Behind each of the professional Supercross racers we watch every week is a story. We’ve heard many of these stories from their mouths. After going to a local race and seeing a moto mom helping her daughter at the gate and working on the bike I had the idea for this feature. Mom’s play a huge role in our lives growing up, but we don’t normally think of them as playing a huge role in our racing. But they obviously do. Whether it’s emotional support, making food for the track, or going to the track and holding a stopwatch and putting fuel in the bike, moms play their role. For this first edition, I talked to a mom we’ve all heard about. Jeannie Carmichael played a daily role in helping Ricky Carmichael, become what we now call the G.O.A.T.
For the full interview, check out the Vital MX podcast right here. If you're interested in the condensed written version, scroll down just a bit further.
Jamie Guida – Vital MX: As the mother to the GOAT, I have a lot of questions, but first, what is your background? Where did you grow up? Were you raised in a competitive family?
Jeannie Carmichael: No, not at all, actually. I'm from Florida. I'm originally from the Clearwater area, and no, not in a competitive family at all.
Vital MX: So, not really a sports-based family. Did you grow up playing any sports or not really?
Jeannie: No, not really. You know, in school, just a little bit of girls softball for a short time like most of the younger girls do. But that was it. I was getting the schoolwork done and I met Big Rick when I was really young. Then that was it.
Vital MX: How did you discover motocross?
Jeannie: We had gotten Ricky a Peewee three-wheeler when he was five because Big Rick had a cousin with boys just a couple of years older than Ricky, and they had them. So, we bought that for him, ironically, for Valentine's Day (We recorded on February 14th) when he was five years old. Then we took him to Dade City because that was where everybody went. They had practice on Thursday nights and races on Saturday. Big Rick’s cousin and his boys were going so we just took Ricky over there. Then, you hear about other places after you're around the racetrack. But we didn't know about Loretta's and stuff like that. We didn't know about all that when we started out.
Vital MX: Once racing started taking off, did you notice it having an effect on Ricky? On his personality, his confidence, did it bring his personality out?
Jeannie: No, not really. When we first started Ricky was five and we were actually still doing a little bit of T-ball at that same time. We had told him, “You have to pick because if you're on a team, it's not fair to not be there every week”. So, he said he wanted to race his motorcycle, you know, but they're five. They're in kindergarten, and that was fine. But no, I never really saw anything different because he was racing, because he had a motorcycle. He was always kind of competitive no matter what he's doing.
Vital MX: How quickly did it become serious? A lot of times stereotypically, moms don't like their kids doing dangerous things. How did you deal with that?
Jeannie: I was really young and probably didn't know any better and probably wasn't the smartest mother out there to let them do that. But when you start them doing it, when they're that young and they're on Peewee's and little bitty two-wheel motorcycles and you go all the time like I did, it's not scary. You know what to expect, you know when they're in control. People would say when he turned pro, “Oh my gosh, he throws the whips and you're not scared of that”? No, because I was with him every day. I know that when he's doing that, he's actually having fun and he's in control.
Vital MX: At what point do you start going to the track regularly? Are you helping with the bike? Are you helping put the bike on the stand? All the normal things?
Jeannie: When we lived in Tarpon Springs, and we would only go to Dade City on Thursdays after school for Thursday night practice and then race on Saturday. Then when Ricky was just starting middle school, Big Rick's work brought him up here to Tallahassee. By that time, he was on a 60 and I worked at the school so that I would always be off at the same time as him. I was a teacher’s aide at the middle school. When he got out of school, he and I would go to a sand track here in Tallahassee. Big Rick was an electrician, so he would make sure the bike was ready. We had a little pickup truck. He'd load it up and we would go. I would take it like that to work. When he got out of school, then we would go and practice. I think the most I ever did was put gas in. We didn't worry about that. We went and we knew what we were going to do. There usually wasn't anybody else out there. Sometimes there was. Brian Swink was up here at the time and that went on through middle school. As he got a little bit older and went to High School, then I was a substitute at that point so again, I could get off work the same time he did. When he was out of school, I was out of work and kind of still just the same routine. But then we had a couple more people up here that would be riding when we went out there to practice. But no, I never put the bike up on the stand or did anything like that. We came with it. Big Rick maintenanced it every night after work, sent us off to school in the morning. We went to practice, brought it home. He maintenanced it for the next day.
