After achieving the Soaring Eagle/Jimmy John’s/RCH Suzuki team’s ultimate goal of winning an AMA title when Ken Roczen raced to victory in the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship over the summer, all seemed well with the world for team owners Carey Hart and Ricky Carmichael. Four years since the team’s original iteration back in 2013, it had all come right for the privately funded race outfit. But as with any form of racing, money talks and when Honda came calling for the German’s services for 2017 and beyond, RCH’s star rider was gone.
Turning the screw even more was the harsh reality that the team would lose a very significant amount of sponsorship funding for ’17 when Soaring Eagle Casino and Jimmy John’s went in a different direction. Word on the team’s future was slow in coming and recently—and we mean VERY recently—rumor and fact swirled around one another and the entire U.S.-based motocross industry wondered aloud if the team would actually race at Angel Stadium in January. Hoping to get the inside line on it all, Racer X tracked down our longtime buddy Ricky Carmichael to get the untold story. The GOAT was in a talking sort of mood and we were all ears.
Racer X: Ricky, it’s the first day of December and the 2017 Monster Energy Supercross Championship looms off in the near distance. What’s going on in your world?
Ricky Carmichael: Well, it’s been an interesting year for me in many different ways. From personal standpoint to the team, but all in all, I’d say for the most part it’s been fun and I’ve learned a lot and had some great times as well. I can’t believe December is already here and I’m just really looking forward to 2017. It’s going to be a great year. It’s going to be better than 2016 for me in many ways and I’m just really excited about it. I can’t wait for it. I’m going to try and put together some fun projects. I know we’re going to be putting on some RCUs [Ricky Carmichael University] and going across the pond to do that. The stuff with my GOAT Farm is going really well and then of course with being an on-track analyst for Feld and the Monster Energy Supercross Championship on TV, I’ll be trying to expand my role there. I’ll also be involved in the Amsoil Arenacross Championship in 2017 and promoting that and the Road to Supercross. I’ll be a lot more involved with all that stuff this year. So I’m looking forward to it, man. It should be fun.
Excellent and good to hear. I’ll hit you with the big question straight-off here: what is the current status of the RCH Racing team?
With RCH we’re looking forward to expanding our role with Suzuki and Yoshimura, which will basically be coming together as one and being the factory team from Suzuki. It’s a huge honor and it’s always been our goal from day one when RCH was developed with Carey Hart and I. We finally made that a reality and it wouldn’t be possible without the great sponsors that we’ve had in the past and with this opportunity presenting itself from Suzuki and their great support. We’re looking forward to ’17. I’d be lying if I said it hadn’t been a struggle. We all know the world today and how hard it is to find sponsors and keep the team afloat. Some years are easier than others and for us it just happened to be a harder year than we anticipated sponsor-wise. It’s made us stronger in a way and we look forward to ’17 and beyond—especially with our new position with Suzuki. We’re excited. We’re going racing. Obviously Ken [Roczen] has left and signed with [Honda] HRC for ’17. We had a great tenure with him and we're very thankful we finished second in a couple of series and won the championship this year. That’s more than a lot of people can say that they’ve done as team owners, especially with a private label team like ourselves. We’ve gotten to do a lot of fun things with RCH along the way and we want to keep doing great things for RCH and our sponsors. We’ll have Justin Bogle, and of course, Broc Tickle as our riders. We’re almost in a rebuilding stage with our new role and our new responsibilities of having the factory Suzuki team. This comes at a good year and a good time and I’m excited for the guys because I think it’s a great opportunity for Justin and we’re excited to have him on the team as well as Broc. Broc has been with us since RCH was developed and he’s a great kid and the team guys love working with him.
Broc posted up back-to-back podium finishes at Muddy Creek and RedBud over the summer. He’s a player out there.
