NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, Supercross champ Ryan Dungey share a strong bond and a love of dirt bikes
HAMPTON, Ga. – Wearing a Red Bull-branded fleece and a pair of red and white Target gloves, a racing superstar inconspicuously wandered the garage Friday afternoon at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Ryan Dungey, a multitime champion in Supercross and motocross, was a guest of six-time Sprint Cup series champion Jimmie Johnson, watching practice and qualifying in NASCAR’s premier series.
Dungey and the Supercross series will return the favor Saturday night as a delegation of roughly 20 NASCAR drivers and their entourages were scheduled to attend the Monster Energy AMA Supercross event at the Georgia Dome, the ninth round in a 16-race schedule.
“I think (Supercross promoter) Feld (Entertainment) has their hands full with tickets and VIP stuff for NASCAR, but they’ve got a whole suite blocked off,” Dungey told NASCAR Talk. “It’s cool it falls on the same weekend so they can check out our sport, and we can check out theirs. It’s always conflicting.”
Johnson, whose racing career began on dirt bikes before moving to four wheels, still has been a Supercross attendee during the NASCAR season, flying to events at Daytona International Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
He raced motocross until he was 14 and still maintains many friendships in the sport with current riders such as Dungey, Chad Reed and Justin Brayton and managers Rick Johnson (who was instrumental in fostering Jimmie Johnson’s love of racing), Jeff Ward and Johnny O’Mara.
“I grew up on two wheels and just love that sport,” Jimmie Johnson told NASCAR Talk. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on the line for the gate dropping, but there’s an old saying in motocross, ‘It’s not if you fall, it’s when.’ I got so busted up when I was little, I firmly believe in that saying.”
Johnson, 39, did keep a bike around the house for occasionally riding a decade ago until NASCAR team owner Rick Hendrick spotted it.
“Mr. Hendrick stopped by my house and saw the bike in the garage and didn’t say anything on the way in, so I thought I got away with it,” Johnson said with a laugh. “On the way out, he asked whose bike it was. I said, ‘A friend’s.’ He looked at me with a very interesting expression, ‘Your friend parks his bike in your garage? Get rid of it.’ ”
Johnson hoped to bring his 4-year-old daughter, Genevieve, who has begun watching Saturday night Supercross with her dad, to the Georgia Dome.
“Pretty much the whole (NASCAR) garage is going,” he said.
That includes Ganassi drivers Jamie McMurray and Kyle Larson, who shares a sponsor (Target) with Dungey, 25. The pair spent some of Friday hanging out at Atlanta with Dungey’s wife, Lindsay, and his father, Troy.
Dungey’s friendship with Johnson began a few years ago after realizing the Hendrick Motorsports driver was following him on Twitter.
“The first time I talked to him was through Twitter,” said Dungey, who also is a fitness nut. “I was like, dude, man, I couldn’t believe he followed me, actually. We were able to share our contact (information), and we’ve just been checking in with one another since. We don’t get to see each other much, but I really look up to the guy and what he’s done with his career and how driven he still is to this day.
“With all of his down time, he’s into cycling, triathlons, swimming, and with his foundation. I just really appreciate the driver he is and the athlete he is. It’s inspiring for me.”
Dungey, who leads the 450 class points standings with his KTM factory team and finished second at Atlanta last week, has tested a Late Model at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway but has no plans to race cars.
“I’m just trying it out,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. Motocross is my thing. That’s what I’m sticking to. It’s cool I got to experience it and see their world for a day a little bit. But I’m not ready at the speeds they’re going.
“You can’t lose focus on your sport. I’ve got to remember what a great position I’ve been put in with motocross. To be able to come here and see this, it adds to that motivation and inspiration of what I do to be better and better.”