One on one with the 2012 AMA Motocross Champion and AMA Supercross Champion Ryan Dungey
You locked up the championship with two rounds to go. What does it mean to you to get KTM’s first championship in America?
I think going over to Team Red Bull KTM last year and signing with them for two years was a big step. It was something different for me. I was at Suzuki for five years so to make that transition was going to be different. But I felt like we had a great group of people, a lot of commitment, a lot of great people behind us and a great bike. I really felt that. A lot of people had their opinions but I just stayed true to myself and once I made that decision I decided to just keep moving forward and hope for the best. I feel like we put a lot of great testing in. We continue to work on it but we sorted through all that — the good, the bad — and continue to keep finding good settings for the bike. Getting that first win in Supercross was a big step for us; it was a big step for the whole crew. It was good to put the bike on top. [Our] goals are to win championships and races, but we were really consistent through Supercross. Had a little setback there; was able to kind of rebound. And then Outdoors started up and we were a little off, I feel, [in] the first round, but we quickly gained momentum and were able to make good changes to the bike and continue. I felt like every weekend we were getting better with it and then started winning races and put ourselves in the position in the points lead, and then just this past weekend wrapped up the championship — KTM’s first ever in the 450 class. It’s a very big accomplishment, I think, not only for myself but for the team. It’s good to know that all our hard work has been paying off and to be on top is great, but also at the same to enjoy it. I think we want to accomplish more. There’s always more to do.
Let’s talk about your change a little bit. RC was booed when he changed manufacturers, but by the time you did that everything had kind of changed and there was not a lot of negative reaction. Do you think more fans are loyal to the riders now than the brands?
I’ve never been one to get — not yet at least, but I hope I never have to deal with that at the time — I’ve never really been booed like crazy. Not feeling like the whole stadium’s booing me, at least. I don’t know; I really feel like my fans, or the people I guess, I think the fans have been great. They’ve always been behind me. One thing in my career, I’ve always tried to be good to people, loyal. My fans are why I’m here. They make racing so fun. I’m really glad it wasn’t that situation. We got to race the KTM a little bit earlier than we expected being at the Monster Cup in October of 2011, so we learned a lot from that race. So maybe that kind of got things rolling. It was already out there, so when we got to Anaheim 1 it wasn’t such a switch up. But definitely a big change, but a good one.
I heard you asked KTM to improve nearly 100 parts of your bike after you tested in October and they fixed all of them by Anaheim 1. What were they, and tell us a little bit about the improvements?
Well, it was a brand-new 450. That was the deal. It was supposed to come out in 2013 but they moved it up a whole year because they were committed and wanted to win. Once we got the bike and we started working on it in Supercross, it takes multiple settings to go through to realise what track you want to go down with suspension, let’s say. And you sort through stuff like that. I guess the big main ones would probably have to be ... We dealt a lot with the races and the geometry of the bike; also the linkages and pole rods and all that stuff. I mean, everything’s pretty basic and it was really cool just to have a good group of people behind me to be able to move forward and make advancements. It’s hard to keep making progress. I only know so much so I have to really look to the guys all around with the knowledge who’ve been there and done that and they’re very smart. It’s good to have people like that. But we tested a lot of stuff — suspension, we did motors. With every piece on that bike, I think we tried something. It was pretty impressive but I really felt like we made progress quick and it was good.
Did the steel frame change your riding style at all?
The steel frame didn’t really change my riding style. It was actually going over the bike. I did notice the difference between the aluminium and the steel right off the bat, but it wasn’t like I got on the bike and it was like, “Man, this thing’s totally different.” I actually transferred over to the KTM much better than I thought; I adapted really quick. The steel frame, the steel chassis was good in a way. I felt like it had some really strong points. It absorbed the bumps a little bit better, a little bit more forgiving, and didn’t react as quick. Developing the bike and setting the bike up, it’s going to be what it’s going to be. How the bike feels and how it reacts is how you know you’ve got to set the bike up with suspension and stuff. I think the steel chassis was amazingly good just because the last time I rode a steel chassis was back in 2005. So jumping back onto that, it was a pretty good switch.
How long did it really take you to feel 100 per cent confident on the KTM after you switched from Suzuki?
