July 29, 2005

Sparkplug #14: on travel delay

I'm back in my hometown of Washington, D.C. this weekend on a trip to visit the folks. As such, I'm behind in my writing, so please accept my apologies for not posting a Sparkplug on time today. Check back later this weekend!

July 25, 2005

Guess Who's Got A New Site?

It's a bit different from his old website; there's no fan interaction at all, no message board or chat functionality. But it's all good anyway... here it is:James Stewart Online.

Meet Your 2005 U.S.A. Motocross des Nations Team!

Here's a shot of the team, courtesy Racer X Online. Looks like they were able to talk Kevin Windham into going... bet that's an interesting story.

So we have one factory supported rider (Rick Carmichael), one semi-factory rider (Windham), and one full-on privateer (Mike Brown). This must the the first time in the history of our participation in this event that we're sending a privateer. So who's going to pay his expenses?

July 24, 2005

James Explains It All

Here's something you don't see everyday: a letter to the fans from James Stewart. I guess Kawasaki's PR machine finally started and this is their first attempt to curb some of the damage from last weekend.

It's a good start, James. Keep it up. Er, by that I mean keep telling your story directly to the fans. They'll come around eventually.

July 22, 2005

Sparkplug #13

Ah, the ol’ lucky thirteen. I considered skipping this number for about 45 seconds… but it’s only a weblog, what’s the worst that could happen?

Last week I touched on the lack of television coverage for motocross. This week, I want to get into a closely-related matter, sponsorship, and that sad fact that our beloved National Motocross championship does not have a title sponsor this year.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. The magnificent and beneficent Donny Emler of the Flying Machine Factory stepped up to the plate for the “presented by” sponsorship, and that’s a great thing. But a Chevy Trucks they are not. I suspect that FMF is only paying a small fraction of what Chevy used to pony up for the title sponsorship. And I also suspect that without that money, the AMA and AMA Pro Racing budget books aren’t looking too good. But that’s all speculation on my part.

However, you don’t have to be an AMA insider to know that the series is in dire need of a big money sponsor, if not to pay the bills than to lend much needed prestige and visibility to a sport that has lost both… in a big way.

So, how does one sell motocross anyway? I’m no sports marketing specialist, but I have a few ideas:

1) Stop comparing the sport to NASCAR. The stock car series has got a huge audience that it has successfully converted into cubic dollars via literally hundreds of major sponsorships. Motocross may have similar elements, but it will NEVER deliver that magnitude of viewership and attendance. Sell our sport on quality of the market, not quantity.

2) Stop acting like the ugly girl waiting for a date to the prom. We have a great sport with dynamic personalities, and our audience is made up of affluent family-oriented people. We are a great catch for the right company; we don’t need to sell out to the sponsors that have image problems (beer, alcohol, tobacco, military).

3) Foster competition. Makita is looking pretty smart right now, so why wouldn’t other hand tool companies (Milwaukee, Black & Decker, Craftsman) want to get a piece of the action as well? I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I have heard that the AMA favors exclusive sponsorships. If it is true, it should stop. There’s no way that we should limit paying sponsors (unless they have image problems; see above).

4) Play to our strengths. Motocross is cool; there aren’t too many sports that are cooler. Our audience has money and they like to spend it on cool stuff. People into cool tend to be trend setters and market influencers.

5) Think outside the box. Go after big sponsors that don’t traditionally sponsor motorsports… or at least don’t sponsor NASCAR already. Computer companies, consulting companies, electronics manufacturers, pharmaceuticals.

6) Finally, don’t expect them to go for the same old, same old. Develop unique, multi-faceted, multimedia sponsorship programs. Signage is not enough. Repeating the sponsor’s name over and over at events is not enough. Be aggressive and be creative, but get their name out there in new ways. Streaming video, celebrity testimonials, stunts, concerts, whatever. Make it big and make it FUN for the sponsor to be involved.

That’s all I’ve got for now. What do you think?

July 21, 2005

James Stewart Out For Thunder Valley

Get well soon, James. James Stewart Out For Thunder Valley

Best Description of the RC/JS Incident Ever

Andy Bowyer over at Racer X Online knocks one outta the park with his weekly One Industries Rev Up. Andy pens a thrilling description of what happened during the first moto at Unadilla. Just go read it!

July 20, 2005

Is James Okay? According To This: Yes

I was prompted to visit the Motocross Action website to read a silly story about a silly altercation between Chad Reed and up-and-comer Jason Lawrence, when I found this article about James Stewart. It appears that he's got a black eye as a result of the Unadilla crash, but he's cleared to race in Colorado this weekend. Interesting...

