Now that the global motocross community — especially in the United States of America — begins to shake off the emotional hangover of the Motocross of Nations, sights are slowly beginning to turn toward the American desert city of Las Vegas Nevada for the rapidly approaching Rockstar Energy Drink U.S. Open. With James Stewart poised to make his debut on a Yamaha and 2008 Monster Energy Supercross Champion Chad Reed about race on a supercross track aboard a factory Suzuki RM-Z450, there’s plenty to talk about. As fans will no doubt be interested to see how the world’s two best supercross racers adjust to their new machines, they’ll also be cognizant of the fact that it could be a perfect time for another rider to take advantage of the Stewart/Reed dress rehearsal and slip in steal the whole show. And that rider very well could be 2008 sensation Ryan Dungey. A clear-cut winner over Ryan Villopoto in the season-closing Dave Coombs Senior East/West Shootout last May and the winner of three of the last four AMA Lites Nationals, Dungey and his well-massaged 2009 Rockstar/Makita Suzuki RM-Z250 have rapidly been gaining critical mass. Interested in getting his take on the race he’ll line up for in a fortnight’s time, Racer X tracked the kid from Belle Plain, Minnesota down in, of all places, Las Vegas. Here’s what he had to say.
Racer X: Ryan, What are you up to today?
Ryan Dungey: I’m just over here in Vegas right now for the Suzuki dealer meeting and just kind of hanging out and getting that done. Then I’ll head down to California tomorrow
Yeah, I’m definitely going to put some more time in. We did a little bit of testing after the outdoors, so we got a little more ahead of the game with setup, and everything is coming along great. I’m really looking forward to the U.S. Open, you know? Getting in it with everyone. It’s an open class and everybody comes together, so it’ll be fun.
So you’ll ride the RM-Z250 at the U.S. Open?
Did you put any thought into racing the 450?
Yeah, I thought about it a little bit. I think it’s pretty close between the two bikes, though. I think there might be a little bit of a disadvantage, but that’s where I’m going to have to make it up. The track is super-tight. The 450F will have its weaknesses on it and places where it will be better, but so does the 250F. But I think both bikes come out pretty even. I mean Jake Weimer won a race there last year on a 250F. I know some guys went down on the holeshot, but you know, it can be done. So I’m going to stick with my Lites bike.
The last time you were in Las Vegas — in Sam Boyd Stadium on May 3 to be precise — you caught and passed Ryan Villopoto to win the East/West Shootout. Do you feel good about going back to Sin City on October 10-12?
Yeah, definitely. It’s always good to just race again and keep at it. So for that reason, yeah, for sure. And, yeah, last time I was here everything went good over in the other stadium. But this track is going to be different. It’s going to be tighter and the race is going to be longer this year. Fitnesswise, I feel really good and physically, I also feel really good, so I think it’ll be a great weekend.
As far as testing and riding go, have you kept pretty busy since the Nationals ended?
I never really have stopped completely as far as training and doing that kind of stuff. After Steel City, I took about a week and went home and hung out with my family. Right after that, I went right back to California and that’s when we did some more testing. Like I said, now I’m here in Vegas and then I’ll be in California tomorrow. I’ve been staying on it because of the U.S. Open. I want to be a contender, you know? I want to be the guy to be reckoned with. I’m trying to do what I can to be 100-percent strong and 100-percent healthy, too.
James Stewart is a friend of yours and hasn’t had a lot of time on his new Yamaha. Meanwhile, Chad Reed is new to Suzuki and also a new teammate of yours. From your viewpoint, what have you seen from these two guys lately?
With James Stewart going to Yamaha, I knew that. To be honest, I have not seen him ride his Yamaha. I don’t know when he started testing or anything. You know, I think either way, he’s a good rider no matter what. If you put him on any bike, he’s going to do what any other good rider would do. With James on a Yamaha, it’ll be interesting to see him come out at the U.S. Open on the Yamaha because that’ll be the first time I get to see it. And then with Chad Reed as a teammate, it’s good. As far as when I am out in California, like last year, I’d be at the test track by myself and I wished I had somebody to chase me. With Chad being there, I think that’ll be good because when he’s out there testing, I’ll be out there and we’ll be able to keep pushing each other. Overall, from the time I have been out on the track with him, he seems like a pretty cool guy. He’s really nice. He hasn’t given me a bad image of himself. He seems like a really down-to-Earth person and he looks good on the Suzuki, so it’ll be interesting to see everyone come together come Anaheim. I think it’ll be good. I think it’s a win-win situation.
So, to my way of seeing it, this will be the first time Chad and James race their new bikes on a supercross track and they may have to do some adjusting along the way. That could be good for your cause in Las Vegas. You’re quite familiar with your bike, you know?
Well right, I thought of it like that, too. They’re on different bikes and they’re still getting used to them even though they’ll have some time on them. But, yeah, it’s not like they’ve been riding their bikes for a good two years yet. That kind of plays into it, too. I’m going to take advantage of that and see what goes down.
You beat Ryan Villopoto three times at the last four Nationals. You have to be feeling pretty good abut that. Did that boost your confidence?
Well, yeah, it definitely boosted my confidence, for sure. Since my first full year in the outdoors in 2007, I really wanted to be the guy. I wanted to win. I wanted to beat Villopoto and beat Townley. I was a little down on speed, but every week I’d go back and work and work. My season got cut short a little bit and it didn’t happen, but coming into this season, I really wanted to beat him. This year, I was closer and I was stronger. Things come together little by little. You learn more and more. Going into Unadilla, I felt really good and from Unadilla out, I just had a different mindset. At Washougal, I beat him straight up and I was super-pumped because I did something I had wanted to do for so long. I felt like it was a step in the right direction. It was firsts step to becoming a better rider. From there on out, it was good. I went to Millville and won in my hometown and I was super-pumped on that. At Southwick, he beat me there. But then Steel City was a great weekend for me. So I was super-pumped to be able to win the last three of the four. I think I ended it on a good note going into next year.
I’m kind of interested. Everybody is gong to be interested to see how he does and what he does. Everybody knows what happened when Ricky and James stepped on a 450. Sometimes, they got into some dangerous situations, but you know that’s part of learning. But he’s been riding a 450 and practicing on it. That’s going to help him out. There’s definitely no doubt that he’s going to be a guy up there and we’re all just going to have to wait and see what happens at Anaheim in the 450 class.
Do you know what your plan for 2009 is yet?
I don’t really know what coast I am yet. I haven’t really discussed that with Suzuki yet. I’m still on a Lites bike, for sure. I just need to find out what Suzuki is thinking, but I’d like to do West Coast if I could.
With Ryan Villopoto moving on, the word on the street is that you are “The Guy” on the 250F in 2009. Do you see anyone running with you?
Yeah, definitely. “With Villopoto moving up,” I don’t like it like that, but you have to take what you can. I think it’ll be a good experience and I’m really looking forward to it. But there are a lot of good guys out there that are coming up. That makes it fun. It was always the same it would be like, “dang…” But Trey [Canard] will be there and so will a whole bunch of different people there and you have to remember all those people. It’s going to be good and we’re going to do all we can and fight for it and make it count.
Last question: Are you going for the win in Las Vegas?
Yeah, I’m going there to win and nothing less. We’re just going to go there and have fun. We’re not going to put ourselves in any dangerous situations. It’s just a good, fun race and I’ll be pumped to come out of there with a good ride and be 100-percent healthy. That’s the goal.