Ricky Carmichael Made Lightning Strike Twice

An Analysis of a Perfect Pro Motocross Season

Ricky Carmichael’s 2004 plans did not include racing the AMA Pro Motocross Championship. His torn left ACL needed a rebuild but he wanted to race Supercross more than he wanted to repair his knee. He thought he could punt surgery until May 2004.

Ricky Carmichael, Glen Helen, 2004
24-0. Again. Ricky Carmichael crosses the line, completing another perfect season.

He had three motivating factors in this decision. One: although he was the defending champion, Carmichael got beaten by Chad Reed at the final six rounds of the 2003 AMA Supercross season. He wanted redemption.

Two: he made a late off-season switch to the Honda CRF450R four stroke. Riding that bike seemed almost like an unfair advantage.

Three: Carmichael was in the middle of a contract extension with American Honda. He felt sitting on the sidelines weakened his negotiating power.

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Since 1998, every American Honda factory bike has featured graphics supplied by Throttle Jockey.

His decision to keep grinding became a bit too literal, however; his femur and tibia had been against each other since mid-September. On November 25, 2003, Carmichael went to Castillo Ranch in Central California for a test session on the four stroke. During warm up, his knee popped out of place in mid-air, while he squeezed the bike’s fuel tank. Unlike the knee pain he felt earlier in the fall, he couldn’t grimace his way through it this time. He couldn’t even step off the motorcycle when he rode back to the truck.

Only Carmichael’s inner circle knew about his ACL and now he couldn’t avoid confessing to the team about the injury. That was almost more excruciating than the pain. With tears in his eyes and emotion in his voice, he told them he was done; there would be no supercross season for him.

“It was just like, crickets,” Carmichael says. “I should have just had it fixed in September when I originally did it. I did much more damage by not having it repaired, because without the ACL there, my knee is moving around. It’s tearing up cartilage and meniscus. I’m doing severe damage to my knee. It would eventually cause me to have a longer recovery time.”

FAST TRIVIA

BEFORE the knee injury forced him out of the 2004 AMA Supercross series, how many races had Ricky Carmichael missed?

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Carmichael went under the knife on December 9, 2003 and didn’t ride a motorcycle again until the first day of April. In that nearly four month span he recovered, recharged, shockingly, signed with American Suzuki and worried about his knee.  

“I was just so scared that it wasn’t going to heal back properly,” he says. “Not my ACL, but all my meniscal repair. I knew how delicate it was. I was just really hoping and praying that it grew back together and the internal stitching held and it just didn’t tear again.”

Ricky Carmichael, 2003
Before it all came to an end, Carmichael was working hard preparing for the 2004 season. Photo: Simon Cudby

The opening round of the ’04 MX schedule went off with a swirl of curiosity and questions; did Carmichael still have it? The fans wanted, expected, to see battles between Carmichael and Chad Reed the new Supercross Champion. Or between Carmichael and Kevin Windham, the only other rider to win an overall going back to 2001.

Kevin Windham, Washougal Motocross.
Kevin Windham had hopes of being the one to challenge Ricky Carmichael in 2004. Photo: Simon Cudby.

Those battles did happen, but not often and they were blink-and-you’ll-miss-them brief. Carmichael won all 12 overalls and all 24 motos. He set the single fastest lap time in every single moto. He led every single lap in 17 of the 24 motos and 97% of the total laps run. Of the dozen he didn’t lead, all were within the first three circulations of each moto. If he was trying to let people know whether or not he could win again, he said it loudly, without saying a thing. A perfect season though?

“I never set out to go undefeated,” he says. “I had my goals. If I thought I could go 24-0 I would have said that was my goal. My goal would be to win three-quarters of the round overalls. The perfect season is just something that needs to naturally happen because there’s so many things that can go wrong.”

Chad Reed at Southwick, 2004.
Chad Reed at Southwick. Reed finished 2nd in 16 of 24 motos in 2004. Photo: Simon Cudby

It wasn’t as boring as the results sheets might suggest. Things did go wrong. Just not at the right time for the competition to capitalize.

The 2004 Motocross season started with the Hangtown Motocross Classic.

Ricky Carmichael, Hangtown, 2004
Ricky Carmichael and Scott Taylor (right) share a laugh while RC warms up at the Hangtown National. Photo: Simon Cudby

Round 1: Rancho Cordova, CA, May 16, 2004

He was the defending champion, yet Ricky Carmichael felt like the new kid at school, the one that shows up halfway through the year. That probably sounds absurd to the reader but imagine it from his viewpoint: he hadn’t raced in over seven months, had recently recovered from knee surgery, popped up at only a few supercross races, switched to a four stroke and had already committed to racing for American Suzuki in 2005.

Ricky Carmichael, Hangtown, 2004
Ricky Carmichael on press day at the 2004 Hangtown National. Photo: Simon Cudby

“I just felt like there was a lot of noise that day,” Carmichael says. “Obviously for good reason. There was a lot to talk about.” In response, he did something he normally disapproves of: he played games with the competition. Before the race day practice sessions, he told his mechanic, Mike Gosselaar, to remove the transponder from the motorcycle. “Take that thing off so everyone is wondering,” he told the man they call ‘Goose’.

Ricky Carmichael at Hangtown (1997-2003)

In 2004 lap times did not determine who raced in the feature motos as they do today. They were simply a measuring stick and Carmichael didn’t want anyone to see his. “Kind of like, ‘you guys don’t worry about me, figure it out yourselves,’” he says. Officially, Windham set the fastest lap time of the final session, over two seconds quicker than David Vuillemin.

Gosselaar uses one word to describe how he felt coming into that weekend: uncertain. And his feelings became more mixed when his plan to get race simulation testing in was – literally – choked off. During the week of round one, Gosselaar loaded up a box van and drove to a private practice track in the forest east of Sacramento. Carmichael only got one moto in before the engine locked up. The dust was unbearable and the fine, silty soil went through the filter. Gosselaar didn’t have a spare motor. The abbreviated practice session did little to ease his mind.

“You never know until you race, how are things going to go and who is going to be the guy?” Gosselaar says today.

Ricky Carmichael, Hangtown, 2004
“Seabiscuit was like a slap to the face to the guys who disrespected me.” Photo: Simon Cudby

Carmichael felt the uncertainty as well, even a bit of doubt, but he was still confident enough in himself to make subtle statements before the first gate fell, like withholding lap times and wearing pants with “Seabiscuit” on the back of them, a nod to the undersized thoroughbred racehorse of the 1930s that recovered from what should have been a career-ending injury, yet continued winning.

Ricky Carmichael, David Vuillemin, Hangtown, 2004
Ricky Carmichael leads David Vuillemin and Kevin Windham at the 2004 Hangtown Motocross Classic. Photo: Simon Cudby

“Seabiscuit was like a slap to the face to the guys, a dig at the people who disrespected me and just put me out to pasture,” Carmichael says today. “Luckily, it worked out. I would have looked like a moron if it didn’t!”

On paper, the day was flawless for Carmichael. He led all 16 laps of each moto, winning the first by over 11 seconds. In reality, they were two of the toughest races of his career.

Ricky Carmichael and David Vuillemin at Hangtown, 2004.
“He was just hounding me the first moto. I couldn’t break him.” Ricky Carmichael and David Vuillemin at Hangtown, 2004. Photo: Simon Cudby.

