“Ryan Dungey is for real!” exclaimed the text message on my phone as I was leaving the stadium. No, I wasn’t in Phoenix, where Dungey had taken the first premier-class win of his career, or even Seattle, where Dungey had officially been awarded the #1 plate. I was at the series opener in Anaheim, where RD5 (or should we call him RD1 for the rest of the series?) had served notice that he would be a force in 2010, leading seventeen of twenty laps and nearly defeating 2009 champ James Stewart in the process.
A week later in Phoenix, Dungey’s win gave him a points lead that he would not relinquish for the remainder of the season. In Seattle, Dungey finally got to celebrate after mathematically eliminating Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto from the points race. Spirits were high on the podium, and as the Rockstar Makita Suzuki team waited for Dungey to finish an interview, even the straight-faced Roger DeCoster was sporting an ear-to-ear grin. As RD1 was wrapping up his interview, someone called out, “Hey, rock star, hurry up and get up here!” Several moments later, cameras flashed like crazy as Dungey stood atop the podium and let out a yell as he hoisted an AMA Championship plate high above his head.
Of course, the championship did not come easy for Dungey, who was faced with the formidable task of dealing with a gate of hungry competitors week in and week out. One of the biggest challenges came from Villopoto, who at one point shared a tie for the lead with RD1. Villy put in a valiant effort, mounting several charges that resulted in seven wins, but was unable to minimize the damage on his bad nights. His title hopes ended when he crashed out of the series while leading in St. Louis.
Another obstacle Dungey endured came in the form of criticism from race fans who feel he benefited from a high attrition rate this season. The reality is that Dungey won this title by racing extraordinarily well. Consistency is the name of the game in this sport, and Dungey has been nothing short of a model of it this season. He finished outside the top five just once, missed the podium only four times, and stood on top of it five times. And with two races left, he has a chance to increase his win tally.
With the 2010 championship secured, Dungey joins the exclusive company of Jeremy McGrath as the only other rider in the history of the sport to win a premier-class title in his rookie year. Yes, Ryan Dungey is for real, and now he has the hardware to prove it.