Going Mental

Going MentaL

Let us train our minds to desire what the situation demands. – Seneca (4 B.C.-A.D. 65)

By Steve Cox

Photos by Steve Cox, Jeff Kardas and Tony Scavo

Ricky Carmichael is a master of the mind game. That’s really the main explanation for his 100+ AMA National wins and 10 (soon to be 11) AMA National Championships. Just ask anyone he has raced against and beaten: Jeremy McGrath, Kevin Windham, Stefan Everts, Timmy Ferry, David Vuillemin, Steve Lamson, Sebastien Tortelli, Mike LaRocco, Stephane Roncada. The list is long and distinguished. And his mastery isn’t just in making himself a dominating force in other riders’ thoughts, but also in keeping negative thoughts from entering his own head.

“I have ways of thinking that keep me from losing my mind,” Carmichael says. “I definitely know how to motivate myself.”Considering his domination of basically everything he’s ever touched in the sport of motocross, it obviously works. He turns some of the greatest talents in the sport into mush, although some are harder to break than others. Take Windham, for example. Carmichael has made many comments in the past about K-Dub, including during last year’s Nationals, when he frequently made remarks like, “I know how to beat Kevin. I’ve beaten him since I was a rookie.”

The smack-talk started early this year. After showing the doubters that rumors of his demise had been exaggerated at Hangtown, by Mt. Morris, he was already planting the seeds. He has only been beaten by one man outdoors since 2001, and that man is Kevin Windham. “I would like to win ’em all, but I don’t expect to,” Carmichael said after his two-moto romp at round two. “We want to win the title, that’s the main thing, but (Windham) is going to be good at Unadilla. I want to beat him there, and I want to beat him at Washougal (Incidentally, Unadilla and Washougal are the only two tracks where K-Dub beat RC in ’03).” RC has been relentless about it. “I’ve got a challenge coming up at Unadilla,” RC said again after round three at Southwick. “I want to win that race. I’m really going to try to put it down for that.”

Carmichael knew that calling out K-Dub at his two best tracks seven weeks before the Unadilla National wasn’t going to go unnoticed by Windham. He and Windham have a history, and one thing Carmichael knows is his competition. “It’s a head game. Everybody up here and everybody in the pits knows it,” Carmichael said after his record 100th win at Budds Creek. “It’s mental, and I made a big commitment three years ago with my trainer Aldon Baker, and ever since then things have been going well. I know I dominated 125s and won some races before he came along, but doing it on the 250 is different. The bike is different, and the competition’s different. Just about everybody you’re racing out there has won a title. When I made that commitment, I was going to do it right, and I figured if I don’t make it after this, I’m never going to be a 250cc champ in Supercross. Once I made that turn, it was good. I still think to this day that I’ve got the best program going with my training and everything. There’s no way around hard work.”

Windham knows the game, too. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he can beat RC at it. “Obviously, Ricky has more motivation to beat me at both Unadilla and Washougal than anywhere else because those are tracks that I do well at,” Windham said. “I think that those are probably the tracks that he is the most concerned about regarding me. But as far as our rivalry or whatever, I feel that that goes on every weekend. I don’t think that there’s any track that I can’t win on.”

After Red Bud, the race leading up to Unadilla, RC reiterated his intentions for round six. “I’m going to work my ass off the next couple of weeks,” he said. “I have no excuses there this year, and I know Kevin is going to be strong there. We’ll be on the same bike, and I’m going to give it my a and try to run it into the ground the next two weeks, because that’s what works for me. Hopefully it’ll be a different story this year.”

Ricky won’t admit to thinking about Windham at all. In actuality, he won’t even admit to calling Windham out like he did – at least not in so many words. “He’s always ridden well here at Unadilla, ever since I’ve been racing – since ’97,” RC says. “But the thing is, I’ve beat him here heads up, like in 2001 and I think 2000, but people always forget. They’re like, ‘Oh, this is Kevin’s track.’ Hell, I’ve beat him here too. I don’t like this track to start with, so the only thing that can keep me motivated for coming here is to try to beat someone. There’s so much hype here around Kevin for this race, and he’s supposed to beat me, but…”

Windham beat Carmichael at Unadilla in Ricky’s rookie season in 1997 on 125s, but in 1998 and 1999, Carmichael won Unadilla – while Windham battled it out in the 250cc class. Since Carmichael moved to 250s in 2000, however, he has won Unadilla every year, except 2003, which was all K-Dub. So he’s right. Ricky has actually won Unadilla more than anybody, whether Windham was there or not.