“The first moto was the most brutal of the whole season,” he says. “I was just uncomfortable and I didn’t have a chance to really relax.” He gives a lot of credit to Vuillemin, who pressured him early. He felt like he was on the edge and said he was close to surrendering. “He was just hounding me the first moto. I couldn’t break him. I was pumped up. Probably rode a little bit too hard, harder than I should have.”

Vuillemin was the one who went backwards, however. Both Windham and Reed passed him at the halfway point and he finished fourth. In the second moto, Vuillemin stayed within a few seconds of Carmichael for the first half but couldn’t get close enough to engage in a battle.

Scoring monitor after the first moto of the 2004 Hangtown National. Photo: Simon Cudby
Scoring monitor after the first moto of the 2004 Hangtown National. Photo: Simon Cudby

“I had the speed and I am glad about that,” Vuillemin told Cycle News.

Like he had done for three consecutive years, Carmichael opened round one with double moto wins.

When interviewed by Kit Palmer of Cycle News, Carmichael unburdened himself of the strong feelings he harbored. “As bad as I wanted to win today, I kind of wanted to make a statement – not to the riders – just to the people who talk so much b.s. about things, jump to conclusions and the lack of respect,” he said. “You know, I had a lot to prove. It was important for me to do what I did today.”

Ricky Carmichael, Hangtown, 2004
Ricky Carmichael starts the 2004 season with a perfect 1-1. Photo: Steve Cox

Almost 20 years later, Carmichael read what he said and was asked where those feelings, and the strong statement, came from.

“I can’t stand disrespect,” he says. “I feel like sometimes our sport has the least amount of respect for past champions, current champions. It’s crazy. Being exposed to other sports, NASCAR for me, I feel like the respect level is so much higher.”

Ricky Carmichael, Hangtown, 2004
Ricky Carmichael celebrates with Chad Reed after the Hangtown Motocross Classic win. Photo: Simon Cudby

Gosselaar is reminded of this day every time he walks into the repair shop he now runs in Idaho. Photos of Ricky coming across the finish line, standing on his pegs with both hands high in the air was splashed across magazine covers and advertisements.

A celebratory banner with one of those images hangs in the garage of Gosselaar Power Sports, his Grangeville, Idaho service and repair shop. “That was a happy moment,” Gosselaar says.

Carmichael’s Hangtown Data

Round 2: Mt. Morris, PA, May 30, 2004

Ricky Carmichael, Mt. Morris, 2004
Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed battled in the opening laps of the 2004 Mt. Morris National. Photo: Simon Cudby

The win at High Point Raceway had a different kind of sweetness to it because he had to pass two of his toughest competitors to get it: Reed and Windham. In the first moto, Carmichael took the holeshot and pulled away. On lap three his rear wheel bounced out of a rut in a right-hand turn and he fell. He kept the bike running but remounted eight seconds behind Reed. By the end of lap four, he was in the lead again.

FAST TRIVIA

Which of these Carmichael, High Point moto score combos did NOT happen?

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In moto two, Windham came about 10 feet shy of leading the first three laps. Carmichael pulled up alongside the leader in a jump section called Bradshaw Boulevard and just nicked him at the timing line to steal credit for the lead on lap three.

Kevin Windham leads Ricky Carmichael
Kevin Windham leads Ricky Carmichael in Moto at High Point Raceway. These were the only 2 laps Windham led all season. Photo: Simon Cudby

Shockingly, these would be the only two laps Windham would lead all season. More shockingly, the opening two laps at High Point were the only second moto laps that Carmichael didn’t lead all season long. Of the 185 second moto laps, Carmichael led 183 of them.

Ricky Carmichael, Mt. Morris, 2004
The deep, long ruts of High Point Raceway were a welcome sight for Ricky Carmichael. Photo: Simon Cudby.

Honda rushed out a two-page win ad to accompany the Mt. Morris race coverage. The main copy read: “The CRF450R dominated the first two races. Any bets on the other ten?”

Carmichael’s High Point Data

Round 3: Southwick, MA, June 13, 2004

2004 Honda CRF450R
Ricky Carmichael’s Honda CRF450R waits patiently to play in the sandbox of Southwick. Photo: Simon Cudby

A very rough course at Moto X 338 allowed Carmichael to fall further in love with the Honda CRF450R. “This should be noted,” he says. “The gnarlier the conditions were, the better that bike performed. It’s almost like it worked better in crappier conditions rather than when the track was fully prepped.” He continued to make ECU adjustments and felt his setup was near perfect.

Ricky Carmichael at Southwick, 2004
Ricky Carmichael (#4) won the motos at Southwick by 28 and 33 seconds each. Photo: Simon Cudby

Carmichael dominated Southwick; he led all 35 laps, won the motos by 28 and 33 seconds each and lapped into the top ten in both outings. The obliteration was so bad Cycle News’s Brendan Lutes wrote:

“If this race is any indication of what is to be expected this season, then the competition needs to look out before this turns into a repeat of Carmichael’s perfect one from a few years ago.”

FAST TRIVIA

Carmichael won 18 total motos at Southwick between 1997-2007. How many overall wins?

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Few people, however, know how close the perfect season came to ending in Southwick. It’s a miracle the bike made it to the finish at all. Because it quit before it made it back to the Honda truck.

Ricky Carmichael, Southwick, 2004
Ricky Carmichael floats through the rollers at Southwick. Photo: Simon Cudby

While Carmichael, Reed (2-2) and Windham (3-3) sprayed champagne on the podium, Gosselaar grabbed the bike to get a head start on maintenance. Riding uphill along the access road to the paddock, the 450 made strange noises and as he approached the Honda truck, the crank locked up. When asked what caused it, Gosselaar laughs.

Ricky Carmichael, Southwick, 2004
Ricky Carmichael thanks the crowd at Southwick. Photo: Simon Cudby

“A knucklehead riding it wide open for 40 minutes. People think that the bikes are indestructible but when you put a guy like that on there, anything can break. It’s just moving parts. He cooked that thing, just killed it.”

Carmichael’s Southwick Data

Round 4: Mechanicsville, MD, June 20, 2004

Ricky Carmichael, Budds Creek, 2004
RC celebrated the 2004 Budds Creek win on Father’s Day with his dad and grandfather. Photo: Frank Hoppen

With his dad, Big Rick, and “Paw-Paw”, his 80-year-old grandfather, watching, Carmichael gave his elders the perfect Father’s Day gift; he won round four at Budds Creek Motocross Park. It was the 100th AMA Supercross and motocross victory of his career.

FAST TRIVIA

In 2007, Carmichael hit another major milestone at Budds Creek. What was it?

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“One hundred wins,” he said after the race. “Hell, 100 races makes me feel old!” He was just 24. Chad Reed led the first two laps of the first moto. Carmichael stalled his bike after the finish line and said he needed 10 kicks to get it going again.

Ricky Carmichael, Budds Creek 2004
Carmichael scrubs at the 2004 Budds Creek National. Photo: Frank Hoppen

On the podium, Fox Racing’s Scott Taylor presented him with a jersey filled with 100 skull and cross-bone iron-ons, the coveted rectangles that represented race wins during the season. He left Maryland with a 32-point lead over Reed.

Carmichael’s Budds Creek Data

Round 5: Buchanan, MI, July 4, 2004

After Carmichael won the motos at RedBud MX, led every lap, and set fastest lap times that were several seconds quicker than the next rider on the podium, the reporters on hand noted some gloomy post-race faces. Riders vented openly to anyone who would listen. And why not? They all had the same thing in common: they were not winning.

