Dirt, Blood & Roots: Growing Motocross Star Ryan Dungey

The Chaska product has used curiosity, courage and charity to define a young and infinitely promising professional motocross career.
KTM motocross rider Ryan Dungey started honing his skills on a dirtbike when he was 5 and living in Chaska.

Before he became a 22-year-old motocross phenom, Ryan Dungey was a 5-year-old with enough curiosity and courage to hop on a dirt bike and zip through his grandfather’s 22-acre yard in Chaska.

He’d seen his dad, Troy, a former amateur rider, do it. His big brother, Jade, 7 at the time, was right there with him.

“That’s where we pretty much got started,” says Ryan of his grandpa’s yard. “[My dad] got us a dirt bike, and the rest was history. Every day, we couldn’t wait for him to get home from work so we could go riding. Pretty soon it turned into me and Jade each having a bike of our own. Then [my younger brother] Blake was born, and he got old enough to ride. Everything just took off so quick.”

The same could soon be said for Ryan’s career.

 

Family Matters

Ryan is used to being surrounded by two things: dirt and blood. Dirt bikes and family have always gone hand and hand. Some families go to Disney Land. Others go to the Black Hills. The Dungeys went to the race track.

“It’s an individual sport, but being that all three of my brothers did it, and then the races would be pretty much every single weekend, it became such a family thing,” Ryan explains. “We popped in the motorhome together and went racing. It was really cool. It brought us closer together.”

As an amateur rider with promising potential, Ryan’s 18-year-old brother, Blake, is following in the footsteps of his father, Jade and Ryan.

“He’s a talented kid,” Ryan says of Blake, the only Dungey brother still living in Minnesota. “He really has a lot of speed and he has a great opportunity to go pro.”

Ryan remembers when he decided he wanted to ride professionally. He was 8 and watching Jeremy McGrath, known as the “King of Supercross,” at an event in Minneapolis.  

“I was like, ‘for sure, without a doubt, this is what I want to do,’” Ryan says. “I saw that at a very young age and I’ve dreamt about it since I was so small to be a racer one day. So from that point until I was 16, my dad knew I wanted it, my mom knew it, my brothers loved it, they wanted to do it, so that’s what we shot for.”

A young Ryan Dungey (bottom, second from right) with his family, including brothers Jade (top middle) and Blake (bottom, second from left) and his grandma Barbara (bottom right), who died of cancer in 2005.

A young Ryan Dungey (bottom, second from right) with his family, including brothers Jade (top middle) and Blake (bottom, second from left) and his grandma Barbara (bottom right), who died of cancer in 2005.

 

Track Rat to Track King

Ryan, who moved from Chaska to Belle Plaine when he was 14, opted to withdraw from Chaska High School midway through ninth grade to take the homeschooling route in order to focus on his amateur riding, which required a lot of travel. He became a track rat, and one often found sniffing around the Suzuki truck, and more specifically, Suzuki team manager Roger DeCoster—well known as the most successful team manager in American motocross history. Full of the same curiosity and courage that led him to hop on a bike at the age of 5, Dungey asked questions—a key one in particular: “Can I have a ride?”

“He asked to be on the team, and I don’t think a lot of people did that back then—it was more like they came to you,” says Jade. “He was one of the first guys to go up and ask— and I think for him to just go up and do that really changed the game.”

When Ryan was old enough to turn pro at 16, DeCoster granted him his wish—a tryout ride as a Suzuki factory rider. Needless to say, the aced tryout ended up being a win-win for both parties and marked the beginning of a fruitful relationship. Dungey exploded onto the scene in 2009, winning both the Lites Supercross Championship and the 250 Motocross Championship. A year later, he became the second motocross rider in history to win the 450 Supercross Championship and the 450 Motocross Championship in his premiere class rookie season. He also led Team USA to victory in the Motocross Des Nations in two straight years in 2010-11.

Ryan and DeCoster have since left Suzuki only to reunite on the Red Bull/KTM Factory team in 2012. And like with so many other phases of his motocross career, Ryan is still surrounded by family. Jade, who was a mechanic on the KTM off-road team, moved to the motocross team when Ryan came over. He now helps build practice bikes for his younger bro.

