Racer X: You’ve been making a name for yourself the last couple years coming back and racing with your prosthetic leg, so can you talk a little bit about the path that you took to get to this point?
Chris Ridgway: Where do I start? Well, first of all, I got my leg cut off because it just hurt so bad that I couldn’t do anything anymore, and it was weak and kept breaking, so I opted to get it cut off and I didn’t start riding right away because I was racing cars, and for some odd reason the race-car team didn’t want me racing motorcycles because they thought I’d get hurt. So I wasn’t able to ride a motorcycle for like the first three years after I got my leg amputated. And then, in ’07, my contract ended with the race-car team and I went out and got a motorcycle and started riding.
So you were racing cars with a prosthetic leg?
Yeah, I raced a Porsche GT3 in the Rolex series.
Wow, okay, so that’s pretty cool. As a side note, I’ve always had the thought that motocross racers can do any type of motorsport, because the skills needed at MX are so vast that you really just have to delete a bunch of them to do other types of motor racing. Did you find that to be the case?
Absolutely. The first day that I was in the Porsche, which also happened to be the first day I was ever in a race car, I was faster than the coach they hired to teach me, and I was faster than the guy they hired before me to race the car.
So how did those guys feel about that?
It’s funny because they kind of knew I was going to be like that because of my motocross background, but the thing was that I wasn’t very good to the car. I was fast, but I was tearing shit up.
Yeah, tires don’t last, and you’re running over curbs and stuff...
Yeah. I mean, I was quick, but I was pitching it sideways into the first turn at Portland doing 130, and I thought that was okay.
So how long did you actually race cars?
Well, I lived up in Oregon for three years and I raced on and off. The budget was crazy – like $170,000 per race. But I was racing against guys like Jimmie Johnson or Tony Stewart when they’d show up, so it was a pretty high level.
How did you handle clutch/brake, heal/toe stuff?
Nike is located right next to where we were, and those guys there were big Porsche fans, so I contacted them and they built me a slide thing to let me drive the car and everything. And it was something that anyone could use because we did endurance races and anyone should be able to get in the car and drive it. They built this carbon-fiber heel-slide that fit in the floor of the Porsche, because the problem was that I’d go around the banking at 200 mph and I’d go into the first turn at 40 mph, and I’d go to shift gears and my foot would be over the brake pedal and I didn’t know it. The first time I locked up all four wheels at 200 mph, we had to fix something. Once we got that figured out, I never had another problem. I remember at my first car race, we didn’t have clearance from the organization. They said, “Well, he’s not a professional race-car driver,” and my team owner said, “Well, we’re going to drive from Oregon to Florida, and if he doesn’t impress you in practice, then don’t let us race, and we’ll turn around and drive back.” And I ended up qualifying like 17th out of 36 or something.
So they were like, “Okay, so he can drive...”
Yeah, pretty much.
What was the motivation? Was it just to ride again?
Well, I was missing it for sure, but the main thing is that I had been running my mouth for the previous three years about how I was probably the fastest one-legged motocross rider on the planet, but there wasn’t a race for it. In ’07, someone decided to put on a race, and I freaked out! I was like, “Oh, man, I’ve got to back up what I’ve been talking about.” So I went out and bought a bike, and I started riding like once or twice a week because I was working a 9-5 job at the time. I kept riding, and people kept saying, “Well, you’re pretty quick, but this other guy is really quick.” I kept saying, “Really, he’s faster than me?” I kept hearing that, so pretty soon I quit my job and I started riding like three times a week just to make sure I was going to be ready for this race. Still, up to the point of the race, I had people telling me when I got to Florida two weeks before the race and up to the day of the race, they kept saying that this other guy was pretty fast and made it sound like I was going to get beaten. But then I ended up almost lapping second place, and the rest is pretty much history. I haven’t lost a single race since they started the adaptive class.
Didn’t you discover a new leg setup recently?
Yeah, these prosthetics are super-expensive, and I go through a lot of them because they don’t design them to come up short on double-jumps and stuff. So I go through them and I break them, and this company, whatever I need, they always supply it. Anyway, they wanted to do a photo shoot and run me in one of their advertisements, so I said, “Wait a minute, why don’t I not use a foot shell like I normally ride with it, but you guys can just put a sole on the bottom of it, so I can go out and do one photo shoot and just see if you can get a good picture of your foot.” So they put a sole on it, and I went out and rode, and all of a sudden I could start shifting gears, and it was so much lighter... It was so much better. I never, ever miss the footpeg anymore, and now I walk around without a shoe on all the time because it’s just so much better for me. Sometimes, when I dress up or something, like going to a funeral, and I’m wearing a suit, I’ll wear the shell, but that’s about it.
When this X Games race popped up last year, what went through your head?
Last year, we had to race the Extremity Games in Michigan like five days before the X Games, and I knew I was quick, but again, people were saying, “You’re quick, but Ricky James, man, he’s fast.” I started freaking out again because I hadn’t seen Ricky ride, and I knew Ricky was fast before he got hurt, so I was freaking. And with it being the X Games and all that, I was a little nervous, and then I saw the track, and it freaked me out because I hadn’t seen a supercross track like that in 15 years, and even then, X Games isn’t like a supercross track, it’s like a supercross track on steroids. In fact, I’d never seen a jump as big as that finish-line jump this year. It was insane. But anyway, it was a pretty nervous thing for me, and this year I got to ride all year and I was ready for it, and I knew I had the speed and I could afford to make a mistake.
What difference has the X Games made in your ability to market yourself?
I don’t have a PR person or any kind of a manager, and I’m trying to do everything I can to do it myself, and I’ve been pretty successful. Suzuki has stepped up and they sponsor me with a 450, and I’ve been getting help from Dunlop Tires, MSR Gear... It seems like I make a phone call and they’re real excited about what we’re doing, and everybody just steps up, and it’s really cool. I don’t know if you want me to run down my sponsors...
Yeah, go ahead!
I’ve got Roth Racing who does all my suspension...
Roth as in Slippy?
Yeah, Brian Roth. Fox Racing Shox... I don’t know if you guys have ridden with one of their shocks yet, but I have a Podium RC3 in my bike, and it kicks ass! My bike was working so good in Michigan that I thought I wasn’t riding fast enough, so I asked some local pro to ride my bike, and he came back after four laps and said, “That’s the best motorcycle I’ve ever ridden.” I was like, “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking, too, but I didn’t want to say anything!” That shock is insane. Pro Taper hooks me up with bars, sprockets and chains. FMF gives me exhausts. Alpinestars, Works Connection, and Griffin Radiators. Griffin is a main sponsor of mine, and they’re paying for my Subaru rally racing. Travis hooked me up with Subaru, and then they have worked with me and Griffin to get me driving rally, and hopefully next year I’ll be racing the X Games in that, too. I’m really happy about that.
So what’s next for you? Rally racing?
Yeah, rally racing, and I race in the Rock Racing Series in a buggy, and I’m driving a Class 1, 4WD desert car in the Vegas to Reno race coming up. I don’t have any motorcycle racing planned, because I have to get some surgery done, and then I’ve got a lot of car racing coming up, too.
Well congratulations, Chris.
*Personal message from Chris: