Monday Conversation: Ryan Villopoto

Monday Conversation: Ryan Villopoto

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Racer X: You’ve always said if a win presented itself ... and it kind of presented itself pretty early tonight.
Ryan Villopoto: Yeah, we were able to get off to a great start again. That makes the race so much easier. But we were able to get off to a good start and get that holeshot and just keep pushing that gap. I was really surprised with the way the track turned out. It’s not like we had a lot of rain but we definitely had some rain and the dirt dealt with it very well. Along with the Dirt Wurx guys, obviously it wouldn’t have been very good if they weren’t also working on it. Surprised with how the track ended up turning out.

You were aggressive early, though, because the triple after the finish line section, you were doing that.
We did that in the heat race. When we went out for the parade lap it didn’t really look too much more slippery and it was faster. So I just ended up sticking with it and doing it. I think on maybe the second to last lap I might have took that inside, or one of the laps, and that seemed like it was slow.

There were a few times you got hung up with lappers and stuff through that.
Yeah and I actually missed it. I didn’t jump it twice. But overall it was way faster to go triple into the turn. Like I said, the track held up with the water and the rain very well. It made it easy to still jump all the obstacles.

RV got the start and we knew what was up from there.Photo: Cudby
RV got the start and we knew what was up from there.Photo: Cudby

What was different about this year?
I guess maybe the field was just a little bit closer once again. For me, I didn’t start off very well like years past. I didn’t have that huge down like I had last year, being 25 points behind. But the first six rounds or so were fairly tough for me and I wasn’t able to do much. I really wasn’t riding that well.

Was it you?
Yeah, I would say it was me. Obviously we were still working on setup-wise with the bike a little bit. But honestly, mainly, just me and trying to get into the groove. It seems like some of the minor critiques or the small bike changes that we have made midseason, seems like towards the end here, either it’s me getting more used to the bike or just kind of being better for these types of tracks, it seems like the bike’s a lot easier and better to ride. I ride it better now.

There’s a couple guys, McGrath and Carmichael, who’ve had these really big streaks of championships in this sport. Those are really the only two guys that can put into words, besides you, what it’s like to deal with the pressure of being expected to win however many years in a row and how tough that is. Can you put that into words for us to try and help us understand what that’s like?
It’s hard …. it’s hard to get somebody to understand that and it’s even harder to try to explain it in an interview. It almost takes a really in-depth conversation and with somebody that’s kind of been there and done it. For me to explain how it is right now over an interview it’d be really hard.

RV getting another plate from the AMA's Kevin Crowther.Photo: Cudby
RV getting another plate from the AMA's Kevin Crowther.Photo: Cudby

So we need to sit you with RC and Jeremy and put a recorder in there and just let it run?
Yeah. Obviously it would be easier to explain to somebody else like that, that’s felt it and done it. But I guess from the outside looking in, it’s hard. It’s 15 weekends straight, one weekend off, we do the last two. With the stress and the pressure of the personal sponsors and the team and everybody who puts in the work and the time and the effort to do well along with that they hired you to win races and do those things. It’s a lot of weight on your shoulders.

Have you talked to your new best friend, [two-time MotoGP Champion] Casey Stoner about this [Stoner has gone to the last three races hanging with RV]? Have you discussed that with him?
We’ve talked about a lot but I think anybody that’s been at the top of their sport, like you said Ricky, MC, Casey, anybody that’s been at the top of a two-wheeled motorsport can understand the pressure and exactly what we go through.

Jeremy McGrath isn’t a guy you ever really raced. You’re pretty far apart generation-wise. Do you even think about that? Like, “Wow, I’ve tied Jeremy McGrath.” It’s easier to compare yourself to RC; your careers kind of overlapped.
Yes and no. It is but it isn’t. I might get my hand slapped for saying it, but even since RC’s left the sport has changed a lot. Back then it was two guys kind of battling. I can’t even say three. It was either Chad and RC. I guess it was three at times with James stepping in there, or James and Chad, but on a regular basis it was two guys battling for the win. And the field was so spread out that even if you had a crash or a big mistake most of the time those guys caught back up to a podium or inside the top five, if not second. If you make a mistake now or a crash, you’re lucky to get back inside the top five. If one of your competitors that you’re really racing against is that guy that ends up winning, that’s a huge points swing. So like I said, I might get my hand slapped for saying that, but it has changed a lot, even since RC has left. But you can’t take anything away from the guys that have won championships and multiple championships, even if the tides have changed a little bit.

So are you riding the Nationals this year?
I am riding Nationals. Have you not seen anything up until this point saying otherwise?

Yes, we’ve seen tons of stuff saying otherwise!
Yeah on Vital MX!

Yeah, not from you, but that’s why we’re asking you right now. So you’re riding the Nationals?
At this point in time I’m riding the Nationals, yes. Otherwise you can go read Vital if you want.

You seem like you’re riding good right now, for whatever injury you’re supposedly dealing with.
Exactly. That was my point when you threw that question at my nuts at the press conference the other day.

Well, you did an excellent job side-stepping it then. You could not have a knee injury the way you side-stepped so quickly. Okay, should we ask why you’re not doing backflips and dousing yourself in more champagne and going more nuts right now? We know that that’s not normally your style. Should you be doing that? Should you be more pumped? You just made crazy history.
I guess that’s one of my downfalls that I don’t do that. I probably should but that’s not me. It’s the nature of the sport where if I don’t win next weekend it doesn’t really matter what I’ve done prior to this. This sport chews you up and spits you out, mainly from the fans aspect of it. You’ll have two or three bad weekends and all of a sudden he’s washed up or he’s this or that.

RV says here he's racing the Nationals.Photo: Cudby
RV says here he's racing the Nationals.Photo: Cudby

But when you get some time for perspective, nobody says Jeremy McGrath sucks or Ricky Carmichael sucks.
Yes, but that’s because they’ve stepped back from the sport for a while. When you’re in it people are just waiting for somebody to knock me or knock that person off the top.

But that’s kind of the pressure that we were just talking about a little while ago.
That’s one of the pieces of the puzzle as it comes to the pressure. Maybe that’s one of my downfalls.

There’s got to be a lot of self-satisfaction. Do you enjoy it?
Yeah, obviously I enjoy winning. When you’re in it and you’re in the moment and you’re still in it it’s hard to look at it because just like it’s wrapped up tonight and I ended up winning we’re still moving on to the next weekend. So, yes, you can live it for a little while but you still have to understand and push forward knowing that there is more racing in front of you and turn your focus to that. That’s one of the tough spots that we’re in as a rider and as somebody that wins races or any one of us that wins races. We win races and it’s all high fives and then Monday rolls around and you have to kind of turn your focus to the next weekend, because of the back-to-back races. That’s just part of the sport.

Can this be claimed in any way shape or form as a win for New Jersey? You do have some here history family-wise. Can the state claim this at all?
Yeah, I guess. I actually met a third cousin or something the other day at the shop at the signing. Somebody that I had never met before. I have family that lives in Patterson [New Jersey] still.

What’s it, your dad and your uncle were born here?
I think my dad was. My grandpa used to live in Patterson, New Jersey. There’s still extended family that’s here. A lot of them that I’ve never met. But it is. You could say that’s the east coast in me, right? You guys always say I do well on the East Coast tracks!

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