Part 6: Jeannie Carmichael, “I believe Ricky’s STRUGGLING”

Jeannie Carmichael played dual roles throughout her son’s upbringing and professional racing career. She was a mother first and an accountability coach second. When Ricky showed up at the practice tracks around northern Florida, more often than not, it was Mama C. who brought him. And rather than sit in the truck reading romance novels, she recorded lap times. The one time she missed a practice session that she could have attended, he crashed and broke his collarbone. 

Long after Ricky moved out of the house and paid experts to train and coach him, Mrs. Carmichael stayed engaged. When he traveled to California to work with a race team, she wanted daily check-ins from Baker. “Did Ricky improve today? What is going on? Aldon, are you letting it slide out there?” 

Jeannie Carmichael, Motocross
Jeannie Carmichael. Photo: Simon Cudby

Even though Jeannie says she and Ricky’s father, ‘Big Rick’, didn’t get “involved in decision and deal making,” she was still aware of what happened with teams and sponsors. She corresponded often with Ray Blank. Blank was so respectful of Jeannie’s involvement that he sent her flowers every single time Ricky won on a Honda. That’s a lot of bouquets.

FAST TRIVIA

How many AMA SX/MX Races did Carmichael win on a Honda?

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On January 27, 2004 she sent an email to Blank with the subject line: ‘new email’. She passed along new e-mail and mailing address. 

Blank replied the following day with pleasantries and a thank you and asked how Ricky was doing? “I haven’t bothered him on Chuck’s [Miller] advice, but I’m hoping he’s getting through this ok. Saturday nites just much [sic] fun this year.”

Jeannie Carmichael, Shawn Palmer
Jeannie and RC enjoy a laugh with action sports icon Shaun Palmer, circa 1999. Photo: Simon Cudby

Jeannie responded just two hours later. “Actually, I believe Ricky’s STRUGGLING more than anyone realizes, not being part of the SX season,” she wrote back. “To be so prepared physically and mentally then have things stop abruptly is something he’s never had to deal with. While maintaining professionalism and discretion, it’s easy for him to mask a lot of emotions. 

“If Chuck advised you against phoning Ricky, that may have been a while back. With time progressing and the upcoming seasons approaching I know for a fact Ricky would like to hear directly from you.” 

Blank replied later that day and said he would reach out to Ricky. He also said he was working on the “contract situation”, which faced “the same obstacles” he had already discussed with Moorman and Ricky. He also mentioned a new challenge: the yen to dollar depreciation had affected Honda’s profitability. “But Gary and Chuck and I are plodding through it,” he wrote. “We just have to be a bit more patient.”

Actually, I believe Ricky’s STRUGGLING more than anyone realizes, not being part of the SX season.

Jeannie Carmichael

Ricky doesn’t remember struggling to cope or even being in a dark or depressed state after surgery and recovery but people close to him then, and still today, have different recollections. 

“It was surprising that no one from Honda had called you guys,” says JH Leale in a three-way conversation with We Went Fast and Carmichael. “There was no contact.” As President of Ricky Carmichael Racing, Leale now manages Carmichael’s endorsements, appearances and requests. Before he moved into his current role, he was a close advisor during Carmichael’s motorcycle and auto racing careers and worked as a district sales manager for American Honda from 1998-2002. In a 2004 conversation with Gary Christopher, he remembers saying, “Somebody should give Ricky a call.”

Christopher says they did have concern for Carmichael but felt like they were on a tightrope. “We were just kind of trying to figure out, you know, where is that line?” Christopher says. “How much did we communicate? How much did we not? I’m sure [more] communication could have been better.”

Ricky Carmichael at a press conference.
In the winter of 2004, Carmichael came to select Supercross races to sign autographs and make sponsor appearances. Photo: Simon Cudby

Christopher knew Carmichael and his circle were getting anxious. He flew to Orlando to meet in person with Moorman, not to finalize terms of a contract, but to show Honda’s commitment to their franchise rider. Moorman claims he didn’t know what Gary’s intentions were for the meeting but remained positive. 

“We were all hopeful that Honda would break out of their normal deal making paradigm and be willing to directly address some of the deal points we proposed in the July (2003) proposal,” Moorman says.

Both Moorman and Christopher said the meeting went well but nothing moved forward. Today, Moorman calls Christopher, “a total pro, said all the right things” but was not empowered to negotiate business terms. The offer from Honda, made the previous October, didn’t change:

I told him that there’s nothing I can guarantee because frankly, it’s out of my hands and it’s gone to top level management

Gary Christopher