It’s no secret that transitioning to stock cars is an immensely challenging prospect for drivers in other forms of motorsports. The number of dirt racing standouts that have never managed to make it in NASCAR and the overall failure of the vaunted “open-wheel invasion” are just recent examples of the driver graveyard that attempted transfers to stock car racing has left behind.
For Ricky Carmichael, that challenge was even more pronounced. After deciding to go the stock car route in 2007, he wasn’t just transitioning from one type of racecar to another; he was transitioning from two wheels to four.
But a racer doesn’t earn the moniker “Greatest of All Time” just to become another skeleton littering the side of the road to NASCAR success. The same talent that led to a record 15 AMA championships is instead showing on the ovals of NASCAR; Carmichael followed up a sixth-place run at Atlanta by finishing 10th at Martinsville on Saturday, the first time in his brief career that he’s posted consecutive top-10 finishes.
What’s more, in talking to the ever-confident Carmichael, it doesn’t even seem that the transition in equipment is what stands out to him most about the move to NASCAR. Rather, it’s been the culture around him of the veteran racers that make up the Camping World Truck Series.
“The amount of respect these guys have is second to none,” says Carmichael of the Truck garage. “Honestly I can’t believe it.”
“[It’s] a lot different from motocross. The level of respect in motocross isn’t really there. It’s cool to come and make it seems a lot of friends in the garage.”
Carmichael certainly has made a lot of friends in the garage during his time. When Kevin Harvick, who fielded Carmichael’s first truck in 2009, realized he couldn’t give his driver a full-time ride for 2010, he played an instrumental role in finding an opportunity for him to run the entire Truck slate. And not only did Harvick help facilitate Carmichael’s move to Turner Motorsports, his KHI operation has also been providing technical help to the team, including hanging the team’s bodies. That support is no small part of why Turner Motorsports has been running up front all season despite being a first-year Truck operation.
“I’m in contact all the time with him,” says Carmichael of his former teammate. “I talk to him at least once a week I would say, and once we’re at the races I talk to him quite a bit. I lean on him a lot and also Ron Hornaday. He was my teammate last year and pretty much still is my teammate. He’s a good guy to have on my side, no doubt.”
It’s not even just the folks at KHI that Carmichael has made an impact on. Clint Bowyer recalls from his dirt days that “there was something about that kid.”
There still is. Before Saturday’s race at Martinsville, Carmichael was optimistic that his team’s sixth-place run at Atlanta, the best of his NASCAR career, was the beginnings of a breakout season.
“Atlanta was pretty close. We were top 10 all day and finished up sixth. And it starts there.”
After Saturday’s 250-lapper, it was even more clear that the transition from learning stock cars to becoming a stock car driver is nearing overdrive for Carmichael. When asked about adjusting to short-track racing, Carmichael remarked “it doesn’t take a lot to be right, and it doesn’t take a lot to be wrong.”
Those words were prophetic. Running in the top 10 at the demanding Martinsville bullring, Carmichael was running his own race before being bowled over by Austin Dillion after his No. 3 truck clipped the curb, getting Carmichael out of shape and causing Jason White‘s No. 23 to slam into the Monster Energy machine.
Carmichael’s first reaction over the radio was that of a seasoned short tracker, full of anger and profanity that would have made even pseudo-teammate Hornaday blush. But what he did next spoke volumes. Carmichael got back on track and stormed towards the front with his damaged Silverado, and by race’s end was back in the top 10.
Beating and banging, getting hot under the collar and charging back to the front. Not too shabby for a motorcycle racer to make a push to the front the same way Dale Earnhardt Jr. did in the spring of 2006 with a damaged right front fender, or Ryan Newman in the fall of 2007 after making contact with David Ragan.
That’s not, however, to say that Carmichael’s a complete convert yet.
When I asked Carmichael how many hot dogs he planned to eat over the course of his Martinsville weekend, he answered “I’m not having any.”
Shocked, I asked him if he’d ever had one. “No,” replied Carmichael. “They look way too scary for me.”
Learning to race the track before worrying about the cuisine. If nothing else, Carmichael’s definitely got his priorities straight. Though, as fellow competitor Timothy Peters noted, “there’s nothing like a Martinsville hot dog.”