He definitely is. Broc had some of the best finishes he's ever had in his career, with a couple podiums and that was really exciting for us and that’s all we can ask. If he’s a fifth to 10th place guy and we can sneak him up on the podium on a good night or a good day in the outdoors, that’s great. He’s doing better than we expected. Obviously, we’d love for him to be on podiums and he was able to do that. He did better than we expected of him. I know he expects more out of himself, which is great. We’re happy for him and we’re happy for Justin and to try and give him a great opportunity to be on the box and better himself than what he did last year.
There were races during the ’16 Monster Energy Supercross Championship where Justin Bogle looked very impressive. He ran up front a number of times and was a solid top-10 guy when he wasn’t injured. I’d imagine you and Carey are encouraged by all that.
Yeah, the thing I like about Justin is that he gets good starts. At the level that they’re racing at, if you can get a good start you can run up front. That’s really good for him and one of his qualities. We want to put him in the best position and maybe with a little coaching from me, I can help him achieve his goals in the main events and through the series. A lot of people might say, “Oh, you must be bummed that you guys won a championship and now you don’t have a rider like a Ken Roczen.” It’s okay, you take the wins with the losses and I’m okay with the squad we’ve got. It’s fun for me. Sometimes it’s a bit more relishing when you take someone like Broc or someone like Justin, like a fifth or sixth place guy, or a fifth to eighth place guy on an average, and you can get them on the box, that’s a little more gratifying than having a guy that should win all the time and not win, if you know what I’m saying. I’m excited for it.
Honda hired away your guy Ken Roczen. As we all know, Honda hasn’t won a supercross title since, well, damn, you did it for them way back in 2003. The word was, whether it came from Honda Japan or Honda USA, that Honda was out to do everything in its power to win in 2017.
Honda hasn’t won a 450 championship since 2004 when I was there, so they’re tired of not winning. There is no doubt about it. They’re using a lot of resources and spending a lot of money to do it. Not even in just the U.S. series, but over in MXGP. They’re devoting a lot of effort to get back on top. Only time will tell if that effort is going to pan out. One thing I’ve learned as a team owner is things don’t always work out the way that you’d like them to. Only time will tell. I wish Ken and Honda the best of luck. I have no problems. I’ve got some friends over there at Honda. I like Ken. Ken’s a great kid. It’s going to be fun watching him and I enjoy watching him ride. It will be interesting. But for sure, they are making a huge push to get back to where they once were. Like I said, they’ve been in a dry spell at the elite level for sure. Fortunately for me, the last time they won was when I was racing. Those were some good times in my racing career.
I’ll put you on the spot here: is Ken Roczen going to be their savior?
You know what? I think that he has a great chance to be. Let’s put it this way, he’s going to give them the best chance that they’ve had in many years. Without a doubt. But you can never, ever, ever bet against Ryan Dungey. I mean you just can’t. And I think [Eli] Tomac as well. That is the beauty of Monster Energy Supercross. You know, there are three or four guys at that top level, you’re talking about Dungey, Tomac, and Roczen, where so many things can go right and there are so many things that can go wrong. I mean I thought for sure we were going to win the supercross championship last year and just one little mishap turns into another bad weekend and it’s tough. If anyone can do it, Ken can be their savior, but you also can’t sleep on the other guys’ skills as well. The guys that I mentioned are really strong and Dungey has multiple championships for a reason. He’s extremely devoted and he has no distractions and I think that’s why he has the success that he does.
And you have to stay healthy. I mean making it through all 17 races, all in the span of basically 18 or 19 weeks, is a tall order, isn’t it? Do you think there should be more breaks in the schedule?
I think maybe having a weekend off and then maybe bust off a few races and then have another weekend off here and there. I think you have a week off at one stage, and then another week off for Easter holiday. I think that’s enough breaks for the guys. I think that you don’t want to have too many breaks, because in my mind, you’ll be racing all year long. I think the more you can have in-a-row and then a little break is good. For me personally, I like when you can string as many off in-a-row as you can because you get in a routine. The only thing that is a bummer if you are a racer is when you have an injury. Then you have to nurse it along and that really makes it tough. But it’s professional racing and your job is to stay healthy and sometimes you’re faced with challenges that you have to do the best with.
