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Crossing over

Motocross champ Carmichael eyes move to NASCAR

Posted: Thursday March 9, 2006 1:43PM; Updated: Thursday March 9, 2006 1:43PM
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Ricky Carmichael has won four AMA 250cc Supercross and six 250xx Motorcross titles.
Ricky Carmichael has won four AMA 250cc Supercross and six 250xx Motorcross titles.

Ricky Carmichael is arguably the greatest motocross racer of all time. But he may trade in his two-wheel ride for NASCAR's four-wheel variety, perhaps as soon as 2008.

He has a friend, mentor and supporter in Kasey Kahne, who spent last Saturday -- on a rare weekend off from Nextel Cup -- hanging out with Carmichael at the AMA Supercross at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. Kahne and Carmichael are the same age (26) and share the same passion for racing, having met at the Daytona 500 in 2004 and immediately becoming friends.

That friendship has helped increase Carmichael's interest in four-wheel racing. Kahne offered to set up a taste of driving a stock car last summer and Carmichael accepted. They went to the one-third mile, semi-banked Hickory Speedway in North Carolina, a classic short track where many NASCAR drivers have run before they hit the big time. Ray Evernham, Kahne's Cup team owner, provided a late model and went along to oversee the preparation. Kahne drove to set it up.

"We wanted to see what feel he had for the car," Kahne said. "When a driver doesn't have any laps, Hickory is a great place to go."

Carmichael not only didn't hit the wall, but also put in some good laps for a guy driving a stock car for the first time. "Ricky did a great job," Kahne said. "He did it right. We had a lot of fun."

The experience convinced Carmichael that driving in NASCAR is something he intends to pursue.

"It's a dream of mine, for sure," he said.

For now, Carmichael is the biggest star in a sport in which bodies wear out early. The motocross season runs year-round, from the stadiums of Supercross in the winter and spring to the outdoor nationals in summer and fall. The pounding on the bones and joints is relentless. Carmichael has fractured hands and wrists and missed the 2004 Supercross season after having knee surgery. "I'm 26 and I feel like I'm 36," he said.

For a rider of Carmichael's talent, there are rich rewards. He has won six 250cc outdoor national championships and four in Supercross. Suzuki, according to industry sources, pays him $4.75 million per year in salary and offers $1 million bonuses for championships. Including endorsements, Carmichael's estimated income for last year was $8 million-$10 million.

"What he's done and what he does, nobody else has," said Kahne, who arrived at Saturday's motocross event at noon and was still there at 11 p.m., waiting for the victorious Carmichael to complete his interviews in the media conference. "He's pretty awesome and amazing to watch."

Carmichael has one more year on his contract and hinted Saturday that it might be his last. "I love motocross, but I'm not going to be around here that much longer," he said.

He wouldn't be the first to transition successfully from bikes to cars. John Surtees was world champion in motorcycle road racing and Formula 1. Jeff Ward was the 1980s version of Carmichael, winning seven national motocross and Supercross championships. In 1997, he won an IRL IndyCar race and at the Indy 500 that year, he took third. Two years later, he finished second at Indy. Eddie Lawson was a world road racing champion, won a race in CART's primary development series of Indy Lights and spent a season in Champ Cars.

Kahne doesn't see any reason Carmichael and others on two wheels can't make it in cars if they're willing to invest the time.

"Those guys are very talented," Kahne said. "You can watch them and see how talented they are. Anybody that talented and likes going fast and doesn't have a problem racing close and jumping on top of each other just about, wouldn't have a problem with any other type of racing.

"They just have to do it enough and get the experience you need," he added. "Someone like Ricky Carmichael, with his desire and focus, he could probably do anything he wants. If he wanted to race NASCAR and he put in the time and effort, I don't see why he couldn't."