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For the uninitiated, or just those curious about things that seem insane: Motocross could be defined simply as a bunch of guys going around and around a track. Watch a race, and you’ll see it’s more like a ballet. Only the dancer is moving at speeds of up to 60 mph across a dirt stage of turns, obstacles and jumps that can shoot him 70 feet forward and send him soaring as high as a three-story building. All while (hopefully) astride a 220-lb bike. Adding to the fun, he’s dancing with a corps of at least 20 other guys trying to do the same thing – only faster – to a soundtrack that vibrates like a chorus of very angry bears. Okay, never mind; that doesn’t sound much like dance after all. Nor does it sound any less insane, which why it requires just the opposite: complete cool, control and focus.
And dedication. Ricky Carmichael got his first minibike as a Valentine’s Day gift. He was five. His scored his first win at six in Daytona, Fla., and by 13, he was arguably the fastest minibike rider in world. But if bigger bikes exist, they must be ridden, and Carmichael rode – first 125ccs, then 250s and eventually 450s – with tunnel vision on the scoreboard. He won several main events in his rookie year with the Splitfire Pro Circuit Kawasaki team at age 18, and came back to finish the job by winning all eight main events of the Supercross 1998 125cc East Region. [Supercross is motocross, but takes place in stadiums.] In 2000, he jumped to the 250 class and won the 250 National Motocross Championship on his first try. The next year, he won 13 out of 15 Supercross races as well as the championship. In 2002, Carmichael accomplished something previously thought impossible: He won all 24 motos of the 2002 National season. In 2003, he won both Supercross and National titles again. And in 2004 he again won all 24 National motos, proving his 2002 feat was not a supernatural once-in-a-lifetime event. In 2005, he also won all 12 events in the 250cc Outdoor National Championship, winning 22 of 24 motos on a 450. Carmichael also scored the U.S. Open of Supercross title and led Team USA to victory at the Motocross des Nations. Along the way, he battled back from several injuries sustained in crashes as spectacular as his wins. (Search “Ricky Carmichael worst crashes” and prepare to cringe.)
He announced that 2006 would be his last full-time season and then got down to business, dominating the Outdoor National Championship season. In 2007 he raced only select events but still finished with three Supercross wins and six Outdoor National Championship wins, taking every race he entered, remaining arguably the fastest rider on the track, and inarguably, with his record 150 combined SX/MX career victories, the winningest racer in the sport – The Greatest Of All Time.
In his 2007 semi-retirement, he took up another long-held ambition: the sedate pursuit of NASCAR racing, which still involves going around and around a track, this time at about 200 mph. In 2015, he was inducted in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America.
Roger DeCoster, the Suzuki team manager responsible for recruiting Carmichael in 2005, said, “He is the most dedicated guy I have ever worked with. He wants to win as much on Mondays as he does on race day. He raises the game of the people around him. He gives his all.” Sounds about right for a guy who told Transworld Motocross at the start of his career, “I won’t accept seconds and thirds.” Coming up, he also paid attention to the off-track commonalities he noted among his racing idols: good sportsmanship and humility. The hype that surrounded Carmichael throughout his career went largely in one ear and out the other, and to this day he’s consistently gracious in discussing his fiercest rivals. Dirt Rider called him “the best bargain in motocross,” opining that top MX sponsors couldn’t pay enough for the PR value he brought to their brands.
These days, he co-owns professional Supercross/Motocross team RCH Racing. Carmichael leads the team’s rider development, testing, and research programs. He’s also helping advance the next generation of riders by hosting a hands-on riding school with instructors who collectively boast over 20 AMA national titles. He lends his name to the Ricky Carmichael Daytona Amateur Supercross, one of five annual major amateur championship events across the country. And, he’s taking what he’s learned on the bigger, better-funded NASCAR circuit to help grow audience and sponsorship for MX/SX, which counts 80 percent of its fans among the coveted 18-35 age bracket. Seems Carmichael’s just destined to keep going around in circles, moving the sport forward the whole time.