From the August 27, 1997 issue of Cycle News.
“This is like a dream come true,” said 17 year-old Ricky Carmichael into my tape recorder 20 minutes after clinching his first-ever AMA National Championship. “This was my first year, and there was a lot of pressure on me for being a rookie. All of the hard training was worth it. The whole years has been a team effort, and it has been unbelievable.”
That was 23 years and 16 AMA titles and 162 combined wins in AMA SX/MX ago for Carmichael, who is now simply referred to as the GOAT – the Greatest Of All Time. Having called time on his unbelievable racing career after leading Team USA to victory at the 2007 Motocross of Nations at Budds Creek, Maryland, Carmichael took a big swing at the NASCAR Truck Series, faring well before finding his way into his current lot in life: Supercross TV analyst for NBC Sports. And that’s the hot seat (if you will) RC will be in come Sunday afternoon inside Rice-Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City, Utah for the first of what will be seven races to decide the interrupted 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series Championship.
Q: What in the world do you make of all this? Seven races, and the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross Series title to be decided in an NCAA college football stadium in Utah?
RICKY CARMICHAEL: Well, it’s not charted waters. First and foremost of what I can say is that whoever wins this championship, in my mind, will be and should be crowned as the winner of the hardest Monster Energy Supercross Series Championship in history, because of what we’ve been faced with as far as the pandemic. Being in championship form and then having to be forced into a 12-week shutoff, and then to now be forced to get right back into it, both mentally and physically is going to be a really tough challenge. The guy that is able to do that the best and continue the consistency and the good racecraft and being up front when he needs to be up front, is going to be the guy who is going to be victorious. And I’ve been in some great championship battles throughout my career. 2006 comes to mind where it was basically winner-take-all at Vegas for the title, and I still think this is going to supersede that season as the greatest championship in supercross history. I’m excited, but at the same time, it’s uncharted waters for everybody.
Q: If you were standing in, say, Tomac or Roczen’s boots, what would you be thinking?
RC: Those guys are back-and-forth each weekend. There are three points separating them and you can pose situations on both riders about why they have a better chance than the other. Eli, you think he has an advantage as he lives at elevation and the Sat Lake City race is going to be at elevation. Then you go to Ken Roczen, and he’s led more laps than anybody this year. He doesn’t have as many wins, but he’s upfront a lot more often. His chance of winning are just as good as Eli’s, so they both have their strengths. There is no doubt that these two have very few weaknesses. And there is one guy still looming, and that’s defending champion Cooper Webb. I feel he has a chance, but he’s going to need a lot of help. I mean it’s far-fetched, but mathematically, it’s still possible. He’s capable of it, but he’s in a must-win situation and that’s a bad spot to be in.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the first few NASCAR races that have run on track and on TV. Have you watched the races, and if so, what have you thought?
RC: I mean, I love NASCAR. Yeah, I’ve been tuned-in and the tracks have been great and the competition has been great, and it was so refreshing to watch a live sports event on television. Everybody has been tuned-in and the races have been a bit more abbreviated, which has been nice. NASCAR has had a little bit of bad luck with the weather, but still, to be able to watch the guys race has been fun. It’s a great time for motorsports, in general, that we’re some of the very first live sporting events to be televised. From a supercross standpoint, I think that we need to do the best that we can with us guys up in the booth explaining it to the viewers. I think all of this is going to be an opportunity to catch some new eyeballs, because we’re going to be one of the only live sports being televised, and I look forward to the opportunity. I relish that moment and I’m going to try and be on my a-game to really portray the sport in the best way that I can, and show the general public that these guys are some of the best athletes in the world. We want to represent our sport well right now, because our athletes deserve it for the risks that they take.
Q: Seven races inside the same stadium. What’s that going to be like?
RC: You know, people have asked me what I think it’s going to be like racing the same venue for seven rounds, and I can tell you that if you like racing in Salt Lake City at Rice-Eccles Stadium, well, you’ve got a hell of an advantage. It’s different. I think everything is going to be different. There are only going to be a certain number of people allowed in the stadium – that’s riders, mechanics, officials, safety crew and guys like myself with the television people. It’s a skeleton crew for social distancing purposes, and it’s uncharted waters. It’s going to be different for everybody, but I think once the rag drops, everyone is going to be focused and focused on the battles on the track because there is so much on the line.
Q: What’s it going to take Eli Tomac to win the championship, and what’s it going to take for Ken Roczen to win the championship?
RC: Well, Eli certainly has the speed to do it. There’s no doubt about it. I think he’s a tick better than everyone else in the field as far as speed goes. He has to continue what he’s been able to do all season long and not have that throwaway race. He’s been running up front, and I feel like he has overcome his demons from years past that have plagued him for having that throwaway race. If he can continue to do what he has done all season, I think he comes out victorious. What does Ken Roczen have to do? He is going to have to really be there, and continue to be consistent on the starts, and to be up front early and to have himself in a good position like he’s done. He just can’t let Eli Tomac get the best of him. He can’t count on Eli to have that throwaway race because it doesn’t look like Eli is going to do that. Ken has got to be able to match Eli on speed.