is no reason for me to move to California.

TWMX: Have you rewarded yourself for winning the Supercross Championship?

RC: No, I haven’t. I am just going to soak it all in and enjoy the fact that I have finally won the 250cc Supercross Championship. Not many people can say that they have, and now I can.that time comes. There are a lot of rumors floating around out there, but I will tell you that nothing is set in stone.

TWMX: Tell us about your new home.

RC: I bought a new house in Tallahassee right before I flew out to California for the new season. I’ve been dealing with some of the stuff, but my girlfriend Ursula has really been taking charge of all that stuff. We’re getting a pool built and it’s a nice home. I am really excited about it¿this is my first really nice home.

TWMX: Okay, back to racing. Your buddy Ezra played a key role in you clinching the title at Dallas. Even though you are on different teams, you guys are sort of like teammates, aren’t you?

RC: Definitely. We ride together on the track pretty good. We trust each other fully when we race against each other. I like racing against Ezra because the trust factor is so high. We ride and train together out here, and we have for years.

TWMX: What can we expect from Bubba Stewart?

RC: I think he is going to be really good. He rides from the heart and it is going to be interesting to see how he does. He is very competitive and he gets really bummed out when he doesn’t do well. That’s good to see in a young kid. Lots of kids seem to want to get in there and make the money, and party and live the lifestyle. He works hard and he is good with people. He will be good for the sport, for sure.

TWMX: Unlike a lot of East Coast guys, you’ve resisted the trend of moving to Southern California to be close to the factories and tracks, but it seems to have worked for you…

RC: Yeah, it definitely has. I think that even if I was in California I would still be winning, but I have a good system set up here. I have a hundred acres and I have my own Supercross track and outdoor track and there really is no reason for me to move to California.

TWMX: Have you rewarded yourself for winning the Supercross Championship?

RC: No, I haven’t. I am just going to soak iit all in and enjoy the fact that I have finally won the 250cc Supercross Championship. Not many people can say that they have, and now I can.