Kevin Windham and Ricky Carmichael, 2004
Kevin Windham (left) and Ricky Carmichael catch a ride back to the paddock. Photo: Simon Cudby

“It’s frustrating,” said Kevin Windham, the only rider to beat Carmichael in a motocross in over three years. “Last year, I was able to run with him and beat him a couple of times. He’s just having a sweep of it.” Reading this quote decades later, Carmichael chuckles at Windham’s comment.

“If he would have hopped on my 2003 CR250, he would have seen what I was dealing with,” Carmichael says. “He should be like, ‘Well that doesn’t surprise me that I can’t run with him this year because now we’re on a level playing field.’”

Chad Reed told Cycle News, “We need to pick it up. We’re trying and working hard at home. That’s all we can do is try as hard as we can.”

Chad Reed, 2004
The 10 #1 plates on the jersey represent Reed’s 2004 Supercross wins. Photo: Simon Cudby

Despite leaving Red Bud with a comfortable 40-point lead, Carmichael let everyone know he wasn’t letting up and only planned to get stronger.

“I’m going to try to run my training into the ground because that’s what works for me,” he told Brendan Lutes. “I’m all right on a motorcycle, but other than that, I don’t have too many other special powers.”

Carmichael’s RedBud Data

Round 6: New Berlin, NY, July 18, 2004

Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed, 2004
Chad Reed (left) and Ricky Carmichael share a laugh at the 2004 Unadilla Pro Motocross. Photo: Simon Cudby

As one moto win blended into another, Carmichael’s memories from the 2004 summer get fuzzy. But he does remember the vibes and how much fun he had racing a dirt bike, even on a track like Unadilla, which he openly loathed. “I remember challenging myself in motos and climbing out of ruts a little bit earlier, and off-camber slippery areas, holding tighter lines, and not having to keep my momentum up and keeping the speed up like I did the previous year. It was like technique practice sessions for me.”

BENCH RACING

Who are you taking to win the championship if these riders are on the starting line together at their peak of their careers.

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Carmichael left Unadilla Valley Sports Center with his 11th and 12th moto wins, halfway toward another perfect season. Heavy rains cancelled Saturday practice and left the track muddy and rutty for Sunday. Carmichael led every lap but caught his left foot in a rut at the base of a high speed uphill.

“I was hauling ass and it almost ripped me off the motorcycle,” he says. “It was so violent.” The stinger left him in a lot of pain, which he carried to the next round in Ohio.

Ricky Carmichael at Unadilla
Unadilla MX. Straight as an arrow, Ricky Carmichael rockets toward another holeshot. Photo: Simon Cudby

The noise about sweeping them all increased. The sub-headline in Cycle News read “Ricky Carmichael is one step closer to perfection… again,” and the first paragraph was devoted to discussing ’24-0’.

Chad Reed, Unadilla, 2004
Even with rain and mud, Chad Reed was 20 seconds behind Ricky Carmichael in Moto 1 at Unadilla. Photo: Simon Cudby

“No one can touch him,” Lutes wrote. “Carmichael again swept both motos in convincing fashion and by doing so showed that the impossible just might happen again.”

Carmichael’s Unadilla Data

Round 7: Troy, OH, July 25, 2004

Mike Gosselaar couldn’t start the bike. He didn’t know why and he didn’t have time to figure it out. He had just finished his between-motos maintenance routine: bike wash, oil and filter changes, controls check, hardware tightening, new tires, chain lube. Only an hour earlier, Carmichael had used this same bike to win moto one at Kenworthy’s Motocross Park; he didn’t lead the first two laps but he did win his 13th consecutive moto.

Honda CRF450R
Mike Gosselaar tuning the Honda CRF450R. Photo: Simon Cudby

When it came time to warm up the bike and head to the line for moto two, however, Gosselaar had a kickstart lever that wouldn’t move as easily as it should. He considered the worst-case scenario: parts floating around in the engine. In the end, he wasn’t far off. He sent Carmichael to the starting line without a bike while he scrambled to find out what he could. He disassembled part of the engine and saw that the decompression system had failed. Only he couldn’t find the missing pieces. And he certainly didn’t have time to fix it, which required further disassembly.

The decompression system bleeds off pressure to allow the engine to come to life in one swift stroke of the kick starter. Without a functioning decompression system, the piston wants to stop at top dead center on the compression stroke. Once reassembled, Gosselaar knew he simply had to throw his entire leg into firing up the bike. He got it started, took it to the line and handed it to Carmichael. He didn’t say anything about possible floating parts – “it’s never a good feeling when you know something is broken in the bike and we’re racing it anyways,” Gosselaar says.

FAST TRIVIA

Kenworthy's MX Park hosted 17 Pro Motocross events (1987-2004). Which venue replaced Kenworthy's in 2005?

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For the next 36 minutes, Gosselaar prayed silently that Carmichael wouldn’t stall it during the race. “You could kick it but it had to be really hard. Being that he’s short, I figured if he stalls it, we’re done.”

Carmichael led every lap, won by 17 seconds, and left the last ever Pro Motocross at Kenworthy’s with a still flawless 14-0 record and a 54-point lead. When Gosselaar tore down the motor, he found pieces of a spring from the decompression system stuck to a magnetic part of the engine.

Carmichael’s Kenworthy’s Data

Round 8: Washougal, WA, Aug. 1, 2004

Ricky Carmichael, Washougal, 2004
Unlike in 2001 and 2003, Ricky Carmichael wasn’t challenged by Kevin Windham at Washougal in 2004.

Who is Rusty Holland? That’s the “Jeopardy” answer to this clue: He was the only rider not named Carmichael, Windham or Reed to lead a lap of the 2004 AMA Chevrolet 250cc Pro Motocross Championship. Joe Oehlhof took the holeshot in moto one but Clawson Motorsports’ Holland passed for the lead just a few turns into the first lap.

Rusty Holland was, 2004 AMA Pro Motocross Championship.
Rusty Holland was one of just 4 riders to lead at least one lap of the 2004 AMA Pro Motocross Championship. Photo: Simon Cudby

Carmichael and Reed battled for second at the end lap one at Washougal Motocross Park. Carmichael slammed into the Yamaha rider in an elevated left-hand corner in the darkest part of the forested course. He must have known payback was eminent because two turns later, after crossing through the green flag and the end of the first lap, Reed came under Carmichael, who went higher in the turn than he normally would. The rivals picked at each other like that for much of the second lap while Holland enjoyed the open track ahead of him.

FAST TRIVIA

Which of these riders beat Ricky Carmichael in at least one moto at Washougal in his career?

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It was the closest thing to a real race anyone had seen all summer. Reed and Carmichael passed Holland just before the end of the second lap and continued their fight. Carmichael drag raced Reed through a series of tall rollers and shaved the course boundary so closely his foot peg caught and ripped the cover off a haybale, sending it floating in the air. It was so clean and quick, the hay bale didn’t move. Entering the next corner from the outside, Carmichael kept the throttle on until he could safely close off the line.

2004 Washougal Motocross start
2004 Washougal Motocross. #57 Joe Oehlohf pulled the holeshot but it was #244 Rusty Holland who led nearly two laps of the first moto. Photo: Simon Cudby

That was it. Carmichael walked away from Reed and won the moto by 30 seconds.

