2006 AMA Toyota Motocross Lites Champion Ryan Villopoto has garnered the final nomination for this year’s AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year Award.
Villopoto, an 18-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., who rides for the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team, is the youngest of this year’s nominees and is the first rookie to earn a nomination since fellow motocross racer James Stewart was nominated in his rookie pro season in 2002.
Villopoto won the AMA Motocross Lites title in his first full season in the championship. He also was a member of the winning Team USA Motocross of Nations squad and was recently named AMA Supercross/Motocross Rookie of the Year. He was also the 2005 AMA Sports Horizon Award winner, signifying the top amateur motocross racer in the country.
Villopoto earned this year’s championship after a season-long battle with Red Bull KTM rider Mike Alessi. The title was not decided until the final round.
“It’s great to be nominated for Athlete of the Year, Villopoto said. “It’s the icing on the cake of a great season. I had a great battle with Mike (Alessi) all year and I think it brought out the best in me. Then the Motocross des Nations was a much bigger deal than I thought it would be. It was great to ride as a team with Ivan and James.
“I plan on coming back in 2007 and racing in West Supercross and defending my motocross (Lites) championship. Hopefully I can keep this momentum going.
Winning the title at such a young age has some experts comparing Villopoto’s rise to that of multi-time AMA Supercross and Motocross champion Ricky Carmichael. Villopoto doesn’t mind the comparison.
“I think it would be cool if I do some of the things Ricky has done over his career, Villopoto admits. “I mean I’m sure anyone who races would love to follow in his footsteps.
Villopoto joins Josh Hayes, Carmichael, Ben Spies and Chris Carr as the five final nominees for this year’s AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year Award.
The 2006 AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year will be named at the 32nd annual AMA Pro Racing Awards Banquet on Sunday evening, Nov. 19 at the Rio All-Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
About the AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year Award
The AMA Pro Racing SPEED Athlete of the Year Award is the highest honor an AMA competitor can receive. Past recipients include such legendary racers as Bob Hannah, Scott Parker and Kenny Roberts, among others. The award goes to the rider judged to have had the most successful racing year. The rider’s career achievements can also be considered if the season complements a remarkable career. A selection panel made up of AMA and AMA Pro Racing staff, field staff and volunteer leadership is named by the AMA CEO and that panel evaluates nominations and determines the final winner.