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Ricky Carmichael Made Lightning Strike Twice

By Brett Smith

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.

Throttle Jockey Ad
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.

RC in “The Art of Perfection”
Ricky Carmichael in “The Art of Perfection” is available as an 18×24-in print in the We Went Fast Shop

“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.”


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


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.


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


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.”


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


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.


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


“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.”


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


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.


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


“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.”


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


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 And if you love Ricky Carmichael stories, read (or listen to) “The Greatest Gamble in Motocross: RC’s Shocking Switch to Suzuki”