Ryan Dungey: Cycle News Rider of the Year

Cycle News Staff | December 31, 2010

Every once in a while there comes a moment in sports when you realize you’re witnessing something special. Suffice it to say that Ryan Dungey’s rookie season in the 450 division was just such a moment.In addition to having the most successful rookie season ever in American Motocross history, the 20-year-old added the 2010 Supercross title to his resume and then capped off the year by leading Team USA to a sixth straight win in the Motocross of Nations. That’s the Cliffs Notes version of a year that saw the likable and mild-mannered Minnesota-native mature into the dominant force of the 2010 season.However, after winning a Lites title in both Supercross and motocross during the 2009 season, Dungey came into the 2010 season somewhat underappreciated as a 450-class competitor. Many still felt that he had yet to prove himself on the track and was a long shot for both Supercross and motocross titles. But Dungey addressed those doubts at Anaheim I, the first race of the season, when he battled head-to-head with pre-season favorite James Stewart and finished the race with a solid second-place finish.

“When I walked away from Anaheim 1 at the start of the Supercross season, I felt I could be a title contender.”From that point on, things only got better for Dungey, as he went on to win the next two rounds – the first of six total — and ultimately claim the championship by a Grand Canyon-like 70-point margin. He also added his name to the record books when he joined Jeremy McGrath as one of only two riders to win the Supercross title in their rookie year.Dungey came into the season fit and ready to go and, with Roger DeCoster calling the shots, and a talented group of technicians behind them at Suzuki, the program quickly started gaining momentum. But for sure, it was an encouraging finish at Anaheim I that started the ball rolling in a positive direction.”If there was a race that really stuck out in my mind, I would probably have to say it was that race at Anaheim 1,” says Dungey. “Everything was new and I was just coming into a new class and I really didn’t know where I stood and what to expect. I have a lot of respect for James [Stewart] and Chad [Reed] and the rest of that class, so it was definitely tough competition, but I really just tried to focus on my deal and go out there and try and ride the best I could ride and just let the rest play out. I felt like we did our homework during the off-season and that was a major factor.”Being the team manager, it was DeCoster’s job to get Dungey ready for his first full season on the 450 and by his own admission Dungey made his job easier.”What I like best about Ryan is that he is so self-disciplined and self-motivated,” says DeCoster. “He doesn’t have to be told to train or to practice, and he’s always been open to input. He doesn’t mind taking criticism, either. And he’s honest with me.”When he has a bad day, it’s not always about the bike,” adds DeCoster. “When it’s his fault, he’ll say it’s his fault, he won’t blame the bike or complain about the bike. When they do that, they end up making changes to the bike, and that could make the bike worse. But Ryan is honest and up front.”

Another contributing factor was the near-perfect setup the team brought into the opener, benefitting from two previous years of racing the fuel-injected RM-Z450.”The whole off-season I had a pretty good setup,” says Dungey. “After testing we just kind of stuck with what I liked. If there were little areas we could improve, then, yeah, we would go for it. In the middle of the series, we switched up a few things. We did some suspension tests, because as the season goes on, it seems like the setup changes just a hair. But I think when we came into A1, we pretty much had things dialed in.”Dungey’s season wasn’t without its flaws, however. In San Diego, he crashed in a slippery first turn after a California rainstorm turned the race into a mud-fest. Returning to the fray outside of the top 10, Dungey fought his way back to six, salvaging as many championship points as possible.In Houston, he stalled his bike in the whoops while dicing for third and took several seconds getting back up to speed. Ryan Villopoto eventually won that race, chipping away at Dungey’s series points lead after Dungey finished fifth.But for the most part, the weekends went a lot smoother for Dungey and company, like the Atlanta Supercross where he grabbed the holeshot and took a flag-to-flag win. These kinds of weekends made up the majority of Dungey’s races, contributing to his enormous points at the end of the season. His ability to rebound from adversity was uncharacteristic for a rookie, and as the season wore on he began to look more and more like a seasoned veteran.”I didn’t really expect things to come that quick,” says Dungey. “I expected it to take a little longer, but that’s why you should never underestimate yourself. But, actually, when I walked away from Anaheim I at the start of the Supercross season, I felt I could be a title contender. But I should say, too, coming off the season in ’09, I didn’t want to be a fourth-, fifth-, sixth-place guy. I definitely wanted to be on the podium in 2010, if not winning races.”The outdoor season was another record setter, as Dungey topped Ricky Carmichael’s record for most outdoor wins by a rookie, scoring 10 overall victories out of 12 rounds and earning 19 moto wins en route to his first 450cc-class MX title.But things didn’t start off so well at the series opener at Hangtown, where Dungey appeared to be out matched and unprepared en route to an eighth-place finish after going 10-6 in the two motos.

