Multi-time AMA SX and MX champion Ryan Dungey shocked the industry with his announcement that he was leaving KTM (where he was an ambassador after retiring) to become a part-owner in the GEICO Honda team. Seeing Ryan on a Honda will be a bit weird for sure but he’ll be a great addition to the operation, there’s not doubt about that. We caught up to Ryan on Monday’s PulpMX Show and talked to him about that.
(Note: This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Racer X Online: You shocked the hell out of everybody with that news that came out. Buying into the GEICO Honda team. Why? What made you want to do it?
Ryan Dungey: Just at the basis of it, the opportunity that was presented. I will say, I was coming to a point within the industry I didn’t quite know where things were going. I was trying to find my spot. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I kind of was unsure, and then this came about. It really made a lot of sense. It’s something that was long-term. That provided some ownership but also just keep growing, keep learning, keep developing. In racing, I’ve done it my whole life. Being a part of it as a racer, seeing what goes into the rider side of a program of the race scene. So being able to invest into the riders in that way, but also the business side of the whole development and learning and understanding. So I’ve always been really interested in business just in general, but just getting into that. It just was a good fit. I said it before, but it just checked a lot of boxes. It made sense family-wise. There was just a lot of reasons. I’m really excited about it.
My theory is this move is a bit more of an investment than just shaking hands and being an ambassador at KTM, you have some stake in the game, right?
Yeah, certainly. Definitely doing the due diligence side and making sure that more than just trying to find that fix of adrenaline, just having more good reasonings behind it. Being able to work with good people, I know you know Jeff [Majkrzak] and Ziggy [Rick Zeilfelder- GEICO owners]. Really solid people. We got a good, solid structure. I just would have to say definitely having more skin in the game definitely gets things flowing more. It’s managing it, understanding, learning, making sure we’re doing a good job and working together. There’s a lot more to it than just showing up to a race, which I want to be able to enjoy. This is definitely not a one-man operation. It’s multiple guys. So making sure that we’re doing a great job, representing our partners well, making sure everybody on the team and the management and the structure and the mechanics. It’s a whole package. It just was something for me I wanted a bigger challenge. I think that for me, it motivates me.
Do you think we’ll see you at more races or less races? What’s your role that way, you think?
It’s going to be more than what I’ve been doing. It’s been about eight or nine a year. It’ll roughly run about, give or take, 12 or 15. So there will be that with the races and also some of the posts and some of the testing. So I’ll be pretty active. Obviously, we’ve got really good communication with our guys, making sure we’re all on the same page and making sure our riders are taken care of and whatnot. Definitely going to be more active and more around.
Coming from a career in racing where you were so goal-driven, so focused, how was that first year of retirement? Was it difficult in the sense of the ambassador role is just not the same as racing?
Yeah. I have to say the last two years have been the hardest, but I’ve learned the most about myself. It’s really challenging. You go from a hundred miles an hour and doing stuff all the time and all of a sudden things slow down really quick, which is okay. I don’t really know if you can prepare anybody for that. It’s not like I transitioned out of racing into something else, so things really slowed down. But I also knew that I always felt secure in my decision, but I also knew that I was going to have to be patient and wait. If I just jumped on every single opportunity that presented itself, well that wasn’t good. I will say, some of the ambassador stuff that I was doing was really good, being able to represent partners. I have to say too, even with KTM, we had really good success with racing and it was a lot of fun. So for me, just being able to walk away from KTM, those relationships all mean a lot to me as well. It’s a small sport. You don’t want to ruin those relationships that took time to build.
Moving forward, it was mainly waiting for the right opportunity to come along. I wasn’t sure what. That takes time. I even at one point thought to myself I probably wouldn't do anything in the sport. Even when this opportunity presented itself I kind of thought… It took a few weeks to bite on it, but once I started thinking about it—you have to be proactive and whatnot and just try to apply yourself the right way. I was like, I could really see doing this. It makes a lot of sense. Then the discussions started and things progressed. It’s different. Of course those couple years were challenging but I wouldn’t have changed it. I wouldn’t change it at all.
For you was it a tough call to have to call Roger (De Coster) and those KTM guys about this? I’m actually kind of curious from Roger’s standpoint—what was their reaction?
Well, I wanted to share the news with them right away. That was first and foremost. They’re not happy. I don’t think for them it was ideal, with all good intentions. It’s just the way things go sometimes and you have to make these tougher decisions in life. At the same time, I’ve received a lot of respect for them and they were really supportive, in a sense. They’re not people who want to see people fail, by any means. They were like, “We’re happy for you and we understand.” Definitely the tougher call.
Do you foresee yourself testing for these guys? Maybe not supercross, but motocross?