Right away. I think in the first two weeks I felt confident that this bike could be a winning bike for sure; championship bike, too. I think in the beginning it was just about getting comfortable and then kind of building from there and slowly pushing it more and more and more. We tested the first two weeks like crazy; all we did was test, didn’t do anything else. I felt by the end of two weeks it was like, all right, my setup’s getting good. Everything was getting better. I can’t say that things are 100 per cent because things can always be better, I feel. But I feel comfortable on it. I feel one with my bike. I feel like it’s a work of art, really. It’s just all the time and the hours and the hand-made stuff, and just the man hours and everything that the team has to do to make the bike what it is right now. There’s so much history behind it, just from the past year. So, that’s special.
What is it about Roger DeCoster that makes him so special to ride for?
Obviously, look at his past: 20 years as a pro and very dominant, very successful; and then multiple years he’s been a team manager. And I think he’s been in the sport so long and has a good understanding for many areas of the sport, whether it’s the rider and working with the rider mentally, physically, working on the bike and making changes. Roger’s good to have, too, because when you run into a road block on the bike and you’re like, “What’s the deal? We can’t figure it out,” he’ll stay up late hours, multiple nights, to make sure we’re going to fix this and make it work, and he finds a way. Not only that but I’ve been able to build a great friendship with him and work close with him. He’s just a special guy. He’s committed, he loves what he does. There are a lot of hard-working people out there, for sure, without a doubt, but just the way he shows up ready to go every day, every year, every moment ... He’s committed. And that’s what I like about him, too.
You’ve been riding with a lot more aggression than years past. Has Roger inspired that, or some change?
I hope physically as a rider to get better every year. How you rode and won a championship five years ago wouldn’t probably even put you on the podium nowadays. The level of intensity with racing is just rising every year and you have to be fitter, you have to be stronger. I tried to use the years that I’ve built up to the point [where] I am and to just keep pushing that forward. I realised 2010 was a great year, but going into 2011 I felt like I maybe lacked a little bit of intensity. So 2011 was a big year of trying to improve that and I feel I did a great job of it, but 2012 I tried to accomplish the same thing. But I’ve been able to switch up some stuff in my diet that’s really helped me out. I’m really interested in nutrition and training and stuff like that to get better. But, absolutely, I think just wanting to win and doing whatever it takes. A lot of you can get aggression but when you’re looking crazy on the bike but you’re really not going anywhere and you’re just using energy it’s one thing, but if you can use it to your advantage and make it work then it’s another.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the MX des Nations. The world cherished the chance to see Ricky Carmichael and Stefan Everts battling it out there and everyone was a little disappointed with James’ attitude when he had the same opportunity. What does the Motocross of Nations mean to you? And do you take that inspiration from RC?
No, I think going to the Motocross des Nations and to be able to represent your country is an honour. It’s amazing to be able to race there. It’s big shoes to fill. I learned that in 2009; I’d never felt so nervous. But throughout the nerves, there’s that fun and enjoyment. The Des Nations I take very seriously, just because you’re racing against the best in the world. And it’s good to walk away with the Chamberlain trophy for another year. We proved ourselves and it’s a great feeling, but it’s not just an individual rider on the day. It’s a whole team of guys riding with each other and working as a team. So, it’s a little different but all those guys over in Europe you compete against, and I feel like it’s just as important to win those races as it is here. I look forward to it every year. This will be my fourth year. You’re in a whole other country, different atmosphere — just so many different elements. But I really enjoy the challenge and I look forward to the track, which is going to be sand this year, so it should be really pretty nasty rough. We’re going to go over there early, get a little bit of extra preparation and, hopefully, we’ll do our homework right and walk away with another one. That’d be great.
There are some rumours that you and Baggett might do the last German GP. Is there any truth to that or do you have any desire to do that?
No. I don’t even know. To be honest with you, I got asked about it the other day at Unadilla, that Saturday, and I didn’t know anything about it. But no, none of us guys in the US will be racing that race.
What’s your stance on GPs? Would you ever like to go over there? RV has expressed a little bit of interest in going but how about you?