Vital MX: Did you feel out of your element once you started helping with the stopwatch and technique and pushing your son to be better?
Jeannie: I can't say that I was even doing the stopwatch early on, when we lived in in the Largo and Clearwater area. We had come up here to Ronnie Lusk’s Riding Schools maybe four or five times. That's when he was on a 60 and 80. So, I would stand there, and I would watch Ronnie show him about the front brake and to keep your leg up in the turn. Whatever I saw Ronnie telling him, I would just tell him the same thing when we went back home when we went to Croom or wherever we were practicing. I didn't feel like I didn't know what I was doing because I was just doing what I saw Ronnie tell him to do. It just kind of worked. We raced locally all the time. By then we knew we had to be good on your insides because everybody can do the same thing on the outside and everybody's doing the same jumps. But you have to be good on the inside. I felt like I knew what I was talking about, I wasn't really intimidated by it, and it seemed to be working, so we just ran it.
Vital MX: Obviously, it worked out quite well. Do you feel being able to go to the track with your son all the time and having that bond helped build the relationship or was there tension at times that maybe you would have rather not had had things been different?
Jeannie: Yeah, there was tension. But I was never going to not go because I was scared that it might ruin a relationship like that. It might have entered his mind. It didn't ever enter mine. That was just what we did. We were so far into it at that point, and it was always just him and I, because Rick was always working. We had the same routine until, gosh, I think it was like, I don't even remember what year it was that Big Rick finally quit his electrical job to be his full-time mechanic. I mean, we used to fuss, but that's just kind of what you do. I'm probably strong willed and bullheaded, and he is, too. But at the end of the day, you know, you come home, and we all lived under the same roof. So, you come home, and you fix supper and make sure they did their homework and, you know, they're ready for school the next day. It's not fun all the time. But when you go to the races and you're winning, when you're 12 or 13 and you get the Team Green ride, it's pretty good then. You know that you've got to continue doing all the practice at home because that's what probably got you to that point. So, if you don't want to do it anymore, that's fine. We'll tell them at the end of the contract, but right now this is what they're giving you and we're going to give it 100%. I'm not leaving. I mean, you can do it right, we can be here till dark, or we can get it done at 5:00, but we're going to get it done.
Vital MX: That's spoken like a true mom. By 16, I believe he had 67 national amateur titles and you mentioned the Team Green support. With that comes pressures. I'm a dad. That seems like a lot for my kid at ten, 11, 12, 13 years old. Was that hard for you to watch him deal with that or were you able to help keep some of that pressure and expectations off of him?
Jeannie: Because Ricky, for the most part, was so dominant as an amateur rider, and even in the 125 class, before we got to Jeremy, because Jeremy was like the person that we looked up to. Ricky was very dominant until then. So, I don't feel like we struggled with, “Oh, I hope I'm going to do good here so I can keep my ride”. I don't want to say that we ever really dealt with that. If anything, we tried to keep a real close, we called it our circle of trust. We just didn't socialize with a lot of people at the races. We were there to get our job done. We practiced. He was confident for the most part when he got there. Like I said, most of the time, he was winning. So, you know, I don't think that we felt that tension like some of the other boys that maybe were not as dominant as Ricky was at the amateur level, if that makes sense.
Vital MX: You just mentioned something that actually spurred another question. Ricky trained alone a lot of the times, most of the time. Now with the training facilities such as Star Yamaha, and you've helped those guys out a little bit at the GOAT Farm. A lot of those kids are riding together. A lot of the riders that are competing every weekend together at the highest level also trained together. What are your thoughts on that? Do you see the benefits? Do you think it would have benefited Ricky in any way? I mean, obviously he was one of the most dominant riders of all time, so you didn't do anything wrong. But just what are your thoughts on how things are done now?
