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RACER INTERVIEW: Ricky Carmichael

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In March of 2000 in Daytona Beach, Florida, 20-year-old Ricky Carmichael rode his Team Chevy Trucks/Kawasaki KX250 to the first premier class supercross main event victory of his career. Forty-seven wins and five Monster Energy Supercross championships later, the greatest motocross and supercross racer ever called time on his career in the autumn of 2007.

While Justin Barcia and Justin Cooper rode to 450 and 250 main event triumphs respectively at Anaheim last weekend, Carmichael was in the NBC Sports television booth as an analyst for the Monster Energy Supercross Series. When Carmichael talks, people listen, and to that end, we chased him down to get his take on how things played out.

Q: Ricky, before we get rolling here, what do you miss about not being out there as a supercross competitor?

RICKY CARMICHAEL: What I miss about it is the strategy behind it, and watching the strategy work out. Not necessarily going fast and everything like that, but the strategy and the game behind it is what I miss more anything.

Q: Strategy plays a big role in it all?

RC: Absolutely, especially when guys are so fast now. In my day there were three or four fast guys, now there are seven or eight, or even 10 fast guys. You had a plan for everyone, and you knew each guy’s downfall and their strong suits, so you adjusted your race plan to whoever you might be in a battle with at the time. Now there are so many good guys and they’re all so close that you have to have a plan for all of them. That was the fun part in racing guys like James Stewart – my game plan was completely different than it would have been racing someone like Chad Reed or Jeremy McGrath or Kevin Windham. That’s the stuff that I miss – the strategy part.

Then, of course, you miss being in tune with the motorcycle. The older you get, you learn so much in how motorcycles work and the balance of them, and the engine side of the bike, and how the electronics work that they have on the bikes now. I think working with all that stuff would have been a lot of fun and kept me motivated.

Q: Eli Tomac suffered a poor start at Anaheim and never really got rolling. Thoughts?

RC: Eli is so fast at times in supercross, and it is so easy to get wrapped around how fast he is. However when you really pull the layers back and you look at why he hasn’t won the supercross championship yet, it gives you a few more ways to look at his performance and how you think he will ultimately do, rather than looking at just raw speed. That’s why he won the power rankings. With Eli you have to go a little bit more in-depth, and not just look at what’s at the top. Eli got a bad start in the main event, and you can’t spot those guys that kind of track position just because they’re just so fast. If you’re tenth coming around on the first lap and some of the best guys in the business are one, two and three, you could be five seconds behind on that first lap. If you’re all running the same speed, simple math tells you you’re not going to catch the guy, because you’re slower, because you’re getting held up.

Starts have been Eli’s Achilles’ heel. People say, “What’s wrong? What does he need to do?” I wish I could tell you exactly what it is, and I don’t know what it is. Sometimes that’s just how people are. It’s just who they are and how they are, and it doesn’t mean they’re not a great rider, and it doesn’t mean that people don’t respect him as an athlete. It doesn’t surprise me what happened to Eli on the weekend, because he’s capable of doing and finishing what he did at Anaheim. I don’t want to be harsh, and it doesn’t mean that I have any lack of respect for Eli. When he’s on those rides where he’s just unstoppable and he’s the fastest man on the planet, it’s so much fun to watch and be a part of and witness that. Eli comes from a great family. His dad is a legend. I have so much respect for his father as well. Yeah, it’s just a bummer to see performances like he had at A1 happen to him.

Q: What was your overall take on the night of racing at A1?

RC: I think it was exciting. I will tell you that Justin Barcia is capable of doing what he did on Saturday night. I wasn’t expecting it. From Justin’s standpoint, I know he’s always been fast, but my expectations for him now are to run up front every single weekend and do that repetitively for me to really start looking at him as a contender for the title, just because history has shown that he has been a little bit inconsistent before. It was a surprise with how well he rode and how well he did. I know he’s fully capable of doing what he did, and it was fun to see him up there. I was happy for him. Sounds like he’s made some big changes in the off-season, and he worked really hard and he’s more in tune with the bike. He’s got a good group around him, and I’m happy for the Monster Energy Yamaha team, too. I’m happy for the crew guys over there, some of them who I worked with for a while, so I’m happy to see them get some results. It was a fantastic ride for Barcia.

Q: Adam Cianciarulo raced to an excellent runner-up finish. How did you see the rookie’s race?

RC: Adam Cianciarulo. What can you say about that kid? You know, he’s really blossomed. I’d say from halfway through the supercross series last year up to now, he has turned the corner, in my opinion. Where we all thought Adam was going to be in his career four years ago, he is finally there now. It all came together. He knows what it is like to win again. I said it before, and I’m going to go on the record now: Adam is in a good position to where five to six races into this series, everybody is going to have their hands full. I think he’ll be a real threat for this championship.

