Friday Feature: 2006 Racer of the Year

Dedication, determination, and commitment are traits that have propelled Ricky Carmichael to the top of the sport. Ask anyone who’s worked with him, raced against him, or even spent any amount of time around him, and they’ll tell you the same: the level of intensity with which RC approaches racing is second to none, and it should come as no surprise that he has become the winningest rider the sport has ever seen.

They say that everyone loves a winner, but in Ricky Carmichael’s case, the love he enjoys from motocross fans around the globe is a result of much more than race results. Throughout his career, RC has endured several ups and downs with the fans, but in the end, his work ethic, enthusiasm for the sport, and candid honesty have always shone through, and he retires from full-time racing as not only the most successful racer in the history of the sport, but one of the most beloved, as well.

Ten National Championships, six Supercross Championships, two undefeated motocross seasons and 141 career victories…is there anything in motocross that Ricky Carmichael hasn’t done? Absolutely not. Though we’ll still see the “G.O.A.T. at selected races for at least one more season, Carmichael has gone out at the absolute top of his game to, as he likes to put it, “live life as a normal human being.

Thanks for the memories, Ricky. Motocross won’t be the same without you.

TWMX: When it came time to choose our 2006 TransWorld Motocross Racer of the Year, the choice was crystal clear. Congratulations on becoming the first two-time winner, Ricky!
RC: Heck yeah, I’m pumped! I’m ecstatic about it, and what can I say, other than I just try to be the best person that I can, and good things just seem to be happening for me. Thanks for the honor; it means a lot more to me than you might think.

Well, it’s hard to believe that you are retiring from full-time competition, Ricky. It just seems like the other day that I met you at the World Mini GP when you were on a KX65… What were the deciding factors that led to your decision to retire?
That was a long time ago, wasn’t it? Yeah, it has gone by fast, I’ll tell you that. Well, I have been contemplating for some time when it would be a good time to walk away, and I had my mind made up before the start of the 2006 season that this was going to be my last full-time season. I was just trying to figure out the best time to announce it to my fans and more so to my competition. I am really pumped with what I have accomplished, and I have enjoyed a great career. I feel that my time is now, and you can’t get greedy, you know? I am happy with my decision, and that is the only thing that counts.

You are leaving the sport at the top—absolutely, positively on top—and that is so rare in sports. Athletes usually don’t have the willpower to do so…
That’s the thing that is gnarly! When you are on top, you think, “Damn, I can do this for one more year! But if you aren’t on top, you think, “All I need is one more chance to get it back! So you can get in this gnarly cycle that never ends. It happens all the time, but you just have to swallow your pride, be happy with what you have already accomplished, and go on to live life as a normal human being.

Having seen some past champion racers go through that, did you ever consciously tell yourself that you were not going to drag it out like that?
Oh, dude…no doubt! When you make your decision, you have to stick to it. This sport is so brutal and there is such a high risk of becoming injured that you can’t compete at the highest level and not be on top of your game.

So describe to us your plans for next year. You said eight Supercrosses and eight Motocross Nationals?
I am planning on racing the first half of the Supercross series with a couple races leaking into the second half. A lot of people have asked mwhat I will do if I am in the points lead, but that is so far ahead and into the future, that I haven’t even thought of that. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. The plan is Canada and Anaheim and Phoenix and San Fran… My plan is to do only selected Supercrosses and Nationals. I would love to try the Supermoto at the X Games, and the Motocross of Nations. That is gonna be here in America in 2007, and I am super pumped about that. I will still be around a lot, and even at the races I am not competing in, I will be there in support of Suzuki.

So with a limited schedule, how hard will you practice and train? Is it time to hit the Mountain Dews and Rice Crispy Treats again?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] Oh man, I am gonna practice and train just as hard as I ever have. The simple fact is that this sport will bite you in the ass if you come half-steppin’. Even though I am only racing limited events, I will come prepared 110%. I know the team will come prepared, so why shouldn’t I? That is just my style, too, to give it everything I have. When you are not fit and prepared, you run a high risk of being injured. I have made it this far in my career without any major injuries, and I don’t plan on getting them when I am racing for fun. Plus, I like the way I feel when I am in shape. It’s been a way of life for me for the last six years, and I am used to it.

