Motocross legend cautions that jump to NASCAR can't be rushed
It would be NASCAR's dream race in many ways: Ricky Carmichael, Travis Pastrana, James Stewart on the grid of the Daytona 500, legions of 18-to-39-somethings huddled around televisions and smart devices, breathlessly watching this triumvirate of motocracy as it prepared to compete in Sprint Cup's premier event. Oh, the brand new merchandise they would be wearing. Oh, the loyalty for their new sport of choice bursting from their young and impressionable hearts as they follow their motocross/supercross/action sports heroes loyally to their new vocation.
It might happen, Carmichael said. But it won't happen anytime soon. And he says that with the best perspective of any of his fellow two-wheel legends (Pastrana has a background in rally and some developmental series experience). Four years into his NASCAR career, the 31-year-old motocross legend says that the conversion to stock cars is incredibly difficult, too difficult to be rushed if success is the ultimate goal. With Pastrana's NASCAR debut now delayed until next season after breaking his foot and ankle in an X Games "Best Trick" crash in July, and Stewart even further away with unfinished supercross and motocross business (he says he wants to race bikes for at least the next three seasons) after signing with Joe Gibbs Racing's motocross team this week, this story, Carmichael said, will have to wait even longer because of the "steeping learning curve."
"It would be cool to race him [Stewart] and Travis and all those guys," Carmichael said in a phone interview. "It's definitely a cool story. Not too many people can say they've raced in two completely different sports together. As cool as it would be, I think it would be a long way down the road. I have three years under my belt and it takes a long time."
Elementally, Carmichael said, conforming a motorcycle to the driver's will is easier than the same task with a stock car. And it doesn't matter the quality of the will or the talent.
"Man vs. machine, it's probably 70-percent-to-80-percent man, 20 percent machine in motocross and that's backwards in car racing," said Carmichael, who has a record 15 championships and 150 wins combined in motocross and supercross. "Obviously, these guys are very skilled, they're the best at what they do in stock car racing, but it's hard to make lemonade out of lemons in car racing.
"There's so many more things you can do on a motorcycle to manipulate the motorcycle. It's two less wheels to worry about, less moving parts to worry about. You can manhandle the machine more. Car racing, there is just a lot more things happening underneath the hood and how things work and people setting the car up. These motorcycles, a lot of them, you can hop on and win on, which in car racing -- it's not really like that. It's about how it's set up and how good your equipment is."
And even if a driver is willing to log the hours to learn such a skill, Carmichael said, NASCAR's testing limitations prevent them from doing so.
"It's so much different than motocross because he's not going to be able to go out there and outwork everyone, as maybe his strategy was in motocross and supercross," Carmichael said. "That's what my strategy was. That was no secret. That was how we won, outworked everybody. It's tough, so you have to find ways to be better, better yourself other than testing."
Carmichael, who said he is friendly with his fellow Floridian but hadn't discussed NASCAR with Stewart, said the 25-year-old would be wise to concentrate on one regimen at a time, especially if his stated goal is to surpass Jeremy McGrath's all-time supercross wins record of 72. Stewart is currently third all-time with 42 (Carmichael is second with 48) after consecutive injury-marred seasons. Stewart, however, seems eager to dabble, immediately.
"I look at the future, and I think car racing is the future, sure," Stewart said. "But I have a lot of things I want to accomplish on the motorcycle, and the first thing I want to do is win a championship for these guys. ... I'm going to get my feet wet with that [car racing]; in fact, in a few weeks, I'm going to test one out. But for now my main focus is to win a championship on this motorcycle."
Carmichael, who expects to return to Turner Motorsports in the Truck Series and run selected Nationwide events next year, said he had a "three-year plan" when he signed with the now-defunct Ginn Racing in 2006 as he prepared to transition from arguably the greatest motocross career in the sport's history to NASCAR. Carmichael said he thinks "NASCAR would be pumped if I was in there, either Nationwide or Sprint Cup. I think they'd be happier than me racing in Truck, for sure," but added that he doesn't want "to commit career suicide by moving too early. The people I lean on say do not move up too early."
He has 18 starts in the developmental K&N East Series, seven in ARCA, 65 in the Truck Series and seven in Nationwide since 2008. Carmichael was fourth in the ARCA-opener at Daytona this season and fourth in the Trucks race at Talladega last week, tying a career-best. JGR appears to have Carmichael on an expedited schedule -- he is scheduled to test a Lade Model within the next few weeks and hopes to make spot starts in the K&N and Nationwide Series in 2012 -- which Carmichael finds unwise.
"For someone like me or Travis, and James, we don't know what is really going to happen," Carmichael said. "I do know this: Yeah, we want to be in Sprint Cup. It would be great if I could make it there. That's what I want to do and I won't be happy until I get there. It takes time to do it right. The worst thing you can do is rush into this and think you're going to set the world on fire.
"Everyone wants to rush into the Nationwide Series. It's the first thing they want to do. I totally disagree with it. I think you need to do some Late Model racing or East Series and then to Truck and then move on up. I really do. Basically, everyone racing in the Nationwide Series was awesome in truck. Hell, everybody in Cup Series has won a bunch of races in the Nationwide Series. There's a reason they race on Sunday."