ANAHEIM, CA, JAN. 6 – Basically the last act of pomp and circumstance before wheels are turned in anger on Saturday night occurred today at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, with the best of the best showing up for a pre-race press conference to kick off the 2011 Monster Energy Supercross Series. And headlining the event was the defending champion Ryan Dungey, the Rockstar Makita Suzuki rider being presented with his championship ring before sitting down to answer questions.”I appreciate the kind words,” Dungey said after being handed his ring “Last year was one of the toughest but most rewarding years. Coming into the season it was kind of a blur and I didn’t really know where I stood, but things kicked off well and I have to be really thankful. As the season went on I was able to learn more and more and just did the best I could at any given moment. To be able to pull off the 2010 season and the Supercross Championship was definitely rewarding and I’m really thankful.”Nearly all of the top guns come into the opener with some question marks. Some brought about by changes in their programs or from returning from injury. Despite his dream season, Dungey also has some question marks – a new team manager in Mike Webb following the departure of Roger DeCoster to KTM is at the top of the list.”It’s been great,” Dungey said of the change. “In the scheme of things, it’s not as bad as it’s been made out by people to think. Roger was great and he did a great job and I learned so much and his advice was very valuable. The guy is a champion and he’s so full of wisdom and knowledge and to have someone like that was great, but I really respect his decision and the way he’s going. But Mike Webb is our new team manager and he’s doing a great job. He’s filling it in well and I have to say that it’s been a pleasure working with him. It’s been fun and he’s doing a good job and I really look forward to the 2011 season with him. He really takes care of business and we need a guy like that on our team.”Then there’s the question of whether Dungey can do it again. Or if he will be a victim of the sophomore slump”I think the Supercross title… as a kid you look at it like it’s the top title and it was great to be able to accomplish it,” Dungey said. “I think that was the goal last year, but it’s a new year and there’s a lot of new challenges and opportunities and a deep field of talent. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication and everything that I’ve learned up to this point and put that forward to this year. I just have to keep stepping in the right direction and keep moving forward and trying to be the best I can be at all times and putting it all out there and doing the best I can. Not holding nothing back.”He also faces the naysayers who say his title was won in part because of the injuries suffered by James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto and Chad Reed.
“I think every rider is in it to win it and one of the biggest challenges is staying healthy through the whole season” Dungey said in his defense. “I can’t really listen to everybody’s words. I’m out there because I love what I do and I enjoy it. I’m out there to win the championship and that’s what I set out to do and we were able to do it. To back it up again might be one of the hardest things to do in any sport. After you accomplish something, that something seems to fade away and you have to try and find that new challenge and motivation to keep things generating and moving forward. At the end of the day I have to go out there and do all I can and worry about myself and not worry about the other guy. A championship is the goal and winning races and definitely each and every race one step at a time. It’s going to be tough, but it’s a challenge and we have to put our minds to it and dig down deep.”Coming in this year, and having that year of experience, was definitely beneficial. I’ve learned a lot and to be able to apply that is what we got to do. Last year, I didn’t know where I stood and it was a big jump and it can go one of two ways – thankfully we got off to a good start. It’s good to come into this year and have that and try to apply that and try to do as good as we can in each given moment.”Ryan Villopoto – Back From InjuryMonster Kawasaki’s Ryan Villopoto comes into Anaheim healthy, fit and with a new trainer – Aldon Baker – after a broken leg suffered in last year’s Supercross Series ruined his year.”Once I got hurt, the outdoors were out too so I had a decent amount of time to get my leg back to where it should be,” Villopoto said today. “I had three surgeries and finally it was good. Once I started riding again, I was a little bit nervous that it wasn’t going to be where it needed to be and it hurt for probably a month and a half after I started riding. It made me nervous, but one day it got quite a bit better and the next day I woke up and I could basically ride normal again. Once that happened, I just started riding and doing what I could. I had to lay on my back for quite awhile and I was really out of shape and once I came back and started riding, I just started working on it slowly. I couldn’t jump right back into it like any other injury I’ve had. This one was a big one and I had to take it pretty slow. I just started and then the opportunity came up to hire Aldon [Baker – his trainer] and I took advantage of that and we took off.”Physically, Villopoto was back. The mental part might take longer.”It took me awhile to get back into it – not wanting to put it on the ground and getting myself back and comfortable to ride the speed that we ride,” he said. “It took awhile and once that came around, then you don’t think about it. Your body forgets about what happened and so does your mind… I mean it’s always in the back of your mind, of crashing and things like that. But that’s why we practice and train – to minimize those risks and try to stay in shape.”After this injury, I was looking forward to racing outdoors again and finishing out Supercross, but that’s not what ended up happening. My main is to win a championship and staying healthy is at the top of the list. I’m really looking forward to it and I think