All of Ricky’s talk was merely a means of self-motivation, meaning that by putting himself on the line he will win at the tracks he doesn’t like, and it’s that much more motivation for RC to not give up if Windham gets out to an early lead or something along those lines.

Carmichael thinks he would’ve won Unadilla in 2003 if he were on Kevin’s bike, though. “This is where he beat me last year, so if there’s anywhere I feel like I need to improve, it’s this track and Washougal,” Carmichael explained. “But last year here, I don’t think I could’ve ridden my two-stroke any harder. I came off the track, and I told my mechanic, ‘I swear I almost just blew this bike up and broke the throttle cable, I was trying so hard.’ And Kevin would probably tell you the same thing. Ultimately, I really just want to win the title. I went 24 and 0 already, and I would love to do it again, but I don’t think about that because I think it puts too much pressure on me. So, if I win, I win, and if I don’t, I want the championship. I’m going to give it my all, don’t get me wrong, I do want to win.”

It’s hard to believe that not winning wouldn’t be a big deal to Carmichael. If losing were no big deal, he probably wouldn’t have all the wins and championships he has today.

Windham refused to make a big deal about his rivalry with Carmichael. But when you’re the only man to have recently defeated someone as dominant as Carmichael, it’s hard to avoid. “You know, he’s riding really strong right now, and I know his bike is working well, so I just need to pick up the pace a little bit,” Kevin said. “But I don’t feel any more or less pressure this weekend. I want to beat him every weekend. I’m very disappointed in the fact that I’ve been getting some thirds, and even worse than that some fourths and fifths, and I’m definitely not where I wanted to be at this point in the season. So I’m just going to keep plugging away.”

As the saying goes, when the gate drops, the BS stops, and Unadilla proved that adage once again. Carmichael got out front right away in both motos, and it wasn’t Windham who pressured him, but rather Chad Reed – although the pressure didn’t last long.

Windham’s starts have been keeping him off his “A” game all year long, as he rounded the first turn approximately 30th. “I used to be known for my starts where I’d jump out front and sprint, but here I am in the middle and later parts of the races having the best times, and I just need to get back to getting out of that gate running,” K-Dub, who finished sixth in moto one, said. “It’s a new game for me right now. I’ve got to keep studying and keep learning. He may have a perfect season, he may not, but I’ll beat him one day. I’ve just got to keep plugging away. A lot of people wanted to make this the Kevin Windham/Ricky Carmichael weekend, with who’s going to do what, but the reality is that there are a lot of other tracks that I do well at besides the two I won last year. I come in each weekend optimistic, and I can’t start thinking negatively; I’ve just got to keep plugging away and we’ll get him.”

Ricky was plainly dominant, even though he hung up his left foot in a rut partway through the moto, almost hitting the deck. Although he could hardly walk after the moto, he never even thought of not racing moto two, despite his huge points lead. “If I finished half the first moto, then for sure I was racing the second moto,” Carmichael said. “I just bruised the sh*t out of it. I got lucky. I definitely did the ACL-repair test, so that was good that my knee held up. That means my knee is strong, but it hurt like hell, I tell you. I knew all along it was just a bruise, though, so I took a little medicine and everything was good.”

In the second moto, a better start (although still not a “good” start) kept Windham within reach of Reed for second, and he came through, passing Reed about halfway through the race. By then, RC was long gone, and Windham had to settle for the runner-up spot. “I think in the second moto it actually took me a couple laps to get warmed up because of my leg,” RC said. “Chad was there pressing the issue, and after a couple laps went by, I got warmed up and started pulling away.”