Before the start of the second moto, ESPN’s Davey Coombs delivered a pre-race report in front of the starting line to remind the viewers that Washougal had been a challenge for Carmichael; he lost to Kevin Windham in both 2001 and 2003.

Ricky Carmichael, Washougal, 2004
Just 8 motos to go. Ricky Carmichael showers the crowd after winning Washougal. Photo: Simon Cudby

“This race at Washougal was the one he was looking at to get him over the hump,” Coombs said. “Carmichael’s heading into this second moto, going, if he can win this one, it’s just eight more to go. We might see history repeated again, another perfect season.”

Carmichael won by 40 seconds.  

R/C Butt Patch Ricky Carmichael
Carmichael’s Washougal Data

Round 9: Millville, MN, Aug. 15, 2004

Mike Alessi, Millville, 2004
In 2004, 16-year-old Mike Alessi (#800) threw himself in with the big boys for his pro debut. Photo: Simon Cudby

The hype at Spring Creek Raceway wasn’t about the perfect season. Or even Carmichael. It was about a 16-year-old named Mike Alessi who had competed in his last amateur motocross race just a week earlier and decided to line up against Carmichael, Reed and Windham in his professional debut.

FAST TRIVIA

At Millville 2004, Carmichael’s butt patch for moto one was a one word inside joke. What was it?

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Team Alessi made bold statements before a single tire hit the track at Millville. Wearing red t-shirts with “BELIEVE THE HYPE” screen-printed in block letters on the back, Alessi told ESPN’s Jamie Little he was hoping for a podium but was realistically shooting for a top five finish.

Ricky Carmichael, Millville, 2004
Hello, Newman! Ricky Carmichael ran inside joke on his pants at Millville. Take the quiz above to find out why. Photo: Simon Cudby

Carmichael needed a bit of a nudge to remember Alessi’s debut but once it hit him, he blurted out, “Believe The Hype!” That alone didn’t rankle him much but an interview he read did. He can’t remember where the interview appeared, but he recalls Mike’s father, Tony, calling Carmichael a hazard on the track.

Ricky Carmichael, Millville, 2004
RC launches “Holy Schmit” on his way to another Millville moto victory. Photo: Simon Cudby.

This memory is corroborated by Kit Palmer’s Cycle News reporting. In the post-race press conference, Carmichael unleashed his opinion of Alessi: “I got tired of everybody asking me about this guy… he needs to respect these people up here [veterans], because we’ve accomplished things… to claim a podium when you haven’t even raced somebody – his dad said I’m a hazard to people on the track, when his son’s the guy that’s going out and – Sebastian’s teammate – knocking his shift lever off. It’s a bummer that people say stuff like that.”

Ricky Carmichael, Millville, 2004
Ricky Carmichael drags the bars through a Millville corner. Photo: Simon Cudby

Sebastian’s teammate was Sean Hamblin, with whom Alessi collided in a corner in the first moto. Alessi finished 31st overall.

BENCH RACING

Ricky Carmichael's best MX venue in his career was Spring Creek. In the 22 motos he raced there, how many did he win?

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“That hazard comment really pissed me off,” Carmichael says today.

Carmichael needed two laps to track down Reed for the win in moto one. He led wire to wire in the second moto and spent the entire last lap of the race throwing one-handers over the jumps.

Chad Reed and Ricky Carmichael, Millville
Chad Reed (#22) gave Carmichael fits in Moto 1 at Millville. Carmichael still led 13 of the 15 laps, however. Photo: Simon Cudby
Carmichael’s Millville Data

Round 10: Binghamton, NY, Aug. 22, 2004

Seven inches of rain had fallen in the weeks leading up to the Pro Motocross at Broome-Tioga Sports Center. The track turned into a slot car course.

Ricky Carmichael, Broome-Tioga Raceway
Ricky Carmichael pulls the holeshot at Broome-Tioga. Photo: Steve Cox

“Those were the conditions that I loved racing in – one, big, long rut,” Carmichael says. “Those are conditions that the four-stroke would shine in. The gnarlier the conditions were, the better that bike handled. This was one of those situations.”

Carmichael led all 32 laps and left Broome-Tioga with 500 points to Reed’s 406. Because of Reed’s consistent 2-2 finishes, the championship celebration had to wait.

Carmichael’s Binghamton Data

Round 11: Delmont, PA, Sept. 5, 2004

Steel City Raceway held special meaning for Carmichael. It was the site of his pro debut in 1996. In 2001 he won the dramatic finale of the 125cc class and one day later, secretly tested a Honda CR250 for the first time. In 2002, he earned his first perfect season there.

Ricky Carmichael at Steel City.
Ricky Carmichael at Steel City in 2001. He dropped down to the 125 class to break Mark Barnett’s record of 25 wins in the class. Photo: Simon Cudby

In 2004, he won the first moto by 63 seconds, the largest gap of the season and clinched his eighth consecutive Pro Motocross championship. He accomplished his ultimate goal of returning from injury and winning another title. After the race, he got a bit nostalgic and reflective with the reporters.

“I’m just enjoying racing and I love what I do,” he said. “It feels so good. I just think about watching supercross on the couch as a kid. You just can’t take winning for granted because you never know when you’re going to win again.”

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Honda’s win ads in Cycle News looked similar all summer. They just swapped photos and ad copy each week. One witty advertisement read, “It only seems like we’ve been running the same ad every week.” After Steel City, the copy read, “The next round is merely a victory lap.”

The CRF450 enjoyed its best day ever at Steel City; it claimed all three spots on the podium with Carmichael, Windham and Mike Alessi, who impressively earned third in just his second professional race. Even Jeremy McGrath raced at Steel City on a Honda 450. He planned to compete in select supercross races in 2005 and needed to score points to keep his permanent race number.

Carmichael’s Steel City Data

Round 12: San Bernardino, CA, Sept. 12, 2004

Ricky Carmichael, Glen Helen, 2004
Moto Math: Throttle Jockey made sure the #1 plates on Ricky Carmichael’s Honda were just perfect for the final round of 2004. Photo: Simon Cudby

Nobody could throw up a warning in time to prevent the violent collision. Carmichael popped up over the jump as Windham rose to his feet. The bottom of Carmichael’s frame landed on top of Windham’s prone motorcycle and the sound of metal slamming metal overrode the reactionary screams from the onlookers.

Carmichael was ejected from the bike, his body tossed like a javelin. But humans are not pointy, and he took the impact with his shoulder and neck. His legs flipped over top of his torso, whipping his head around like a crash test dummy.

The practice crash that sprained Ricky Carmichael’s ankle on the morning of the 2004 Glen Helen National

The impact twisted and bent Carmichael’s frame and severely sprained his left ankle. He limped back to his Honda and, in a truly Carmichael move, rode off and set the fastest lap time of the session. “I had to,” Carmichael says when asked why he went back out on the track. “Because my ankle was sore and I didn’t want it to lock up. I went out there and kept riding.”

This reporter was a producer on the ESPN television crew in 2004 and I happened to be standing with one of our camera operators. We had a direct view of the crash. It was dumb luck that we caught it on tape (it was literally tape back then).

For us story tellers, there was a genuine fear that the perfect season might not happen because Carmichael might be too injured to line up. His ankle bones disappeared under swollen skin, a bruise formed at the base of his toes and traveled up to the outer edge of his calf. After practice, he hobbled around under the Honda awning. 

