If you look across all sports, there are a lot of special athlete and team relationships that define a specific competitor’s career as much as their individual success. In major sports there’s Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and Derek Jeter and the New York Yankees, just to name a few. In motorsports there are examples like Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports, Scott Dixon and Chip Ganassi Racing, and Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes. In our world of motocross, perhaps no partnership is more legendary than that of Jeremy McGrath and Honda.
I was fortunate to have one of these incredibly impactful relationships as well during my career, and I am grateful to say that it still exists to this day.
When I signed with KTM prior to the start of the 2012 season it was not a brand with which people carried much expectation. They had some success in the 125cc class, collecting about 20 wins in supercross and motocross, but with a history that dates back to 1976 they had never won a single race in the premier division despite hundreds of attempts. Over the course of six seasons, from 2012 to 2017, together we turned KTM into a powerhouse brand with an array of race wins and five championships.
My partnership with KTM became the defining relationship of my career and our connection remains as strong as ever, now with even more purpose. Here are 5 reasons why KTM has had such a huge impact on my career, both on and off the track.
1. A Commitment to Succeed:
When KTM approached me to be a part of their journey it was with a renewed commitment to succeed. They had a competitive program, as evidenced by years of contending in the smaller displacement, but realized they needed more if they were to break through with 450cc success. With president Jon Erik Burleson leading the way, they were willing to pull out all the stops, make the necessary investments, and do whatever it took to become a winning brand. However, what I found even more appealing was that it didn’t stop at just racing. They wanted to be elite in every category and foster a new generation for the brand built on success. I had an opportunity to become a cornerstone of that evolution and was excited to become a part of it.
2. Roger DeCoster & Ian Harrison:
If they were going to be successful, KTM knew they had to start by getting the best in the business to oversee their racing efforts, so they hired Roger DeCoster and Ian Harrison the season before my arrival. Roger and Ian were integral in helping Suzuki’s ascension to the top with Ricky Carmichael, and Roger was the one who made my racing dreams a reality by signing me to a developmental contract. Roger, Ian and I had already achieved a lot of success together and I knew they had the kind of leadership necessary to get KTM headed in the right direction. With the right people in place, with a proven track record, there was no doubt in my mind that KTM was going to make the kind of progress they desired.
3. A Cohesive Effort:
On paper, KTM had everything they needed to finally win in the premier class. However, in order for that to translate into success on the racetrack everyone had to buy into the new culture and commitment. From the moment I first swung my leg over the bike I could feel that cohesive energy. Everyone was equally motivated to turn the fortunes of the brand around and it permeated through every facet of the organization. We hit the ground running and were competitive from the moment of our first gate drop together. That kind of preparedness and strong foundation to build from doesn’t happen without a top-to-bottom commitment to the goal. We emerged triumphant in just our second race together and used that as fuel to continually get better.
4. Never Settling:
It wasn’t easy getting to where we all knew KTM could go. While our success in motocross came quickly, it took four long, hard years to finally win that elusive supercross title. Throughout that time the brand’s resiliency was put to the test and we continued to persevere through any adversity. No one gave up. We all kept our eye on the prize, knowing that one day it would pay off. Once we finally took home KTM’s first supercross title in 2015, the remainder of my career was a testament to everyone’s desire to never settle. The wins and championships were great, but our goals were bigger than that. We set out to make KTM a marquee brand. We wanted to be the best manufacturer in motorcycling and create change within the industry. Given the elite status that KTM enjoys today, I’d say we were successful in doing so.
5. A More Meaningful Partnership:
Since I hung up my helmet in 2017, my relationship with KTM has endured. What I’ve learned over the past few years is that the value they hold in our relationship extends beyond the track. I’ve always known this, but I am humbled by how deep their loyalty has extended. Even for the brief period in which we went our separate ways, we always maintained the utmost respect for one another. That mutual admiration allows us to overcome anything, as evidenced many times throughout my racing career, and is the reason why our bond has grown deeper through their commitment to help mebetter the lives of others through the Ryan Dungey Foundation. Now, we’re working together for the greater good and for the betterment of the industry. It’s an exciting new chapter in our relationship and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish next.