You may not have heard of Ricky Johnson. But if you followed motocross or Supercross in the 1980s, you would know he dominated the sport and won seven AMA national championships. Unfortunately, a wrist injury to his throttle hand sidelined Ricky and eventually led to his retirement from the sport in 1991, at the age of 26.
Racing was still in his blood, and Johnson made the transition from motocross bikes to 4x4 trucks. Not content with multiple off-road titles, he will showcase his skills again this week at the Sunday River Ski Resort in Newry, Maine, in the Red Bull Frozen Rush, an event he won last year and hopes to repeat the performance this year.
Johnson was with the Frozen Rush even before its first event. He was part of the exploratory team to learn how fast trucks with studded tires could race on snow and ice.
In 2012, he traveled to Sierra Tahoe with some BF Goodrich tires equipped with ½-inch snow spikes for an exhibition race, and the crowd loved it. Last year was the inaugural Frozen Rush, but the event was mainly a time trial. The course wasn't yet designed for head-to-head racing, so this year's event will be the first of its kind.
We asked Johnson how this year's event will be unique. He said, "None of us have practiced racing side by side in the snow, but we've all raced each other in the dirt. It's going be similar, although much colder. The snow will all be one color; it's hard to tell where the ice is and where the snow is. We'll be reaching speeds of up to 80 miles per hour."
When asked to describe the type of race he expects on the slopes, Johnson called the Frozen Rush a "very short and intense race, and very cold, with a lot of geographical challenges."
Johnson is no stranger to endurance events in the desert, where drivers race for hours on end. He doesn't claim it's the hardest, but he says the Frozen Rush is the "most extreme and most intense."
For his off-season race training, Johnson hikes, surfs and rides single-track mountain bikes. He is currently 50 years old, and racing can be abusive to his body. These days he just tries to live an active lifestyle to make sure he's always ready to race. He used to train very hard for motocross, but now he likes to take it a bit easier. Nutrition-wise, Johnson says he follows a balanced diet and doesn't eat to excess, but doesn't "wig out one way or another" so as not to inconvenience anyone.
So what's the takeaway if you're interested in getting into this style of racing? Johnson said, "Pro 4 racing is the probably most violent and physical racing on the planet. We're not afraid to bang doors. We're not trying to take each other out, but we race hard against each other. To be at the top you need the right balance of aggression versus patience."
Check out the video player above to see highlights from last year's competition. You can catch Johnson and the other competitors of the Red Bull Frozen Rush on live stream Jan. 9, or if you're in the mountains of Maine, stop by and see it live. Bundle up though, it's going to be cold.
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