No. I’d love to jump on the bike here and there and get a feel. If we run into some big things, I’d love to be able to sort through some stuff, but at the same time I don’t plan to test. [This is] Just more so be able to be in this new role, new position.
I imagine your phone is open, if any rider on the team—the Lawrence brothers, J-Mart, Sexton—any of these guys, if they just want to call you and grab some advice from you, right? That’s another valuable thing you can offer. Like, “Hey, I got this agent, I got this company… Hey, I’m struggling with this. Hey, my chick said…” You’ve been there, done that. They can probably call you and get some advice from you.
Yeah. That’s the one thing that I feel like I’ve experienced a lot. I’ve been through a lot, a lot of situations. Even what you were saying about the girlfriend, the personal life does play a factor in this career, and anybody’s. Really that was the one piece of this too. I met all the riders. They’re super good guys. I think every one of them is solid and they’re easy to get along with. That’s the one thing I have to say I’m really excited about is just being able to build those relationships. I was in a position one time and I needed advice and I didn’t know what to do. Ricky [Carmichael] was there for me, or Roger [De Coster] was there for me. Just to be able to be there. We have a lot of questions and if you can get those questions answered then all the better. I don’t want to sound like I’m able to do it all, by any means, but where I can help, absolutely. I want to be able to apply that to the guys. That’s the thing we’ve established. The phone is always open.
I’m going to take a shot in the dark and say it was probably Majkrzak [Jeff, team co-owner] that approached you on this. I’m kind of curious how the conversation started up with this situation. Just one of those typical, sitting around BS’ing? Did he and Ziggy approach you formally? How did the opportunity even come about?
I’ve known Jeff since I was 15. Jeff Majkrzak, he lives in Minnesota here. So I’d run into him while he owned the team. Josh Grant would come to Minnesota, so we would ride together. That was really cool for me as an amateur. I met Jeff through that and whatnot. I still give him a hard time because I asked him for a ride [back then]! He didn’t like that. I’ve got to kind of rub it in a little bit. Actually we were driving one day. We’ve got some other stuff that we do together as well. We were driving together and he was kind of just sharing with me a little bit of where he was at and what his long-term plans were. So that’s kind of where things started. Then seeing an opportunity with that, that’s where the discussions would have to start. I think that started late summer.
You’re going to get a 450 from Honda and a 250? Will you be on a 250? Will you ride a 450 for fun?
I actually want to ride the 250. This is when things settle down a little bit. Riding one of the team bikes would be awesome. First, I haven’t ridden a 250 in a long time and secondly, even an aluminum frame. So just a whole different feel and whatnot, so feel that out. Also jump on a 450 too, just to get a feel for that as well. Just kind of ride a little bit of both.
Will you be a little bit more out in Cali for this deal?
Yeah, there will be some travels definitely. Obviously we’re pretty central in the country, but for the most part there’ll definitely be more travels, longer bits of stays in California, most likely, and the races. We just moved back. Family was back. We missed the four seasons. I enjoy the winter. I know a lot of people struggle with the cold, but it’s fun.
You certainly had a lot of people talking in the industry with this move.
I’m really excited. It’s a great team. I really feel like it’s got a great family vibe and the values that the team owners hold and the people, the staff, the mechanics, the riders. Everybody is just really genuinely good people. We’ve got really solid partners. I remember being a kid and wanting to ride for Honda, and just to kind of in a way be able to have Honda being a part of our team, it’s huge. And the relationships and how they conduct themselves and GEICO. I don’t want to start naming partners and leave people out, but everybody that’s a part of it. I’m really fortunate to be able to come on board, even especially with Jeff and Ziggy. They’ve been like a mentor to me, but also how they have set this team, how they conduct themselves, the values, what’s important to them. It’s really cool. Even the support that we get from the manufacturers, it’s just incredible. I think nothing’s guaranteed, but it definitely helps the chances of future success. We’ve got big dreams, big goals, but we’re going to try to do all we can.
Something you said about Honda and always wanting to have worked with them. Now we’re this far down your career road maybe we can ask. Did you ever have a contract talk with Honda or any sort of opportunity or conversation with them at any point in your career?
Yeah, I did a couple times through all the negotiation processes and stuff. Even as a little kid, I just feel like Honda has always set the tone. It’s professional. They kind of got a “less is more” look. It’s factory. It’s clean. It’s sharp. As a little kid coming up to the ranks and being in the pits, seeing inside the semis and whatnot. It didn’t happen as a racer, but I almost feel this is even better because you still get to be a part of it in a bigger way, in my opinion, but also maybe without the race stress, the race pressure of a rider. So it’s cool.