We’ve seen a few iterations of Ryan Dungey over the years and I didn’t think the number 5 had any surprises left in him, especially in this, his possible final year.
In Ryan Dungey’s rookie 450 season, he was a very rigid, technically accurate, though very vanilla racer. A Jeff Stanton, if you will. He had great speed and was already laying down the framework for his now cemented legacy as an incredibly consistent and reliable racer. It was 2010 and though he did have a few things work into his favor, most notably Chad Reed and James Stewart, the prior years title head-to-heads getting together in Phoenix leaving Chad with a broken hand and James with a broken wrist-- Ryan fully earned the 2010 title. Ryan Villopoto gave him everything he had until that disastrous St. Louis crash and even Kevin Windham and Davi Millsaps who finished the year in 2nd and 3rd, had little to offer Dungey in terms of true threat.
This was the first iteration of the Dunge. Mechanical Dunge.
The 2011 version of Ryan Dungey was a progression albeit him not winning the title. Roger Decoster had left Suzuki and Ryan was bitter throughout the year. The Man was someone who had believed in Ryan before anyone else in the Pro ranks of note and as such, had Ryan’s full trust. At this time in Ryan’s career, the slightest inkling of miss-step or falter and the absence of Roger and Ian Harrison was all too easy point the finger of blame at. Although Ryan had Goose at his side and preparing his steed, you can’t build upon a framework that is already lacking authentic trust from the start. Ryan was faster but it was a foregone conclusion before the year even began that the 5 would be moving on to rejoin his nucleus at KTM.
The second iteration of Dungey was, Unsatisfied Dunge.
Upon rejoining his home team of Ian and Roger at KTM, although on a completely new machine, Dungey appeared to have reclaimed a comfort level he had clearly been lacking the previous year. The existing KTM450 for 2012 was not quite up to the level Roger had been hoping to provide for Ryan’s arrival so they worked overtime to further develop and homologate the “Factory Edition” which was a marked improvement and was a promising starting point for Ryan on his new venture with the Orange Brigade. It was an odd year for Supercross with many injuries to the common title threats, including Dungey who suffered a broken collarbone which sidelined him for a few rounds. Even more evidence of the high rash of injuries in this year was Ryan Villopoto, the ultimate Champion, tearing his ACL in turn one of the Seattle round, scoring no points and also missing Vegas; yet he secured the title still.
Iteration three of Ryan Dungey began in this 2012 season and lasted until Ryan Villopoto retired. There were varying shades of this Dungey which included Angry Dungey but for the most part Dungey, and plenty of others, played second fiddle to the red-haired, rear-wheel riding phenom from Poulsbo. Diesel Dunge got over on Villopoto sporadically, but this was without question, RV’s era.
Upon RV’s retirement, Dungey jumped at the opportunity to work with the many times-proven, Aldon Baker. Ryan had always worked his ass off but how dod you not question the accuracy of your effort and the gains when your main rival is so consistently getting the better of you? This was Dungey’s opportunity to erase all those question marks that had always been floating around his head regarding the effectiveness of his preparation.
The real-world improvements of Ryan Dungey joining Aldon Baker’s program were self evident from day one. His confidence surged, his speed was obvious and his manner was more fluid. It looked like Aldon had bottled a little bit of that fired breathing Villopoto and gotten it into Dungey somehow. Dungey’s consistency had always been his strength but he was finally actually the fastest guy as well at multiple rounds over the 2015 and 2016 seasons. It seemed impossible to think that a guy as consistent as Dungey has always been known to be, could be anything less than a lock for the title with this newfound speed and palpable confidence. Dungey’s bygone reputation for having difficulty getting around guys was but a memory. When suffering a poor start, he didn’t hesitate like prior Dungey-iterations had. He made quick work of guys and and was focused more on moving forward than not ruffling the feathers of his opponents.
Winning back to back titles, you’d swear this was the best iteration of Dungey we’ve seen yet. The proof is in the points total at season’s end, but I saw something Saturday night at Daytona that has me pleasantly confused.
So here we are 10 rounds into the 2017 season. A season which started with Ken Roczen absolutely on FIRE looking indomitable until utter disaster struck. I don’t care what anybody tells you, that crash rocked many racers at their core and I believe it left Dungey slightly shell-shocked for multiple rounds. With tracks breaking down and the dangers that arise when that happens, I feel racers were less likely to press into the “red zone”, having seen the flip side of ultimate confidence with Roczen’s exit from the series.
Dungey’s results marginally suffered for those few rounds when Eli finally found his wheels under him again but the real proof was in the lack of aggression and speed we had come accustomed to from Dungey over the last two seasons when he went Back to Back in the series points. With talk of possible retirement on the docket at seasons end for Ryan Dungey, you’d think risking all again would be less likely but Ryan showed in Daytona that he is absolutely willing to dig deeper, possibly more now than ever. Slicing his way through the field on a track that the majority of racers have universally panned as a one lined piece of garbage, is utterly impressive.
Some people are complaining that the battle with Cole Seely was too far. Forget that. This is the big time, there’s a title on the line and when you’re the 2-time defending champ, with the points lead and you need to make shit happen, you do. Cole threw a shoulder into Dungey as well, he just didn’t finish it. Dungey’s emotion after the race was awesome! He knew it wasn’t his goggles fault. That was no sort of temper tantrum, that was unbridled frustration and passion for wanting more and having to go balls out to make up 13 positions on a track that did not foster traditional race craft.
Eli did what he had to do and Ryan Dungey just did what Champions do, win titles on their bad days.