Ricky Carmichael, 2004
Ricky Carmichael’s “cankle” a few days following the 2004 Glen Helen National. Photo: Scott Taylor

“I said, ‘Well, crap. Now it’s going to be tough to go 24-0. This thing is pretty sore,’” Carmichael recalls. “I just remember I couldn’t enjoy the day like I wanted to because of my ankle.”

Gosselaar didn’t have time to wonder about Ricky’s ankle. He had a frame with smashed bottom rails so he asked the team’s helper, Lars Lindstrom, to grab the spare from the truck’s storage loft.

Honda replaced frames every 3-4 races that season and the spare had already gone through a normal cycle. And it looked it. Gosselaar grimaced when Lindstrom handed him the battle-worn aluminum chassis. Mike prided himself on the beauty of his bikes, especially the polished and buffed frames he spent hours perfecting. And now, headed toward a perfect season, on a bike that will undoubtedly wind up in a Honda lobby or museum, he had no choice but to rebuild it around this grimy frame.

Mike Gosselaar, Honda CRF450R
Mike Gosselaar and the Honda crew with the perfect season winning Honda CRF450R at the 2004 Glen Helen Motocross. Photo: Simon Cudby

Lindstrom laughs when asked about this moment. “The last thing on my mind was, ‘I’d better clean up this frame so it looks really good.’ We weren’t in a panic but we had to work quickly,” he says. Now American Honda’s motocross team manager, Lindstrom wants to know why the frame was put away dirty in the first place. Gosselaar still brings this story up when they see each other.

“I wouldn’t expect any of our mechanics [today] to put away a frame dirty,” he says. “It should have been put away buffed out and clean. I put it on Goose for putting it away dirty.”

FAST TRIVIA

How many total laps did Carmichael lead in the 2004 Pro Motocross season?

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For Gosselaar, what did end as a magical day will always be slightly overshadowed by this. It’s something he can’t let go of. He understands how others might not see the significance of a shiny frame but his pride was in that bike–how it ran and how it looked. It was up to Carmichael to do the rest.

RC’s 450MX Record by Venue (2000-2007)

Carmichael had no reason to race at Glen Helen and further compromise his body. He had already won the championship. He had to consider his future and the contract he signed back in April. He was eight days out from a test session with Suzuki.

But he never considered sitting out.

Ricky Carmichael, Glen Helen, 2004
Ricky Carmichael cruises to another moto win at Glen Helen Raceway. Photo: Simon Cudby

Before racing started on Sunday afternoon, he gathered the Honda crew together to give an emotional thank you and goodbye speech, which Miller remembers as being “really neat.”

With a butt patch reading $325, (Honda team members got $325 bonuses for every Honda win), Carmichael dominated once again, winning the motos over Chad Reed and completing the second perfect season of his career.

Ricky Carmichael, Glen Helen, 2004
Chad Reed (#22) led the opening lap at Glen Helen. Carmichael led the other 26. Photo: Steve Cox
Carmichael’s Glen Helen Data

The second one wasn’t as shocking as the first. Nothing ever is the second time around. But doing it under the circumstances and hurdles of the past year made it very special. Glen Helen marked, roughly, one year since he tore his ACL.

Ricky Carmichael passes the mechanic's area on the last lap he ever took on a Honda. Photo: Simon Cudby
Ricky Carmichael passes the mechanic’s area on the last lap he ever took on a Honda. Photo: Simon Cudby

“I’m so happy. I know I don’t show it,” Carmichael said after the race. “But it was a tough last couple of days. I definitely had a lump in my throat.”

The Glen Helen National was Carmichael’s 51st Honda win and his last with the team. He had so much reverence for the crew that helped him win two Supercross and three motocross titles and two perfect seasons that he ran number one plates for the first and only time ever in his premier class career.

Honda, 2004, Motocross
After Ricky Carmichael’s final moto of the 2004 Pro Motocross season, this banner greeted him at the Honda truck Photo: Simon Cudby.

Three hundred sixty four days later, Carmichael completed yet another sweep of a motocross season. He didn’t win every moto (22/24) but he won all 12 overalls and, of course, another title.

Because that’s what Ricky Carmichael did. He had the ability to make lightning strike.

Ricky Carmichael Glen Helen, 2004
Ricky Carmichael thanks the Glen Helen crowd for cheering him on towards another perfect season. Photo: Simon Cudby

Thanks for reading. Help We Went Fast continue to tell stories such as this one by visiting shop.wewentfast.com. And if you love Ricky Carmichael stories, read (or listen to) “The Greatest Gamble in Motocross: RC’s Shocking Switch to Suzuki”

50 Years of Sundays: “On Any Sunday” Will Change Your Life

Five decades later, Bruce Brown’s 1971 motorcycle documentary continues to influence.

The Academy got it wrong. In the end, “On Any Sunday” won it all. And it’s still winning. Fifty years after its theatrical release Bruce Brown’s 1971 motorcycle documentary continues to defy time and technology.

If Oscars were handed out based on the potential of societal influence, the Academy may have handed the statue for Best Documentary Film to Brown instead of Walon Green, whose insect world film “The Hellstrom Chronicle” combined elements of science fiction and horror and, in the end, frightened people from weeding their own gardens. A masterpiece in cinematography, Hellstrom became a worthy teaching tool in high school science classes but didn’t create a surge in new entomologists and faded into obscurity over the decades. It has no official hard copy or streaming distribution but thanks to YouTube we can all experience how terrifying Venus flytraps are for small insects (seriously, it’s an edge-of-your-seat scene).

Throttle Jockey Ad
On Any Sunday had a heavy influence on Throttle Jockey’s Matt and Robert Davis.

Few movies remain relevant after a half century but “On Any Sunday” continues to achieve something far more; it still changes lives. The teenagers who bought matinee tickets in the summer of 1971 but didn’t emerge from theaters until midnight were the first generation of souls captivated by the sights, sounds, and sensations of watching motorcycles in this film. They liked the movie so much that they hid in theater bathrooms or darted through the doors of a different flick to wait for the next showing of Brown’s motorcycle movie. If there wasn’t a seat, they found a wall to lean against or a step to perch on and took another lap in the worlds of Mert, Malcolm and McQueen. 

“New York Times” film critic Vincent Canby trashed “The Hellstrom Chronicle” one month before he saw “On Any Sunday,” which he enjoyed, it seems, much more than he expected to. “Brown stands in way of becoming the unofficial poet of the sports world,” Canby wrote on July 29, 1971. “By putting his cameras on the cycles, Brown achieves audience participation effects with speed that amount to marvelous delirium.”

Officially licensed On Any Sunday merchandise!

Dan Geery bought into that delirium. Literally. His currency as a 13-year-old wasn’t the greenbacks he made pushing lawn mowers around Redwood City, California. It was a Honda CT70, for which he had to pay back his parents half the purchase price. They didn’t like motorcycles, ’too dangerous, too fast’ but they were smart enough to use the little trail bike as leverage to encourage him to keep up his grades and as a tool to teach their son how to care for something and learn the basics of a trade. On weekends, Geery’s dad loaded the CT70 into the back of the Plymouth station wagon and left him at the Foster City Salt Flats with a can of gas. Dan rode around on his own and watched the pros practice on the various sized flat tracks they built. Four to six hours later, his dad would pick him up. 

