Ricky Johnson on MXoN

Posted on September 06, 2019

No doubt about it, Ricky Johnson is one of the true legends of the Motocross of Nations. A multiple winner and helped Team USA to victory after victory. We asked him some questions about the MXoN and Team USA and as always he was honest.

MXlarge: Riding for your country, how important is that?

Johnson: The thing that lasts with you forever is when you represent something other than your manufacture, or yourself. We never got paid, I mean I had it setup. I got bonuses from a lot of my sponsors, we didn’t get money, and we didn’t go there for money. We went there for our country and to represent our sport. I am just very disappointed. 

MXLarge: When it is mentioned the tough schedule, I get that, but I don’t think you guys had it any easier than they do now? I am also guessing the bikes were harder to ride back then, as despite you guys being fit, the modern technology probably has these athlete’s fitter now than ever?

Johnson: I raced all the time. I loved racing, I argued with teams and companies for the money, because that was the prize for winning, but you race for money in a series, but I liked racing all the time, because I loved the feeling when I beat everybody. One of the races where I really was hurt was when I was beaten at the USGP by Eric Geboers. He went 1-2 and I went 3-1 and he looked at me with the first-place trophy and said, “you are only as good as your last ride, and I just beat you.” I had beaten his ass so many times, but in our last race together, he beat me. I was so angry. So, I understand the schedule and I understand where he is making his money, I understand all that, but when you are the guy who can make the whole country stand up and be proud, and you choose not to, I can’t side with you. 

MXlarge: I remember you raced a pretty long schedule, sometimes starting in January and ending in October, then you would do two classes, plus SX, and a bunch of International races after all that. Did you ever have a year when you were too burnt out, and didn’t want to go, but went anyway?

Johnson: I never felt that way for des Nations. I used to do the Golden State series to warm up, then we would intermingle the 250cc championship and the supercross series, so you were always swapping bikes and your style. Then we had all the European races, like the Masters of Motocross, the Fastcross, I used to race in Holland, Belgium, Bercy, we were all over the place and part of it was we loved doing it also a couple of USGPs. We didn’t really have an off-season, just weekends off. The one year I declined was when I had my broken wrist, I think in 1990. They had me on a 125, and I was going to do it and I was testing and I felt fast on it, but my wrist wasn’t holding out. I remember thinking, if I go, and I am a big guy on a 125 and I lose for the team, that was why I passed and they took Kiedrowski in my place. 

MXLarge: You were in an era where you dominated everything. Do you think these guys are struggling because they have been beaten and they go there now knowing that is a possibility? You guys went to the MXoN knowing you were the best team and had a big shot at winning it.

Johnson: I don’t think so, I think it’s just self-preservation and they have big contracts and don’t want to get hurt and lose out on that. I think that is what it is. 

MXLarge: What moments in your career stood out?

Johnson: For me winning the first championship, even though Mark Barnett wasn’t there, he was injured, but in my rookie year I won the last race in Carlsbad and got the title, then also winning my 1984 250 National championship with my mechanic (Brian Lunniss), because he was the first guy who believed in me. We came down to the last moto and I pulled it off. Also, my win at Unadilla at the Motocross of Nations, because we were behind the eight ball. I remember sitting watching the start of the 125cc/500cc race (in pouring rain) and I remember seeing Jeff Wards goggles get blown off in the first turn and he was back struggling in seventh place and Bob Hannah was stuck in the screw you (a section of the track) for like a bunch of laps. I looked over at the team and said, I need to win both races if we have a shot here. That feeling, even when I talk about it, I want to throw up. It was a feeling of what men are made of, and this is when you are scared, you go and fight. You know what, the Europeans were known as mud racers, and I was from California, where it doesn’t rain, and I beat them and we won the MXoN. Saw Jimmy Weinert (AMA legend) crying and Tony Distefano (another AMA legend) was there, and all these people, and the only one who was a dick was Bob Hannah (laughing). That was the one I will take to the grave with me. 

MXLarge: Was 1987 your best year? You won two motocross championships that year, and the MXoN.

Johnson: I think 1988 I was a better all-round rider I was in better shape. We won the 500 Outdoors and the supercross title and we were leading the 250 championship and my bike blew up. I was emotionally and mentally very strong in 1988.