Jeannie: I think it's absolutely bizarre because the way we did it worked for us. I think the world of Jeremy and his mom and dad. They were good to us when Ricky was maybe 13 or 14 years old. Team Green had asked us to come out to California. It was around Easter time and Ann and Jack had us over to their house. I'll never forget that, because we had Easter eggs out there. Jeremy was our idol. For them to welcome us over there and have us over there for the weekend while we were in California, we were in awe of it. But we also were like, “Jeremy didn't ask us when Ricky was on a 125”. He wasn’t like, “Hey, why don't you come to California and ride with me”? You know what I mean? We didn't do this. We weren't doing the same thing with Bubba, you know, like, “Hey, why don't you come up to Tallahassee and ride with me”? We come from an era of, why would I show my competition my weakness? For us, that was working, not riding with a lot of people. Even when we had the Farm up here, there might be one or two people there off and on. They never stayed very long. We've had Ernesto (Fonseca), and Mike Brown, Clark Stiles, and Matt Walker. They might come for maybe a couple of weeks or so and then they'd go back home and that worked for us. But back in our day, Jeremy wasn't asking us. We weren't asking anybody else. We just didn't do that. It probably has a lot to do with their personalities. I would liken Ricky to almost Tomac in the fact that he is self-driven and can do his own thing without having to have somebody there to just have a good time and learn from. But it is a huge benefit. I see it all the time now with the Star boys, you know. They're all learning everywhere from the older ones. It does all of them good for a 250 guy to ride with a 450 guy and see what's working. But I think it depends on their personalities. If you've got the one that's just super dominant, you know, like Haiden (Deegan), he's learning from the other guys at the Farm. But he catches it so quick that it probably wouldn't matter if he had somebody to “learn from” or not. He just has it. I've told him before, he's like Ricky. It doesn't take him long. He adapts. He's got it and he's got that drive. But the other up and comers are for sure benefiting from it. Look at Levi (Kitchen). Look at all the rest of them. I believe they're benefiting from riding with JCoop and all of them.
Vital MX: When Ricky goes pro in ‘96, becomes Rookie of the Year, what are your thoughts when that shift changes from amateur to pros? A lot of things change on race day. There's a lot more expectations on race day. It’s different than racing the amateur nationals. Are you nervous? Are you excited?
Jeannie: You know, I think if I can recall that, we didn't have Jeremy in the Lites class, in the 125. For Ricky at 12 and 14 years old and 16 years old, that was the guy, “Oh my gosh, if I could ever beat Jeremy”. So, when you jump into the 125 class, you're kind of still amongst Kevin Windham, Ezra Lusk, guys that you've already run all of the Winter AM with and you've already run Ponca and Loretta's. I don't want to say that it wasn't that hard, but we were still looking at Jeremy as absolutely the best ever. When you have to get up and line up on the gate with him, you have to have your stuff together. Not that the Lites wasn't important to you and there weren't other good riders. But a lot of people look at someone differently. I think a lot look at Ricky, like, “Oh, if I could just beat him”. That's how we looked at Jeremy, because he was always a class ahead of us.
Vital MX: I want to talk about his personality a little bit as he went on in his career. He had so much drive and determination, which you've kind of touched on. Almost never being satisfied. Sometimes he would have what from the outside was a really great ride, but he would not be happy. He would be angry because he had so much motivation to win all the time. Was that hard for you as a mom to see that your son sometimes doesn't seem satisfied with really good results?
Jeannie: I don't think so because I feel like we were all on the same page. You know what I mean? I feel like if you didn't win the first moto in outdoors, we know you're going to win the next moto. You know, get your shit together. We’ve got this. Then it happens. I didn't feel like, “Oh, it's okay, sweetie. Don't worry about it. It's going to be better”. No, you never got that out of us because we're with him every day, and you know what he's capable of. His record shows that. So, sometimes crap just happens and no worries, we’ve got this, and you just move on.
Vital MX: As a whole, do you feel like Ricky enjoyed his career?
Jeannie: I think he enjoyed it more as he was older and was able to appreciate his accomplishments and where it's put him in life at 25 years old versus 18 years old. Because at 18 years old, if you're not winning at racing, you could be out here running around with your buddies, doing everything that the other guys are doing. They're hunting and drinking and just running around. But because he was successful at 16 and 18 and 20, it probably was a grind for him. I think it probably didn't register with him until he got ready to retire. That, “I'm glad I worked that hard because now I'm, whatever he was, 25 or 27 when he retired, I'm set for life”.
