Brant James
Wednesday March 18th, 2009

The Greatest of All Time is utterly consumed by the bear trap of a lawn chair. Delana and Kevin Harvick, each sitting nearby and pampering some sort of lap dog, gesture toward the television tucked into the ribs of their motor coach.

The din of Nationwide Series practice has just begun to permeate every corner of the motor coach lot when Ricky Carmichael notices the visitor and springs to his feet with the agility of a guy who's wrangled motocross bikes around the world for what seems like a lifetime, winning a record 150 races, 15 American Motorcyclist Association titles (five in Supercross) and acquiring a nickname that still seems to embarrass him a bit.

Ricky Carmichael really doesn't need to be here wiling away the hours before he finally gets to slide back into a race car. He's earned millions in purses and sponsorships by reaching the pinnacle of his sport -- occasionally executing a bad-ass pose at the apex -- but at 29 he continues to seek satisfaction and amusement on two extra wheels. It's all the better he doesn't need it to pan out so the mortgage clears.

"It's nice to just come out and do it because you like to do it and at the same time not worrying about doing it to make money," he said. "Man, motocross was good to me and this is something I really enjoying doing. I take it as a personal challenge. It's fun."

Harvick, the 2007 Daytona 500 champion for Richard Childress Racing who owns Nationwide and truck series teams, has given Carmichael his second and latest chance. Interested in running a part-time truck team with himself, Ryan Newman and Ron Hornaday and taking turns at the wheel for the so-called KHI All-Stars, he liked what he saw of Carmichael in a Camping World East race for Ken Schrader's team at Loudon, N.H., last season. He made a call. That Carmichael's affiliation with a popular energy drink would eventually secure an extra sponsor for Carmichael's 14-plus-race portion of the schedule was simply a bonus.

"He gave me a call and said, 'Hey, this is what I got going on'," Carmichael recalled. "He told me his plans and here we are."

Interestingly, Carmichael said, Hornaday has been more of a teacher while Harvick "is pretty critical with me, he is hard on me, which I want him to be. ... I only have one shot at this and everyone keeps sugar-coating things, I am never going to get any better and the team isn't going to be any better."

Harvick seems most immediately enamored of Carmichael's work ethic, not his resume.

"Those championships and race wins and things came with all the hard work," he said.

Carmichael's first NASCAR bid became yet another part of the collateral damage when Ginn Racing cratered in 2007 and was eventually enveloped by Dale Earnhardt Inc. As a developmental driver, he was assigned then semi-retired Mark Martin as a tutor. Carmichael showed early promise but, along with Sterling Marlin, Joe Nemechek and Regan Smith, was left jobless when only Martin and Aric Almirola were hired by DEI.

"I'm just thankful for the position I'm in with all that happened with Ginn and that whole deal. I feel blessed to be where I'm at. I'm fine with that," he said. "I feel like this is my second chance. I just want to make the best of it."

Carmichael, driving the No. 4 (his motocross number) Chevrolet, crashed after just 48 laps and finished 24th in the season-opening truck race at Daytona International Speedway, but was eighth the following week at California Speedway. He was 21st in the third race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, a race that was added because of his early success, including qualifying. Carmichael finished 21st in the Daytona ARCA race.

Still amply conditioned by a part-time motocross schedule that is likely to include an appearance in the Summer X Games, Carmichael has found the most difficult aspect of his transition to four wheels to be mental.

"Mental concentration is so much more at this," he said. "Motocross is so physically demanding. The physical preparation is huge. (Motocross) you try to get the track dialed in and try to stay safe at the same time."

Ironically, an injury allowed Carmichael his first peek into a possible future. Recovering from a knee injury in 2004, he attended his first Daytona 500 and was intrigued watching old friend and former motocross racer Clint Bowyer compete in an ARCA race. He befriended Sprint Cup driver Kasey Kahne, whose business manager offered him a ride in a Late Model later that year. Carmichael retired from the motocross circuit full-time in 2007.

Carmichael's reception has been beyond cordial. NASCAR drivers, especially those like Jimmie Johnson and Nemechek, who grew up riding bikes, were borderline giddy when Carmichael set his gaze on stock-car racing, and his autograph-signings are routinely jammed at race tracks, underscoring his cross-regimen appeal. And he's not Michael Jordan flailing at baseballs. The skill set is different, but the task is neither impossible nor unprecedented.

John Surtees captured world championships on bikes and in cars, and Joe Leonard won titles as a motorcycle dirt-tracker and in open wheel machines. Two-time series champion Joe Weatherly began on two wheels, as did more recent NASCAR standouts Ricky Rudd, Nemechek, and Johnson.

Johnson said some of the greatest lessons he brought from motocross racing were "thinking in 3-D" and that "mistakes hurt."

Still, there's the matter of his wardrobe, more skater-casual than most of his would-be NASCAR peers, but Scott Speed proved this year that a little fashion kick in the pants can be refreshing.

And then there's the matter of that nickname: G.O.A.T, Greatest of All Time.

"My fans gave me that, and it's a little ... sometimes I think it's kind of cocky," Carmichael said, jamming hands into pockets. "I just like 'RC'. That's pretty much what everybody calls me in the motocross world."

But NASCAR already has one of those, Harvick's boss, a six-time championship owner with four decades invested in the series. Even Carmichael isn't going to trump that in the NASCAR world.

"Yeah, yeah, that's what I hear," he grinned, conceding the point. "I'm never going to outrank him. So I'm just Ricky."

And that's a good start.

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