Villopoto ties McGrath with latest titleBy JOHN MARSHALL , Associated Press
Aug. 23, 2013 1:49 PM ET
Ryan Villopoto polished off another championship by winning his seventh race of the season in Utah last week, giving him two AMA Motocross titles in the past three years.
The latest title runs his total to eight, tying him with Jeremy McGrath for second all-time behind Ricky Carmichael.
It also solidified his place among the best riders in the history of his sport.
"It may be time to carve out a new face on the Mount Rushmore of motocross," said Davey Coombs, vice president of the Lucas Oil Motocross Championships. "He's got a long way to go to catch Carmichael, but he's proven both indoors and outdoors, he is without a doubt the fastest man on the planet."
It's a hard point to argue because when Villopoto has been healthy, he's been almost uncatchable.
Since he won the 250cc class in 2006, the 25-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., has won a motocross title every full season he's competed.
Villopoto followed his initial 250 title with two more, but wasn't able to finish his first 450 season in 2009 due to a knee injury. A horrific wreck in St. Louis during the 2010 Supercross season left him with two broken bones in his right leg and wiped out his outdoor season.
After a grueling rehabilitation, Villopoto put together one of the best years in motocross history, sweeping the 2011 Supercross and outdoor titles, and capping it by winning motocross' first $1 million prize at the Monster Energy Cup.
Villopoto was dominant again in 2012, clinching the Supercross title with four races left, but tore his left ACL at his hometown track in Seattle and missed the outdoor season.
Just like his previous injuries, he came back strong as ever this year, winning 10 races to join McGrath, Carmichael and Bob Hannah as the only riders to win three straight Supercross titles.
He backed that up with another runaway during the outdoor season, winning his seventh race in Tooele, Utah, last week to clinch the title before this weekend's season finale at Lake Elsinore in Southern California.
The eighth title puts him in select company, tied with McGrath and seven behind Carmichael, considered the two greatest riders in the sport's history.
"It's a great accomplishment, but I'm sitting here at Elsinore and can only think about the next thing coming up," Villopoto said. "There's not really time to sit back and think about that. You're only as good as your last race in this sport."
Villopoto has been pretty good against the best riders in the world.
There were times during Carmichael and McGrath's careers when they weren't facing the toughest of competition, some of the fields filled out with part-time riders.
Villopoto has won at a time when racing teams have become major operations, grooming riders from young ages to be full-time professionals.
Motocross today is filled with talented riders, including Ryan Dungey, Chad Reed and James Stewart, who have all won multiple motocross titles, along with fast up-and-comers who have been riding since they started walking.
"Without a doubt, he's proven himself week after week to be the best rider and the other thing he has done is proven himself to be the smartest rider out there," Coombs said. "I say that because Ryan Villopoto has the same strategic mind that Carmichael had. If second is all the race is going to give you, then that's what you take. You don't win championships by winning all the races. You win championships by doing well on your bad days."
Villopoto still has a ways to go to catch Carmichael and may not have a chance.
Motocross is a brutal sport physically and mentally, and Villopoto has gone through his share of difficult injuries. He rode this season with foot pain and will have surgery after the outdoor season to stabilize it so he can be ready for the 2014 Supercross season.
Villopoto has no plans to retire just yet, but his contracts with Kawasaki and various sponsors end in 2015.
"We'll just have to see where we're at," Villopoto said. "With everything we go through in racing, all the travel and everything, it's definitely a grind."
But until the end comes, expect Villopoto to keep grinding out more wins.