Ryan Dungey is competing at that highest level of his sport, thanks in large part to his toughest rival.
Throughout the history of sports, nothing elevates an athlete’s game like a great rival. In recent years, there has been Lebron James and Kobe Bryant in basketball, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in football, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickleson in golf.
Dungey has the same experience in the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, where it seems he battles weekly with Ryan Villopoto. Such was the case last week in Colorado in the 450 Class when Villopoto won both motos and Dungey finished second. During an appearance at Jim’s Motorcycle Sales on Friday to promote today’s Tennessee National at Muddy Creek Raceway, the 2012 AMA Pro Motocross 450 champion talked about how the two push each other to the limits and make each other better.
“That’s why the pace is getting so fast,” said Dungey, a Red Bull KTM rider. “You get one guy and everybody goes after that, and then you surpass that, it just keeps building. In these 35-minute motos, the guys are training harder. Physically, we’re stronger, the bikes are getting stronger, faster and better. It’s an all-out sprint for 35 minutes.”
Justin Barcia, who finished third behind the lead duo at Colorado, explained he’s just trying to keep up with them at this point.
“I’m just trying to match the pace of the two Ryans,” Barcia said. “They’re on the next level, and I’m trying to get in there.”
Dungey doesn’t discount Barcia or any of the other riders in the AMA, although he knows the bullseye is clearly on himself and Villopoto.
“There is a lot of talent in the field,” Dungey said. “It’s not just one or two guys like 10 years ago. It’s a good five to 10 of us. Villopoto is setting a pretty good pace right now, but we’re making progress. I think if we just focus on our deal, we can start winning these races.”
Dungey hasn’t been up to his 2012 standards just yet, but he’s right on the cusp. With over 30 career podium finishes in the 450 class and finishes of first, second and third over the last three seasons, he’s clearly been on a level few riders ever attain.
Barcia was asked the obvious question of what are the two Ryans doing that make them so tough.
“That’s what everybody has been asking me and I’ve been trying to figure it out myself,” Barcia said. “Those guys have a lot of experience. I think they know when to push it hard and when not to push it as hard during the 30-minute motos. I’m working on learning that. I think if I keep running up there with them, running their pace, hopefully I can figure it out.”
Dungey, a 23-year-old from Minnesota who now lives in Florida, said that pacing yourself can be a difficult task. After Barcia got ahead on a holeshot at the last race, Dungey admitted he was pushing too hard.
“I got behind him and I realized I was trying too hard,” Dungey said. “I said to myself, ‘I’ve got to settle down and get in a groove.’ There is a point where you try too hard and you’re using too much energy. Ideally, the best plan is to get out front and ride your own lines where you can carry the momentum instead of trying to ride like crazy.
“But, there are times you have to push like crazy and dig deep. This sport, especially outdoors, is a lot about pushing yourself past the point where you want to quit and to keep pushing.”
Dungey, who in 2010 became the first rookie in history to win both AMA Supercross and AMA Motocross 450 titles, has never raced at Muddy Creek before. He likes the challenge of racing at a new venue, where the teams can’t rely on notes from the past.
“I think it’s good for everybody where we all have to deal with the same issues,” he said. “Sometimes, you go to a track year after year, you learn it, remember the lines. This is brand new, so it’s like all of us, have to deal with the factor of the different lines, how it’s all going to lay out. You have to have an open mind to learn a lot in practice. That way when you get in the race, you have to know where to pass and what to do.”
There is also the issue of celebrity with Dungey truly one of the biggest stars in the fields of motocross and supercross. He looks back at his roots, growing up in a family of racers, as a way of staying humble.
“It’s important to remember where you came from,” said Dungey, whose first bike was a Yamaha PW 50. “I know what got me here, the support I got. I’ve been given a gift and I want to do this to the fullest. All that stuff is good, but it can take away from your focus. I’m lucky to have grown up with a great family and to be surrounded by great people. We want to leave the sport better than when we came in.”