Now, in my opinion, I feel like he’s gone back to that feeling of what it is like to win and when he was so successful as an amateur. When Adam made his transition from amateur racing to professional racing, he did pretty good early on until he got injured. That’s stuff you can’t teach. I’m glad to see how well he did. It was like he was a veteran. He was in the mix. He was in the lead. He wasn’t in the lead. He had Justin Barcia behind him, and he knows that Barcia is an aggressive rider. He never wavered. He stuck to his plan. He didn’t get caught up in the hype and first race jitters of his rookie race. Very, very impressive, and I look forward to watching him again. Another thing that really helps Adam is that he gets great starts. It’s sounds cliché to say this, but the starts are really important, because these guys are so close on speed.

Q: The word was that reigning champion Cooper Webb was quite sick at A1. Whatever the truth of the matter was, he was rock solid to slot in at third, huh?

RC: A lot of people gave me **** last year about Cooper Webb and the bandwagon, but I called it before the season started. I said, “This guy, with a little nip and tuck action and some trimming around the hedges, if he gets on the right team with the right training program and gets buckled, he’ll be great. He’s a multi-time 250 champion and the guy knows how to win championships. He has really good race craft, so watch out.” Come to find out last Saturday in timed qualifying practice Cooper was P15 and way off. People were thinking, “Holy crap, what’s going on with this guy?” Come to find out the dude was battling the flu and strep throat. He kept it to himself, like champions do.

Cooper put himself in good position in the heat race. He qualified well. He got third place and that gave him a good start selection for the main event. He got a decent start in the main event, and honestly, he just kind of rode in that fourth-to-sixth-place zone and was at the front end of that pack and then towards the end, he found himself on the podium. That’s what champions do. On bad days is sometimes when they do their very best. For some riders, they would have taken that circumstance and got 10th or 12th. Multi-time champions take those situations and instead of getting 10th or 11th, they turn them into podiums. I think if he’s able to defend this championship, A1 is going to be one of those moments where Cooper Webb says“This is what put it over the top for me.”

Q: Former champion Jason Anderson placed fifth on the night, while Ken Roczen was sixth. What did you make of their performances at A1?

RC: I think Anderson did great. You must remember that he hasn’t raced Monster Energy Supercross since last year at Glendale because he got hurt. I thought it was a pretty good ride. He was fast all day. His starts were a little rusty, and essentially, that’s what hurt him. Personally, I think he probably have been on the podium had he gotten a better start. I think his ride was better than Ken Roczen’s. I was a little surprised, I will say, at Ken’s finish, I thought he would have been better. I truly did. He’s an incredible athlete and he truly has done well at Anaheim 1. He’s won that race three times now, and for different manufacturers. I was a bit surprised in his finish. It was a little under par. I read on social media where he just wasn’t comfortable on the bike and had the wrong setup. That comes as a surprise to me for someone who has won that race three times. I expect him to rebound in St. Louis, and he’s definitely going to be a championship contender.

Q: Anybody else jump out at you at Angel Stadium?

RC: Justin Cooper in the 250 class. Last year he was racing against Austin Forcer, and think back to how much Austin Forcer was crushing Cooper by in the main events. Austin was crushing everyone. I know Austin has been off and is coming back from an ACL repair. That’s tough, but Austin is one of those guys and you expect him to always be the fastest one. I felt like Justin Cooper was most improved on Saturday. Dylan Ferrandis looked great, he just got a bad start. You can’t spot guys like Forcer and Just Cooper that kind of track position. So, Dylan was playing catch-up.

Q: St. Louis on Saturday night. Another toss-up?

RC: Yeah, it certainly is. It’s going to be exciting. Eli Tomac has won there in 2017 and 2018, so can he make it the hat-trick? I believe with the confidence and winning there the last two times he’s raced there, I think that will be a nice little kick in the butt for him. I expect him to have a little more this weekend than what he had and showed at A1. My radar is on Barcia. For me, he’s really got to back up that performance. In years past he’s won and then got 10th the next weekend. I would like to see him no worse than fifth place. That’s what he needs to do for me to continue to look at him a little more in-depth. That’s what my hopes and expectations are for Barcia. I hope he can run up front again. I think that would be fantastic, and I think it would be a good confidence-booster for him. I expect Kenny to be better. He’s excited and ready to go. I think the starts are going to be important for these cats. They really, really are. It’s going to musical chairs each weekend. Everyone right now is riding on a high and they’re, for the most part, in a good spot mentally. The cream rises to the top. At this stage it’s anybody’s game. That’s what I’m looking at going into St. Louis.