Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Ricky Carmichael: Motocross Legend

Posted on July 18, 2014 by Martin Banks

Ricky Carmichael has taken a nontraditional path to the NASCAR circuit; he got there by absolutely dominating the motocross world. Born in 1979 in Clearwater, Florida, he first began racing motocross at a very young age. His parents were either very supportive of him or very nearly criminally negligent of him because he began racing at the incredible age of 5.


For the next ten years, he owned the American amateur races; as he went on to win an astonishing 67 titles. That’s nearly seven titles per year from age 5-15. Then in 1996 he decided to stop beating up on all the poor amateur racers and made the jump to pro racing. You know how sometimes there’s a bit of a learning curve when an athlete turns pro? You always hear people talking about college quarterbacks being stunned their rookie years by the speed of the NFL and so on. Well, there was no such harsh transition for Ricky Carmichael. In 1996 he won the AMA Motocross Rookie of the Year Award racing for the Kawasaki team.

Could be beginner’s luck right? Wrong. In 1997 he went on to win the 125cc Outdoor National Motorcross Championship. If he had any faults in his racing during this time period, they were that he drove a little too hard. He cared about one thing: going fast, which meant he would be all over the place on the course. Every motocross racer risks crashing, but Carmichael risked crashing every time he entered a race. Because of his inconsistency, he lost the Indoor Championship in 1997.

But kind of like LeBron coming off a loss in the finals, Carmichael returned the next year hungrier than ever to dominate every race possible. And that’s pretty much exactly what he went on to do. In 1998, he won every single main event—all 8 of them—in the 125cc region. You usually contact a motorcycle lawyer for automotive accidents, but more than a few of his opponents in 1998 probably considered hiring one to find a legal reason why this guy shouldn’t be allowed on a bike. When someone wins every single race he enters, as Carmichael did in 1998, people are going to feel he’s got to be cheating somehow.

In 1999, Carmichael moved up to the 250 class, this time with the Factory Kawasaki team. At first, it seemed he was making an okay transition with a few top five finishes, but then he was in a bad crash that forced him to walk away from the sport for a while until he recovered. His return was not up to his standards, and it seemed as though he was having a difficult time handling the larger bike.

After moving up to 250 class fulltime in 2000, he showed a little improvement, but two years later, when he switched to the Honda team, is really when he returned to form. He went an unprecedented 24-0 in 2002 and did so again in 2004. He wouldn’t have another perfect season, but he continued to dominate all the way up until 2006, when he made the surprising switch to racing stock cars. He hasn’t seen much success in the stock car world, but he probably isn’t too upset about it: he found enough success in motocross to last a lifetime.

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