Ben Riddle grew up racing motocross. By the time he graduated from Loretta Lynn’s in 2000, he had won five championships and was regarded as an amateur prodigy with a bright future in motocross. He immediately graduated to the factory Suzuki team when turning professional in the fall of 2000. But success at Loretta’s did not follow him into the major leagues. By the end of 2002, his factory ride was done, and Ben Riddle was pretty much over racing motocross.
He had some lingering injuries and plenty of money, which led to idle time. He went in a bad direction and ended up on the wrong side of the law. After the dust had settled, Riddle had spent over six years in jail for drug related charges.
Riddle was released in 2013 and has been working to rebuild his life. He is not only painfully honest about his past, but completely at peace with his decisions, both good and bad. I called Riddle and spoke with him for nearly an hour just after he finished dinner with his family. He is well spoken, honest, and ready to talk about his past and future.
Racer X: Ben, what do you have going on in your life today?
Ben Riddle: Today? Good stuff! The first thing is that I got married back in May to my wife Amanda. She is my rock and my world. We live in my hometown of Campbellsville, Kentucky, and we are raising my stepdaughter, Alexis. For work I am focused on running my excavation business as well as helping out my dad. His health has been declining, and he has a farm to take care of. I'm also still doing some riding, but not as much as I would like to. In fact, just last week I was riding with Ryan Sipes. But basically, I'm just working to survive and get by, and spending time with my family. I guess you could say just normal real life. But everything is going good.
Tell me about your dark times—you have been down a long road, and early in your life.
Well, I think to start out you should look further back and before I got into trouble. My childhood was tough for me—I am not going to lie. It wasn’t terrible or anything but was just a lot of pressure to win races. If I didn’t win, there was screaming and yelling. It was hard. If I came off the track and got fifth, I got yelled at. If I didn’t win, or someone beat me that shouldn’t of, I got bitched out. Sometimes I knew I was going to get yelled at, so I wouldn’t go back to the truck after the race. But I took it for what it was—I had a job to do and I was able to be successful. I didn't realize the toll the pressure took on me until much later in my life.
Tell me about your time in jail?
I did seventy-six months in jail. Jail is a rough place. I was in there with rapists and killers and everything in between. When I first went in I screwed up a few times for real stupid stuff—things like fighting and standing up for other people. Finally, after a year or two of being an idiot, I got smart. I started teaching classes about life and telling people my story. Some people in there had been in trouble their whole lives and had never felt or tasted success. No one could believe what I did and where I had come from. But the counselors, they know it can happen to anyone and had seen it all. Everyone was really supportive.
What exactly did you do?
I got arrested for trafficking pot. When they came I had twenty-nine pounds of weed and a bunch of cash in my possession. I went down pretty hard.
Wow, that’s crazy.
Yeah, but that’s what it was. I can’t take it back, and I do not regret it. My path took me to my wife, and if I stayed in racing or this didn’t happen, I probably would never have met her! I'm blessed with her. I could have been one of those racers who lived in California and got married to a Valley girl and then get divorced. But I'm married to a preacher’s daughter, and she is as solid as they come. But I wouldn’t take nothing back that I did in my life.
Tell me about your pro career. It was short, but sweet.
I don’t know about sweet, but it was short [laughs]. I raced pro for two years. The first full year was 2001 and it was for American Suzuki. My teammates were Danny Smith, Travis Pastrana, Kevin Windham, and Rodrig Thain. It started ok, but then I hurt my wrist. I was also a big kid and I weighed in at 185 pounds, which was just way too big for a 125. I was trying to diet, but my finishes were around tenth place. Supercross triples were sketchy for me on the 125 because of my size. I think my best finish in Supercross was a sixth at New Orleans or something like that.
Going into the nationals in 2001, I just could never get anything together. As the season went on I started to get better though, but then I broke my tib/fib and my ankle at Washougal and in a crash with Mike Brandes. So that took six months to heal, and that recovery lasted into the following season.
When you came back, you switched teams and classes, right? Was that any better?
