The starting gate dropped and the 60th annual Motocross of Nations was underway. Upwards of 25,000 fans teemed all over the hills and hung off the fences at Budds Creek Motocross Park, and with strained necks, they all watched and waited.
Way back in the forest area of the circuit, I could hear one bike out front being pushed for all it was worth. Some 30 seconds later, Ryan Villopoto and his Team USA Kawasaki KX250F leaped out of the shadowy darkness of the Southern Maryland forest and back out into a sunlit section of the circuit. The crowd – including this writer – watched on in awe. At the beginning of lap number two of the opening 250/450 moto, Villopoto put the hammer down and cleared out, defeating the world’s fastest and most accomplished 250cc and 450cc riders by well over 11 seconds. To this day, the performance ranks amongst the greatest moments in USA motocross history.
12 years removed from Ryan Villopoto’s epic day in Maryland sunshine, my phone rang on Sunday morning. Seems the 10-time AMA Pro Racing Champion – four supercross titles, three 450MX titles and three 250MX titles in all – had a few things he wanted to talk about.
It’s been a busy summer for the 30 year-old with Pit Bike races, 125cc All-Star races, and Yamaha racing ambassador appearances. And as you’re about to find out, it’s become even more hectic as one of the sport’s all-time greats is looking to promote and oversee a couple of major Pacific Northwest motocross races.
Q: How are you feeling about the races you have coming up? Being a race promoter involves a lot of moving parts, huh?
RYAN VILLOPOTO: I don’t know if the promoter part of me is that awesome at this point, but the track that we actually have is the track that I grew up riding. The lease came up for it a few years ago, and I didn’t want to see it go away. Tracks, once they go away, they’re hard to bring back. We wanted to keep it around. We took up the lease for that and have kept it going and made it a lot better.
Q: You’ve lined up for a number of one-off races this summer and done quite well. How’s it feel to get back on the race bike and compete – and compete with no pressure on you?
RV: Yeah, we did Hangtown and we did Washougal with the 125 races. It’s just awesome, man. It’s a good time. It’s fun, but the most fun, actually, is just being at the races. Maybe not even the racing part. Just hanging out and seeing people that we haven’t seen in a while is just awesome. Other than the Anaheim rounds and a few other west coast races, I don’t travel to a ton of supercross rounds – especially east coast races. So when the guys come back out west for Hangtown, it’s good to see everybody again.
Q: I pretty much covered your entire racing career from 80cc minicycle racer to MXGP challenger. It was easy to see that you placed an extraordinary amount of pressure on yourself, and it’s cool to see you at the races now and enjoying it all so much. Thoughts?
RV: Yeah, a lot of people I grew up with from 14 or 15 years old and on up, it’s pretty awesome to be able to go back and hang out with all those people. Now, it’s just fun to be back doing that and being out there with no pressure.
Q: What’s really interesting to me is that it’s very plain to see how much you love the sport in being present and giving back like you are. You’re going to Pit Bike races, 125cc races and you’re promoting amateur races. That’s solid.
RV: Yeah, like I said, just being back at the races and being able to go there and just have a good time and being around those people that we don’t see as much anymore is awesome. I used to see them all every single weekend – 32 or 34 weekends a year. Now I don’t need to go or want to go to that many races, but when I do it’s fun.
Q: Your dad passed away around this time last year. It’s awesome that a Dan Villopoto Memorial race is going to be held. Can you give us a little Intel on the race and how racers can sign up and be a part of it all?
RV: It’ll be August 30 and September 1, so it’s coming up a couple of weeks from now. We basically have it that practice will start around nine o’clock and hopefully we’ll be done with everything by three o’clock. We’ll have live music. It should be a lot of fun. We’re also implementing a couple of minibike classes right now – 50cc, 65cc and 80cc. It’s all just for fun. It’s going to be a lot of fun. Actually, we just implemented the minibike classes because there are a lot of people who want to do it. Initially, we had no minibikes because I wanted to make sure we were done racing by three o’clock. I mean, this whole thing is about being a race that my dad would have thought about going and racing. As for him, it wasn’t like, “I’m going to go to a track and race and get up at five in the morning and be there until five or six at night.” He wouldn’t go and race that. So we’re going to make a quicker race schedule of it. One moto a day. One on Saturday, and one on Sunday.