I think at one point in my career I’d love to go over there and race that championship. From what I understand, and the tracks that I’ve been to, it’s different. The tracks kind of seem a little different all the time. Not a bad different; it’s just they set tracks up there different than we do and vice versa. But the one thing that I like here in the States is that we keep pretty busy all year round. I really like being at it. A lot of races, but their race schedule is so spread out that I’d kind of find it hard to keep things going; so much time off in-between races. I enjoy the back-to-back weekends, absolutely. I’d love to experience it, for sure, and hopefully [will] get an opportunity to do that.
So many riders shine briefly but then seem to take a downward spiral, like Lawrence, Hansen, some others. What does it take mentally to stay on top of your game all year and does that take a personal toll on your life?
Coming into the sport, motocross can be very rough on you. Not just physically but right away, if you don’t see results, you start mentally beating yourself up and as young kids some people just aren’t strong enough to deal with that. And others go the wrong route, do this and that, and they take the wrong path. But I feel like the sport of motocross is a very 24/7 deal. You’re always thinking about it, you’re always committed to it. You’ve got to make time for fun and make a balance in your life. And that’s what I had a hard time figuring out as a kid coming into the pro scene. But I always knew I wanted to be successful and dominant, and not just for a couple years. I wanted to be “the guy”. And everybody uses that example, but a guy like McGrath, a guy like Ricky — back-to-back years. It’s one thing to win championships once and races once, but it’s another to repeat that. And that takes a lot of mental strength and a lot of sacrifice in your personal life. If you’re not training, you’re resting and if you’re not resting, you’re riding. You’re always doing something. Sadly, sometimes it gets in the way of your personal life and your loved ones and you don’t necessarily get to spend the time with everybody you’d like to. You have to be willing to, “Well, I’m going to just spend the night in while all my friends go out, or my family goes out,” because it’s like, what do you want? You want to be tired and finish last or you want to be the best? Absolutely. It’s a short career, so it’s very physically and mentally wearing on you. That’s why I think you see guys doing it for 10, maybe a little bit more than that, years. You’ve got such a short career — from 16 until you’re probably 30 is your timeframe and you’ve got to do it in that [time] and make the most of it.
You seem to really not have any distractions like crazy cars or anything like that. What do you do for fun? What’s your hobby away from racing?
I try to stay in the right mindset. If there are distractions, it wears me out. I just think about it and I want to get rid of them, but got to handle them and fix them and make good choices. But for fun, I like to be a normal kid. It’s kind of funny, the littlest things that make me happy. It’s just what I am. Like, my coffee in the morning. Everybody loves coffee, but I just enjoy that. For me it might be a little different. But I love playing golf with my buddies, friends, we play a lot of golf. I like wake boarding. Me and my girlfriend, we go to the movies and dinner. And I have some buddies up in Minnesota that I keep in touch with quite a bit so when we get back up home I hang out with them on the lake and just go to dinner and have fun and enjoy their presence and everything.
Do you ever wish you experienced a more conventional childhood?
You know, I think I had it really good as a child. I started riding when I was five. I lived in Minnesota; wintertime came around in October, September and you’re done riding until March or April. So, I feel I got to be a kid. I got it good. I had a family that really supported me and was behind me in everything I did. We rode dirtbikes all summer in the warm months and then when it was time to put them away we would go snowboarding and do other fun stuff. It wasn’t all just about racing and I feel like, for a lot of kids, from such a young age ... Some people it works for; they turn pro and they go on to do great things and they can handle that. But other people, they’re burnt out by the time they’re 16 and they get their ride and they don’t do anything with it. For me, I got to be a kid, I got to go to school, experience a little bit of high school before I really started to have to travel. I really enjoyed my childhood. And so when I got to the pros I was just ready to go, amped up and fired up. It was cool. But I couldn’t have done it without my family, for sure.
Is there any such thing as play-riding when you’re the best in the world?
Play-riding for me is fun but I kind of need to learn how to have a little bit more fun on a dirtbike. For me at this point it’s like if I’m not here at the track riding and working on getting better then I don’t want to be out here riding. For me it’s such a thing that I want to win and that thing has been motivating me for so long versus when I was a child it was like, “I just want to ride my dirtbike.” And I still enjoy it; there’s times I have a lot of fun but I have a different kind of fun. I enjoy being challenged and challenging myself and trying to get better. Days get frustrating doing it that way but I probably need to get out and hit a few jumps and not be on the clock every minute of the day.