Vital MX: You mentioned, Jeremy McGrath a couple of times. McGrath changed the sport with the way he rode and his popularity. Ricky comes in and hires a trainer, Aldon Baker, and sort of changed the sport with how guys trained. Did you push him towards that or was that on his own doing?
Jeannie: If you go back to the 125 years, Ricky was very dominant. Then you've got to move up to the 250 class where Jeremy is, and Mike LaRocco. They’re men, those are full grown men that you've now got to line up with. We always had Johnny O’Mara from the very beginning. It was him that kind of pointed us a little bit towards Aldon. Ricky was already winning. We wanted to make sure that we have a little bit of an edge moving up to racing men like Jeremy and the likes of all of them. That's probably the reason that we looked at Aldon at that time, to make sure that the conditioning side of it, we weren't dropping the ball. Because not to be disrespectful to the them, but now we had Jeremy, who absolutely was the King of Supercross. Now you had to be physically ready for that next step.
Vita MX: Once he starts beating McGrath, who is the King, what does that feel like to you? Your son starts beating the guy that is the best. Do you have any idea that he's going to go on to win five Supercross championships and seven Pro Motocross championships and be one of the winningest riders of all time?
Jeannie: You talked earlier about the mom and the nurturing side. That's when it kicked in for me. When I was so happy for him, because it's something he had worked so hard for. That's all he wanted to do was to be able to beat Jeremy, not for any reason other than he was his idol and he was the best that there was. That's what he worked for. I've always been a big Jeremy fan. I'll never forget the first time that he beat him over there. I was so happy for Ricky that he had achieved what he had worked so hard for. Did I know he was going to go on to be able to continue that for all those other years? You kind of look back at your history and you don't stop doing what's working. So, you keep working really hard. I think what eventually catches you is then you get the younger ones, the ones that are coming up. Then it's just, you know, age, I think, starts to play a factor in it.
Vital MX: I'll be honest. Your son broke my heart a little bit when he started beating McGrath. I was not happy with Ricky.
Jeannie: Are you from Cali?
Vital MX: I was born in San Diego, but I live in Texas. I was actually living in Texas when Jeremy was pretty dominant, but l I was a Cali boy at heart.
Jeannie: Okay. You know what was hard for us? Super hard as a parent? When we would go to those California rounds and they introduced the riders out and Ricky would come out in the 250 class with Jeremy, and they would boo him horribly at Opening Ceremonies. Oh, my gosh. I just told Haiden this the other day because Haiden had a bad day somewhere. I'm like, “Don't worry about it. When we went to California, the entire stadium would boo Ricky when he came out”. He's like, “Why”? I said, “Because that's where Jeremy was. They all wanted their hometown guy to win”. As a parent, that was a hard one. I understand the dynamics of it, but as a parent, that was hard.
Vital MX: Dealing with the fans during that era, even now with social media being so prevalent, and Ricky in the TV booth, it's impossible to make people happy. I imagine that has to be very hard to sit back and not respond. I'm sure you see these comments and want to lash out.
Jeannie: I'm probably the only person that doesn't do social media. I don't do any social media. It's not just because I don't want to see it, you know? Trust me, all those years of getting booed out there has made me stronger. It doesn't bother me. I mean, Jeremy was always super respectful to Big Rick and me. He raced Ricky clean their entire career. To me, that's all that matters. I don't care about, and it's going to sound nasty, I call them hamburger flippers. You know, that's irrelevant.
Vital MX: With Ricky in the booth, when he first started out, it wasn't great, but he works just as hard at the TV stuff as he did racing. He takes it just as serious.
Jeannie: Yeah. At the end of the day, you can't worry about that. It's just like practice. You give it 110% and that's all you can do, just like at your job. You know, at my job, you just give it 110% and it is what it is. I don't pay any attention to anybody that talks crap.
Vital MX: What are a couple of your fondest memories? Those can be racing or not.