July 19, 2005

Unadilla Underdogs

Well it’s Tuesday, three days after the Unadilla National, and the internet motoworld is finally starting to calm down. Yes, much was said… TOO much, in fact, about the Carmichael/Stewart incident in the first moto. But not nearly enough was said about some of the other prime players who put in sterling performances at the storied track. Well, that’s about to change right now.

Broc Hepler – going 1-1 on the day, this was the Broc Hepler that started this outdoor season off with a resounding first moto win at Hangtown. Where’s he been? Check out his interview over at Racer X Online.

Kevin Windham – fought through a bad stomach illness to get second overall (he was certainly aided somewhat by James Stewart’s untimely DNF/DNS), and took over second place in the points.

Ivan Tedesco – his third place podium finish puts him within challenging distance of current points leader Mike Brown. Smart money USED to say that Langston was the Pro Circuit title contender… smart money may be changing it’s mind right about now.

Matt Walker – came out of hiding to score a top 5 finisher. “Sky” Walker might not be in the running for the title, but if he continues to improve there’s no reason he can’t finish the season in the top 5.

Michael Byrne – his 6th place was about as well as could be expected, and he did the two-stroke contingent proud. He might have been beaten by Ernesto Fonseca, but he held off Travis Preston in the second moto.

July 17, 2005

Throwing up some kind of sideways peace sign beside me is "Tha Kid P" (Paul Fleming) from MotoDrive. Paul, Leonard and I got in a few hot laps at Leonard's top secret testing facility yesterday. My arms are STILL pumped up. Oh yeah, I need to lose a few pounds, eh? Posted by Picasa

Here I am (in the blue Thor gear) with "Big Lenny" (Leonard Chinault) from MotoDrive at his super-secret testing facility in south Los Angeles. Notice the railroad tracks; not sure if we were on the "wrong" side or not! Check out Lenny's pristine 2002 CR250... man, Honda needs to give him a job setting up bikes! Posted by Picasa

July 15, 2005

Sparkplug #12

I woke up this morning wondering what subject I was going to tackle for this week’s Sparkplug. Earlier this week, I thought I would talk about the National Amateur Motocross Championships at Loretta Lynn’s, since that wonderful event is about to get underway. But this morning, sometime between hitting the snooze button and drying off after the shower, it hit me that I have some thoughts about television coverage of motocross that I want to share.

Television is a very powerful communications medium, probably the most influential tool for reaching a mass audience ever devised. I’m not going to get into the psycho-biological aspects of sitting in front of a screen that’s flashing at a rate undetectable by the naked eye; suffice it to say that there’s a reason TV executives can charge millions of dollars for mere seconds of advertisement time. I will state the reason TV exists as it does: to generate a mass audience for advertisers. That reason is the SOLE reason why motocross has historically had a tough time getting on TV.

Motocross is a niche sport. Even if every American motocross fan that ever existed, dead or alive, were somehow able to watch the same program and get measured by those mysterious Nielsen ratings machines, our viewership numbers would still look puny in comparison to a weekday baseball/basketball/football game. That’s why the only way we can get motocross broadcast is by buying the airtime outright. And even then, it takes a very sympathetic broadcaster/cable channel to carve out the time to sell to us. We’ve all seen what happens then: our shows are likely to get “time-shifted” at will, in order to accommodate programs that have larger audiences.

So, what do we do? Do we figure out a way to make our sport more attractive to a larger audience? Or do we just face reality and deal with it? Here’s my suggestion: we need our own cable channel. A 24-hour channel DEDICATED to motocross. Not “motorcycles”. Not “off-road-style events”. Not “extreme sports”. Just motocross in all it’s forms: supercross, arenacross, freestyle and amateur events. How do we pull it off? Well, it has to be completely viewer funded. That’s right, it’s time for us to come out of our pockets again.

Look at it like this: how much would YOU pay for the complete Supercross “package”, live, non-stop coverage of every supercross event of the year? That’s 16 events, right? Would you pay the same as a good ticket at the event? That’s $30 to $45 per race, and it saves you the other ancillary costs of attending an event (parking fees, overpriced food and drinks, etc.) What if you could get a package deal for the whole year of racing, Supercross, outdoor Nationals and Arenacross… and they throw in LIVE coverage of Loretta Lynn’s to boot? What would THAT be worth to you?