Six years… you’ve been racing for 10! Having gotten used to the super-fit RC we know now, it seems odd to look back at the chubbier Ricky that dominated the 125s…
[BRACKET “Laughs”] I know! I see photos and crack up. I was in good riding shape, but I didn’t change my physical appearance until I started dieting and came up with a strong program. I had everything mapped out for me and got strict with my diet, and that’s how I transformed my body. I was a chubby little kid, man! But you know what? I was winning races and championships at the time, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world [BRACKET “Laughs”].

Looking back on your career, what is the absolute pinnacle in your mind?
I think that any time you accomplish something for the first time, it stands out in your mind. It gets you over that hump… The one thing that really stands out is my first 250cc Supercross championship in 2001. I think that if I didn’t win that year, it would have been very tough for me to ever win that championship. So that is definitely the highest point in my mind.

What is the lowest point?
I would say the lowest point was when I missed the entire ’04 Supercross season because of my knee reconstruction. And then there was the ’99 Supercross season—my first year on 250s—obviously that was a big letdown. I just wasn’t ready back then. I needed to be stronger, physically. I jumped into a big pond as a little fish and I have no one to blame but myself for the way that season went. I crashed a lot and was not prepared enough.

Who has been your toughest competitor through the years?
I have had a lot of tough competitors through the years. I have faced a couple different generations of competitors, too. There’s always MC. He was so consistent and so strong and he was always there in Supercross. You always knew what you were gonna get with MC, though. He never took a cheap shot and you never had to look over your shoulder, and that made racing really fun. As a 125cc rookie, there was Windham. We battled it out, man. He was super tough and he is a very fun guy to race with, too. Obviously, with the new generation, there are James and Chad. When it comes to speed, James is the guy! He has so much speed, and at times I think he has too much speed! With Chad, he is very similar to McGrath, but I don’t trust Chad as much when I am racing with him. I have to watch my back with him a little bit. James and I have gotten to trust each other this year, too. I have really seen him mature in that area. Every once in a while he gets a little buck wild, but he has come a long way, and I like to see that. I have come across some great guys in my career, and to have such greats as competitors throughout my career makes me feel even better about what I have accomplished.

I asked James this a couple months ago. Are you riding the bikes as fast as they will possibly go?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] Definitely. For the top riders, the only way for us to go faster is for the bikes to be better. Otherwise, we are gonna hurt ourselves. I think all sports are like that. If you are a top-level athlete, you are pushing the limits, looking for even the smallest gains. It’s pretty gnarly to look at my race bike and think, “Damn, that thing is badass, knowing that I am gonna over ride it. I’ll just sit there and try to think of ways it can get better. It’s always been like that, though…always.

You had a very scary crash at the St. Louis Supercross in the whoops. What did that crash do to you, mentally?
It was nasty. I didn’t dwell on it too much, because if I sat there and thought about it too much, it would scare the crap out of me. I can remember the crash vividly. When I was going over and I saw that whoop coming towards me, I thought, “Please let me get through this! I had the feeling that it was gonna be so nasty, and crashes like that just make you think. But you can’t think like that in this sport, and for the longest time I didn’t even want to see my crash on television. You never want to see anyone crash that hard, let alone see yourself. I looked like a wet noodle. I am just thankful that I got through that.

In this sport, it seems so important to hold your cards close. I remember the season in which you struggled with your intestinal disorder in secret, and another where you raced with some broken bones. Now that your career has come to an end, tell us some of the secrets that you kept…
[BRACKET “Laughs”] There were a bunch of things. I picked up the irritable bowel syndrome in ’01. I was getting all kinds of tests done and I was super scared that there was something seriously wrong with me. I thought I might have had a tumor blocking my intestines or something. We ended up getting it under control with some medication, and I still have to take it to this day at the Nationals. If I don’t take it, I will go to the bathroom in my pants, pretty much! [BRACKET “Laughs”] It’s just miserable, because my stomach is just in knots. There were a lot of things that I kept secret, like little injuries. When I crashed at Anaheim 1 in ’02 and got knocked out in my first race on a Honda, I also broke my hand, and I had to nurse that all series long. I didn’t have too many injuries after that until I blew my knee out at the end of ’03. I raced the Motocross of Nations and it was popping out everywhere. Then a few weeks later at the US Open, Reedy won because my knee was all over the place. That is when I decided to get it fixed. Then this year in that crash at St. Louis, I busted a bone in my hand and I had to struggle with that for the rest of the season. Nagging injuries are a part of the sport, but in the grand scheme of things I have been pretty lucky.

