Ricky Carmichael on the return of SX
By Eric Johnson
From the August 27, 1997 issue of Cycle News.
“This is like a dream come true,” said 17 year-old Ricky Carmichael into my tape recorder a mere 20 minutes after clinching his first-ever AMA National Championship. “This was my first year, and there was a lot of pressure on me for being a rookie. All of the hard training was worth it. The whole years has been a team effort, and it has been unbelievable.”
That was 23 years and 16 AMA titles and 162 combined wins in AMA SX/MX ago for Carmichael who is now simply referred to as the GOAT – THE GREATEST OF ALL TIME. Having called time on his unbelievable racing career after leading Team USA to victory at the 2007 Motocross of Nations at Budds Creek, Maryland, Carmichael took a big swing at the NASCAR Truck Series, faring well at it before finding his way into his current lot in life: Supercross TV analyst for NBC Sports. And that’s the hot seat (if you will) RC will be in come Sunday afternoon inside Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah. The very first of what will be seven races to decide the interrupted 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series Championship. Already in Utah and working on his homework for Sunday’s broadcast, RC took a quick breather to check in with all of us racing fans. Take it away RC!
How long have you been in the racing-friendly metropolis of Salt Lake City?
“Oh, I just got here yesterday and got all situated. My girlfriend’s best friend has a place in Park City, so I’m staying there, so that’s nice. I went and got all my COVID testing done, so I’m waiting to get the results back from that. If that comes back negative, we’re ready to rip, man! I’m just hanging out and waiting for results, so that’s why I had to get here early. With the flights and all that stuff yesterday, we didn’t know if they would be delayed or whatever, so I didn’t want to chance it.”
What in the world do you make of all this? Seven races and the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series title to be decided in an NCAA college football stadium in Utah?
“Well, it’s not charted waters. First and foremost of what I can say is that whoever wins this championship, in my mind, will be and should be crowned as the winner of the hardest Monster Energy Supercross Series Championship in history because of what we’ve been faced with as far as the pandemic. Being in championship form and then having to be forced into a 12-week shutoff and then to now be forced to get right back into it, both mentally and physically, I feel, is going to be a really tough challenge. The guy that is able to do that the best and continue the consistency and the good race craft and being up front when he needs to be up front, is going to be the guy who is going to be victorious. And I’ve been in some great championship battles throughout my career. 2006 comes to mind where it was basically winner take all at Vegas for the title and I still think this is going to supersede that season as the greatest championship in supercross history. I’m excited, but at the same time, it’s uncharted waters for everybody.”
You won a few of these things. If you were standing in, say, Tomac or Roczen’s boots, what in the world would you be thinking? Such a profoundly odd set of circumstances, eh?
“Yeah, I mean those guys are back-and-forth each weekend. There are three points separating them and you can pose situations on both riders of why they have a better chance than the other. Eli, you know, you think he has an advantage as he lives at elevation and the Sat Lake City race is going to be at elevation. Then you go to Ken Roczen, and he’s led more laps than anybody this year. He doesn’t have as many wins, but he’s upfront a lot more often. His chance of winning are just as good as Eli’s, so they both have their strengths. There is no doubt that these two have very few weaknesses. And there is one guy still looming and that’s defending champion Cooper Webb. I feel he has a chance, but he’s going to need a lot of help. I mean it’s far-fetched, but mathematically, it’s still possible. He’s capable of it, but he’s in a must-win situation and that’s a bad spot to be in.”
Yeah, and there are more a few other guys that can throw a spanner in the works, as well, huh? I mean, Barcia, AC, Anderson…
“Yeah, well, certainly so. We just switched gears from talking about championships to winning races. Like AC, I feel like this is a second season for him. He got his rookie season out of the way ` going to be up in the mix. That can really work, whether it’s to Eli Tomac’ or Ken Roczen’s benefit, that can really get in-between one another, so it’s going to be exciting to see just what guys are going to take advantage of everything that has went down and the opportunity to come out and excel. For instance, AC can win his first premiere win in supercross? Can Barcia come out and get another win and his second win of the season?”
Exactly! I can also see a Malcolm Stewart or a Justin Brayton coming out of the woodwork and winning one of these things.
“Yeah, certainly this is a time of… I don’t know… It’s a different time, for sure. Crazy things have happened. Yeah, at the end of the day I think it’s going to be tough because I feel like what we’re going to see and find is that the championship contenders are going to somehow find their way up front. It’s crunch time. We only have seven rounds left and these things are going to fly by in three weeks – seven races in three weeks! We’re going to finish one race and before we know it, we’re going to be back at the stadium and these guys are going to be getting it on. As it’s an opportunity for guys like the Braytons of the world and the Malcolm Stewarts and the Adam Cianciarulos of the world to excel. Having said all that, just feel like the championship contenders are going to find their way up front.
“I think that we need to do the best that we can from a television standpoint with us guys up in the booth explaining it to the viewers. I think all of this is going to be an opportunity to catch some new eyeballs because we’re going to be one of the only live sports being televised and I look forward to the opportunity. I relish that moment and I’m going to try and be on my A Game to really portray the sport in the best way that I can and show the general public that these guys are some of the best athletes in the world. We want to represent our sport well right now because our athletes deserve it for the risks that they take.
“And the cool thing is that the championships – the 450 class AND the 250 classes – have just been so close. Anything can happen. We’re going to be crowning three champions at the end of this seven race stretch and it’s a great time for people to be watching and tuning-in.”
As you just pointed out, seven races inside the same stadium. To your way of seeing things, what’s that going to be like?
“You know, people have asked me what I think it’s going to be like racing the same venue for seven rounds and I can tell you that if you like racing in Salt Lake City at Rice-Eccles Stadium, well, you’ve got a hell of an advantage. It’s different. I think everything is going to be different. There are only going to be a certain number of people allowed in the stadium – that’s riders, mechanics, officials, safety crew and guys like myself with the television people. It’s a skeleton crew for social distancing purposes and it’s uncharted waters. It’s going to be different for everybody, but I think once the rag drops, everyone is going to be focused and focused on the battles on the track because there is so much on the line. Like I said, if you like Rice-Eccles Stadium, you’re happy as hell that you get to race here seven times in-a-row.”
Okay, I’m going to put you on the spot here. What’s it going to take Eli Tomac to win the championship and what’s it going to take for Ken Roczen to win the championship?
“Well, Eli certainly has the speed to do it. There’s no doubt about it. I think he’s a tick better than everyone else in the field as far as speed goes. He has to continue what he’s been able to do all season long and not have that throwaway race. He’s been running up front and I feel like he has overcome his demons from years past that have plagued him for having that throwaway race. If he can continue to do what he has done all season, I think he comes out victorious. What does Ken Roczen have to do? He is going to have to really be there and continue to be consistent on the starts and to be up front early and to have himself in a good position like he’s done. He just can’t let Eli Tomac get the best of him. He can’t count on Eli to have that throwaway race because it doesn’t look like Eli is going to do that, ken has got to be able to match Eli on speed.”
Extraordinary races for extraordinary times, eh?
“Yeah, yeah, it is. It’s different for everybody and I hope we never have to experience it again, but everybody that I know is doing the best that they can and if everyone keeps doing their part, we will al get through this and we’ll get through it together and we just have to buckle down and ride it out together. Hey, check this out. When I got the call saying, ‘Hey, we’re going back racing!” I felt like I has a purpose. I’m going to do it and I’m going to make the best of it.”
Ricky Carmichael on the ground with Chad Reed and Ken Roczen – Image by Hoppenworld