Dan Geery and his Yamaha MX90, Christmas 1971

Geery first heard about the movie from the hours he and his friends spent loitering around A&A Motors where they stretched the throttle and clutch cables of the Yamahas on the showroom floor and listened to professional flat track racers Jim Odom and Jim Rice tell stories from the pro circuit. Dan can’t remember exactly who said it, but he has a vague memory of someone excitedly saying, “there’s a movie and we’re going to be in it!” When “On Any Sunday” opened at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, Dan lined up for the very first showing. Still ambivalent about dirt bikes, Mr. Geery went with his son to experience all the fuss.

“It enlightened him a little about why I loved bikes,” Dan says. “He really enjoyed it.” Yet he still wouldn’t let his son emulate Mert Lawwill and become a flat track racer, which was his dream. “He didn’t like those speeds,” Dan says of the line his father drew. Dan, 14 when first saw the movie, discovered motocross instead. At Christmas that same year, a yellow Yamaha MX90 leaned on a kickstand next to the tree. 

Dan Geery
Dan Geery racing his Yamaha MX90 in the summer of 1972

“That I paid for,” Dan says, laughing. He spent the summer and fall mowing, raking and weeding for $1 an hour and made enough money to buy his own motocross bike, which he finally received on Christmas morning. Dan sunk himself deep into motocross. He jokes that he didn’t even know his high school had a football team because he was so focused on racing. In 1975 he raced as a professional at the Hangtown Motocross National. In 2006, at almost 50 years old, he bought a steel shoe and finally raced flat track. A few years later, Geery finally got the chance to tell Malcolm Smith that “On Any Sunday” changed his life. “I know he’s heard that a million times but he still had a smile on his face.” 

Malcolm Almost Said “No”

People like Dan Geery often wonder how life would have turned out had they not seen the movie. Malcolm Smith still wonders how much different his life would have been had he turned down the offer to appear in “On Any Sunday”. Which, he did. Sort of. What he didn’t know at the time was that Bruce Brown hadn’t considered other options. Brown, who died on December 10, 2017, 10 days after his 80th birthday, used to joke that he only bought a Husqvarna because that’s what Malcolm rode. With the same bike, he thought he might pick up the same skills. He soon realized it wasn’t about the bike. Brown liked how Malcolm could tear down a Husqvarna “in about 45 seconds” and he relied on Malcolm for all his mechanical work, too. So did an actor named Steve McQueen.

In the late 1960s, Malcolm owned the service department of Ken Johnson’s and Norm McDonald’s K&N Yamaha dealership in Riverside, Calif. In 1969, Ken and Norm wanted to focus on their growing air filter business (yup, that K&N) and Malcolm bought out the sales and parts departments for $125,000. Exact timing varies but Malcolm remembers that Bruce pitched a motorcycle movie concept to him before he assumed full ownership of the dealership. Brown’s goal was to showcase motorcycling and motorcyclists in the same clean-cut, family-friendly way that his 1966 surf documentary “Endless Summer” did. Surfers were not all beach bums and motorcyclists were not Hell’s Angels or characters straight off the set of “The Wild One”. In Brown’s eyes, Malcolm Smith had talent and a persona as far removed from Johnny Strabler as he could find. 

Months later, however, Malcolm felt swamped and overwhelmed with his new responsibilities at the dealership. He turned Brown down when the filmmaker called to schedule shoot dates. Undeterred, Brown said he’d check back in a few weeks. In a 2012 interview at his ranch north of Santa Barbara, Calif., when asked what plan B was, Brown said, “I never thought about it. I wanted Malcolm. And I always knew I was going to get Malcolm even if I had to cry. I really had no other options.”

On Any Sunday Press Photo - Malcolm at the Elsinore GP
On Any Sunday Press Photo – Malcolm Smith at the Elsinore GP

Two weeks later, Malcolm said he felt better about his business and agreed to work on the movie. “That was the best decision I ever made,” Malcolm says. “Even if it hadn’t come out wonderful, I had such a great time filming and traveling together.”

When he first saw the movie a little over a year later, Malcolm was shocked at how much of the 90 minutes went to him and his adventures. “I thought it was going to be two to three minutes for me and gone. Bruce never hinted to me that I would be in it so much.” Maybe Malcolm missed the April 21, 1970 issue of “Cycle News” that probably sat on the counter of his dealership. In a half-page article, Bob Sanford broke the news that Brown would feature motorcycle racing in an already-underway documentary with the working title “Any Sunday.”

Next to a photo of Bruce peering through a viewfinder, Sanford wrote, “A sizeable [sic] portion of the film will revolve around California riding ace, Malcolm Smith. Brown feels that Smith epitomizes the nature of the sport: An easygoing rider, making his living at a bike shop, who, on any given Sunday, can enter any one of a variety of events and give the best of competition hell. Additionally, Brown is considering shooting a segment of film devoted to one of the nation’s professional circuit riders.” The AMA Grand National series was five rounds deep by the time the announcement in Cycle News appeared. Before he knew which rider he would follow on the Grand National circuit (Mert Lawwill), Brown knew he wanted Malcolm as a centerpiece character in his film.

Cycle News Announcement - April 21, 1970
Cycle News announcement about “On Any Sunday” – April 21, 1970

The triangle of talent was carefully selected to engage the moviegoers. You weren’t going to be Steve McQueen or Mert Lawwill, but Malcolm was somehow attainable, even if only in one’s mind. Lawwill represented the gladiator, the larger-than-life giant, even if he was only 5-ft. 6-in. tall. He was the AMA Grand National champion and on the quest for another title.

McQueen starred in blockbuster films but we connected with him because he liked to bang bars and get his fingers dirty along with every other weekend warrior. Still, he was Steve McQueen, one of the highest paid actors in the world.

But Malcolm Smith was everyone. Nobody deluded themselves into thinking they could beat Malcolm but they could certainly be him. He wasn’t an A-list celebrity or a Grand National Champion (although he briefly held a professional AMA dirt track license in 1959). Malcolm was the guy who made you feel like you could do it, too.

An Admission of Guilt

During a 2017 KTM executive dinner in Montreal, Steve Masterson found himself unable to contribute to the conversation, which is rare for the talkative and colorful Brit. He could no longer hide so he came clean and finally admitted something as egregious as not knowing what sports Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan are famous for playing.

He had never seen the movie “On Any Sunday”.

The men around him, including KTM North America’s President, John Hinz, stood abruptly, threw their hands in the air and shouted incredulously. Eyes bulged, the meal stopped. The group stared at Masterson. “They may have even questioned my intelligence,” Masterson says. “They freaked out.”

Bruce Brown (right) chats with Dave Aldana
Bruce Brown (right) chats with Dave Aldana. Photo Courtesy Bruce Brown Films

He likened it to trying to talk to someone who knows the lines from Monty Python or Star Wars as well as their own birth dates and Social Security Numbers. The passion was so strong and he couldn’t fake it anymore. But he knew it would catch him eventually. Feelings of being inauthentic had crept into Masterson’s mind. As the president of Kiska North America, KTM’s design and branding agency, he’s a sought after speaker in the motorcycle industry, especially for the KTM dealer network who appreciate his sharp wit and stories. He’s been in and around KTM since 2004.

And his secret went deeper than just not seeing a movie. Steve didn’t ride motorcycles. At all. Never. “People just assume I ride because I work for KTM.”