What effect did Ernesto’s injury have on you?
It bothered me quite a bit. I am very close to that guy. It couldn’t have happened to anyone who is mentally stronger than that guy. We talk about so many things and about life in general that I don’t even think about his injury when I see him.

What is the worst bike you had to race?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] To be honest, I have always seemed to time it just right and sign with manufacturers when their bikes were good. The slowest bike I ever raced was my ’99 Kawasaki KX125. That thing was a dog, dude! To Mitch (Payton)’s credit, though, he got the thing running like a rocketship eventually, but the first six or seven races were murder. That thing was a in a while he gets a little buck wild, but he has come a long way, and I like to see that. I have come across some great guys in my career, and to have such greats as competitors throughout my career makes me feel even better about what I have accomplished.

I asked James this a couple months ago. Are you riding the bikes as fast as they will possibly go?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] Definitely. For the top riders, the only way for us to go faster is for the bikes to be better. Otherwise, we are gonna hurt ourselves. I think all sports are like that. If you are a top-level athlete, you are pushing the limits, looking for even the smallest gains. It’s pretty gnarly to look at my race bike and think, “Damn, that thing is badass, knowing that I am gonna over ride it. I’ll just sit there and try to think of ways it can get better. It’s always been like that, though…always.

You had a very scary crash at the St. Louis Supercross in the whoops. What did that crash do to you, mentally?
It was nasty. I didn’t dwell on it too much, because if I sat there and thought about it too much, it would scare the crap out of me. I can remember the crash vividly. When I was going over and I saw that whoop coming towards me, I thought, “Please let me get through this! I had the feeling that it was gonna be so nasty, and crashes like that just make you think. But you can’t think like that in this sport, and for the longest time I didn’t even want to see my crash on television. You never want to see anyone crash that hard, let alone see yourself. I looked like a wet noodle. I am just thankful that I got through that.

In this sport, it seems so important to hold your cards close. I remember the season in which you struggled with your intestinal disorder in secret, and another where you raced with some broken bones. Now that your career has come to an end, tell us some of the secrets that you kept…
[BRACKET “Laughs”] There were a bunch of things. I picked up the irritable bowel syndrome in ’01. I was getting all kinds of tests done and I was super scared that there was something seriously wrong with me. I thought I might have had a tumor blocking my intestines or something. We ended up getting it under control with some medication, and I still have to take it to this day at the Nationals. If I don’t take it, I will go to the bathroom in my pants, pretty much! [BRACKET “Laughs”] It’s just miserable, because my stomach is just in knots. There were a lot of things that I kept secret, like little injuries. When I crashed at Anaheim 1 in ’02 and got knocked out in my first race on a Honda, I also broke my hand, and I had to nurse that all series long. I didn’t have too many injuries after that until I blew my knee out at the end of ’03. I raced the Motocross of Nations and it was popping out everywhere. Then a few weeks later at the US Open, Reedy won because my knee was all over the place. That is when I decided to get it fixed. Then this year in that crash at St. Louis, I busted a bone in my hand and I had to struggle with that for the rest of the season. Nagging injuries are a part of the sport, but in the grand scheme of things I have been pretty lucky.

What effect did Ernesto’s injury have on you?
It bothered me quite a bit. I am very close to that guy. It couldn’t have happened to anyone who is mentally stronger than that guy. We talk about so many things and about life in general that I don’t even think about his injury when I see him.

What is the worst bike you had to race?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] To be honest, I have always seemed to time it just right and sign with manufacturers when their bikes were good. The slowest bike I ever raced was my ’99 Kawasaki KX125. That thing was a dog, dude! To Mitch (Payton)’s credit, though, he got the thing running like a rocketship eventually, but the first six or seven races were murder. That thing was a roach. The frame would flex when the bike got old and it would pull the cylinder base studs out of the cases. I would hit a bump hard and my bike would die and there would be water steaming out everywhere.

