Johnson’s father was an avid motorcyclist and he bought his son a mini-bike when he was 3 years old. When he turned 16 in 1980, he earned his pro license. He won his first national championship in 1984 for the Yamaha factory motocross team. For the 1986 season, he was offered a job with the Honda team by team manager and five time former world champion Roger De Coster. He battled his Honda team-mate David Bailey throughout the 1986 season, coming away with the 250 title and the Supercross crown. During this season Johnson and Bailey were part of one of the most epic battles in Supercross history at the Anaheim stadium. He finished second to Bailey in the 500 class. Unfortunately, the rivalry was short-lived as just prior to the start of the 1987 season Bailey was paralyzed in a practice crash.
Johnson would dominate the 1987 season, winning both the 250 and 500 crowns. In ’87 Rick also won what is considered one of Supercross history’s greatest races in the Super Bowl Of Motorcross at the L.A. Coliseum. After crashing in the first corner Johnson came back from near dead last to pass Jeff Ward and eventually privateer Guy Cooper on the penultimate lap to squeeze the win. He followed this performance by adding the 1988 Supercross and 500 titles to his name. Johnson started the 1989 season strongly but suffered a serious injury when he broke his wrist in a practice session. He would never fully recover from the injury. He soldiered on for a few more seasons but the injury proved too debilitating. He announced his retirement at the beginning of the 1991 season. At the time of his retirement from motocross racing at age 26, he was the all-time leader in Supercross victories. Johnson was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 1999.
Johnson went on to have success in off-road racing and stock car racing. He took wins in the famous SCORE International Baja 1000 twice and was American Speed Association stock car series Rookie of the Year in 1999, driving for Herzog Racing as a teammate to unrelated El Cajon, California off-road racer and NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson. He was awarded SCORE Rookie of the Year in 1993 and from '93 to '95 won the Baja 500 racing in Class 8. In 1997, Ricky took home his first Baja 1000 victory, which he repeated in 2003.
Johnson ran twelve races in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series from 1995 to 1997. Johnson founded the Traxxas TORC Series for the 2009 season. He sold the series after the season to the United States Auto Club (USAC) and he concentrated on being a driver. Ricky Johnson won the TORC Series Pro2wd Championship in 2010 after a season long battle with Rob MacCachren, the defending champ. This championship came down to the last race of the season at Crandon International Off-Road Raceway with Ricky securing a second place finish to win the championship.