Ryan Villopoto returns to the track (but we don’t know what track—this is an undisclosed location) tomorrow night at 5 p.m. EST/2 p.m. PST with Moto Fite Klub. You can watch a bench-racing session with Ryan and nine other legends for free tonight at 7 p.m. EST/4 p.m. PST.
But that’s Moto Fite Klub. In part two of our conversation with Ryan, we get into the heart of his racing days, including the pressure than made him retire after winning four-straight Monster Energy Supercross Championships. If you missed part one with RV, read The Conversation: Ryan Villopoto, Part 1.
Racer X: I’ve always wondered this with you. How much of all this was mind over matter? I don’t get the sense that you loved doing motos in 100 degrees, and maybe no one does, but as you said, Dunge was the guy you had to battle. Dunge seems like the kind of guy that would train for a triathlon for fun as a hobby if he had a regular job. How much of your training was just like, “It’s my job? I’ve got to do it. If I do ten years or eleven or whatever, I’m going to make the most of it. I’ll suck it up, even if I hate it.” Was that what was really going on, or did you actually like it?
Ryan Villopoto: I think to be as good as I was or as good as these athletes are at different sports, I think everybody a different type of love for the situation. Dunge truly loves it. I think, anyway. This is my opinion. I wouldn’t say that I loved the suffering, but there was a part of me that had to have liked to see how far could I push it, or Aldon would say, “I bet you can’t do that.” That did drive me, but it was different for me. I didn’t love it. But also finding people’s weaknesses, too. If you can find one…like I knew Dunge was really good in the heat per se, but I knew that if I could just start to crack him a little bit I knew that he would crack. That year it was ungodly hot at Elsinore. Maybe it wasn’t the heat. I don’t know. I just thought the heat got to a lot of people that day. It was hard for me. It wasn’t easy, but I didn’t let it get to me like I think other people did. I don’t know how to answer that question. Maybe that’s confusing. And options, right? My dad built houses when we were growing up. That’s how he funded our racing. It’s not like I swung a hammer. I was always riding. So what are you going to go and do? At that point, you do wise up. In this industry, I think you got to mature a lot quicker than the average kid at 16. We’re still dummies, but smarter than most of the average 16-year-olds. I think around 18 was like, “This is my business now. I’m not going to start over going somewhere else.” So you kind of put your head down. I’m going to put it all into this. You push all the chips in and you go for it, because there’s not a lot of options either.
Like I said, if you just go all-out for ten years, you make the most out of this. You don’t have to like it.
People don’t like their desk jobs either. I get it. We got paid better than the average desk job. I can guarantee you that. We don’t have to love our day jobs every single day.
What I think your answer is kind of saying is, as long as there is a competitive element, you were motivated. Maybe what you’re doing on Wednesday or Thursday wasn’t fun, but if you knew how it would impact things on Saturday, and the feeling of winning, it was worth it.
Let’s be honest. The winning is always fun. Even though people are like, “He looks mad up there.” [On the podium] Well, yeah. I’m hot. I’m sweaty. I’m tired. Just because I just won a national or I won a supercross, that doesn’t mean I won the championship. Then also too, I had some photos that I might not look the happiest when I won the championship. I’m just glad the f***ing thing is over because the stress is so high to finally close the deal! So it’s a kind of mixed emotions type of thing, but the outside looking in, you’re like, what’s the matter with this guy? Well, dude, we just won the war.
People have been watching this Michael Jordan Last Dance documentary on ESPN and they said something that sums up guys at your level so well. When you win the first one or two titles, that’s joy. Eventually when you have a streak going, it becomes more like, thank God I didn’t lost it this year, and it’s almost more relief than joy.
I said that in the past. You win the first one and it’s like, “Okay, wow. I won my first championship. Right on. High five.” Everybody’s digging it. Then you have, “Let me see if I can do it again.” So then you win it twice, but then after twice, people are like, the target on your back, you’re the guy and everybody wants to beat you. To keep the streak going is probably the hardest thing. That’s why I think you’ve only seen me and MC go four in a row, because to go four in a row… I believe Ricky could have done it potentially, but he had injuries and whatever else. There’s so much more stress with consecutive championships, and still a lot less winning one or two in a row than three or four in a row.
Yeah. What I’m saying is it’s not just the training that drains you. There’s an extra level of pressure that comes with a streak that you have to account for. There’s only a few dudes who ever had to deal with that.
And there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s zero you can do about it.
After the four-straight supercross titles, we all know you went to MXGP in 2015. That didn’t work out. But did you ever consider, instead of MXGP, what if you did half a season and didn’t try to go for a title but just tried to win races? Ricky did that in his last year. He raced but took away the title pressure. Did that ever cross your mind? No points, no championship, just race half the races in 2015?
No. I’m going to be honest, that [MXGP] was kind of a weird deal how that thing all transpired. That’s for me to know and kind of nobody else to know, at this point. Maybe later in life I can divulge a little bit of that. It was definitely a weird time. Yes, I had another year in my contract. We made some arrangements and made things happen. Ultimately, my heart and brain had left the building from the racing world. So I was ready to move on, I guess, per se. I needed that break. I needed to stop. Obviously everybody heard about Dunge, rumbles of him maybe coming back after he retired. I’m not saying that if in a perfect world we could have just taken a two-year hiatus and come back and step right back into our winning ways, because we probably would have done that. But that’s just not how our sport works. There’s a lot of sports like that. You leave football for two years, you’re not going to be as sharp as you ever were, I don’t think. It’s just the way it is. We’re athletes at the highest, highest level, so when you leave, there’s really no returning to that space.
