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Ryan Dungey gunning for 2012 MX Championship repeat

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Photo credit: Chip Kalback

Ryan Dungey is sheer class. Every sport witnesses a wide range of talents that pour their lives into the fragile hope of one day reaching the top, yet rarely do young phenoms storm the scene and rack up the kind of success that Dungey has already seen.

After a string of noteworthy performances in the amateur ranks, including a victory in Loretta Lynn’s Amateur Championships, a promising young Dungey was pleasantly surprised by an offer from Team Suzuki to join their factory team, and in 2006, made his professional debut at just 16.

Feeding off the tutelage from motocross elite Ricky Carmichael and Roger DeCoster, accolades continued to roll in, including 2007 AMA Rookie of the Year. Despite these successes, it wasn’t until 2009 that Ryan really layed down the hurt on his competition, sweeping the 250 Motocross and Supercross Lites championships and gaining a victorious momentum that steamrolled into 2010, where he accomplished what only one other rider has: win the 450 Supercross and Motocross championships in a rookie season.

2011 saw Dungey’s talent continue to thrive, and despite landing on the podium countless times and bringing home the win for team USA in the Motocross of Nations, he fell just short of overall victory in both the Supercross and outdoor seasons.

A new team and machine were no doubt risky moves for Dungey coming into 2012, yet it didn’t take long for him to put the hammer down and bring Red Bull KTM its first ever Supercross victory. A broken collarbone sidelined the champion for a large chunk of the remaining Supercross races, yet he still managed to win the final two events. During the outdoor season, Dungey rode away from his competitors and into the books as being the first rider to win a 450 Motocross Championship for KTM.

Obligatory note: In whatever field you pursue, if your achievements can be as extensive and impressive as the aforementioned, it is safe to say you have done it right. A lot right.

2013 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships

2013 has brought its own bag of fresh and veteran competition, all gunning for the top spot and leaving Dungey with a most assured target on his back. The Supercross season left Dungey with a couple of victories and third place overall, letting the pressure build for his 2012 Motocross Championship defense as the transition to outdoor was made.

The opening two rounds saw Dungey on the podium once again, just shy of first place Ryan Villopoto. Dungey spoke optimistically of moving in the right direction after the second round, and his predictions were on point as he battled to victory in Tennessee the following weekend, leaving him just 10 points short of first place overall.

The last race before tomorrow’s Budds Creek was at High Point Raceway, where fast and aggressive riding had Dungey punching it out once again with Villopoto finishing a margin behind when the dust had settled. Ever optimistic, Dungey was quoted on CycleNews as being anything but discouraged: “We’re definitely moving in the right direction, that’s for sure. It will be good to have a weekend off to give us a chance to work on a few things and fine tune a little bit, but also have a little down time, so I’ll take advantage of that. Things are good, we’re moving forward and I’ll be excited when we come back.”

Saturday, June 22, 3:00-4:00PM ET on NBC: Clear your schedule for Budds Creek.

With an ideal broadcast time and content that is sure to epically compliment any gathering or solo viewing, the Red Bull Budds Creek National on NBC is going to be a killer fifth round to the Lucas Oil Pro MX Championship, and you really owe it to yourself to check it out.

Dungey and his KTM team were victorious last year at this Southern Maryland mega facility, and are primed to repeat on Saturday. He’s the only rider in the 2013 MX series to finish on the podium in every moto so far.

The Interview

Regardless of any athlete’s triumph, the average person tends to look at them as being very one-dimensional; that is, the person on screen or at an event, doing all that they can to win. Their existence can sometimes be clipped around those brief moments where you watch them do what they do best.

When one is blessed with a chance to delve a little deeper and see the bigger picture, you can either be completely disappointed and pissed that you put such a big letdown on such a big pedestal, or that person can garner even more respect than you had originally divvied out.

In Dungey’s situation, the latter applies more than a broke high school student looking for work. Well-spoken and good-humored, he not only kills the MX circuit, but is also an avid cycling fan and participant, working with Target to organize the MN River-to-River Ride, a multiple-length charity ride along the Mississippi and St. Croix rivers that benefits St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

Don’t just take my word for it, read on to hear from Ryan himself, and don’t forget to catch the Red Bull Budds Creek National this Saturday at 3:00-4:00pm EST on NBC.

How has the KTM machine changed since you joined the team, and how did you play a role in that?