Growing up in Reading, England in the 1970s, Masterson launched his bicycles off ramps but didn’t know anyone with a motorcycle. He’d never heard of English motocross icons Dave Bickers or Jeff Smith but he countlessly watched “Smoky and The Bandit” and “Cannonball Run” and idolized Burt Reynolds. The Masterson house even had a 16-ft. tall CB radio antenna fixed to the roof while a Trans-AM and Ford Mustang sat in the garage. “We were living the American Dream inside a little house in England,” Masterson jokes.

By 2017, Masterson had lived in California for three years. He returned home from the Canadian trip on a Sunday evening. It was about 9:00 p.m. and his wife had gone to bed. He was tired, too, but knew he couldn’t walk into the office 12 hours later without arming himself with some “On Any Sunday” context. “Their reaction was so visceral. I think I would have been drawn and quartered had I not watched this movie.”

Masterson pulled up the YouTube app and laughed at how grainy, pixelated and sepia-toned the pirated version looked on his 84-in. television. He leaned back in a recliner expecting a two-wheeled version of “Smoky and the Bandit.” After ninety minutes he gently rocked in the chair with his arms crossed, deep in thought. He retraced every experience and every person he’d met through his work with KTM. Suddenly, he had perspective and even more reverence. “It’s not a prefrontal cortex (front of brain) film,” he says. “It appeals to the emotions. It’s like falling in love. It speaks to the heart.”

Despite working for a company that participated in every single motorcycle activity featured in the movie, it wasn’t until he saw it all on the screen, in one package, that it came together for him. The desert racing his colleagues occasionally talked about now seemed real. Before, he didn’t think those people actually existed.

Steve Masterson
Steve Masterson (left) practices drills at a KTM Ride Day. Photo Courtesy KTM

Masterson’s career in the motorcycle industry shifted a gear. First, he earned his street bike endorsement. “That was the first time I realized that motorcycling can actually be dangerous!” Then he got on a KTM Freeride in a dirt parking lot and practiced figure eights. A few weeks later, a co-worker put him aboard a KTM 250SX-F and sent him out on the vet motocross track at Cahuilla Creek. He loved it but to this day he doesn’t let his wheels get off the ground.

In the spring of 2021 he finally bought his own motorcycle, a KTM Duke 390. Had he not seen the movie, who knows. “On Any Sunday” is like the first line of coke,” he says. “It’s free but you’re going to want more. The movie has taken me into many different areas but I still don’t know if I’m a rider. There’s still a few things I think I need to do, like run out gas in the middle of the desert.”

Birth of the Blackwater

The genesis of the grueling Blackwater 100 came when Dave Coombs Sr. watched a movie in a High Street theater in Morgantown, West Virginia. He saw Malcolm and 1499 other riders, including a man named Harvey Mushman, compete in the Elsinore GP, which started and ended on the streets of Lake Elsinore, Calif. A few years after seeing “On Any Sunday”, Coombs hosted his own event in the coal country town of Davis, WV. Like the Elsinore, the Blackwater 100 started and finished on the streets.

Rita Coombs won’t blame Malcolm but she knew her life was going to change before that movie had even ended. She could tell, just by the entranced look in her husband’s eyes that ideas were forming in his head. “I just remember sitting in the theater and thinking, ‘Oh, no. This is not good,’” she says. Dave was a Morgantown-based musician and had recently bought a 1971 Triumph Bonneville to ride on the street with his bandmates. After watching “On Any Sunday” he went to a nearby motocross race and decided right then that he had a new hobby. According to his youngest child, Davey, his father walked over to the registration table and asked what kind of motorcycles they had on loan. 

Blackwater 100 Dave Coombs Sr. Riders' Meeting
Dave Coombs Sr. conducts a riders’ meeting at the Blackwater 100

“Because nowhere in the movie did they explain that you had to bring your bike,” Davey says. “He was just going to sign up and grab a bike.” That week he traded in his Triumph for a Maico and went racing. 

Rita’s intuition was right. Her life changed. She worked the scoring booths and registration tables at the local races. Dave quickly realized he was about a decade too late to start a professional motocross career and he became a promoter instead. Dave died in 1998 but MX Sports, the promotions company he and Rita formed, now produces the Grand National Cross Country series (where the Blackwater 100 lived through 1993), the AMA Amateur National Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships among other events and properties. 

The Modern Day Malcolm

Ryan Sipes still agonizes over Mert Lawwill’s loss at the 1970 Columbus, Ohio half mile. Lawwill dominated the race until the final moments when his throttle cable broke, “a $2 part”, as Bruce Brown bluntly stated in the narration. Six weeks later a broken crankshaft causes a DNF on camera at Terre Haute, Indiana. Sipes wonders if the fraction of an ounce Mert shaved from that cam follower and all the metal ground off the gears could shoulder some blame for the rash of DNFs later that season.

Only someone who’s seen the movie 40 times could get this granular about the outcomes of races that happened 15 years before he was born. Sipes feels every loss because he’s been there. In 2014 he finished his professional motocross career and focused on new adventures in off road racing. In 2015, at the 90th annual International Six Days Enduro in Slovakia, he did something no American had ever done: he won the individual overall. Malcolm Smith sent Sipes a hand-written note, congratulating him. Smith won 8 gold medals between 1966-1976, but never the individual award.

Ryan Sipes at the 2019 ISDE in Portugal.
Four years after he captured the individual overall, Ryan Sipes enjoyed a Team USA World Trophy win in Portugal in 2019.

That winter, looking for enriching entertainment to watch while logging miles on his indoor spin bike, Sipes picked up a DVD copy of “On Any Sunday”, a movie he still hadn’t seen. It has become the soundtrack of his life. He plays it in his truck while he drives to races. His son, Jack, now 6, watches it on road trips with dad. The scene where Jim Rice crashes in Sacramento mesmerizes him and he especially loves the trials riding and Widowmaker segments.

“I think I like it the more I watch it,” Sipes says. “I pick up more things each time.” Today, Sipes gets paid to keep the loosest and most diverse schedule of any dirt bike rider on the planet. He’s even won a few dirt track races. Since 2018 he’s competed in professional flat track, TT, hillclimbs, hard enduros, the ISDE, supercross, motocross and a variety of off-road events. He also squared off with freestyle motocross riders and learned a backflip in Travis Pastrana’s backyard.

Ryan Sipes does it all, even the Day in the Dirt Down South, 2021. Photo Courtesy Red Bull Content Pool
Ryan Sipes does it all, even the Day in the Dirt Down South, 2021. Photo Courtesy Red Bull Content Pool

He swears that the dozens of hours he’s spent watching and listening to “On Any Sunday” didn’t give him the idea to become General Sipes but deep down he knows it had some influence. Have fun on dirt bikes, don’t get too worked up about anything. That was Malcolm, right? Sipes takes pride when he hears people call him the ‘modern day Malcolm’. “It’s cool to hear that, but there will never be another Malcolm,” he says.

And if you’re ever at a go-kart facility and see the name Harvey Mushman in the lineup, check to see if Ryan Sipes is behind a steering wheel.

Discovering the Joy of Motorcycles

Joy Burgess was a 35-year-old widow and single mother who had never been around a motorcycle when she first saw “On Any Sunday” in 2015. She learned about the movie while reading “Malcolm! The Autobiography”, which a friend thought she’d enjoy, given her career as a writer and editor. She found the movie online and, to this day, can’t believe what happened next.

