Monday Conversation: Nate Ramsey

December 29, 2008 10:18am | by:
There comes a time in every pro racer’s life when the “retirement” word enters their thoughts.  Whether it’s forced or planned, it’s a nonetheless difficult transition from the daily devotion to the racing lifestyle. Since October 34-year-old Nathan Ramsey had been at a crossroads: he not completely ready to leave racing but things were not coming together for 2009. It now appears that Ramsey’s time to park his race bike has come. 

Throughout his 15-year pro career, “Nate Dog” has been one of the most passionate men around, whether it’s been with his racing, family or faith. It’s this very same passion that enabled a late-starting kid from Tennessee win a Lites Supercross Championship, help usher in the modern day four-stroke movement, and take an AMA Supercross main event win—very rare in the Jeremy McGrath/Ricky Carmichael era. 

  • Ramsey has decided to walk away after 15 years of professional racing.
Racer X: Nate, when you and I last spoke late October you were pretty uncertain about racing in 2009.
Nathan Ramsey: I remember that conversation well. At that point I was waiting for a couple things to come through.  Now I guess the best way for me to put it is that I’ve had a good deal for a lot of years; I turned pro in 1993 and got my first factory deal in ’97, and ever since I’ve been on great teams with excellent support.  Being in this situation with the industry taking a step back like the rest of the economy, it’s been one of those deals where if I didn’t have a good solid program, that at this stage in my career I didn’t feel that it was worth it (to continue).  I hung around trying to get a couple things going—some actually started to make sense and look like it might work—but in the end it just didn’t.  When we spoke, I was prepared to go either way; as much as I wanted to race this year, I wasn’t going to force it. So I am retiring. 

In the past we’ve seen some great riders like Greg Albertyn, Doug Henry, and most recently Ricky Carmichael do a “farewell tour” prior to retiring; it’s disappointing that you don’t have that option.
I understand what you’re saying—it would have been nice to be able to plan it, and have more time to adjust into this next chapter of my life—but unfortunately for me, it hasn’t worked out that way.  I do feel like I was pushed in this direction, but nothing’s guaranteed. With the state of the economy it’s very unpredictable.  Given other circumstances, it wouldn’t have worked out like this.  Still, I play the cards that I’m dealt, and I feel really blessed to have had 15 years in the pro class.  I’ve been with the best teams in the business, and feel honored and fortunate to have been able to work with all of them. I think I’m right up there at the top with one of the longest careers.  Having good people around me like my parents, my wife Monica, Bob Moore at WMG Management, and Jeff Spencer has really helped me make good decisions.  I don’t think I was the most talented guy out there – a lot of the guys that I used to race with may be shocked that I went as far and long as I did!  It was all through good judgment, lots of hard work, and blessings from God that came together. 

Previously you seemed disappointed with the way you learned about the L&M team plans for 2009 – any final comment on that situation?
I had four great years with Larry (Brooks) and consider him to be a good friend. In our last interview it was very tough for me to talk about it.  Larry had his reasons for not resigning me – we don’t have to agree on everything.  He’s a businessman doing what he has to do; maybe I could have looked out for myself a little bit better.  Larry treats his riders great. Now someone else is there, and they have that opportunity.  I’m happy to have had what I had with him. He taught me so much.

  • Nate most recently rode for L&M Yamaha
  • Ramsey (#25) rode the CRF450 in 2002
You truly have been on some excellant teams throughout your career.
Yeah, one of the things that I pride myself on is that I was a rider who was with almost every company out there – generally leaving on good terms.  That’s why I want this thing with L&M to be the way it should be, which is with everybody happy, and me moving on.  I’ve made so many good friends to where even now, when I’m at this new chapter in my life, I can go back to people like Mitch Payton for help.  I have a special feeling for Pro Circuit with capturing a championship and winning alot of races on their motorcycles.  The guys at Honda have been great too; it’s nice to be able to turn to any of the teams and they’re willing to help. I think that mutual respect is there.    

Moving to your early years; you were never really one of the top amateur minicycle riders were you? 
No, I got a bit of a late start. I first raced a few times when I was 12, and then broke my leg.  Coming came back when I was just about to turn 15 I had a lot of catching up to do.  I just had it in my head that the only way I was going to get anywhere was by working harder than the next guy. That’s what I have always tried to do.  I never really set the world on fire in any of the amateur nationals, but in my own way I made my mark.  I’m really glad my career went the way that it did; it made me who I was once I got to the professional ranks and successful in the way that I was successful.  With some of these guys, they’ve had it so good for so long.  They get to the pros and it’s not that much different, and often it’s tough for them to keep the hunger and drive going.  For me it was easy because I was just so unbelievably excited to be there! 

Talk about your Supercross Lites Championship. 

It was a great accomplishment, but it wasn’t just me; it was everybody that surrounded me, from my parents travelling in our motorhome with my older brother, to the point where Mitch and those guys were supporting me.  There are only a handful of people to win a championship, and I’m very honored to be on that list. 
After that championship you had several other standout seasons where you were so close to winning another title
Yeah, I had a couple of runner-up years, and a few times I was leading the points near the series’ end but it just didn’t work out.  I couldn’t be too mad at myself or mad at anything around me because I was doing everything that I could.  I won quite a few other races besides that year in 1999. It was enough to establish myself as a true player in the sport and it opened up many doors and opportunities. 