“He’s incredible at working on bikes,” Ryan says of Jade.

“We get to see each other a lot more,” Jade says. “I think that’s pretty cool. Not a lot of brothers our age get to hang out and work together.”

Observing Ryan at practices, Jade’s seen firsthand what goes into his brother’s success.

“He’s special because he puts in the hard work,” Jade says. “A lot of guys are willing to ride, but not willing to log in the hard work behind the scenes. I think that’s what really sets him apart from everybody else. He has a drive and he really never wants to fail.” 

Ryan Dungey, Team KTM (photo by Hoppenworld.com/Red Bull Content Pool)

Giving Back to His Roots

Ryan rides for team KTM and his brother, but he rides in honor of another member of his family. His grandmother, Barbara Dungey, lost her battle with cancer in 2005.

It was a painful loss for Ryan and his family, but instead of letting it eat away at his hope, Ryan decided to use the family tragedy and his blossoming fame to provide hope to others battling cancer. 

Ryan came up with a cycling fundraiser, the MN Major River-to-River Ride, to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and help find a cure for kids with cancer. The July event was a hit, as about 300 cyclists showed up at the Bielenberg Center in Woodbury for two different races along the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers—a 100 kilometer (62-mile) “major” and a 25-mile “minor.”  

“Being there at the starting line when we had all the cyclist lined up, when I look back, I was pretty impressed,” says Ryan, who teamed up with Target and LIVESTRONG to host the event. “Not just because we had a good turnout, but more importantly, it was cool to see so many people helping and wanting to give back and be a part of something special.”

Gifts and awards were given to race winners and those who raised the most money—one rider, Ryan says, raised over $2,500. The ride was such a success, Ryan says, he plans to continue it in 2013 and hopefully make it an annual event.

Ryay Dungey mixes it up with fellow riders during his MN Major River-to-River ride in Woodbury July 15.

Ryay Dungey mixes it up with fellow riders during his MN Major River-to-River ride in Woodbury July 15 (Photo by Target).

Full Speed Ahead

Ryan has already won every title in the sport of motocross and is only the second rider from Minnesota to ever win a major AMA National Championship (the late Donny Schmidt was the first). That’s enough of an accomplishment for any young man to hang his hat on, but Dungey is poised to keep moving forward—fast. 

The night before the MN Major River-to-River, Dungey conquered the Spring Creek National in Millville in front of his family on a track he grew up on. The following week, he captured his sixth overall victory in a row at the eighth round of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship at Washougal MX Park. Heading into the ninth round August 11, Ryan held an 80-point lead in championship points.

“As of right now, as a racer his age, it’s really unheard of what he’s done so far,” Jade says. “He’s probably one of the three guys who is doing it. I think if he keeps doing what he’s doing now, he’s going to be that guy—and all the people are going to want to take his records because he’s going to have all of them.”

Ryan, who moved to California when he was 16 and has lived in Florida since 2007, is happy and focused on his motocross career for the time being, but he knows there will come a time when he’ll have to move on from such a physically wearing sport.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time and see how things go, and hopefully I’ll have a solid motocross career and then I’d love to settle down in Minnesota for sure—it’s one of my favorite places to be,” he says.

Regardless of where he ends up and where his career takes him, Dungey wants to use his courage and curiosity to continue down his path of charity work.

“I enjoy helping out and I want to give back,” Dungey says. “Right now, motocross is my sport, my job and that’s what I love doing. But from here and many years on, I’d love to continue my charity work with MN Major and being a global envoy for LIVESTRONG. It’s a big area to cover, but hopefully each year it can grow into something and play more of a role in helping the Cancer Society.”

If his charity rides the same path of growth that Dungey himself has, cancer doesn’t have a chance.

 

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Read our first story about Dungey and the MN Major River-to-River Ride. Check out the results and keep up with the ride on Facebook and Twitter.

Ryan Dungey at the MN Major River-to-River Ride July 15 in Woodbury (photo by Target).