“Roger and I will always be great friends and I will always remember what he did for me.””Hangtown, I don’t really have much to say about it,” says Dungey. “It was just one of those days and everyone has them from time to time. Every once in a while you have a bad day, and it felt like no matter what I did I couldn’t go faster on that track. I don’t know what was holding me back or what it was, but I’m not going to make excuses and say it was this or that.”Dungey and crew got it together at the second round in Texas, where he claimed the first of his eight 1-1 moto sweeps.”I walked away from the Hangtown race and I was kind of puzzled by it myself, but we moved on,” admits Dungey. “From that point forward, I knew we could make the bike setup a little better, judging from the first race, and I had two weeks to prepare for the second race in Texas, and really, we just put our heads down and went to work. Thankfully, we were able to get a good setup by the second race and things started clicking. I got a lot more comfortable with my bike setup and things started to come a little easier at each race. After that we just did a little bit of fine-tuning in different areas, but for the most part, we kept the bike the same for most of the season.

“But in all, the outdoor season, I have to say the whole season was just a season to remember,” adds Dungey. “I really enjoyed just going to the races and visiting with all the fans and everybody really made it enjoyable.”In September, Dungey was called upon to uphold America’s honor at the 61st annual Motocross des Nations. Teamed with Trey Canard and Andrew Short, Dungey was up to the task, leading Team USA in a tough, come-from-behind battle in Colorado, which ended in USA’s sixth straight win.

“That was a day I will never forget” “I think the des Nations experience is incredible, and having the race in the United States was great,” says Dungey. “It’s different from the other races throughout the year; there’s a lot more riding on it, because you want to do good for the country. That was a day I will never forget; Trey and Shorty rode unbelievable, and I felt we rode good as a team, along with Roger and the mechanics and the rest of the team. We kept our cool and we kept our heads down and pulled off another victory. It was very special. That’s the mac daddy of races, and being able to pull that off was incredible. My first des Nations last year will always be memorable, but this year, being in the United States, I would have to say is right there with it.”When asked to reflect on the influence that DeCoster has had on his career, Dungey has nothing but good things to say about the man who hired him as a virtual unknown out of the amateur ranks. Before the Motocross des Nations, it was announced that DeCoster would be leaving Suzuki to become the team manager of KTM’s U.S. motocross effort.”Roger has had a big impact on my career,” says Dungey. “The guy gave me a chance, even when other people would have said, ‘let’s let him race some more,’ he gave me a shot and I’ll never forget that. He’s been like family to me and he took me under his wing and showed me the ropes. I’ve been very fortunate to work with a guy who’s been there and done that – won World Championships and all that – and to have a guy like that on my side for the last four years has been nothing but great. I can’t say enough good things about him, and I was a little bummed that he went another route, but at the same time, I respect that. Life goes on, and in some ways, I think it might have been good for the sport. It might have been good for Roger to take on a new role and start a whole new era. Roger and I will always be great friends and I will always remember what he did for me.”For the 2011 season, roles will be reversed for Dungey, and he will be the veteran returning to defend his title. Stewart is expected to be back to form, while Reed and Villopoto will also be returning at full force. However, this year there will be far less doubters where Dungey is concerned.”There’s no down playing that I’m going out there to defend my title, so I just need to put everything behind me and work hard,” he says. “It’s a new year and new opportunities. I’m really looking forward to getting out there with all the guys – there’s going to be a really good field this year, and I really just have to put in my time and preparation and do all I can do on my part. All I can do is give it my best effort, and if I go out there and enjoy it and put my head down then that’s all I can do.”

Ryan Dungey Bio

Name: Ryan Michael DungeyHometown: Belle Plaine, MNResidence: Tallahassee, FLDate of Birth: 12/4/1989Height: 5’10″Weight: 150Number: 5Turned Pro: 2006Ryan Dungey’s 2010 ResultsAMA Supercross Championship2nd Anaheim, CA1st Phoenix, AZ1st Anaheim, CA4th San Francisco, CA6th San Diego, CA4th Anaheim, CA2nd Indianapolis, IN1st Atlanta, GA2nd Daytona, FL2nd Toronto, CANADA1st Dallas, TX2nd Jacksonville, FL5th Houston, TX1st St. Louis, MO4th Seattle, WA4th Salt Lake, UT1st Las Vegas, NV

AMA 450cc Motocross Championship10-6 (8th) Prairie City SVRA, Sacramento, CA1-1 (1st) Freestone County Raceway, Freestone, TX1-1 (1st) High Point Raceway, Mt. Morris, PA3-1 (1st) Budds Creek MX Park, Budds Creek, MD2-1 (1st) Thunder Valley, Lakewood, CO1-1 (1st) Red Bud Track ‘N’ Trail, Buchanan, MI1-1 (1st) Spring Creek MX Park, Millville, MN1-1 (1st) Washougal MX Park, Washougal, WA1-1 (1st) Unadilla Valley Sports Center, Unadilla, NY1-1 (1st) MX 338, Southwick, MADNF-1 (5th) Steel City Raceway, Delmont, PA1-1 (1st) Pala Raceway, Pala, CA

Motocross of Nations1-1 (1st MX1) Thunder Valley, Lakewood, CO