Retiring at 27 years old is difficult to imagine, but Ryan Dungey says his timing was spot-on. The former Red Bull KTM rider left the sport at the top of his game, capping a spectacular 11-year professional career with his fourth AMA Supercross title.
Reality for professional athletes is career longevity isn’t on par with that of the “real” world, especially in a sport as fast and furious as supercross. Ricky Carmichael and Valentino Rossi, for example, are the same age, but Carmichael retired a decade ago and Rossi is still racing.
“You can go back and forth about that all day,” Dungey said. “You want to get 15 years, you want to get 20 years. I got 11. Ricky got 10. But I’d rather have a short career at the maximum level consistently trying to get top results. I’d rather live it like that.”
Racing wasn’t about collecting a paycheck. “That’s not me,” Dungey said. “As soon as it came down to the money—and I knew that because the only reason I was going racing was because the dollars looked good—that’s a good indication it’s not for the right reasons.”
Dungey is the first to admit he misses the on-track action. “I miss it a lot. I miss everything about it but the risk factor; things are happening quick out there.” Now standing on the sidelines under the bright lights smiling in front of a TV camera is close enough.
“I knew what it took, that mental strength and blocking out the noise,” he said. “That wears on a guy. Sooner or later you get tired of always trying to keep things in check. You just get to that point where you are kind of exhausted.”
As Dungey stepped away, others have stepped up. Marvin Musquin, Ken Roczen, and Jason Anderson all talk about riding smart and keeping their eyes on a title run. Dungey has some advice for the next generation.
“It’s easy to get lost in the championship mentality because everybody’s talking about it. You don’t win the championship by thinking of the 17th race at the first round. You get there by racing this race. You take it one day at a time, and you give it your best.”
Dungey knows this sounds easier than it is. “It’s a lot of pressure because there’s a lot of money involved,” he said. “The riders feel that. You can have, ‘I’m going to execute, and it might result in a championship,’ but you have to be okay if it doesn’t too.”
The younger guys are figuring this out, Dungey says. “It’s another year of more experience. They know these last few years they’ve had two or three bad races they can’t afford. So if a bad race was a 15th, now let’s make a bad race a fifth. Limit the damage.”