The 2016 Thunder Valley National was the last time we saw Ryan Dungey race here in the US, as he sustained a spinal injury during the second moto. Not long after, word broke out regarding the injury, and it was announced soon after that the Red Bull KTM rider would sit out the remaining rounds of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship to rehabilitate the injury. “The Diesel” has since made a full recovery, and he’s looking forward to the 2017 racing season where he’ll take on the likes of Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac and many more. We caught up with Dungey earlier this week at the 2017 KTM Team Introduction to see what he’s been up to since we last saw him.
It's the offseason, but I think you may have traveled more in the last few weeks than you did all year. How were these last few international trips?
They were good! The FIM Gala was in Berlin, Germany, this past week and I guess you did something right if you are there. It's cool to receive the world championship medal for the Supercross championship, and it's always fun to celebrate even if it's after the fact. Lindsay and I got to go there, got dressed up for the night, and enjoyed it with all of the other champions. It's pretty cool because you get to meet and see a lot of great people from across all other motorcycle sports, like Marc Marquez and all the boys, and we got to tour the city a little bit with our extra time. It worked out pretty well. It was a lot of travel, I think two days spent there and twenty-four hours of flying there and back, but we enjoy that.
The injury this summer changed your entire dynamic, because for the rest of the year you didn't have to burn the candle all the way down. But now you have to rebuild. Is it more difficult now, because you haven't ridden as much, or is it easier, because your body is fresh?
If anything, I think it can be better. I don't want to sit here and make excuses, and I'd much rather be racing than watching, but I don't know when to stop. I always want to do more. If anything it was good to get a little bit of downtime. Instead of looking at it like, "I can't believe this happened," I looked at it as a positive and used it as a time to recharge and reflect. I'm not going to worry, because we got out and did stuff that I couldn't usually do and that was fun. Thankfully the injury wasn't worse and I was able to heal up. At this stage, as we prepare for the next season, all those guys raced all year long and I didn't. They built the experience and felt the race scenario pressure, and I think it was good for me to get out and do the three races that I did in October (SMX, Monster Energy Cup, Red Bull Straight Rhythm,) just because I go ton the gate. With the building process on the physical side, as we ramp up for the season I think it's better. I feel like my body is adapting better to things and it's more rested, and those are the perks of it all. I'm just glad to be back on the bike and am looking forward to another good year of health and fun. The competition is getting tougher and stronger, and I have to try to use my consistency. But that's not going to be enough and I'll need the experience that I've built over the years.
In that downtime, did you watch every race and study what the other riders were doing? Or did you take full advantage of the opportunity to not be as wide-open?
There were two things. I wasn't going to have a pity party, so I got out there and enjoyed things. I went to Minnesota and was able to spend time with my family, and that was the best of it all. Lindsay and I are always away from our families, and we got to spend a few months there with them having fun. I watched the races and there is always stuff to learn. I didn't look at it like, "I'm not there so I don't need to watch." If anything, I was able to study and learn what the other guys were doing better, and the ways that I can be better. There is always room for improvement and like I said, I want to see the best in every situation. I worked on my recovery process and kept up on my physical stuff so that it didn't go away too much. Once I was able to get in the gym, I was there to build the strength for when I got back on the dirt bike. Did I feel the effects from being off the bike for a long time? For sure! But with some time, I feel like my body as adapted back.
Aldon has a notoriously strict diet. Did you indulge on a few things or remain on the program for the most part?
It's funny because a lot of people would love to go off the deep-end and eat crappy, but Lindsay and I would rather eat more food that's healthier. Did we eat a few extra calories? For sure! But when the body is healing, it needs all of that. Aldon lightened up a little bit, but as soon as I was back into it, he was on me.
You've done the program and boot camp a few times now. Does it get easier the more you do it, because you know what to expect?
Physically it is always tough. You're pushing the body past the limit and I think how you approach it mentally makes it easier year by year. Once you've been through it once, you know what to expect. I try to have a good approach and I think that, like a lot of things in life, makes it more enjoyable. The body receives the training better compared to when you're negative about it. Because then anger builds up and bitterness creeps in, so I try to see the positive. It is hard, for sure. If we did the same thing every year, it would get easier, but we do a variety of a lot of things and there is more volume. You're always pushing your body to do more.
You have roughly a month until the season starts. Do you change anything now? It's probably very easy to get distracted by the holidays, the hype of the new years, days like this for the media, filming for Feld.
You have to remember that everyone else is doing the same thing. It's not like I'm the only one that is doing this. I try to see where I can be better by reflecting on the prior year and the races where I felt like the bike or I could have been better. With my team of people, I give the feedback to them so we can fix those areas. As we build to the new season there are some commitments and obligations, but that's part of it all. These companies pay us a lot of money to do this, so I always learn more with the testing. When you line up at Anaheim One, you hope that you're on target and can apply yourself, without worrying about anything else.
Every year we go through the same deal, "This is the deepest field yet," type of thing. Do you have to adjust your mindset to that or is it more, "Well yeah, but I'm the defending champion so I know where I'm at?"
I think it's important to have an open mind on who is coming in and who is there. You don't want to underestimate people, because that's when they catch you by surprise and that's never good. You want to know where a guy's weakness and strengths are, and still I focus on myself because it doesn't do me any good to worry about the things that I can't control. I just apply myself the best I can and will apply my experience. Everything is so close these days that I have to use all of the positives that I know and then learn how I can be better from the other riders. Overall, you hope to have the best package with the people around you and the atmosphere. It's not just about you and the bike, because you need a good crew around you to improve everything. It all works together. Even with my wife and her support, I think that if she wasn't so helpful how miserable it would probably be. All of these things play factors.