Jeannie: On the Peewee three-wheeler, that was called a Tri Zinger, they used to have the Great Pumpkin race at Dave City and they would have two people on that little bitty peewee three-wheeler. They would have a pumpkin in the middle of them – they had to ride around the track and not let the pumpkin fall off. That was pretty fun. The big one absolutely was... Correct me if I'm wrong, I think it was San Diego where Ricky first beat Jeremy. I think maybe he beat him at Daytona, but I think the first supercross was San Diego maybe (Irving, TX in 2000). That was huge, just because I knew how much it meant to him. The other ones probably going to be that first outdoor title because you just are like, "Oh my gosh, I did it." You know? You look back at it and we went to school, we moved to Tallahassee and we lived in our motorhome in a parking lot while Big Rick was working. It was just me and him all of the time. That is all we did and it was a lot of fun. You know, we just raced all the time. The Boyers are still real good friends of ours to this day. The racing people were our family. I saw Ezra [Lusk] not too long ago locally here and it is so good to see them. He came up, gave me a hug and he talked about old times. To me, that's what it's all about. I saw Jeremy two or three years ago in Atlanta in the elevator. Same thing. Big hug and, "How are you doing?" That makes it all worthwhile.
Vital MX: What are you proudest of with Ricky?
Jeannie: I'm proud of his work ethic – he knew what he had to do. It wasn't fun, but he didn't give up. It paid off. He can sit with his kids – they are almost sixteen years old – and he is such a good example for how you can't just jack around. You know what I mean? If you are going to do something, you have got to do it. You've got to do it right. You can't do it half ass. You know, you can't make excuses. You get out of it what you put into it. It wasn't fun for him all the time and I know that. He and I used to… I've peeled out of that parking lot over there at the cabin, and he's flicked me off and smiled at the same time. By the same token, I would never not watch him race. In his entire career, Big Rick missed two and I missed one. No matter how bad you did, I'm never going to walk away. I'm never going to walk away from you.
Vital MX: Beautiful. Last question. With the big rivalries that Ricky had, especially with James [Stewart] and Chad [Reed]... To see that they are doing podcasts together and in the booth together. They have been able to put the rivalry behind them as they have gotten older and they look back on the fond times now – they find that excitement and tell their stories. How does that make your heart feel?
Jeannie: I know it sounds corny. I saw Bubba – we saw him outside the TV booth just this past weekend in Tampa. Same deal. Big hugs and, "How is your mom and dad?" That's the first thing we asked him. I said, "I really want to see your brother." We just kind of laughed about that. I think it's great. They all have their own different styles of racing and Ricky had to be able to maneuver them to be able to come out on top when he could. Chad was just so good all the time and was never going to give up, but he was clean. You didn't have to worry about him – he didn't have to worry about Jeremy. Bubba was just so fast all the time. You just kind of had to watch him and if he had it, if he could do some of the stuff then you knew that you could. You knew he was going to be willing to go out there and jump it first. You had to be able to read them. It's really cool that Bubba came up here to Tallahassee, because we all are from that Dade City era. His mom and dad let him come up to Tallahassee – he probably wasn't even ten or twelve years old. Ricky had just started driving; he came up and he stayed with us for like three or four days. We took him around the block, and he had a jog, which was kind of new to him. We all grew up together with them, other than Chad. It's cool, but I think what keeps them friends now is they were all respectful to each other. You don't see that out there on the track now and that's really too bad because, like you said, there is a prime example of three of the top guys and they are all buddies ten years later.
Vital MX: I would have probably bet money there's no way that James and Chad would ever be buddies. They did have some moments where they weren't so clean, but they have put it all behind them and I like it.
Jeannie: Yeah, yeah, I agree with you on that. I think James probably rode Chad a little bit differently than he did Ricky. Yeah, I mean, they are all such good athletes in their own way and my hats off to all of them. When I look at how some of them ride today and when I look at those three boys, it's a difference between night and day. Those are three champions. I agree there is a lot to be learned from them. You don't have to be a butt to be out there and be it.
Vital MX: I think that's the quote that I'm going to use for the title of your article right there, "You don't have to be a butt to be it." I love it.
Jeannie: Well, I cleaned it up a little bit.