Reed knows what he has to do to catch up. “I think I just need to get used to doing that pace when I’m practicing and things like that,” Reed said. “I just need to keep the pace strong and keep it high. When you’re up there with Ricky, you’re letting it hang out, and it’s a little out of my comfort zone. I need to get used to that.”

Carmichael was all smiles. “I definitely wanted to come here and put it to ’em, for sure,” said the champ. “The main thing, I think, the reason I got beat last year was just that you had to be on a four-stroke. I think we’re on a level playing field now, and I think I had the upper hand there.”

Before the 2003 season, when Windham returned, he said he would “be pissed if Ricky went perfect again with me out there.” Now it’s looking less and less like anyone can do anything about it. “I would’ve been pissed last year, and I’d be upset this year,” Windham said. “That’s definitely not what I want. Not only do I want him not to be perfect, I want me to win more than him as a whole, but right now he’s just riding really strong. The weekend is not the time to pick it up that little bit extra. I’ve been working hard during the week to pick it up on the weekends. I’m going to be just as disappointed in myself this year if he goes perfect than last year or any year to come. I didn’t think it would ever happen again, and I don’t think it’ll happen this year. I could be wrong, but I’m doing all that I can to stop him. We can only do what we can do, and I’m doing it. I’m working hard.”

With the outdoor season under control, RC’s already got his sights set on Anaheim I. “I want to win this outdoor title, if I win every moto I do; if I don’t, we want to win the title, and that’s the main thing,” he said. “But I have a big goal next year, and that’s 250cc Supercross. I didn’t get to defend my title this year, and that’s the first time that has ever happened. It’s a personal goal for me. I’m not setting out to try to destroy anyone, I want to do it for myself. I don’t want to prove that I can beat Bubba or I can beat Chad, I want to prove to myself that I can come back and do it. I know what it takes, and I know it’s going to be a long season. I look forward to it. It’s going to be a very special year in the sport with Bubba and Chad and me. It’s the most hype, and hopefully we all can race the first race. I know sometimes when there’s a lot of hype like that, something happens and the ball gets dropped and there’s a mishap somewhere. Hopefully it’ll be good, and that’s what motivates me.”

Here we go again…

Bubba dilla

Fouekend, with who’s going to do what, but the reality is that there are a lot of other tracks that I do well at besides the two I won last year. I come in each weekend optimistic, and I can’t start thinking negatively; I’ve just got to keep plugging away and we’ll get him.”

Ricky was plainly dominant, even though he hung up his left foot in a rut partway through the moto, almost hitting the deck. Although he could hardly walk after the moto, he never even thought of not racing moto two, despite his huge points lead. “If I finished half the first moto, then for sure I was racing the second moto,” Carmichael said. “I just bruised the sh*t out of it. I got lucky. I definitely did the ACL-repair test, so that was good that my knee held up. That means my knee is strong, but it hurt like hell, I tell you. I knew all along it was just a bruise, though, so I took a little medicine and everything was good.”

In the second moto, a better start (although still not a “good” start) kept Windham within reach of Reed for second, and he came through, passing Reed about halfway through the race. By then, RC was long gone, and Windham had to settle for the runner-up spot. “I think in the second moto it actually took me a couple laps to get warmed up because of my leg,” RC said. “Chad was there pressing the issue, and after a couple laps went by, I got warmed up and started pulling away.”

Reed knows what he has to do to catch up. “I think I just need to get used to doing that pace when I’m practicing and things like that,” Reed said. “I just need to keep the pace strong and keep it high. When you’re up there with Ricky, you’re letting it hang out, and it’s a little out of my comfort zone. I need to get used to that.”

Carmichael was all smiles. “I definitely wanted to come here and put it to ’em, for sure,” said the champ. “The main thing, I think, the reason I got beat last year was just that you had to be on a four-stroke. I think we’re on a level playing field now, and I think I had the upper hand there.”

