Poulsbo Supercross pro races back to the Northwest

Poulsbo's Ryan Villopoto returns to the Northwest to compete at the Monster Energy Supercross races at Qwest Field April 18.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Frank Hoppen

MURRIETA, Calif. - Ryan Villopoto was made to ride in the dirt. And he's faster and better at it than almost anyone.

This week, the Poulsbo native will return to the Northwest, as he and the Monster Energy Supercross team come into Qwest Field for a day of high-speed hellraising and muddy mayhem.

The 20-year-old Villopoto was practically born on the track, taking on his first amateur dirt bike race at the age of 5, following the tradition of two previous generations of Villopoto motocross riders.

"I just kind of grew up riding, and that's kind of all I knew," Villopoto said.

By the time he was 11, Villopoto was already competing at the national level as an amateur, and throughout his teenage years, the first-place plates began to pile up. They piled so high that the Villopotos decided to move their young rider to southern California, the hallowed grounds of the motocross elite, and the best place for their son's talent to continue to flourish. Half the family opted to stay in Poulsbo, where Villopoto's sister is finishing school, while Villopoto packed up and headed to Murrieta, where he, his girlfriend and his father now live.

While Villopoto's forte has been the small-engine divisions of Motocross and Supercross Lites, he's proven a quick study in his first year on the more intense tracks of the Supercross premier class. Villopoto was fourth overall in points on the national Monster tour, and had three top-three finishes, before coming down with a viral infection last month that kept him out of three straight races. The Seattle race will be his first return to the dirt in more than a month.

Villopoto came into his own in 2006 when, as a rookie in the professional ranks, he won the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Motocross Lites Championship. That same year, Villopoto finished third in the Supercross Lites division and joined Team USA for the Motocross des Nations (MXdN), in which he and teammates James Stewart and Ivan Tedesco beat out racers from across the world to take home the gold. By the end of the 2006 season, Villopoto was awarded the AMA Rookie of the Year trophy. Still, the young racer remains nonchalant about his impressive accolades.

"I did a pretty good job in Supercross, so that was nice," said Villopoto. "I ended up winning the championship outdoors (in motocross), that was my main goal, and winning rookie of the year was just a bonus."

In 2007, after his breakout rookie season, Villopoto continued to impress, winning the Motocross Lites Championship again and the West Supercross Lites for the first time. He also returned to the MXdN and set a record by becoming the only rider to ever win both motos on a Lites bike. Villopoto three-peated the Motocross Lites Championship in 2008, and wrapped up the Supercross Lites season in second, despite a crash that kept him from netting any points in the season-opening race.

Joining the Supercross premier class this year has forced the red haired racer to adapt to new conditions.

"It's a lot more racing and the guys are a lot tougher," Villopoto said of the heavy-hitting premier class. "Travel's gnarly," he added. "It's rough flying every weekend."

Although his sport is considered "extreme" (Villopoto hopes to participate in ESPN's X Games someday), he doesn't dwell on the risks inherent in racing.

"Sometimes you get hurt, sometimes you don't," he said. "It's something that happens. We try to avoid that. But it's always in the back of your mind."

In addition to zipping from coast to coast and up and down the dirt, Villopoto hits the weight room and practice tracks between competitions to stay in top form. By the time autumn rolls around, and the physically demanding schedule of race season hits a lull, Villopoto will have a chance to rest his weary bones. Aside from the occasional jaunt to the tropics, Villopoto spends his down time recuperating and relaxing with friends and family.

"When I do get time off, I like to stay around here and not do a whole lot," he said from his southern California home.

But the dirt and spinning tires and exhaust fumes have made their way into Villopoto's blood. He may enjoy getting away from the track now and then, but racing is what he does best, and he can't imagine a life outside of it.

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