Ryan Dungey is the reason you’d want your kids to get involved in this sport.
The price of entry for motocross is getting higher—and I’m not just talking about the usual cost target, four-strokes. Down at the minicycle level, everyone still rides two-strokes. The real costs go well beyond an extra $1,000 of MSRP. The real costs? If you want your nine-year-old to have a shot at making it, you need to get him into the amateur assembly system. You need to move down south and start plowing the fields at a training facility. Public school and a regular education might be compromised. Then you need to apply pressure. It’s easy on the outside to say “Just let kids be kids” but when you’re moving to a region with better weather, and making potential compromises to your child’s education and social network, and then dropping huge checks on bikes, training facilities, trainers, and more, there really is no place for fun. When you’re in that deep, failure is not an option.
With that pressure comes raw emotions, hurt feelings, and broken bones. By the time the nine-year-old is all grown up and ready to cash pro paychecks, the skills will likely be there, but what about the desire? Will the flame stay lit through those years of injuries, moto-parent battles, and endless drills on an 85? And if it doesn’t work out, what’s Plan B?
It’s an interesting dilemma all parents of fast kids must now face. Two decades ago, it was easier. You just went to the local races for fun, and if your kid was fast, he just kept winning locally. Then you hit some big amateur races, and if he succeeded there, you stuck with it—keep racing locally, keep riding and “training” whenever you could (generally when dad got home from work). These days, every moto parent hits the crossroads. Keep doing what you’re doing? Or take the ultimate plunge and move to where the weather is good 365 days a year, and you can ride all day Monday through Friday?
It’s a tough call. We all dream of moto glory, but at what price? How many injuries? How many hurt feelings? How much sacrifice to get there? At what cost?
Ryan Dungey can be the answer. He sacrificed nothing. He sacrificed everything.
Dungey was a product of the old way. He was from Minnesota, and he stayed there. The bikes came out in the spring and went away in the winter. He stayed humble and hungry and when the time came, he wanted it badly. He wanted to train, he wanted to race, he wanted to ride. No one had to make him do anything. He had the desire to not only go chase his dream, but, more importantly, to stay away from any and all distractions. There is nothing more frustrating in sports than to: A) see talent go to waste, B) try to teach discipline to someone who doesn’t want any, or C) see hard work and talent get sunk by injury. None of those things happened to Dungey. It was all good.
The lack of injury is the real thing. Dungey has proven that it’s indeed possible to be a high-end professional racer and not get hurt all the time. I don’t know what the secret is. We can say that Dungey didn’t hang it out like others, but he also had top-three speed in just about every pro race he ever entered. To go that fast while still staying in control is the very essence of racing. His speed-to-crash ratio is one any racer would envy.
Dungey never turned into a jerk, either. Once he starting winning 450 titles, he could have turned as wacky as he wanted and it would have been fine. If you can win races, you can get paid and get your ass kissed no matter how you act. Surely Dungey got weird with testing and trying to find ways to perform better. Behind the scenes, there were surely crazy moments. That's just competitive athlete stuff, and it happens to everyone at that level. Nice guys finish last, so I have no doubts that when Dungey wanted something to get better, he probably wasn't as nice as what we always saw in front of the cameras. You know what? He wanted to win, so there were times when things got stressful and he turned weird. Competition breeds those things, but at his core, I believe Dungey remained a good guy.
You can sum Dungey’s career up easily. He won the major titles and made the big money. He avoided the injuries and the drama. Some other riders might have won more races, attracted more attention, or provided more excitement. But if you had to sign you kid up for the arc of any rider’s pro career, you could do a whole lot worse than Ryan Dungey—and you probably couldn’t do any better.