This is the first installment of a weekly column that will only be available on this site. I decided to call it “Sparkplug” because I want it to ignite thoughtful discussion about the subject presented. I'll try my best each week to tackle topics that the motocross world is chatting about at the moment.
This week, after the announcement of Mike Brown's return stateside to contest the 125 National Championships, along with Ryan Hughes' well-publicized on-track preparations to do battle in the tiddler class as well, brings up an old question: how long is too long to compete in the 125 class?
Perhaps a little background on my perspective is necessary. I grew up back when the premiere class was the 500cc World Championship. Period. Everything else took a back seat to the big bikes. And here in America, while the 125 class was always respected as a full national championship, every rider... EVERY rider... eventually made the move to the bigger bikes.
Marty Smith will be forever known as one of America's top 125 pilots, but he also won a 500cc crown. Bob Hannah ripped the 125 plate right off of Smith's Elsinore, but he's even more well known for his 250 titles. With his small stature, Jeff Ward had the best excuse for remaining a lifelong teacup pilot, but he was even more menacing on his big KX500.
So when did it first become acceptable for experienced professional motocross racers to fashion themselves “125 specialists”? Some might say Steve Lamson was the first; maybe it was Mickey Diamond; these guys won multiple 125 titles, but were never able to distinguish themselves on the bigger bikes. Some point to the rise of the semi-factory support teams that make it possible to earn near-superstar salaries without ever having to face the very top riders. To me, it doesn't matter who was first or even what caused the trend. I just think it sucks.
I mean, I understand the concept of these pros wanting to get paid so they can take care of their families. But that's simply cherry picking, plain and simple. A lot of people gave James Stewart a lot of grief for staying in the class in 2004. It was his third year! Yet look at someone like Brock Sellards... how long has HE been in this class? Don't get me wrong; I've always liked Brock, and he has had more than his share of bad luck keeping him from that elusive title. But I think he's a great rider that should add to the mix in the 250 class. That same sentiment goes for Ryno, Langston and Brown. These guys are old pros; they need to step up and run with their peers, and leave the 125 class to the kids.
Maybe the new rule should be that once a rider turns 21 AND they have held a pro racing license for 5 years, then they are no longer qualified to compete in the 125/250F class.