  • Ramsey won on a 4-stroke while 2-strokes still reigned.
  • Nate was one of the first to race the YZ250F, seen here in 2001
And then you took your first Supercross win in the premier class at Pontiac in 2002!
That’s another one of those deals where there’s just such a short list of people who actually get to say they’ve won a supercross main in the premier class.  That night in Pontiac was just crazy; it was weird how it all worked out.  The biggest thing I remember about it was coming across the finish with white flag flying and thinking, I’m still leading this race right now!  There’s the white flag, and that means there’s only one lap to go, and there’s no way I’m giving it up on the last lap!  I hit the checkered flag and the fireworks went off.  It was a great, great feeling and definitely a defining moment in my career; I will never forget it, and I will always carry that with me.

Honda must have been ecstatic getting a win on the four-stroke; that was when it was still primarily 250 two-strokes. 
One of the decisions that I made in my career was to move forward with the four-stroke era, and try to be one of the guys who was on that forefront.  It first moved me into the Yamaha of Troy 250F ride, and later opened the door for me to move to Team Honda.  To get a win on that bike, with it being its first year out, was definitely special for the guys at Honda, and for sure myself. 

You’ve always has a strong relationship with Christ; how has that affected your racing career? 
For me, that’s the common denominator in everything; I believe that He’s guided me through the industry, especially in this difficult fork in my career.  My parents are great examples of strong Christian people – they introduced me to everything.  For a while I was keeping God at a distance; then I turned it over to Him and let Him guide me.  Of course, I still put in the daily work, and tried as hard as I could with the talents He gave me, but at the end of the day I realized that if I didn’t make it racing, as long as I was a servant to God that everything was still going to work out.  I sincerely believe He’s given me the strength to keep going; doing as well as I did, and as long as I have. 

How is your family feeling about your retirement? 
They have somewhat mixed feelings, because our lives have been into racing for so long.  They are going to miss the identity of being a racing family.  On the other hand, they’re super-happy with the idea that I’m not going to be rolling the dice as often, or riding at the level that I have done for so long.  They’ve certainly seen me struggle through injuries; my wife has taken care of me in ways that doesn’t make a man too proud!  But now that I’ve truly decided, they’re all saying “That might be a good idea,” like they can finally take a deep breath and relax. 

The other side of the coin for me is that somewhere in there you’ve got to figure out what’s next. As a racer being committed to something that you love so much, and are so passionate about, life is easy to continue going about it in that way.  But when you get into the point where you may not fall into a job that you love right away, it’s a scary time. 

  • Ramsey finished his last full season in 7th overall.
Any regrets?
No regrets at all. Of course there’s always moments that play over in my mind where you think, if I would have put the brakes on here, or turned there…. Everybody does that.  Ultimately, I believe that the way it ended up for me on those occasions was right for me.  If it would’ve gone a different way, maybe I wouldn’t have been around as long.  I have no regrets in that manner at all; I believe I tried my best to be as good as I could with the talents God gave me.  As for my career ending not necessarily on my terms, it easily could have been one of those situations where it ended from an injury that I couldn’t recover from.  I’m walking away from this thing with a really sound and healthy body - there’s a lot to say for that. 

With that said, what is next for you? 
I’m talking to several different companies. I don’t have anything nailed down, but I’ve definitely got my feelers out. I’m also trying to put together something with Jeff Spencer, who has been with me for almost nine years now.  Jeff’s been around the sport since the 1980s, and he’s dealt with far more than just motocross.  I don’t know what better way to give back to the sport, than with the things that I’ve learned with him.  Our whole idea is to create some independent champions who are self-sufficient and just need a little extra support.  With his knowledge of body and sport, as well as mine; I think it can be a great package.  Other than that I’m an open book! Honestly, I’m looking at everything.  I even went as far as going to North Carolina and driving a monster truck—you just may see a Nate Dog Monster Truck out there!  I’m anxiously waiting to see what unfolds, and what will become the next thing that I can be passionate over.

{LINKS}Nathan, any final thoughts? 
Truly, there are hundreds of people that I’d like to thank.   I’ve tried to mention some along the way, from my parents and older brother, to moving into the transition of having my own family (Monica and Nathan have daughter Tatum and son Tyson) supporting me.  Also my first mechanic John Mitchell, who was with me from the very beginning until 2004, before he moved into a different chapter of his life with his own family – John did so much for me.  There are countless different riders that helped me along the way.  Also many people that maybe I wasn’t even too close with, but they let me stay at their house, and ride their tracks.  I’m really thankful, and blessed to have been treated the way I was, and just hope that I can pass that along to someone else.  Finally I want to say thanks to the numerous fans that I didn’t even know who supported me, recognized my determination, and the never-say-die attitude that I always tried to encompass.  I couldn’t have done it without any of all these factors in the whole recipe.  I’m just super happy the way it was, what I’ve been through, and the person that I am today.