I switched over the Motoworld Suzuki team, and when I came back I rode the 250 (two-stroke). Right away stuff was easier for me and I was feeling good. I did ok and won some LCQs and was just getting back in the groove. But I still felt like I was behind. And then I went into Vegas—and crashed. I lacerated my liver pretty good. I basically missed all the nationals because of that. I was trying to come back at the end of the summer; it was my second season as a pro. I crashed and got a concussion while riding locally. That was it—I called Paul Lindsay [the team owner] and told him that I was done. He said I was partying too much and I should chill out a bit, but I really wasn’t doing that much stuff at that time.
Was there anything that triggered your decline, or was it just the constant string of injures?
Well, yeah. I was done with racing and had some money in my pocket. I tried to make a few comebacks, but none really worked because my head wasn’t into it. And then I crashed my street bike and got really banged up. I almost died. In fact, a preacher saw me crash, and he thought I was dead. I was in a coma for nearly three weeks, and it was some of the worst pain I ever went through. Then with all the medication I was on, things like blood thinners, Oxycontin, Percocets, and stuff like that, I was just a mess. It was a very long recovery for me, and when you're on meds for almost an entire year, it messes with your body.
But as I healed from that street bike crash, they took me off the meds cold turkey. So I started smoking weed and hustling, and things went down from there. That was really it; the effects of that street bike crash really took a toll on me.
You made some money while you were racing, didn’t you?
Yeah, it was good—and it was really good as an amateur! I had some money from the factory Suzuki deal for sure. But also the amateur thing was awesome. I had ten free bikes and $50,000 travel money, plus contingency money, and they also paid my dad. I think one year I made $250,000 as an amateur, and that’s not including the bikes I sold at the end of the year.
Were you able to save any of it?
Hell no! I spent all my money. I bought a house and totaled countless cars and street bikes. Also, many of the toys I bought got taken when I got arrested because I could not prove how I obtained them. But I bought stupid stuff—things like cars, leather couches and nice tile for the bathroom.
Back to today—are you doing any riding still?
Oh yeah! I was off for nine years. When I got out of jail last year the first thing I decided I wanted to do was go to Loretta’s, but that did not work out. I hurt myself pretty bad as I tried to go to back after only riding a month or so. It was too much too quick. And then my dad got sick, so I stopped focusing on bikes for over a year.
But then after I got back from our honeymoon this spring, my dad got me a bike for a wedding present. The timing was really good, and it came as a big surprise, and I was beyond pumped. So, now I've been riding as much as can and just trying to get back into some decent shape.
Good for you. What do you hope to accomplish being back on the bike after being away for so long?
I just want to prove myself again and have fun. That’s all. I don’t plan to be a pro again, but I really, really want to try to make a national while getting back into shape. I just want to make a 40-rider gate—that’s my goal—and to prove that people can fall down and get back up, and make it back to the line again.
And to help me accomplish this, I'm planning to spend part of the winter at Nario Izzi’s place doing some riding and working on the fundamentals. If I feel good I might do the Mini Os in the vet class and see where it goes from there.
How does it feel after not riding for nine years, and to be going fast again?
It’s awesome, but man is it hard! It’s so much easier when you're younger and in shape. I've been riding for a month and half, and just trying to build up my hands, but fitness is a long road. But, really, I just want to have fun and to set it as a personal challenge. Hard work and determination will help me pull it off.
Did any of your old sponsors come back?
Not really. I have some friends and people locally who never went away, but honestly, no one at a big company really wants to help out someone who was in jail. But I'm going to prove myself and hopefully I can get some support. But motocross is expensive, and I've seen both sides of the sport. I've gone from free bikes, gear and parts to swapping tires back and fourth to save the knobbies and counting pennies so that I have enough gas money to get to the track.
Well, Ben, I would like to keep talking, but need to wrap this up. Thanks for speaking, and thanks for being so candid and honest about your past. I really hope things go well for you, and it sounds like you're well down a road that is based on some good decisions. Good luck!
Thank you. You know, it's hard for a bad guy to get a second chance. Some people I talk to, I get vibes and I know what they are thinking. Being in jail and rubbing elbows with some really bad people, you learn how to read people. So, I know that it's all up to me right now and my future is in my hands. I'm looking forward to the challenge, and telling my story along the way. I see a lot of riders that are on the same path that I was. I was maybe one of the first factory riders to really screw up, but of everything I learned, the biggest is how to be more grateful for the small things and responsible to others.