Well, the KTM when I first came on board was definitely a great bike with a lot of potential. And I mean, if you are just an average customer that wants to buy a great 450, it is a great bike, I don’t think there was anything wrong with it, it’s just when I came on board, racing at this level, everything is so fast, a racer is so in tune with his bike and how it works and what could be better, and the littlest things, at that stage of the game, are big steps, tenths of a second, you know? We definitely did a lot of testing with suspension, geometry of the bike, the chassis, motor package, everything — we put so many hours into testing to try and make a better bike, better on the race track and also better on the production lines for customers buying it, and I think that in the last year and a half we made huge progress with the race bike. There are some things I’m glad I did though, last year, and slowly we figured things out, and that’s all part of it. It’s not just me who builds the bike, there are so many people around you — the suspension guy, the motor guys, our team manager… I have so many great people around me to help me direct myself to build the bike — those are the guys that should be credited, it’s just fun to be a part of it. I feel like we fought for some things last year that we were able to figure out in the offseason coming into this year, and we were able to just recently, about a month ago, with the shocks, find a solution for it and get some comfort, and since then the bike feels like it is just dialed and the more comfortable I get.

Do you feel like there is ever going to be a point where you reach the sweet spot or do you foresee a constant a progression? Is it ever going to get to the point where you’ve nailed it down 100% with what you want?

I don’t think it’s ever 100%, but right now, riding the bike I feel like it is reaching close to its fullest potential. I hate to say it is 100% because things always need to get better and we need to always keep improving it. You settle in one area and there you are trying to play catch-up. I really feel like the bike is at a sweet spot. When I’m riding it I don’t think what could be better, it’s definitely hitting its point, I’m able to hit my marks on the track, I’m comfortable on it, and that lets me push it faster, so for now, yeah, I feel like we’re at a great spot with the bike and its working very good, so now it’s about going out there and racing.

In the event of a mechanical error, especially in a particularly important event or race, is there a certain person or group that generates the majority of blame, or is it agreed upon that that is just a part of racing? Do you think mechanical errors can be avoided entirely with the right team or is it just bad luck sometimes?

Sometimes it just happens, sometimes it’s out of anyone’s control — it could be something as small as a rock through the radiator draining all the fluid. A lot of the time I feel like mechanical errors can be prevented with the right team, having a good idea of how the bike works, what the bike can and cannot do, and on the other side, we win as a team and lose as a team, we’re all in a team effort and it’s not just one particular guy. I’m there on the dirt bike, yet there is so much going on behind the scenes that makes it possible for me to go out there and perform and be comfortable. My mechanic Carlos, we have built a relationship where he understands me and I understand him and we work together along with the rest of the team to build a good bond and it’s cool. One of the best things you can have is a good team and a good atmosphere, and its fun yet serious when it comes time to race and the vibe of everything is in the right spot. It’s good to have people around like that.

Who is your favorite person to train with, purely from an enjoyment point of view?

Probably Ricky Carmichael. We live about two miles from each other and we can always act as training partners. He’s been there and done that and we can talk about things, and on the other side, just have fun and joke a little too.

What would you say is your favorite outdoor course to race?

I’d probably have to say Millville. It’s a track that I grew up at. If you want to race a track that is gonna separate the men from the boys, that’s it. It’s a lot of elevation, a lot of tricky off-camera stuff, and it has everything that is gonna make a race course challenging and tough. And that’s what you want as a rider: a course that allows you to apply everything you worked so hard during the week and show that. It never gets old going back, there is something about it, and it’s located out in the country and is a beautiful race track as well, so I always like going back there to race.

Every athlete has a unique passion for his/her particular sport. What would you say it is about motocross that makes it special?

I think with motocross, it is so unique, just with the fact that it’s on dirt, you race a machine, and obviously a lot of people think it’s a really physically demanding sport, and honestly, it is. When it comes down to racing, your heart rate is up there, when you are going as hard as you can for 35 minutes, twice a day, it’s like, if anybody could go any harder or faster because they were stronger, they would. You are always pushing your body to that limit and its unique in a way cause it’s a course with dirt jumps and it’s out in the country – wide open in the country. Not many sports involve so many variables, and being strong mentally and physically… and then the team. You really can’t have any missing pieces in your program.

You’ve already won so many important titles and achieved what every amateur athlete can only dream of. At what point did it hit you that this was gonna be your thing? A sudden phone call saying you got a contract, or was it seen a long way off and more calculated?

When I first signed my professional contract, it was definitely one of those moments where it was like, I couldn’t believe it was happening, especially for me. I really didn’t think it was gonna happen when I was 16 years old. Fortunately, I got a chance to ride for the factory and everything went really well, they said they would put something together – and at that point I said, “Damn, am I really gonna sign a factory contract?” Of course, until it’s done, you don’t wanna get your hopes up. But then two days later, I signed the contract, it was a two-year deal, and it didn’t sink in at first, especially with a factory team, that’s rare. It doesn’t happen every day. We went straight to the factory, had a good bike, and I think for myself, my parents… I mean, that moment right there I had been waiting for since I was 8, 9 years old — every day I thought about it. It was just cool. At first, trying to live up to the expectations, but I kinda got caught in the wrong crowd and I thought I just need to do this. I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, and once I got over that, I focused on the deal and it was good. It’s hard to put into words, that moment, but once I was there, I just thought, “I’m gonna give it everything I got.” It was pretty sweet.

