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Ricky Carmichael Trades Pain For Pressure

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 30 2009
Ricky Carmichael talked NASCAR before the Camping World Truck Series race in California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

Ricky Carmichael talked NASCAR before the Camping World Truck Series race in California. (Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Kansas City, Kan. – From the quiet, comfortable air-conditioned safety of his transporter, Ricky Carmichael pointed first to his wrist, then to his shoulder and then his collar bone.  All, he said, were objects of massive attention from doctors during his days as the main guy in motocross racing.

It was suggested to him that, gee, it must be great to get away from flying bikes and into the steel-cage-wrapped confines of the Camping World Trucks Series. You know, to move from danger to relative safety.

Peering out from under the bill of a sponsor-logo emblazoned baseball cap which looked way too big for him, Carmichael looked puzzled at the suggestion.

His answer to the suggestion was yes. And it was no.

There are different kinds of danger and different kinds of safety, Carmichael said. Is one preferable to the other? He had a tough time answering that.

Last Saturday, Carmichael, who drives for Kevin Harvick Racing, made his fifth career start in the Camping World Series. Things did not go well as he was involved in a couple on-track incidents and finished 23rd, 55 laps off the pace.

But, he has two top-10 starts and a career-best finish of eighth at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. in the series so far this season and is tied for third and just three points behind Tayler Malsam in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.

Not bad, but not what Carmichael-watchers are used to seeing.

In the history of the American Motorcyclist Association, no other rider has won as many championships (15) and races (150) as Carmichael, earning him the nickname the GOAT (Greatest of All-Time). Carmichael was a record five-time AMA “Rider of the Year.”

Being the GOAT was all great, Carmichael says. But it was also of burden. It could turn him easily into a goat in any given race.

“I was expected to win,” he said. Every time out.

In NASCAR, nobody wins every time out. Nobody is expected to win every time out.

Which brought Carmichael back to the issue of danger and safety.

It is less physically dangerous in a NASCAR Truck than becoming an unguided missle on a bike: “That’s what I like about it. Easier on the kidneys. You know people say, ‘Man, you’re crazy. You go from this to that and now you’re going faster’. I say, yeah, but, dude, now I’m strapped in and granted, things happen, but now I’m strapped in and good to go.”

Plus, Carmichael says he never really took the pounding that goes with riding bikes and others in the sport have suffered.

“I was lucky,” he said. “In 23 years of racing (motorcycles) I had only broke three bones. I was fortunate. Oh, but I did have three ACL (knee ligaments) repairs. The broken bones hurt, but not as bad as the knee injury that’s for sure. Kind of hooked ‘em (the knees) in a turn, just ripped ‘em sideways.”

Few modern NASCAR drivers ever get that “lucky”.

But there is danger in NASCAR, he said. The kind that can’t be fixed in the care center. The kind  that make it just as hard to sleep at night as a torn ACL.

“It’s a lot tougher mentally in this deal,” Carmichael said. Especially after becoming a goat.

“I was so fortunate at a young age (in bikes), I was getting a lot of succes.  I won at such an early age. It (winning, success and acclaim) was all I really knew so the pressure never really bothered me.”

Racing on four wheels in NASCAR is all about pressure. And it mounts the longer a driver and his team go without winning. It can drive you out of the sport, drive you crazy or drive you to succeed. Put Carmichael down for the latter.

“I love what this sport is about,” Carmichael said. “In this, the odds are against me here. It’s so much of a personal goal for me to make it here that I’m giving it my all. That’s what I enjoy about it.”

Surely mom is happier now. Because, like, who ever heard of a mother who actually wanted her kid to ride motorcycles? No way any mother enjoys hearing her son say things like, “As you get older, the crashes (on motorcycles) make you think a little bit more. Definitely the more I got older, it took me more to to recover to where I’m OK to go. I don’t miss those days.”

Meet Ricky Carmichael’s mom.

“She has so much history in motocross and loves it so much, I think she wishes I still raced motocross,” Carmichael said. “She’s still trying to understand this deal. She’s only been to five or six races. I think she still wishes I was racing moto.”

The hope is, NASCAR fans will soon be he is not.

Current Raybestos Rookie of the Year point standings in the Camping World Trucks Series with position, driver and points:

1.   Tayler Malsam       48

2.   James Buescher    47

3.   Johnny Sauter       45

4.   Ricky Carmichael  45

5.   J.R. Fitzpatrick      42

6.   Brent Raymer        18

7.   Chase Austin        16

8.   Chris Jones           12

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, April 30 2009
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