Her husband’s unexpected death a few months earlier destroyed her world but then a movie helped rebuild it. “It’s surprising how a single thing can change your life so drastically,” she says. “I felt like I had been introduced to something that had always been missing from my life.”

The diversity of riders in the opening segment hooked her and Bruce Brown’s story telling helped her believe she too could ride. She enjoyed watching the cheeky scene where the man teaches his neighbor and imagined herself in a similar situation.

The kind of person who enjoys the in-control feeling that comes from driving a manual transmission, Burgess likes working on machines; she paid close attention in the garage when her minister father worked on the family car. She found a used Honda XR80 with a finicky carburetor and taught herself to ride in the back yard of her central Florida home. Now she goes trail riding to experience what she saw in the movie, particularly the closing scene where Mert, Malcolm and McQueen rip around the beach on the shore of the Pacific Ocean and Sally Stevens melodically sings “I’m flying…”. That scene, even from the grainy pirated version she found on the Internet, gave her goosebumps.

“The stresses in life can’t catch you when you’re in the wind. It’s nothing but you and the bike,” she says. “I saw freedom in that movie. I wanted the feeling more than anything.”

Joy Burgess on her XR80
Joy Burgess on her XR80

Burgess didn’t stop with learning to ride. She found an entirely new career and a new family. She took her skills as a writer in the medical field and applied them toward her new two-wheeled passion. Her first story, a feature on Shayna Texter, appeared in an issue of “Woman Rider”. She soon joined the staff of sister publication “Thunder Press” and in February 2021 became the managing editor of the American Motorcyclist Association. The first issue of “American Motorcyclist” she worked on featured Malcolm Smith on the cover. He turned 80 on March 9, 2021.

It all happened because she watched a movie. “Bruce had something special,” she says. “He was legendary at what he did. The reason this movie has lived on is because people who watched it get the same feeling I did. Everyone who watches it wants to tell someone else.” 

The crew shooting the final scenes of "On Any Sunday": Mert Lawwill, Steve McQueen, Allan Seymour, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Brown
The crew shooting the final scenes of “On Any Sunday”: (l to r) Mert Lawwill, Steve McQueen, Allan Seymour, Malcolm Smith and Bruce Brown. Photo courtesy Bruce Brown Films

The Influence of “On Any Sunday” is Everywhere

Mike Rinn’s parents took him to the Washington International Motorcycle show in 1971 when he was 14. It was held in two large hotel ballrooms and organizers broke the floorplan up by countries and continents. Rinn spent most of his time near the Husqvarnas and Bultacos. Behind the European bikes display a sign advertised the east coast premiere of “On Any Sunday”. He recalled reading about the movie in “Cycle News”.

“I remember this day so vividly,” he says. “The hype of the movie really hadn’t made it to the east coast yet. I felt lucky that my parents wanted to see it, too, because we had to wait two more hours until the next showing.” With their tickets in hand the Rinns were led behind a black room divider curtain where 20 metal folding chairs were arranged. Rinn said it all seemed very ‘impromptu’ as they could still hear the motorcycle show going on a few feet away.

“When the film started, however, I was unaware of anything but the screen. The movie changed me for the better. It was all I could talk about for weeks. I still watch it several times a year and I queue up the soundtrack often, too.”

Throttle Jockey Ad
On Any Sunday had a heavy influence on Throttle Jockey’s Matt and Robert Davis.

William Frederick’s wife bought him some “On Any Sunday” movie posters for Christmas one year and he unexpectedly – almost involuntarily – cried. “It just brings me so many good memories riding with my dad and trying to be like Mert Lawwill,” Frederick says. William started on a 1976 Honda Mini Trail. He still has it on his Eastern Maryland farm and uses it to teach new riders.

“On Any Sunday” influence stories are everywhere. On a buried website from a 2005 memorial event for the movie, Larry Langley of the Orange County Dualies M/C wrote about the time he interviewed Dave Evans, the guy who did the standing wheelie on the trials bike. Evans told Langley about the time he stumbled upon a Doug Domokos show in front of a motorcycle dealership. Domokos called himself the “Wheelie King” throughout the 1980s and was a staple of the motorsports halftime show. Among other acts, Domokos could ride an entire lap on a supercross track on one wheel. After the show Evans talked with Domokos and learned that it was the trials wheelie scene that “got me excited about doing wheelies!” Domokos told Evans. “I figured if you could do it, so could I.”

Still selling on DVD (even VHS!) and currently streaming on Prime, “On Any Sunday” ranks in the top 50 movies of documentaries sold on Amazon and the top 100 among Sports Movies and TV shows (it’s hard to get too excited about these rankings since several exercise videos made for seniors rank higher, but hey…).

The movie has over 1,000 five-star ratings and 900 global written reviews on Amazon. In a 2004 review, David Carlin wrote “I purchased this because I was already getting into motorcycles and recently purchased a Honda Shadow. The music was a bit outdated but strangely enough, I now hum some of the musical themes from the movie.”

Filming the closing scenes of "On Any Sunday" with Mert, Malcolm & McQueen. Photo Courtesy, Bruce Brown Films
Filming the closing scenes of “On Any Sunday” with Mert, Malcolm & McQueen. Photo Courtesy, Bruce Brown Films

In 2013, “Chilidogpete” said, “The first time I saw this movie was in a theatre. When the movie was over I felt like I was buddies with Mert Lawwill, Malcolm Smith and Steve McQueen. I enjoyed this movie so much that I later purchased a street motorcycle and put 50,000 miles on it in five years.”

In 2007, “Matteo” wrote: “If you’re already a motorcyclist, this movie is guaranteed to make you smile and yearn for a good ride. If you’re not yet a motorcyclist, this movie might just turn you into one. If you ride and this movie isn’t on your video shelf, buy it now so you don’t have to face the embarrassment of telling your riding buddies you don’t know who Harvey Mushman is.”

Discussions about the movie even break out in the most unlikely online venues: the gun community Glock Talk, TDPRI, a page for telecaster guitar aficionados, the Ford Raptor forum and every single niche two-wheel discussion page imaginable (shout out to the 18,000 members of the Yamaha TW200 forum).

“On Any Sunday” is far from the last motorcycle documentary ever made but it’s the one movie that froze time. Because of its influence and success, Mert and Malcolm are forever 29 years old. Malcolm loves to tell the story of the kids who came into his dealership a few years ago and thought he was the grandfather of Malcolm Smith. He looked a lot older than the man they saw in the movie their father showed them.

Vincent Canby, the movie critic, wrote in his 1971 review that Brown may become the “poet of the sports world”. But he only directed two more movies after “On Any Sunday”: a little known ski film called “The Edge” in 1975 and “Endless Summer 2” in 1994.

In the end, he didn’t write poems for other sports. In our little corner of the world, however, Bruce Brown is our Walt Whitman and we’ll be singing his verses for another 50 years’ worth of Sundays.

Neat, Bruce.

Bruce Brown and the author, 2012. In the closet behind us are the raw reels from shooting "On Any Sunday"
Bruce Brown and the author, 2012. In the closet behind us are the raw reels from shooting “On Any Sunday”

Thanks for reading. If you value these stories, there are two ways to keep them going: buy products straight from the shop shop.wewentfast.com There’s an entire On Any Sunday product line, all officially licensed by Bruce Brown Films.