I’m the most ready that I’ve come into a season with and I’m looking forward to it. “James Stewart – “I’m Not Going To Change”James Stewart either wins or crashes. We know that. And he knows that. But don’t look for him to change his approach, even though injury ruined his 2010 season as well.”I think the stats prove that I win a lot – that’s the way that I look at it,” Stewart said when told that he wins about 90 percent of the races he doesn’t crash out of. “I’m not going to change my riding style for anybody. I’m going to be the champion the way that I feel like being a champion. To answer your question, no it’s who I am and it’s the reason why people get excited to watch me race. I can’t help that I give it 100 percent every time try. If I crash because I’m actually trying, then I can sleep better at night. I’m not doing it for the money or the fame or for ‘I want to win a championship’ – I’m doing this because I love racing. To be honest, hopefully that stat stays.”And he sounds like he’s ready to keep that winning percentage where it is.”You know, I think every press conference I’ve been to has been the same thing – everybody comes up here and says they are ready for the season and how excited they are,” Stewart said. “For me, I’m just happy to be back racing, honestly. It’s been a great off-season for me. Coming back for Unadilla and how that went, everything changed for me there. I just want to come back and have fun and enjoy racing. I’m so happy with my program, I’ve got a lot of new things on my team, San Manuel Yamaha, with Red Bull coming on as a sponsor it’s been good. We’ve changed a lot of things on the team and it’s been a good off-season.”I’ve done it and honestly I don’t regret anything I’ve ever done. Last year, it was an accident and I think it only makes you better. I wouldn’t say I’m more motivated because I was motivated when I was sitting here and racing. It just got me to do a lot of things… I watched a lot of supercross races, I watched a lot of motocross and I did my TV show “Bubba’s World.” I had some fun and I think we’re all excited to be here, but I’m not going to sit here and give you a speech about it.”Someone in the audience asked Stewart if NASCAR was still in his future. After all, Travis Pastrana is headed there.”My phone hasn’t been blowing up – maybe they have the wrong number or something,” Stewart said with a smile “I think they have enough with Travis [Pastrana] coming in. I think that’s going to be pretty cool for him and if they’ve been calling Brian [Deegan] that’s good. But I think we’ve set up everything pretty good so we should be pretty good. No phone calls and maybe they have the wrong number, but JS7… maybe they can Twitter or something.”
Last year Stewart worked with Aldon Baker, but this year the two have gone their separate ways with Baker hooking up with Villopoto. Stewart has gone another route – former racer and legend Johnny O’Mara.”I’ve been working with Johnny O’Mara, but honestly I wouldn’t even say he’s a trainer,” Stewart said. “I would just say he’s there and he does a lot of good things and he knows a lot about motorcycles. I wanted somebody who knew exactly… when I say I’m tired he knows exactly what I’m saying. I think it’s good for me and I brought a guy I used to work with at Kawasaki, his name is Sergio, brought him on the team and it’s been awesome. I’m really excited to see where we are at. We’ve all be testing this off-season and I’m not necessarily trying to say that our bike is better than everybody else’s, but I just want to see what actually putting a little bit more time into it gets you. Last year I think we came to the table pretty confident and went to the races and struggled at the first race and still won. I think this year with a lot better bike set up and some new guys on the team, I think it should be good.”Chad Reed – Team Owner, RacerIf Chad Reed fails this year, he’s got no one to blame but himself. And he likes it that way. Now the team owner and the rider on the TwoTwo Motorsports team, Reed seems relaxed and quietly confident.”Honestly, it’s been a lot of fun,” Reed said of the team ownership role he’s taken on for the first time “I’m sure it’s going to have its ups and downs as this whole racing does, but so far it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve always been a huge believer in trying to surround yourself with people who can take a load offyour shoulders in certain areas and I tried to do that right away and immediately after that I went to work and started training.”
More than anything, he likes making his own decisions.”The fact that everything you use or do is your choice and at the end of the day you make those calls, using certain products or whatever,” he said. “That’s what’s been fun. I’ve been working with different people you’ve respected over the years and it’s just a different experience. That’s why I’m here. I like this sport and I love racing.”During the press conference, pit reporter Erin Bates told Reed he looked like he’d lost weight – without the diamond studs that normally reside on his ear lobes”I had to trade in my earrings to buy that semi,” Reed joked. “A little bit bummed on that… things you do when you’re a factory rider. I’ve still got ‘em.”He also likes the role of being the underdog.”I think it’s fun the position James [Stewart] and I are in. I think over the years we always stood here with the guys and stared each other down… the first guy I saw when I walked in here was James and I said, ‘Happy New Year.’ I think we’re both quietly confident and the pressure is on everybody else. We’ve been here, done that, gotten titles, gotten all the stuff that’s gone along with it. A lot of these other guys have to put themselves in that position and I we are both prepared and motivated and I think a lot of people write us off and I think it’s going to be a fun season.”I feel like I’m in a position to go racing and see where we’re at, see what we have to work on. It’s a fun time so it was good. This off-season I rode all the bikes and that was a first to have nobody persuading me one way or another and I chose the bike I thought was best for me and I’m enjoying it and ready to do battle.”