South Carolina native, Ryan Belue, has been a figure on the GNCC circuit since his youth days. Well on his way to becoming a front runner on a pro level, his progress was derailed and put on hold after suffering a string of devastating injuries. After capturing a top amateur overall at the Big Buck in 2010, two weeks later would mark the beginning of a trying two years of recovery. With his injuries healed, Ryan is giving it another shot in the Open A class for 2012 where he currently sits an impressive second in points. We caught up with Ryan to check on his progress so far this season and what it took in order to swing his leg over a bike again.
Hey Ryan, what are you up to?
Hey man! I just got back home from a bicycle ride.
Cool deal! You also just got home from the first of two Indiana stops on the GNCC schedule this year. What were your thoughts on the new Limestone 100 venue?
I thought it was a fun place, the track was kind of slick and technical, but it was a lot of fun! Anytime you get to race at a new track it makes it fun.
Running the same old tracks year after year can definitely get boring, so even if it’s not the best of places, you at least have a level playing field and something new! Looking at lap times, it looks like there was never a dull moment for you. You were making passes each lap and in the early stages battled with fellow Yamaha rider, Michael Wozny. In the three-hour races, does it help when competition is close to you or do you ride better alone?
Yeah, I actually got a good start and went into the woods second, but I made a few mistakes on the first lap, which caused me to lose some time, but it’s always fun battling with your classmates. Michael is a great rider and it seems like every race this year we have battled at some point. He is a lot of fun to ride with! I think it is better when you’re riding with somebody. It helps you to keep pushing, and just makes racing that much more exciting.
From my own perspective, I know it’s a little easier to push when you’re focused on battling someone rather than surviving three hours on the bike! (Laughs) I heard the Kentucky round was similar to last year’s Somerset race in Pennsylvania with regards to rocks. You matched your best finish of the season with a fourth place and advanced yourself in points. Would you describe yourself as a technical rider or a little bit of everything?
Well, I grew up riding in the mountains where it’s real technical, so naturally I love it. But I seem to do better when the conditions are more open and dry. I guess being from the south that’s what I’m used to! (Laughs)
Thus far in 2012 you have scored a pair of sevenths, sixths, and fourths. Take us through a quick summary of how your season has gone as a whole beginning with round one at River Ranch.
Going into the season I knew it was going to be tough, because I have been off the bike for so long. The doctor released me to start riding at the end of January, which only allowed me a little over a month to get ready for the 2012 season. Going into Florida I wanted to do the best that I could and also have fun. Every race this year that’s been affected by my mentality and that’s been a huge factor. I have been working really hard this year. Each race I feel more and more comfortable and I hope to get back out front soon!
Although I know you would rather be winning races, you’ve got to be happy with your results thus far in the season. You suffered several knee injuries and then a shoulder separation shortly after recovering from those. Walk us through your injuries and the adversity you worked through to eventually return to racing. Also, did quitting ever cross your mind?
Yeah for sure, I’m very thankful to be healthy again and being able to do what I love the most. In April 2010 I dislocated my patella (knee cap) in my right knee. I decided to just let it heal on its own and hope things would get better. But as time went on, I could tell something just wasn’t right. In November of 2010 I decided to have surgery to fix things. After that, things seemed to have gotten better, I was back to racing and felt good, but in April 2011, my patella popped out again. This time was a lot worse than the first separation. I switched doctors and a few days later I had another surgery on the same knee. After being off the bike for so long I was finally able to ride again, but only a month later I found myself back in the hospital. I had a wreck at a local race and broke my AC joint in my right shoulder; once again I was having another surgery! It was definitely a rough time in my life and I got to the point where I caught myself asking if I wanted to keep racing, but every time I walked into the shop or even saw a dirt bike the fever came back. The good Lord allowed me to regain my health and now I’m back out there having fun. I’m so thankful to have friends and family who kept encouraging and supporting me, without them my recovery would have been a lot tougher.
