Monday Conversation II: Ricky Carmichael

Last Friday afternoon, Ricky Carmichael was in the process of taking a huge step forward in his new career as a racecar driver, only to have things go badly at something like 175 mph. Carmichael was running fifth near the halfway point of the Auto Racing Club of America (ARCA) RE/MAX 250 at Talladega (250 miles) when his right rear tire blew apart, sending him spinning out of the race. But his fine efforts up to that point in the Kevin Harvick Inc. #33 Chevy—on NASCAR’s biggest track—were enough to get lots of people in both the two- and four-wheel worlds talking about the newcomer. We tracked him down this morning for a Monday Conversation.

Racer X: Ricky, I think part of the motocross world was watching when you made your debut at the big house of NASCAR. So just how big is Talladega?
Ricky Carmichael: Dude, for everybody who has been to Daytona, Talladega is even bigger! Way bigger. It was pretty crazy. We tested there a couple weeks prior, and it was all right, but to be going 190-plus in the draft with 40 other cars around you, it’s pretty amazing.

  • Ricky's #33 KHI Chevrolet (Kevin Harvick Inc.)
  • RC being interviewed before the race by NASCAR's MRN Radio.
  • New logos on the driving suit this week. There is a huge fine if every logo is not visible on the driving suits!
  • Ricky's car looked like a bomb went off inside of it when the tire blew...he didn't hit anything!! This is all damage from a blown tire!
How did you end up there? I know you’ve been taking your time and working your way up through the stock car ranks, but that seemed like a big leap there at the end of the season.
Yeah, it was. Actually, I’ve been talking to Kevin Harvick, talking about driving his Craftsman truck for ’09 and 2010, and he kind of took me under his wing to race that ARCA race. What you have to do in NASCAR, for the people who don’t know, is that you have to get approval to race a “superspeedway.” Each track, you basically have to get a checkmark on your resume, if you will, [for] each track and the size and stuff like that. In order to make that happen for KHI next year and for me to race Daytona, I have to have superspeedway experience, and that was the only thing we could’ve done to get approval. So he bought a car and three weeks ago we went and tested, and one thing led to another, and we were down there burning laps.

The first time you got out on that track, were you thinking, Wow, this is like driving across Interstate 10?
[Laughs] Yeah, I was. The straights are so long and the facility is so big. And there’s just something wrong about going into a turn and keeping the thing wide open—that was very odd to me, so I was a little nervous. But they all said when you pull out, just go and don’t let off. That’s what I did. Shit, I clicked gears and just went on and the rest is history.

So you had just gotten to the halfway mark and things were shaping up nicely. We’ve got Andy Bowyer, our resident NASCAR expert, and he said you were sitting pretty.
Yeah, I was. As NASCAR calls it, I was in the catbird seat. We pitted early, and we were just going for the win because we weren’t too worried about points or anything. And we qualified great and I rode around and was behind Scott Speed, actually, running fourth, no problems. We pit, got four tires and fuel, and we were going to be about eleven laps short. We got back out and got some more caution laps, so we were going to be about six laps short. To make a long story short, I got back after the caution and I was in fifth, and the four guys in front of me still had to pit, so they were telling me the whole time on the radio that we were in great shape. A couple laps later and I was coming out of turn four wide open, and it was like a bomb went off under that car, and away I went. I just went for a ride and was scared to death. All I can say, of all the motorcycle racing that I’ve done, when you’re going that fast, stuff happens really, really quick.

I can only imagine, and we’re glad you’re okay. And later, right when the girl on pit road went to interview you, the other guy just yard-saled out of that same corner.
Yeah, Steinhouse, I believe his name was, the 99 car. He’s second in the series, and it was the same deal. His right rear blew and he went airborne a little bit. I don’t know what happened, but there was a lot of tires blowing. But yeah, Wendy Venturini came to do an interview, and she’s interviewing me and they have a little monitor there, and I just see a car going upside down. Man, it was crazy. I couldn’t believe it!

I know it may seem like a hollow victory for some, but just showing that you could get up there and drive…. From what Boris Said told Eric Johnson, if you could hang in the top eight, everyone’s going to notice, and you did that and more.
Yeah, it went really good. I could say this much, though: for that particular track, you have to have a good car, aero-wise and engine-wise. As far as the driver, when you get in the draft, you have to be on your game and [know] what does what to your car, but on a superspeedway you’re just wide open the whole time. So it’s not as bad as it looks.

  • Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and RC talk about how things might have been without the blown tire...
  • Monster Energy's Ricky Carmichael and Red Bull Racing's Scott Speed talk shop before the race.
  • Ricky was on the pole for a long time in qualifying before finally getting knocked down to 9th.
  • CNN took the opportunity to chat with Ricky after practice
As far as what’s going to be happening next year, what’s the next step? You’ve been on a pretty good trajectory and a lot of people in the whole sports world have taken notice.
Yeah, you know, my hand is kind of forced to be on an accelerated learning curve. It is what it is. It’s not the best scenario, but it’s the only way this is going to happen, and it’s the way it has to happen. The plan is, working with the sponsors, to do a two-year deal with Kevin Harvick Incorporated racing the Craftsman Truck Series. Like, I’m going to Chicagoland testing tomorrow, and I’m just hoping this thing goes through. It’s looking really good and we’ve had some great meetings with a couple sponsors and everything looks really good. That's the plan. I got my superspeedway approval. Actually, I haven’t heard from NASCAR yet, but Kevin said it should be no problem, and that’s it. That’s what we’re doing. On the moto side of things, I’m still contracted with Suzuki through 2009, and I’m looking forward to that. I still get to test the race bikes and all the cool stuff and help Chad Reed try to win that supercross title. It would be pretty sweet to see Suzuki get it, for sure. We’ve built so much up around that team that it’s going to be nice to see they've got a dog in the fight. So I’m looking forward to that as well.

Right on. It was a busy weekend in supercross—Chad was back home racing in Australia and James introduced his new team and they had KROC in New Jersey. Life goes on….
Yeah, it does, but I want to say congrats to everybody and all of the racers and Team USA for keeping it real and holding that flag up at the Motocross of Nations. That’s awesome. You guys would not believe how many fans motocross has, me being the biggest one, in car racing. They love that sport, so the eyes are on those guys, so they need to keep doing what they’re doing and they’ll get the respect that it’s finally deserving.