Supercross has experimented with pay-per-view in the past. I think it’s still a viable idea. Just today, over at Racer X Online, a company called MediaZone is offering a clearance deal on some Extreme Sports PPVs. Pay-per-view is one way of dealing with it, but I really think a dedicated cable channel is the way for now. And with the rapid changes underway in Internet broadcasting, pretty soon we’ll be able to do it all online, cutting the cable companies out completely.

What do you think?

July 14, 2005

My Parents and Motocross

I got some feedback the other day from a guy called “bmf”. He left a link to his website, which is mostly about music, but it also has a few pages and photos chronicling his adventures in motocross. One of the stories is a moving tribute to his father, a great guy who did all he could to support his son's involvement in the sport.

That essay triggered some memories of my own parents, and I'd like to share them with you now.

Most of us know motocross as a family sport, a wonderful opportunity for parents to bond deeply with their children as they learn new things, meet new people, travel perhaps, encounter and overcome obstacles both literal and figurative. However, for some of us that wasn't the case. Our families choose NOT to be involved with the sport we love, so we had to go at it alone until we could establish bonds with other racers in a sort of “extended” family.

That's the way it was with my parents. They were not at all motorcycle fans when I somehow got the bug, and they had to be begged, prodded and otherwise cajoled to get them to do anything motocross-related. To this day, I'm still unclear as to why they relented and bought a minicycle for my 15th birthday, but I'm extremely grateful, that's for sure!

I guess they actually believed I would be happy doing endless laps around our medium-sized backyard. And for a good while, I was. I also had the pleasure of sometimes being joined by my good friend Mark Butler, who was just as motocross-crazy as me. Together we would take turns thrashing my XR75 as we learned such esoteric knowledge as how to get moving by slipping the clutch.

Occasionally, my father would take me out to my uncle's house in Beltsville, Maryland, where I could blast around wide open on deserted gravel backroads. My father had absolutely no interest in riding, though, or even in watching me ride. He would help me unload the bike and then disappear in his brother-in-law's house to drink beer and watch sports on TV. That was perfectly okay for me then, as all I wanted to do was ride. Yes, there were moments when I would perfect a new technique and want to show it to him, but I quickly learned to stop bothering him about it.

My father rode my minicycle exactly one time, and the resulting loop-out slammed the door shut on any further attempts.

Despite this, I was somehow able to talk my parents into letting me ride in an actual race. My mother was very upset that I even wanted to race; she tried to get me to promise that I wouldn't actually try to compete, but that I would just ride around “for fun”. What was interesting was that when race day arrived, my father was somehow “unavailable” to take me to the race, so my mother did! It was her first ever motocross race, and I have no idea what she was expecting, but she quickly found some other racer's moms to relate to, so she didn't do too bad that day.

When my father finally took me to a race, an interesting thing happened: he got involved. He started talking to other fathers and the next thing I new, he had negotiated the purchase of a used Honda CR125. I was 16 at the time and clearly too big for my XR75, but I didn't really care, since it was all I had and I was racing. But suddenly I owned a real motocross bike and I could barely believe it. To say I was ecstatic doesn't really capture the joy that I felt! And on a less conscious level, I was elated because it seemed that my father and I were beginning to bond over this motocross thing.

Once we got the 125 home, though, reality set in. This was a serious piece of machinery and there was no way that I could ride it in the backyard or on the roads around Beltsville. The new bike required a commitment that my parents weren't sure they were prepared to make... but it was too late for them to back out. The purchase of the CR did have a hidden benefit for my friend Mark. For some reason, his parents decided to buy him a brand new Honda 125, so we could race together. It was his very first motorcycle.

The “magic” of motocross began to work its charms on our respective families. Our fathers would get together and take us to practice sessions at tracks like Budds Creek, and our mothers would likewise get together to take us to races when our fathers weren't inclined to do so. Transportation was pretty much the extent of their involvement, however. There was no discussion of training issues, racing strategies or any of that stuff. All of the wrenching was my responsibility; my father was a professional mechanical engineer, and his job had him designing and testing missile parts. He was literally a rocket scientist of sorts, but he couldn't tell you what to do if a sparkplug fouled. It didn't matter to me anyway, because all I wanted to do was race, and that's what they were helping me to do. Once my mother broke out the old Super 8 home movie camera and filmed one of my races. When we reviewed the footage, I pointed out that my bike was pogo-ing over a rough section and needed some suspension work. To their credit, they bought me a fork kit the next week!

We didn't get to ride on a regular basis, mind you. Once a week was completely out of the question; once a month was even questionable. Once every six weeks was usually when we would get out to the track and try to come to terms with the bikes and the obstacles. To make up for the lack of seat time, I would memorize every off-road riding tip published in every dirt-oriented magazine, and study photos of top riders to try to analyze their techniques. Riding lessons? We couldn't afford them.

