LOS ANGELES — The average motocross fan is probably not someone you’d describe as “clean-cut.” Scope out the crowd during any race weekend, and you’ll take in more than your fair share of ambitious tattoo art, conspicuous cleavage, rampant energy drink consumption and throbbing thrash metal.
It’s freakin’ awesome.
But it’s also ironic, given that the current AMA Supercross and AMA Motocross champ, 21-year-old Ryan Dungey, is a modest, soft-spoken dude who looks like he might be more comfortable piloting a golf cart than throttling a 450cc dirtbike through a thicket of other riders and over massive jumps on the way to glory. And yet the Minnesota native’s an absolute wonder on wheels, winning every championship he’s competed in since the 2009 season while scoring mainstream sponsors like Target, Nike, Suzuki and Oakley.
He’s an understandably busy guy, but we grabbed him at the recent Dodger Stadium Supercross stop to find out if his job’s as sweet as it sounds. Here’s what he had to say. Modestly and soft spokenly.
MADE MAN: First off, how old were you when you first got on a bike?
RYAN DUNGEY: About five years old. My dad got us into it when we were younger, me and my older brother. It started for fun, riding around the backyard, and then it just went from there.
MM: When did you think you could have a future in the sport?
RD: I guess, when I was about nine years old, when I saw it on TV. And watching the guys dominate, I was like, alright, that’s what I want to do. I love riding dirt bikes, and it would be so cool. From that point on, I focused on racing and getting better until I got to a point where I could go pro. I guess when I really thought, OK, this could work, I was 14 or 15 years old.
MM: What’s the best thing about your job?
RD: It’s what I love to do, racing dirt bikes. It’s fun, it’s always a different challenge, there’s always new opportunities. So that’s exciting, just getting up, going to the track, and riding. And then being able to travel—the circuit that we race takes us all over the country, and sometimes overseas, to Italy and France and so forth. Those are the positives right there.
MM: Big adrenaline rush, competing?
RD: Yeah, absolutely! And that’s kinda why it’s so special. You line up at the gate, the nerves are jumpin’, the adrenaline’s pumpin’. I guess if you didn’t feel that, it wouldn’t really be what it is today. Every day I get on my dirtbike, it’s that feeling. Especially when we line up in the stadium.
MM: Is there any downside that people don’t think about?
RD: Constantly trying to better yourself and raise the bar, that’s probably the hardest thing. Just from physically to mentally to the whole nine yards of bettering yourself and the team and everything around you.
MM: You basically captured all the major titles in your sport by the age of 20. Ever get bored?
RD: Bored? Not at all! At this point, there’s so much more that I’ve set out to do. Maybe, growing up, it was more than I ever expected, really. But I never settle, and nothing’s gonna be enough, and I keep pushing forward. Hopefully that’ll help take me to new limits and new goals.
MM: What’s the coolest thing your racing success has enabled you to do?
RD: A couple things. I’ll start with LIVESTRONG. My grandmother passed away from cancer when I was 14. She really inspired me to work hard, and…maybe it was a wake-up call, you could say. And growing up, also, Lance kinda caught my eye. I really loved how he went about his whole life, from the cancer to coming back and winning in cycling, to starting his foundation. And Nike has enabled me to be a part of that, so it’s great to share my story and help people live strong. And, second thing, whether it’s fans, encouraging kids, helping the sport, you name it, I’ve been very blessed.
MM: How would you describe your racing style?
RD: Aggressive, smooth, strong, can go the distance, but also consistent and mentally focused.
MM: Gnarliest thing that’s happened during a race?
RD: There’s a lot of things that happen, because we’re pushing the edge so hard that sometimes it kinda gets out from underneath your hands and your feet. There’s many instances, but I don’t really like to recall any.
MM: Ever broken anything?
RD: Yeah, both collarbones, arms. It’s a tough sport, and it can be risky, but there’s ways to go about it, for kids coming up, safety schools and being smart and learning how to do it the right way. I had my dad to help me with that.
MM: Best advice for the next Ryan Dungey?
RD: Really just have fun. Know your limits. Don’t go outside of them, and with time and patience, you learn. We all started riding because it was fun, it’s something we love to do, so make sure you always keep the fun in it.
(Steve Mazzucchi is Managing Editor of Made Man. Email him at smazzucchi[at]breakmedia.com.)