While most 20-year-olds are out getting their fake IDs jacked by bouncers, motocross racer Ryan Dungey is busy making history. Homie doesn't turn 21 for another month, but has already become the sport's most successful premier-class rookie by winning the 2010 AMA supercross and motocross championships. His success on the track has extended to the corporate world, landing him sponsorship deals with Target and Nike, which also released his signature racing boot. If anybody in the world has the right to do the Yung Joc motorcycle dance, it's this dude—thankfully, he's opted not to. We caught up with Dungey after his championship campaign to talk about why racing is in his blood, his shoe deal with Nike, and the growing popularity of his sport.
Interview by Ralph Warner
Complex: Your whole family seems to be involved in the sport. What influence did that have on you growing up?
Ryan: It started with my dad—before we were even born, he raced all through his teenage years. When my brothers and I were around the ages of 5 and 7, he got us a dirt bike, and from there one thing just led to another. It started out as just fun, riding around the house, then I started racing locally, and then it just grew from there.
Complex: You grew up Minnesota, so we're guessing you couldn't race year-round. Did you play any other sports as a kid?
Ryan: Yeah, when the winter came around I would play baseball, basketball, and football. I tried out all those sports growing up as a kid, but motocross was kind of the one sport I knew I wanted to stick and make a career out of.
Complex: At what point did you start thinking that you could make a career out of motocross?
Ryan: It was probably when I was about 14 or 15, after I started having a lot of success on the amateur scene. I started winning a lot more races, and started realizing that I can make a job out of this. From there, when I was about 16, I got signed with the factory Suzuki team, which was pretty cool. It was really rare to go from amateurs to a factory support team, but it was a great opportunity and I'm really thankful for that.
Complex: What kind of an affect did that jump have on you?
Ryan: It really all happened so quickly. I was in amateurs—where I was a B, or intermediate, rider—and I got a chance to try out with Suzuki. There were a lot of naysayers that said, "Why did he get that ride and this chance when he's so young?" But I got to ride and everything went well. Then I had a little bit of success in my first supercross race. From there, other opportunities started coming in with media coverage, and money started playing a factor, too. There was so much to separate and I had to find a way to put it all in order. I think growing up for me there were a lot of sacrifices, but I knew that this is what I wanted to do. Now I'm getting a chance to live out my dream, and I wouldn't change that for anything.
Complex: How has the backing of motocross legends like Roger DeCoster and Ricky Carmichael helped you along the way?
Ryan: I've been really fortunate to work with such great guys. Roger is so accomplished in the sport and since the day I met him he has offered so much knowledge and wisdom. So, to have a guy like that in my corner is very cool—you can't buy that. As well as Ricky Carmichael, he was actually my first teammate. I never really thought that I would be in the same rig as the guy I looked up to. He was toward the latter part of his career when I started, but he's also been a huge help and I really appreciate the time he took to offer me advice.
Complex: What were the challenges going from the 250cc class to the 450cc class this year? Did you expect to have so much success?
Ryan: Moving up to the 450cc class, it was always a challenge that I'd been looking forward to. I've waited a long time for that moment and just wanted the success from 2009 to carry over. Although the 450cc is a bigger bike, you have to really be in tune with it to make sure it's set up right. I wanted to go in and win—championships have always been the goal in mind. I never really thought winning both championships would happen so quickly, but thankfully I had a great year.
Complex: What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Ryan: There's many of them. I'd say each championship, but the first championship was very special. The one race from this year that does stick out in my mind was in Denver at the FIM Motocross of Nations. It's the biggest race of our sport, where the countries come together and put forth three riders to compete. My teammates and I took that home this year, that was a win I was very proud of.
Complex: With all this early success, do you ever fear that you might get bored with the sport?
Ryan: No, not at this point. I still feel that there's a lot of stuff that I've yet to accomplish. I've been able to win every major championship there is to win in supercross and motocross; now, it's about backing that up by winning more and setting records. I think it's important not to settle and to keep pushing forward for more.
Complex: You're also a Nike athlete and helped design the Nike 6.0 AIR MX boot. What was the design process like?
Ryan: That was actually quite a great experience to be a part of. I basically just said all the things that I would like in a boot and then the Nike guys went to work. From there, we started testing and fine-tuning it to make it better and better. Before I knew it, we were done and it's been a great boot all year long—it's really done its job.
Complex: Usually when you think of Nike athletes, it's basketball players, not motocross guys. What was your initial feeling when you signed with Nike?
Ryan: We always wondered why Nike didn't make a boot. I've been with Nike since '05, and it was always just talk. When the design got in motion, everybody was like, "No, it ain't coming out." But it finally came out, and they brang it. We all know that if Nike's going to do something, they're not going to do it half-ass, because that's not their style. It came out amazing. Support from key sponsors like them and Target is key. Target has helped out so much by providing places to sleep at races, making it like a home at the track.
Complex: Who were some of your biggest motocross influences while growing up?
Ryan: The very first guy was Jeremy McGrath, he was dominant. I saw his success in supercross on TV and decided that's what I want to be. Then after McGrath came Ricky Carmichael. I was really inspired by him because he failed a couple times but never quit. He would always go for it.
Complex: Are there any athletes outside of motocross that you really look up to?
Ryan: Yes, Lance Armstrong. He really inspired me by battling cancer and coming back, but especially with the work he's done through the LIVESTRONG foundation, which I'm a part of. My grandma passed away from cancer and she's one of my biggest influences, so I really appreciate how he's helped others with the foundation.
Complex: Who's in your iPod?
Ryan: I like a good bit of everything, but especially T.I. and George Strait—that would be quite the mash-up. I mean, Tim McGraw did do one with Nelly, right? [Laughs.]
Complex: What are a few of the things that are key to motocross' continued growth?
Ryan: We've definitely taken a step in the right direction teaming up with Alli Sports. The TV package with NBC helps out, too. But really, on our end, being open to change is key. The sport is slowly picking up steam, but making it a little more understandable and increasing visibility through our sponsors will definitely help the expansion of motocross.