Supercross star Ryan Villopoto racing toward fourth title

Posted: March 8, 2014 by sykose in Motocross, Motor
Tags: , , ,

The Kawasaki rider is on the verge of tying Jeremy McGrath’s record of four championships in a row

Ryan Villopoto doesn’t know exactly how many wins he has. He knows he’s won the last three Monster Energy Supercross championships, but as far as total wins? He’s not counting. (Hint: It’s 36.)

Perhaps it’s because he spends 50 weeks of the year training and testing for the 17-race Supercross season. Or because he prefers to stay in the moment and not get bogged down in numbers, awards and records. Or maybe it’s just that he doesn’t intend to admire his accomplishments until he’s done riding.

“I do pay attention to the number of wins during the season, but as far as career numbers, I don’t really count them up,” Villopoto told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s cool and all, but I’ve never set out to break records, so I don’t really pay attention to it.”

He should. The Kawasaki rider is on the verge of tying one of the sport’s most impressive marks — the four consecutive championships won by legendary rider Jeremy McGrath in the 1990s. In a sport that’s intensely competitive and fraught with potential for injury, consistency over a long period is celebrated.

“He doesn’t look at the record books,” said Reid Nordin, Kawasaki’s senior manager of racing. “I’ll bet he doesn’t know where he stands statistically against the all-time greats because he is so focused on riding right now. I don’t envy his schedule as a racer because he is either training, testing or racing seven days a week for about 50 weeks a year. That dedication is what has propelled him to the last three championships in the face of some of the deepest fields in the sport.”

Villopoto leads the 450SX standings by 23 points over KTM rider Ryan Dungey heading into Saturday’s Daytona Supercross by Honda at Daytona International Speedway. Among the top Supercross riders are James Stewart (47 wins) and Chad Reed (43 wins), both ahead of Villopoto on the all-time list. McGrath holds the record with 72 career victories, and Ricky Carmichael is second with 48.

Villopoto has won twice this season — at Phoenix and Oakland — and finished fourth last weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. He’s got eight more races in the next nine weeks in his quest for a record-tying fourth consecutive championship.

“It basically becomes your entire life,” said Villopoto, 25, a native of Poulsbo, Wash., who resides in Clermont, Fla. “It’s a long process. The offseasons are very long. Once we start racing, the season becomes very hectic. Basically you train four to five days a week, then race on Saturday. You’re either riding or training.”

Training is critical, and one aspect of the sport that Villopoto admits he had to work on.

“The physical side of it is the part that I had to focus on most,” he said. “It’s not just riding. The training is a lot. You add the racing to the training and everything starts to compound.”

Instead, Villopoto now counts fitness among his assets.

“Early in his career he wasn’t in the shape to let that really loose because that’s an area that has been holding him back and well out of balance,” said Aldon Baker, Villopoto’s trainer. “I think coming through that, and just a sense of confidence in your fitness and your ability, because now he doesn’t get tired like he used to and he is able to run at top speed for an entire race. It’s a real big turnaround.”

The talent was evident early in Villopoto’s career.

“Speed was never a real factor when I turned pro,” he said. “It was more about getting experience and getting fitter. That’s the stuff that takes years to build.”

But he had to overcome several injuries, including a broken tibia and fibula sustained during a crash at St. Louis in 2010. He also had to become more technically savvy about his bikes.

“In the last few years he has really gotten into testing the bike and understanding the changes we are making,” said Mike Williamson, Villopoto’s mechanic. “Ryan is very dedicated to his training, but what a lot of people don’t see is how much fun he has when he is at the racetrack. He is always joking around with the team guys even as he is getting ready for the race.”

Just don’t ask him for a statistical rundown.

“When I’m retired I’ll sit back and count it all up and enjoy it,” Villopoto said with a chuckle. “To be honest, I don’t pay attention to the numbers right now because I’m still doing it.”

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