Where do you live during the Supercross and the Motocross seasons?
I live down here in Tallahassee, Florida. When I was 16 I went pro; I lived out in California for a year. Then I lived in Orlando for a year. Then I had an opportunity to ride with Ricky and Ivan was here at the time. That was in the end of 2008 and I’ve been here since. I bought a house end of 2009, so I’ve been in there for coming up on three years and I spend all my time here.
Tell us about your relationship with RC. Are you guys really good friends? Why did you pick here? Why do you practise here?
I got to come here with the team in 2007 to test a little bit. I was on the same team as Ricky. Ricky was my first teammate. I loved it here. I was like, “Damn, this place is sweet!” I thought about it all the time. I was like, “I want to come to Florida.” I have to set up here. I think all of us felt like that in motocross. But I was very fortunate. I feel like as a kid looking up to guys like Jeremy McGrath and Ricky; I never thought that one day I’d be able to have a friendship with him. Many people don’t have the opportunity to meet him and do stuff like that. He’s a busy guy. Things worked out, I signed with Suzuki and he was on his way out of the sport and I was just coming in. He took me under his wing and helped me out with a lot of things. I’ve been able to build a great friendship with Ricky over the years and to continue that. He’s a great guy and we get along good. To be able to ride here at his place ... He’s retired now so all this stuff would just sit if it weren’t for people coming out here and riding. But it’s private and he’s got all the equipment, all the great tracks, all the tools you need to be a good racer and to improve and get better. It’s cool. How it all just happened like this, it’s pretty wild. We live close to each other, within a couple miles, and get to ride out here with him at the farm. He’s busy with his car stuff nowadays more so, but to be able to work on things and him come out here and point out things that I might be doing wrong sometimes here and there, it’s cool. It’s just really cool to have a friendship with a guy like that.
Before we wrap this up let’s talk about your teammates a little bit. What’s your relationship with Roczen and Musquin?
Kenny and Marvin, they’re great kids. I feel like out of all the teams, looking at each team as a package, I feel like KTM’s a great team to be on. Kenny and Marvin are great kids. They’re both champions overseas and coming over here they’ve been really dominant and shown a lot of speed and a lot of brilliance and talent. They work hard; they’re a lot of fun to be around. They both keep the mood light at the races. And we help each other. I feel like there are areas where a lot of European riders, especially Marvin and Kenny, do things on their bikes with such finesse and so effortlessly, where we’re more like bulldogs and we just hammer things. I think you can learn a lot from people like that. I’ve been able to spend a lot of time with them and on the team. Just the whole everything, the riders and the team, the whole crew, it’s such a great atmosphere and good vibe, so positive. And I feel like that’s good for success down the road. They’re great kids and I couldn’t ask for better teammates.
As for rider competition, was this Outdoor Championship this year boring for you? How much do you miss Reed, Villopoto and Stewart?
This championship wasn’t boring. There’s still a race to be run and I have to focus and do my deal. I was bummed that Villopoto did get hurt there at Seattle. Last year was a great year and I felt like we pushed each other. And Stewart started off strong and had that mishap. Those are just things that I wish people would see that I can’t control. It’s great to win championships and I look forward to 2013; I pray that we’re all healthy and ready to roll and at the top of our game. I really want to race against those guys. Aside from winning and all that, I think we push each other to be better. Somebody’s always raising the game and I think that’s great for us but I [also] think it’s great for our sport and our fans. It’s been a rough year for a lot of guys, myself included in the Supercross. I had a little injury there that set me back, and luckily I was able to make the end of Supercross and all of Outdoors. But at the same time, I guess what I look forward to most is everybody lined up on the gate and just ready to do battle in 2013.
What do you really think about James’ current situation and what would you change if you were him?
The truth is I’m not him. I really don’t know. James is his own guy and he’s going to do things the way he’s going to do it. We all click a different way. There’s different things that make us tick. I think he’s been in the sport long enough and he knows what he needs to do and it’s up to him if he wants to do that. I know I say it a lot but I just kind of focus on my own deal and let those guys figure out theirs.