Ryan Villopoto’s retirement has been the biggest news of 2015 in motocross.
After disappointing results against the Euros, RV2 dropped the nuke on our little moto community that he’s hanging up his Tech 10s. Much has been said about his accomplishments, but here are a few of my selfish reasons why RV is quitting prematurely.
Reason 1: Unfinished business
My God, if there’s one thing Americans hate it’s losing to the Europeans at a two-wheeled dirt race. RV went to the Grand Prix circuit to fight for an open-class title and dammit there’s a strong dose of star-spangled pride that still flows through our veins. He was our defending champion, the one man who could finally squash the ridiculous notion that Americans aren’t the best motocross racers in the world. He picked up a win in Thailand, but that’s because GP riders don’t even have a word for “heat” in their languages, much less the ability to race in it. He went to the GPs to “accomplish something no one else has achieved,” but RV’s Euro trip literally stumbled out of the gate at Qatar and nobody can feel satisfied with the way it played out.
Reason 2: Redhead dynasty
There has been a succession of fiery-headed roost-throwers who have basically ruled the coop across decades of AMA Pro Motocross. Jeff Ward was an early icon of short, redheaded racers. Wardy wrapped up one of the sport’s longest careers in 1992, the same year that Tim Ferry waltzed onto the scene. Red Dog had a six-year run, culminating in a regional 125 SX title in 1997 when Ricky Carmichael jumped into the pool. Once that firecracker got lit, it was all over for anyone in the 125 class until RV came along at just the right time to pick up the ginger baton. The torch on Ryan’s head burned brightly through the transition to the big bikes, but now I fear motocross has lost its guiding light. He took his many crowns and plunder across the waters like a fair-skinned, bearded Viking. Who stands in waiting, the fragile bones and joints of Trey Canard or Adam Cianciarulo? Eh…
Reason 3: Chasing the record books
Villopoto has been vocal about his disinterest in record book stats, and clearly he wasn’t bullshitting. He is fourth on the all-time win list , only behind Ricky Carmichael, Jeremy McGrath and James Stewart. He won’t top 72 SX wins by The King of Supercross, McGrath. Nor will he touch the 102 outdoor victories by The Greatest of All Time, Carmichael, and his chances of pulling off a perfect season, like Bubba, are increasingly low, but… There are some ways he could top these giants in several key categories. At a 17-race disadvantage, catching McGrath for third on the overall wins list might be the longest odds among the attainable goals. But with 41 SX victories, he could definitely catch Carmichael (48) and Stewart (50) in that category. His stranglehold on the 450 SX title lasted four consecutive seasons. That mark is shared only by the King whose number plate he stole, and RV could have made a run at a record fifth consecutive title in 2015. The Washington native has enough time on his side to do further damage if he could be troubled for just one additional year.
Reason 4: No exit strategy
Villopoto’s podium and interview rhetoric about the drudgery of his job is well known. The question was when, not if. His trip to the FIM series had the makings of a nifty exit. American fans could hang our hats on a world title, European fans would appreciate the novelty of it all, Monster and Kawasaki would get their money’s worth — win, win, win. Nope. McGrath’s season-long farewell tour was cool. Carmichael executed the best retirement plan — a truncated race schedule where he led the championship through mid-season before walking away from another title and piles of dollars. That’s a boss move. RV could have done the same in 2016, and how badass would that have been for everyone not named Stewart?
Reason 5: Social responsibility
OK, fine… RV2 has done enough, but you can’t end on a goon move, right? YouTube fail compilations have nothing on his Trentino loop out. RV busts his ass on and off the track, but watching him go out by literally breaking his ass cannot make anyone happy. I’m not saying I could hold onto a factory Kawi 450, but come on… There’s a social responsibility as an American ambassador to fully redeem himself. Remember what he did to the world’s best in 2007 on a 250F at the Motocross of Nations? A man like that doesn’t go out with a sore tush.
OK, I’ll admit that all of these reasons to stick around serve only the fans, not the man himself. ‘Poto has earned all the money and fame this sport can offer. He won a million bucks for one race. WTF is left to do? Maybe his retirement lacked the panache we expected or came earlier than desired, but the fact is he was an excellent racer, and his loyalty to the Kawasaki brand/team is a rarity in today’s racing environment.
What it all boils down to is that we’re just plain sad to see him go. Thanks for everything, Mr. Villopoto.