As far as the competition in ’17, you mentioned Dungey, Tomac, and Roczen. Who else do you think will be able to win a race or hit the podium consistently?
I’m looking for a lot of things out of Marvin Musquin this year. I think he’s quietly been getting better. He was really strong at the Monster Cup. If he has a good off-season—we’ve got about a month to go—I think that he’s going to be good. I think he is a guy that can win, for sure. Justin Barcia. How’s he going to do? We all have been waiting and waiting and waiting, really. He should be in the same position that Tomac is in and Ken is in, really. We’re waiting for that. Is that going to happen? Time will only tell. Those are the guys I feel can win. We’re just going to have to see, man. It’ll be interesting. As far as the guys I didn’t mention, it’ll be a toss-up. You start talking about guys like Tickle and Bogle and Weston [Peick]. I mean they can be fourth one weekend or then they can be 10th the next. That’s how tight the field is.
Are we going to see James Stewart show up anywhere?
I don’t know what’s going to happen with James. The only thing that I can say for him is whatever he ends up doing, I just hope that it’s for the right reasons and the right decisions and not about money. I would hate to see him having made it this far in his career and then him end up hurting himself to where it’s not recoverable. That’s the biggest thing for me. One person I would like to talk about that we haven’t mentioned, and who I’m a huge fan of, is Chad Reed. Him and Cooper [Webb]. Chad says he changed a lot of stuff off the bike so I’m hoping it will pan-out for him. I’d love to see him go out a champion. It’s going to be a tall order. No doubt it. If anybody can do it, he can do it. Cooper, on the other hand, I think he’s going to have a great year. He kind of has a pass for the year. He can do a lot of learning, and if he doesn’t do good, it’ll be like, “Well, it was a learning year.” If he does good, great. He has nothing to lose, really. I’m excited to see how he’s going to do. You know, I also think Jason Anderson is going to be in there and can win next year.
I didn’t see the Suzuki thing coming with JGR. Did you?
I didn’t see it coming. It was a surprise to me, but I will tell you that I’m happy for Suzuki and I’m glad JGR has gone this route. It’s great for the Suzuki brand. The more Suzuki bikes we can have on the track, the better. The better for brand recognition and to keep the brand strong and alive, man. I’m happy for those guys.
It’s a bit of a harsh question to ask you, but did you and Carey get to the point with the team in recent months where you almost had to pull the plug on everything?
It has definitely been one of the tough years. It was close, for sure. I’m not going to lie. It was close. But some people have definitely stepped up to make it happen and I’m very thankful for that and I’m glad we could make it happen. Not only for myself, personally, and Carey, but also for the guys at the ship, our riders and the sport in general. It would be a huge black eye on the sport to see a team like ours go away. When you see teams go away, it’s not a good representation of the sport. It doesn’t show that our sport has got a lot of strength. I’m happy at this moment that we’re going racing and it’s going to be good.
Last question. I always looked at that 2006 season between James, Chad, and yourself as the apex of the sport. The racing, the personalities, the crowds, the commercialism … a decade later, what do you think of the sport now?
I think from a viewership and a popularity standpoint, I think the sport has grown tremendously since then. Our TV package is better than it’s ever been with all of them being live on Fox Sports 1 and some of them now being on the big Fox Network, which is really, really cool. So from that standpoint, it’s grown. Fan participation is still good. That’s the thing that is misleading. Our TV package is getting better and our stands are still full, but as far as motorcycle sales, I hope that they’re getting better, which I think they are a little bit. As far as fan base-wise, the sport is growing. As far as the motorcycle industry, that I can’t comment on. As far as popularity, we’re in a better position now, without a doubt. As far as from a monetary standpoint and the riders getting paid, we’re not as in a good place as we were in 2006. Times were just booming then. I mean a 10th place guy at the time was getting paid really, really well, where a 10th place guy now isn’t at that level. That’s where the guys are taking the hits. That’s part of it, unfortunately. What I’m happy about is how good our TV package is and how much it has grown and the efforts Monster Energy puts into the sport as we’ll as Feld to keep this thing growing.