Before the 2003 season, when Windham returned, he said he would “be pissed if Ricky went perfect again with me out there.” Now it’s looking less and less like anyone can do anything about it. “I would’ve been pissed last year, and I’d be upset this year,” Windham said. “That’s definitely not what I want. Not only do I want him not to be perfect, I want me to win more than him as a whole, but right now he’s just riding really strong. The weekend is not the time to pick it up that little bit extra. I’ve been working hard during the week to pick it up on the weekends. I’m going to be just as disappointed in myself this year if he goes perfect than last year or any year to come. I didn’t think it would ever happen again, and I don’t think it’ll happen this year. I could be wrong, but I’m doing all that I can to stop him. We can only do what we can do, and I’m doing it. I’m working hard.”

With the outdoor season under control, RC’s already got his sights set on Anaheim I. “I want to win this outdoor title, if I win every moto I do; if I don’t, we want to win the title, and that’s the main thing,” he said. “But I have a big goal next year, and that’s 250cc Supercross. I didn’t get to defend my title this year, and that’s the first time that has ever happened. It’s a personal goal for me. I’m not setting out to try to destroy anyone, I want to do it for myself. I don’t want to prove that I can beat Bubba or I can beat Chad, I want to prove to myself that I can come back and do it. I know what it takes, and I know it’s going to be a long season. I look forward to it. It’s going to be a very special year in the sport with Bubba and Chad and me. It’s the most hype, and hopefully we all can race the first race. I know sometimes when there’s a lot of hype like that, something happens and the ball gets dropped and there’s a mishap somewhere. Hopefully it’ll be good, and that’s what motivates me.”

Here we go again…

Bubba dilla

Four-strokes offer a huge advantage at Unadilla, as can easily be demonstrated just by looking at the difference between Ricky Carmichael’s 2003 and 2004 races. If anyone was going to beat Bubba heads up this year, it would be at a track like Unadilla.

It’s not looking good, though. James Stewart simply killed the 125cc class in New York – again. No one was close, but whenever someone’s within 30 seconds of Bubba, he doesn’t like it. “I get out there, and I see the pitboard, and it’s like +18 and +20 and stuff like that,” Stewart said, “but after winning by a minute at Budds Creek, winning by 20 or 30 seconds seems small, but it’s working for me. I’m still winning, no matter where I finish.”

Davi Millsaps finished second in the first moto, and he actually came from behind to pass Walker for “first in class” in the second moto and was pulling away, only to have his factory RM-Z250 smoke to a stop on the last lap. Millsaps has been criticized quite a bit for some poor performances, but everything began to click at Unadilla. He was less than a lap from a 2-2 day when his bike died.

Matt Walker had a breakthrough race as well on his KX250F, going 3-2 for second overall. “Finally, no mechanical failures, no brain-fade on my part, just two solid motos,” Walker said. “I talked to my wife before the race about maybe backing it down a little bit this weekend and trying to not ride as balls-out as I normally do, and that’s what we were going for. It just so happens that I ended up second. It’s finally coming around.”

>Four-strokes offer a huge advantage at Unadilla, as can easily be demonstrated just by looking at the difference between Ricky Carmichael’s 2003 and 2004 races. If anyone was going to beat Bubba heads up this year, it would be at a track like Unadilla.

It’s not looking good, though. James Stewart simply killed the 125cc class in New York – again. No one was close, but whenever someone’s within 30 seconds of Bubba, he doesn’t like it. “I get out there, and I see the pitboard, and it’s like +18 and +20 and stuff like that,” Stewart said, “but after winning by a minute at Budds Creek, winning by 20 or 30 seconds seems small, but it’s working for me. I’m still winning, no matter where I finish.”

Davi Millsaps finished second in the first moto, and he actually came from behind to pass Walker for “first in class” in the second moto and was pulling away, only to have his factory RM-Z250 smoke to a stop on the last lap. Millsaps has been criticized quite a bit for some poor performances, but everything began to click at Unadilla. He was less than a lap from a 2-2 day when his bike died.

Matt Walker had a breakthrough race as well on his KX250F, going 3-2 for second overall. “Finally, no mechanical failures, no brain-fade on my part, just two solid motos,” Walker said. “I talked to my wife before the race about maybe backing it down a little bit this weekend and trying to not ride as balls-out as I normally do, and that’s what we were going for. It just so happens that I ended up second. It’s finally coming around.”