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Ryan Villopoto at the Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, CA.

Hello Stranger

Oct 172016

Sitting there in an office building in Corona, California dressed in a big Salty Crew sweatshirt and with a Monster hat askew atop is carrot top head, he didn’t really look like a four-time supercross champion, but there he was, his eyes fixed upon my computer screen and looking at a recently shot photo of Ken Roczen on his No. 94 2017 Honda, a phalanx of Team Honda technicians and mechanics surrounding him..

Q & A

“Do you miss it?” I asked, pointing the Simon Cudby photo. “Do you miss the testing and all those people counting on you to go out there and win?”

I don’t miss it, but I still get my fill with it,” said Ryan Villopoto, the somewhat recently retired racer just down from his permanent home base in Washington. “Like, I was at the Kawasaki test track the other day where I CAN get my fill of it. If I want to come down here and ride, I can do that. I was at the test track yesterday and everybody was there – my old mechanic (Mike Williamson) and Theo [Lockwood] and Kurt [Rood]. Basically, everybody was there still. If I need it, I can get it. As do I miss it? No, I don’t really miss it. You spend a lot of hours testing out there.

Yes, that’s may be something the fans don’t really realize or get to see. Everything looks cool and glamorous and clean on a Saturday night in the supercross pits, but in reality there are a lot of midweek days spent out in the dust and hot sun where the rider and team and putting in lap after lap after lap in trying to get everything right, huh?

Oh yeah. It’s hot. Right now the weather is still pretty warm down here so supercross is definitely a lot harder than when it’s in the dead of winter.

The Monster Energy Cup is set to run on Saturday over in Las Vegas. Down deep, would you like to be getting ready to go over and race before 30,000 fans? Do you miss that part of the sport?

Yeah, I miss a little bit of everything. There are definitely shiny parts of the sport, you know? And most people get locked on the shiny parts and are like, “Oh, I miss that.” If you really sit down and think about it, it’s like, If you want to have that shiny stuff, it’s the training, it’s the long days, it’s the cycling, it’s the long days of testing. When you think about it, it’s like, Yeah, it’s not so bad to be away.

Do you think about the MXGP stuff you did last year?

Our racing on this side of the ocean is definitely different. The mentality of the racers in Europe are different than here. I don’t know if it’s the sport or if the season over there is a little bit longer. I don’t know if it’s less stressful. I don’t know what the difference is. It could be that they’re programmed differently than we are over here.

Yeah, I was talking with Jeremy Van Horebeek at the Glen Helen USGP about that. They could sense that maybe the riders and teams were more intense here and maybe not as friendly with each other.

Well, everybody in Europe travels and the entire thing is just different. Unless you’ve seen it or spent a little time over there, it’s hard to see that. It’s racing and you figure it should all be the same, but it’s completely different. Maybe that’s why Jeremy said that teams stick to themselves over here and the riders do too. Over there it’s much more relaxed.

Did you watch the two USGP races at Charlotte and Glen Helen last month? Did you see how well Eli Tomac did?

Not really. Just a little bit. Obviously, I saw results and stuff like that.

Did you follow and watch the Monster Energy Supercross Series this year?

I watched it, but it was pretty casual. Yeah, really casual, actually. I was keeping up on it a little bit with the Tweets and Instagram that I would see, but I wasn’t really like, “Okay, Saturday night is here and we have to watch it.”

Not appointment viewing for you, huh?

No. Nope.

So word has it that you have two new additions to the Villopoto family.

Yeah, we just had our two boys Gage and Brax. Basically it was almost three weeks ago now. It was all good and they were all healthy and we brought them home and got them all settled and then I turned around and skipped out kind of early to get down here because I’m a month out from the Australian race.

And if Gage and Brax ever want to go motocross racing?

I don’t know. I don’t know. I guess I have the power to not let them get that good. I don’t know.

What have you been doing up in Washington? I heard a story where you went to help out a friend lay some asphalt and liked it and are now doing it regularly. Any truth to that?

Yeah, I started doing some small dirt moving stuff around our house. We had our driveway paved and there was a guy there paving it and I had my own machine there and was helping him out and he said, “Hey, you can run that thing pretty good.” That’s kind of how it started. He told me he was pretty book-out for the summer and he asked me if I wanted to come out and help and I told him yes.

What’s it like for you to do a normal working class job like that?

It’s fun. It’s just different, you know? Would I want to lay asphalt for 20 years and have that be my job day-in and day-out? No. But to learn something different and learn how it works and learn how to lay asphalt itself was fun. I mean I couldn’t run the paver itself by myself, but raking and doing all the stuff once it’s laid, I can do all that now.

Your buddy Tanner Ellingsen just told me you might be looking into taking possession of a racetrack up your way.

There might be an opportunity of something coming up that we would be taking over a lease of a local place up near home that has the track and the amenities and bathrooms and an off-road side of it too. That might be something that interests me. And I’d get to run the dozer and do this and do that. It wouldn’t necessarily be solely the motorcycle side of it all. There is a lot more to it. It could be something just to kind of and stay busy. It could be kind of fun to be around that. We’ll see.

When you come down here to Southern California and go to the tracks and into the shops and to visit sponsors, do you miss that competitive atmosphere that seems to permeate everything?

Coming down here, it’s like it’s so dry and then three days later your throat is sore and your nose is dry. It’s nice to see some of the people down here and the people that we were always in contact with, but I miss coming down here or necessarily living here year round. This is a nice place to come to when winter gets a little long for us. It’s only a two-hour flight and the weather is always good. To get down here and get out of the rain, we can always do that.

What else have you been up to up there?

My wife has just been running the coffee shop up where we live (Urban City Brew, some 22 miles from Seattle) and I’m just doing small Dirt Wurx-type stuff. I have my mini excavator and my Bobcat and I’m just moving dirt around and stuff like that. Summer was pretty nice up there this year and I just stayed busy and hung out with family. I didn’t travel at all. I wasn’t bored. I’m still pretty busy. Everything so far has been really good.

What’s interesting is that you’re going to come out of retirement and race the AUS-SX Open down in Sydney, Australia this November.

Yeah, we’re a month out from that and I’ve been down here and have six days on the supercross track now. I was trying to a little riding over the summer and that also kept me busy at home. I tried to ride about two days a week just to get the bike feeling back. My plan was that a month out from the race, I would come down here. Now we’re a month out and I’ve had six days on the track and things are going to decent.

I heard you’re still going pretty fast.

Yeah, I can do alright for a few laps. My goal is to get just a decent amount of fitness under me. My goal is to walk on the plane after the race is over with zero injuries. That’s my number one goal. My goal is not to go out and win. I’m not going down there to win if I can race with the guys for a couple laps and be inside the top five, I’d be happy with that. I mean I haven’t raced in two years. Anybody out there that has any expectations of me coming out there and winning, they must be smoking something strong. Hopefully I can make the promoters happy and put on a good show for them and have a chance to maybe come back next year.

What if afterwards somebody came up to you and threw a cool offer at you and said, “What do you think? You want to come line up at my race?”

You know there is a lot of work that goes into coming out and doing something like that. At this point now that I’ve been riding a little bit more, and not that I would want to, but if it was the right opportunity and it made sense, something like a Red Bull Straight Rhythm or some type of thing that wouldn’t take a whole lot of effort, maybe. This race I’m doing in Australia, I put a lot of thought into it, but I also thought, That’s a lot of work. Now that I’m back into it and there was an opportunity, and not to say that I want to, but I would have to mull it over and see if would do anything else. But it would have to be fairly soon after this race so I wouldn’t have to start back all over again.