Amy Donaldson: Pro motorcycle racer drew strength from his family's faith before he found his own confidence
Laura Seitz, Deseret News
TOOELE — Ryan Dungey might have looked like just another little boy whose hobby was riding dirt bikes to most people.
But to his family, he looked like a star who just hadn't found his moment to shine.
"Even at times when it didn't look like I had the speed or the talent, they believed in me," said Dungey, who will be in Tooele this weekend for the AMA Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at Miller Motorsports Park. "I definitely wasn't the fastest amateur, but they helped me believe in myself."
That faith paid off when at the age of 16 Dungey went pro and immediately proved he was more than a kid in love with motorcycles. At 23, the Minnesota native who now lives in Florida has won every title in the sport of motocross.
After winning two championships in 2009, he moved up to the 450 class and won the Supercross and Motocross championships in his rookie season. That’s a feat accomplished by just one other rider in the history of the sport. He’s continued to earn wins and take home titles, and hopes to give Motocross points leader Ryan Villipolot a run for his money this weekend in Tooele.
Dungey literally grew up on a dirt bike. His father rode, and it wasn't very difficult to convince his three sons to give the sport a try. Now 23, Dungey said his family is still heavily involved in his racing career.
"It's pretty neat, actually," he said. "After all of these years, my mom and dad still come to all the races."
One of his brothers works for the team Dungey races for, while the other supports him from the stands. He said his parents knew his childhood dream was to race motorcycles, and they found a way to support him, as did his grandparents.
"It is everything we've ever dreamed it would be," Dungey said of being a professional racer. "My parents knew very well what our dreams were. You see the guys on TV, and that was the goal my whole life. We didn't have a ton of money, and with three brothers racing, it was expensive. But it paid off in the end."
Dungey played all of the traditional sports — baseball, basketball and football — and while his friends excelled in those arenas, he prefered the challenges of a bike. It certainly set him apart from his friends.
"You felt like you had something," he said. "They were the popular kids, and for me this was my own little thing, me and the dirt bike. I get to make all of the decisions, and it's so cool to be in control of something with so much power."
Dungey was an average young racer, and most of the time was just happy to be on a motorcycle until he was a sophomore in high school.
"I was about 15 when things started to take a turn for the better," he said. That was the year he suffered the kind of loss many teenagers can't even comprehend.
"I had my grandmother, who fought cancer for a lot of years, pass away," he said. "And for me it was a wake-up call. I'd never experienced anything like that before. I thought, 'You gotta start living it, and not be so afraid.' I gave it may all. Something in my head just switched."
He's still involved in efforts to raise money for cancer research, including the Minnesota River-to-River Ride, which raised more than $10,000 last year for St. Jude's Hospital. He thinks of the opportunities he's had because he can ride a motorcycle, and he is overwhelmed with gratitude.
"I feel so fortunate," he said. "Especially looking back to where I was a kid. I felt like I got mentally defeated because I didn't think I was that good. Now I've won championships, I battle for the top positions, and we're always there to win races."
That will certainly be the case this weekend as he lines up against some of the sport's best riders — series leader and 2013 Supercross champion Ryan Villopoto, Chad Reed and James Stewart. The gates open Saturday at 7 a.m, while the pits are open to fans from 9 to noon. Villopoto could clinch his second championship this year with a victory, and it will be the second time he's wrapped up a title in Utah, as he did it in April with a win at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Dungey said he's going to try to stay relaxed, have fun and give the fans a good show.
"It gets harder and harder every year to win consistently," he said. "That's the beauty of it. That's the way it should be."
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