With the outpouring of fan mail and support from many, is there anything in particular that has stood out and given you extra motivation or simply made you contemplate?

Yeah, I mean, it’s not a particular thing. For me, I think it’s that you hear it’s short, and that it goes by fast. I remember before I was just trying to go, and now, close to 7 years into my professional career, I think to myself, “Holy crap, it does go by super fast,” and it’s one of those things that the more time passes, you try to hold onto it. I don’t want to get to the end and think I could have done better. Life is short. I want to live every day like it is my last and be all that I can be. Every race is gonna be different, but for the time being, I want to put it all into every race, and doing that, I can be happy at the end.

Each victory must have been a major step and check off the list, but as you look forward, is winning the same titles again gonna be the main thing, or is there something you want to move towards?

I think for me, winning the titles is great, but it’s just that every championship is different. It’s never going to be the same two times, three times, and there is a challenge that goes with it, knowing that you already accomplished that and you have to refocus to do that again, and that’s a tough part. But at the same time, it never gets old, because the guys you raced in one championship, they might be there for the next one, but there’s gonna be other guys and other challenges and circumstances that you face, that really, it feels like it is new all over again. If you look at it like you have already done it, then, yeah, you’re gonna lose your focus, but if you look at it like, “I’m a racer and I wanna go out there and win every single time whether I’ve done it or not.”

You have displayed a way of connecting with people through your work with Livestrong. Is creating a foundation, much as Lance did, something that you are interested in pursuing?

Absolutely. I’ve worked with Livestrong for a little over five years now. But moving forward… last year we opened up a partner with Target – the Minnesota Major, that’s what the charity bike ride was called, and 100% of the proceeds went to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital — and it was awesome. My grandmother had passed away from cancer in 2005, so when I found myself in a position to give back, I wanted to do everything I could, and that was a great opportunity to hold that last year with the charity bike ride. Everything went well, I was able to go to St. Jude and see the patients. It was really sad, to see what they are going through. It’s good that it gives a reality check, but it’s really sad to see kids who are so young battling so many diseases. The hospital was really amazing in that they fund everything from the chemo, to taking care of the families, putting them in a hotel room, to making sure the patient is getting the best treatment, and that was really neat to see. We raised some good money and we look forward to doing it again and making it an annual thing every year. It was really cool working with Target, who is a big supporter of St. Jude, and with them being a sponsor of mine, it was a great fit all the way around.

What has been your most memorable finish? And not necessarily a winning situation.

I think the most memorable race was in 2011. It was an outdoor event, obviously the championship was coming down to the wire, the third to last race, and I was really focused on getting out of there with the win. The first moto we were able to win it, but pretty soon after the first moto, a big hurricane was rolling in pretty fast and it started raining and the wind started blowing. More than anything, it rained a lot, and I remember going to the second moto and thinking, “Alright, it’s gonna be a tough one, but we’re gonna have to do the best we can with it.” I’m getting ready to go to the line and my bike doesn’t start. They told me they would get it ready and meet me at the line, so time goes by and I’m down there getting my gate ready, and I was obviously last pick because my bike wasn’t there. The gate dropped and my bike still wasn’t there, the guys take off and I’m out there and I lost it. The championship was so close and I didn’t want to lose like that. I get ready to start walking back and here comes my bike up over the hill. I throw my goggles on, and it worked out kinda perfect, because I got on the track right before they made their first lap, and if they had made their first lap, I would have been disqualified. I’m two minutes down off the last place guy and I was able to catch up to the last place all the way through, and I got to seventh by the end of the moto and saved it for a third overall finish. It was just a crazy time. It was one of those moments where – I always say don’t ever give up — but that was one of those times where it confirmed it for me. I had my mom there before I took off and I looked at her and said, “What do I do?” and she said, “Get on that bike and show them what a Dungey can do.” Emotions were everywhere that day, so it was pretty crazy.

Are you confident that you could have reached the same success had you never met Roget DeCoster or Ricky Carmichael?

I don’t think I would have had the same success early on without Roger or Ricky. Ricky was on his way out and I got to see him a little bit, and Roger has also been through everything, he’s won every championship. The guy’s raced for 20 years, let alone been a team manager for close to 30, so with that experience and those behind me setting up my bike… I really tried to be a sponge and learn as much as I could from Roger and Ricky. I really don’t think I would have been as successful early on. It was because I got to see Ricky ride and learn from him and pick up on things so fast, and work with Roger on setting my bike up the best for me at that moment. People don’t always get to work with great people in their careers, and let alone, I just came in and I get to work with the best racer of all time and Roger, who is just so well-known in the sport, that if you don’t know him, you don’t know motocross. It was just cool to work with those two guys right off the bat; I couldn’t have asked for anything better, you know, it was perfect.


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