I’m going into my sixth month of recovery from a knee injury as well and know how mentally defeating the process can be. Mentally getting through it is the most difficult and unfortunately, most racers go through injuries and time off the bike sooner or later. Anyways, looking at the championship points in the Open A class, you are the only rider in the top five who has not won a race this season. However, your consistent finishes have put you second in the championship chase. What is it going to take in order for you to grab a win and claim first in points?
I think just keep working hard and do my best at every race!
The Open A class is arguably the most competitive amateur class in the GNCC series this year. While some classes have only one or two guys in contention for a win, Open A has seen five different winners in the six rounds of racing. There are literally seven or eight different riders who could win on any given day, you being one of them. You are no stranger to winning on the national level, but with this sort of competition, do you think a win or championship would be your most memorable?
I have to agree with you on the Open A class being very competitive! I’d have to say it is probably one of the toughest classes I’ve ever raced in. I think a win would be very special, but a championship would be most memorable considering everything I have been through the past two years. The last time I won a GNCC race was at Big Buck 2010, the race before I hurt my knee the first time. So it has been a long time since I’ve had the feeling of winning a national, but I’m going to try my best to get that feeling back this year.
Going back to 2010, you competed in the Lites classes on and off for a while before eventually moving up to a 450. What made you decide to make the jump to the big bike? Do you find it easier to ride fast on a 450 for three hours as opposed to a 250F?
I remember when Thad Duvall was racing a 250 he would practice on a 450 and he said it seemed to help, so in 2010 I bought a 450 to do the same as he did. After time went by I started to like the big bike more and more, and decided to start racing it. Personally I don’t think you have to ride a 450 as hard as you do a little bike, which makes it easier; but then you add the extra weight and horsepower and it makes things a little different! I’m racing a YZ 450 now and love it.
Randy Hawkins and the AmPro Yamaha team are located in Travelers Rest, SC, which happens to be your hometown. Do you get to ride and train regularly with Paul Whibley?
Yeah, fortunately there are a lot of fast guys that live near me like Corey MacDonald, Matthew Nix, the Baylor brothers, Jason Raines, Paul Whibley and a lot of other guys. During the winter a lot of guys from up north come down and stay at Randy’s place, so there are always a lot of people around training and doing the same thing I love to do. It definitely makes practicing a lot of fun with so many people. Having Paul around is awesome; he trains harder than anybody I have ever met! Paul allows me to train with him, which helps out a lot because I learn from him throughout the week. He definitely deserves the nickname “axe man.” (Laughs)
Randy has a pretty impressive set up down there to keep riders busy, but during the week you’re also a full time college student. What are you going to school for and how do you balance classroom work and studying while training and competing at a top level during the weekends?
I must admit, I took this last semester off just to take a little break, but I have full intentions on going back soon. I’m going to school to get a business degree. Having a college degree is great to have, especially in this day and time. It is definitely tough going to school and racing at the same time. Fortunately I’m able to take several online classes and still live at home, so that makes things a little easier. The biggest thing with doing two things full time is managing your time wisely and to not be lazy. (Laughs)
What’s your all time favorite place to ride?
Honestly I don’t have a specific, favorite place, but I spend a lot of time at Randy Hawkins’ farm. It’s close and has just about any kind of terrain you would want to ride. Anytime I throw my leg over a dirt bike to go ride I have fun and count it as a blessing.
Having fun is what riding is all about! Plus it’s not easy going fast when you aren’t enjoying it. Well, that wraps things up for us, Ryan. Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk! Who would you like to thank?
First I’d like to thank the good Lord for allowing me to do what I love, and blessing me with great parents who support what I do. My Mom and Dad for everything that they have done, Atlas Cycles (Dwayne Leonard), Stickman Graphx, Winners Edge, Dirt Tricks, Asterisk, EBC, Kenda, Cycra, IMS, Twin Air, FMF, Pro Taper, Factory Connection, Offroad Vikings, Randy Hawkins, Darrel Raines, and all my friends and family.