Everybody else is practicing, training, getting better for two whole years and you’re not. It’s going to be hard to potentially catch right back up.
No, It’s not that. Physically, you can still do that. It’s your mental capacity, your mental state has changed. A few years ago I was riding, getting ready for Australia [Aus-X Supercross]. Me and my dad were out at Milestone and Tony Alessi was out there with Mookie [Malcolm Stewart] and Vince [Friese]. He comes up to me and he goes, “What are you doing? You’ve got something up your sleeve.” I was fast still. But that’s fast in practice. So he can go out there, watch it and automatically see, this guy’s on it. So we’ve still got it, but to go and get into that race mentality, get your brain back to that killing state, I don’t know if that ever comes back. I can sit here and tell you I’d want to go out there and win, but actually the mental side of it is I think what changes, your head changes, your head space changes. The speed or the talent that you had doesn’t necessarily change.
So you can be burned out. You can eventually get that out of your system. You can get hungry again, you can get into it again, but you never quite get all the way a hundred percent.
I don’t think you can come back, no. Kevin [Windham] took a hiatus. Not to take anything away from Kevin, but Kevin didn’t do seasons and seasons and seasons of racing for a championship with close, close, close points and every weekend comes down to where Dunge finished, where James finished, every single weekend. Your whole deal is “What are the points now? We have to win, we have to win, we have to win.” No disrespect. I’m buddies with Kevin and he’s involved, he’s racing on Tuesday with us. But I think that’s different, too. Kevin did race for a championship but not say, as much as me, Dunge, Ricky. Guys that are in that position I think it’s different. It’s a different thing. I can’t tell you what that thing is. I just know it’s different.
I totally believe it. I heard this all the time: Everybody retires early. I’m like, the guys that retired early were the guys that had supercross championship streaks, and everyone else who didn’t win three or four supercross titles in a row are still racing. That’s the line in the sand. That pressure. As long as you don’t get super beat up with injuries, it’s the pressure that drives you guys out.
It’s just different. It’s just a different thing.
That’s why Justin Brayton is 35 and still going, because he hasn’t had to live with that. His world doesn’t collapse if he’s not the best guy every weekend. If he gets an eighth, his world doesn’t collapse, but yours would have.
Yeah, exactly. Two eighths back-to-back weekends that you shit the bed on, that is bad. It’s a bad, bad, bad situation.
Three quick questions from fans. I don’t know if you got answers to these but we’ll try. If you go back in time, is there anything you would change in your racing career?
I think there would be things that I would change, for sure. Can I answer what those things are? No. But the only thing that I can say is that things happened the way they happened. Maybei would change a few things with my dad and things like that. Ultimately things happened for a reason and it all panned out and worked out. I won the races that I won and I won the championships that I won. So if you go back and start messing with, “What if you would have done this different?” Well, maybe I wouldn’t have won then, or maybe things wouldn’t change. So that’s just the way life is.
Any championships stick out as the most memorable out of all the ones you have?
I think it’s like you mentioned in the Michael Jordan documentary. I can remember my first championship, my first 450 championship. Crossing the line in Vegas. It was still close in points. It wasn’t locked up. I can remember Chad [Reed] stopping next to me on the triple after the finish, I think it was. I actually think I have a photo of that, me and him next to each other. I remember that so well. Second, third and fourth titles? I can’t remember a lot of those ones. So the first one, I guess.
That’s funny. That’s just the way we were saying. It doesn’t have the same joy. Okay, another fan question: favorite pass of all time? Feel free to throw a little Mike Alessi shade in here just to promote Moto Fite Klub.
That ’06 Budds Creek is always a good one with Mike. We had a big rivalry. I took him out that day. Stay tuned for FiteTV. I’m going to try to do it again. Who knows? He might do it to me. But I would think favorite pass has to be Steel City with Dunge. That was, I wouldn’t say the gnarliest race I’ve ever done, but we went 30 plus two, so that’s like fifteen laps, roughly, where I was eating his roost the entire time. Don’t ask me how I didn’t run out of tear-offs, but I didn’t. For 30 plus two, and then the last turn literally a hundred feet from the finish line I passed him. I think that pretty crazy. You can watch highlights on it obviously, but you’ve got to go back and actually spend 30 minutes watching the actual footage of the race itself, and then that pass happens. I think that was probably the most memorable one.
That’s 2011, if people want to look it up. But you’re right. If you watch two minutes of highlights it doesn’t explain the pressure and the heat of 30 minutes just pushing each other the whole way.
Points were fairly close. I think we were 14 points separated at that point. I think actually we were 14 exactly because when I went into Pala I had a 17-point lead after that.
It was definitely close enough, I remember, where if Dunge wins out, if he goes 1-1-1-1, he would be right there for the title. So that was so critical to hang up that moto win for you to get a cushion.
From myself, it was like I knew that was the nail in the coffin for him.
Hmmm. Maybe if Moto Fite Klub ever happens again you might have to give Dunge a call!
Put it this way: if we can get enough people tuned into it, it will happen again. I want it to happen again. The ten riders that are involved with FiteTV and MFK, we want this to happen again. The goal is not for this to be a one-off. If we can get enough of you guys to tune in and get this thing off the ground, I think you’re going to see some pretty cool stuff.