What was the most amazing bike?
There were a couple, actually. My ’01 Kawasaki that I won the Supercross title on. Looking back, that thing was nice! I got awesome holeshots on that bike and the power delivery was just so nice. My ’02 outdoor bike at Honda was the fastest two-stroke ever, and it was hands-down the best bike out there. Fast forward to ’04, and the Honda CRF450R that I went undefeated on was so good. It was my first year on a thumper and it seemed like I was always learning something new on it. Jumping back to the two-stroke Suzuki RM250 I won on last year; that thing was sweet! That thing sounded so good and it was such a great, powerful bike to race. It reminded me a lot of my ’01 Kawasaki, and it was definitely the best bike.

How does it feel to be the last guy to win a Supercross title on a two-stroke?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] Oh, it feels awesome. And it also feels great to be the first guy to win the 250cc Supercross Championship on a four-stroke, too! I have a lot of feathers in my cap, and that makes me very proud. There are a lot of people who have helped me get here, and I am thankful to all of them.

I’ve heard you say it many times before, but you really have left nothing on the table, have you?
Nothing. That was a big goal of mine. I never wanted to look back on my career and think, “I should have done this or that. That is why I have always done what I knew was right. The only thing I think I might have done different is race 125cc Supercross for one more year. Hindsight is 20/20, though.

On the personal side, is it now time to start a family?
Oh, yeah. My wife is 29 and I am 27, and I have always been a little kid person. I love kids and I definitely want to start a family. I think we’re ready, and I am ready for a new chapter in my life.

Any parting words to your loyal fans?
Oh yeah, of course! Thanks for sticking with me through the thick and thin. Some of the years that I have forgotten about—like the year when I switched to Honda—we worked through some hard times and I think now people have seen the real me. I have always been honest, and that is something that I can retire knowing well. I may not be liked by a lot of people, but I think I am respected by all, and that is super important to me. I appreciate all of their support, and hopefully they will remember me as someone who gave back to the sport and was a nice guy, too.

s a roach. The frame would flex when the bike got old and it would pull the cylinder base studs out of the cases. I would hit a bump hard and my bike would die and there would be water steaming out everywhere.

What was the most amazing bike?
There were a couple, actually. My ’01 Kawasaki that I won the Supercross title on. Looking back, that thing was nice! I got awesome holeshots on that bike and the power delivery was just so nice. My ’02 outdoor bike at Honda was the fastest two-stroke ever, and it was hands-down the best bike out there. Fast forward to ’04, and the Honda CRF450R that I went undefeated on was so good. It was my first year on a thumper and it seemed like I was always learning something new on it. Jumping back to the two-stroke Suzuki RM250 I won on last year; that thing was sweet! That thing sounded so good and it was such a great, powerful bike to race. It reminded me a lot of my ’01 Kawasaki, and it was definitely the best bike.

How does it feel to be the last guy to win a Supercross title on a two-stroke?
[BRACKET “Laughs”] Oh, it feels awesome. And it also feels great to be the first guy to win the 250cc Supercross Championship on a four-stroke, too! I have a lot of feathers inn my cap, and that makes me very proud. There are a lot of people who have helped me get here, and I am thankful to all of them.

I’ve heard you say it many times before, but you really have left nothing on the table, have you?
Nothing. That was a big goal of mine. I never wanted to look back on my career and think, “I should have done this or that. That is why I have always done what I knew was right. The only thing I think I might have done different is race 125cc Supercross for one more year. Hindsight is 20/20, though.

On the personal side, is it now time to start a family?
Oh, yeah. My wife is 29 and I am 27, and I have always been a little kid person. I love kids and I definitely want to start a family. I think we’re ready, and I am ready for a new chapter in my life.

Any parting words to your loyal fans?
Oh yeah, of course! Thanks for sticking with me through the thick and thin. Some of the years that I have forgotten about—like the year when I switched to Honda—we worked through some hard times and I think now people have seen the real me. I have always been honest, and that is something that I can retire knowing well. I may not be liked by a lot of people, but I think I am respected by all, and that is super important to me. I appreciate all of their support, and hopefully they will remember me as someone who gave back to the sport and was a nice guy, too.