- Mark Ashenfelter, NASCAR
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For Ricky Carmichael, it's just like starting over. And, arguably, the greatest motocross racer of all time couldn't be happier.
"I need to get behind the wheel. I lack a lot of seat time. These guys told me they can teach me. One thing I have is that racing mentality and hopefully I can put it to work."
-- Ricky Carmichael
Instead of preparing to compete on two wheels full-time next season, Carmichael is turning laps on paved ovals in Florida, learning what it's like to drive something with fenders and four wheels. It's not going to be an easy transition, but the good news for Carmichael is that Ginn Racing is going to give him plenty of time to learn.
In 2007, Carmichael's schedule will consist of approximately 15 events, be they Late Model stock car races or ARCA events and, if all goes well, possibly his NASCAR debut in the Craftsman Truck Series. In addition, he'll compete in at least 15 races on his bike.
Now 27, Carmichael decided the time was right to make the transition. A 15-time American Motorcyclist Association national champion with 144 wins in Supercross and motocross competition, he's nowhere near ready to quit racing.
It was, however, time for a change.
"I was born to race," Carmichael said. "It is a great opportunity that I have gotten through people that I know through what I have accomplished in motorcycles. I am really looking forward to it."
His motorcycling legacy secure, Carmichael now turns to stock cars with Mark Martin in his corner. Martin has been with the team on several occasions and has been able to offer advice.
That will likely continue over time, but until he starts making his mark in this new endeavor, Carmichael will still have people wondering why he decided to make the move now.
"I have had a great career and accomplished so much but when it is your time, it is your time," he said. "I feel like I have done enough in that industry, I don't need to prove anything. I am very happy and excited about having a new challenge."
Needless to say, he's also excited to have Martin in his corner. It was announced that Martin was joining what until the end of the 2006 season was known as MB2 Motorsports in early October, shortly before Carmichael's hiring was announced.
"It is going to be a huge advantage. I can't believe it. It was icing on the cake when I heard he was coming," Carmichael said. "I had actually already signed my deal and they said he was coming in. It just made my decision that much better."
Jay Frye, Ginn Racing's CEO and GM, doesn't try to hide his opinion of Carmichael's accomplishments to this stage of his career.
"Ricky is, in our opinion, the Michael Jordan of motocross, one of the most determined riders ever, he's a winner," Frye said. "He's going to be a huge, huge part of [the team's] future going forward. We're very excited about our process from our current Nextel Cup drivers going forward into next year to the development program we're developing that will bear fruit over the next couple years."
In addition to Martin, who will split time in the No. 01 Chevrolet with Regan Smith, Ginn Racing will also field Cup cars for veterans Sterling Marlin and Joe Nemechek, in addition to working with Kraig Kinser and Jesus Hernandez as part of the development program.
Carmichael is by far the biggest "project" due to his lack of stock car experience.
"You know, car racing is totally different than motocross, obviously. The car has so much to do with it," he said. "But I think one thing that I do have and that I've learned is I have a lot of patience. I think that could be something good, a good character, a good trait that I could bring over. Even though I am used to winning, I have a lot of patience. I just have to basically let it come to me. Do my best and just let it come to me."
Frye said he thinks Carmichael's determination is what will allow him to slowly make the transition. The plan is for the driver to run 25 stock car events in 2008 and then hopefully a full season at some level in '09, the final season of his contract.
"One of the things that we've discovered or knew about Ricky starting this process off was his work ethic. I mean, he's a champion," Frye said. "He has nothing to prove, but yet he's out there every day practicing, he's out there every day trying to get better, he's out there every day testing [his motorcycle]. What he did yesterday is not good enough for what he's going to do today. So that work ethic, just his natural ability that he has, his winning attitude. He definitely has the ability to do this."
Carmichael said the goal isn't to bring too many of his motorcycle skills to NASCAR. He's put his neck on the line plenty and welcomes the chance to compete in something a little less risky.
Now comes the hard part learning just what it's going to take to succeed in a stock car.
"I need to get behind the wheel. I lack a lot of seat time," Carmichael said. "These guys told me they can teach me. One thing I have is that racing mentality, and hopefully I can put it to work. I have a great opportunity. I am just going to try and make the best of it."
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at NASCAR Scene magazine, which has a Web site at www.scenedaily.com.
5dBob Pockrass and John Oreovicz