Ricky Johnson interview - MXdN

Posted on September 22, 2022

Ricky Johnson is one of the greatest Team USA riders, having won on a handful of occasions and being part of some of the best teams in 1984, 1986, 1987 and 1988. We sat down with Johnson and talked about the last time the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations ventured to America. He gives an honest opinion on what happened and what needs to change.

MXlarge: Last time the Monster Energy Motocross of Nations ventured to America, Redbud in 2018 it wasn’t pretty for Team USA. What was your opinion of that day?

Johnson: They got their asses kicked. I mean, they didn’t adapt to the track, or the riding styles. When you can see somebody going much faster than you, and you don’t try and do what they are doing. I felt there was too much pressure on the American team, to me they rode stressed out. Plessinger to me was screaming the bike, he should have shifted. I know he is a big guy for a 250, but still he was screaming it really hard. All three were really hard on the berms, they were just hitting them really hard. The fact that track did suit the Europeans, and they brought in sand, but still, it’s a track, its dirt and it’s a competition and you have to adapt to what the conditions are, and the American riders didn’t.

MXlarge: My first ever MXoN as a media guy was Unadilla in 1987, in the worst mud race ever, and I remember Team USA adapting to that track ok.

Johnson: Right, and that was the thing, I was under the gun there. First moto Jeff Ward got his goggles blown off, and Bob Hannah got caught in  the area called screw you and I remember saying to myself, I have to win both motos if we have a chance. With the mud and knowing how good Eric Geboers and the other were in the mud, I knew I had my back to the wall, but mud didn’t bother me, I just had a good plan for my goggles and I was the only one with goggles at the end of the race. We adapted to the track that day, as we did in 1984, when Roger (DeCoster) told me how good Andrea Vromans was in the sand and I watched him and tried to implement that in the race, we had to adapt back then also.

MXlarge: Obviously there is the talk that Team USA do too much supercross, and I know the supercross tracks now are a lot different to what you raced in the 1980s. I think back in the day the supercross tracks were often just indoor motocross tracks, while now they are clearly much different to outdoor tracks. What is your opinion?

Johnson: Well, for safety reasons they don’t have the big bowl turns, where they used to get a lot of speed, and riders were going into the crowd, so they toned those down. That hurt the racing, because they can’t lean on the berms, the jumps the riders seem to be better at dealing with, but other than that, it is similar. Back when we did it, we guessed a lot, is this a double or a triple, are your balls big enough to jump it. In the defend of the American based riders, they did have four weeks off and you don’t have the intensity and the other guys came from Europe. The bottom line is, we got beat and for a lot of reasons, and not excuses, just it is what it is. If we want to beat these European riders, we need to change some stuff, because they are unbelievably fast.

MXlarge: That Saturday qualification ride by Herlings on Saturday in 2018, when he came from a long way back, and while he only went 3-1-2, and everyone expected him to go 1-1-1, he really showed how much better he is than everyone else in that Saturday charge. What did you think.

Johnson: It was phenomenal, and I like Herlings, he reminds me of myself and he wants to win all the time, and that can bite you. You have to be smart, like the story of the young bull who wants to run down and screw all those cows and the old bull says let’s walk down and screw them all. Right now, he has the World intimidated with his speed. I was also impressed with Antonio Cairoli. Had he not gone down in that first turn and he got hit hard, but he bounced back. It would have been great to see him and Herlings up front fighting, but it didn’t happen. Bottom line, very impressed with Jeffrey Herlings. 

MXlarge: There has been talk that Roger is too old and should step down and I don’t always get that, because I am not sure there is anyone else in the sport who is more respected than Roger De Coster. Obviously, you have ridden under Roger and are good friends. What is your opinion, and if he did step down would you like the job?

Johnson: There has been no talk of it, would I yes, but is Roger too old, absolutely not. I stood with Roger during some of the races, watching the rider’s styles, Herlings, Cairoli, and he was telling our guys (Team USA) the same thing he used to tell me, and our guys back in the 80s. We listened and I am not sure if these guys are listening to Roger. If Roger told me to sit on the bike backwards, I was going to do it, he was my hero. Everybody now has their crew, trainer and stuff and even if somebody is giving them great information, if they are not from their camp, maybe they don’t listen. I don’t know. What I do know, when Wardy, Lechien and I raced and fought hard throughout the season, we were team-mates at the MXoN and we did everything for each other. Bottom line, would I entertain it if they asked me, not while Roger is in charge, he is the Moses of American motocross and he has led more American motocross riders to the promised land than anyone else has.