By that point in my life I was a senior in high school, and I was in pretty good shape. I played varsity soccer on a championship-winning team and was captain of the wrestling squad. But my heart was in motocross and I started having that all too familiar dream of becoming a top pro racer. Considering the fact that I was a back-of-the-pack novice, I knew that I had a lot of ground to make up. Yet I felt that if I could devote the same amount of time and energy to improving my racing skills that I had to my mainstream sports, I would at least have a chance. And that was where my parents drew the line.

My parents believed in the American dream, but they believed that the only road to achievement and financial stability was through higher education and traditional employment. They would not even permit a conversation about alternatives. As far as my father was concerned, if the sport could not at least provide the opportunity for a college scholarship, then the sport was not legitimate, and certainly nothing on which to pin one's future. Their message to me was crystal clear: after graduation it will be time to put the toys away and get to work.

The little support that my parents provided for my racing dried up completely that spring, though, as I suffered a concussion from a fairly hard crash. Unfortunately for my mother, it was one of those races that she had drawn transportation duty for, so she was the one behind the wheel rushing me to the hospital as I repeated the same two sentences over and over and over... The incident soured her on motocross forever; that would be the last race she would ever attend. While I didn't suffer any broken bones, my CR was pretty mangled, and my parents had zero interest in paying for repairs. My racing days as a minor were over.

So I started college, turned 18, and began to grow up. And yet, I still entertained dreams of becoming a late blooming pro racer. Although my parents made it clear that they were out of the racing hobby, I made it equally clear to them that I wasn't finished with the sport. I had a part-time job as a lot porter for a new car dealership, and I convinced my folks that I could race during the summer (while paying my own expenses) and still do well in school the rest of the year. They co-signed a loan for a new bike, a 250 Honda, they paid for my safety gear (that was an easy sell), and they let me use their car as a tow vehicle. But that was the extent of their involvement. Sometimes when I got home from the races my father would ask me how I did, but it seemed to be more out of courtesy than genuine interest. All my mother wanted to know was if I was okay and not hurt. If they ever brought up the subject of motocross, it was usually to express their desire that I stop racing.

20-some years later and 3,000-odd miles away, I had very mixed emotions about informing my parents about my choice to return to racing. In fact, I kept the information away from them for months, believing that they would be happier not knowing, so they wouldn't have to worry about me. But eventually I told them what I was up to, realizing that I am entitled to live my life as I see fit, and that there was no need for me to compromise my integrity in order to protect them from the truth: I unashamedly love motocross.

And so for you very lucky mothers and fathers out there who are enjoying the times of your lives with your children by taking them riding and racing, I salute you. You may think you know, but you really have no idea of the lasting effect your love and enthusiasm is having on your kids. And for those very fortunate racers that are basking in the devotion and support of your parents, please... thank them often. Don't take them for granted. Thank them for me and for others like me who wish we had what you have.

July 12, 2005

"Yamaboy" over at MotoDrive hooked this up. He took a quote from my "Motocross" essay and photoshopped it over a pic from TWMX. I love it! Posted by Picasa

This is my friend Kenard Lipscomb, a very fast Vet Intermediate, loading up after a practice session at Cahuilla Creek. Kenard has been a Suzuki man as long as I've know him... he swears his '05 RM250 is as fast as any 450 four-stroke... and he has the holeshots to prove it! Posted by Picasa

I Love This Guy!

The greatest writer in motocross, Eric Johnson, has posted a "whatcha been up to?" interview with Travis Pastrana at Racer X Online. You gotta read it.

Pastrana is, in my opinion, bigger than motocross. He's such a likable person, always friendly, always upfront and honest. He has suffered more injuries in his amateur and professional racing days than a full gate of riders, but he still loves the sport. But he's now mature enough to know when it's time to sit on the sidelines and heal for a bit. It's sad that we won't get to see his unmistakable riding style for at least a year, probably two, but that's okay. He'll still be Travis, and that's fine with me.

Go get 'em, TP!

July 11, 2005

U.S. MotoGP Winner Roosts!

You may not think MotoGP has anything to do with motocross, and you would normally be correct... but then I found this photo of U.S. Grand Prix winner Nicky Hayden roosting on a CR, taken by Transworld Motocross' Steve Giberson. The kid has some skills, eh?

Congrats on the big roadrace win, Nicky!

July 08, 2005

Check out this cool evolution-era Husky I snapped at Cahuilla Creek a few weeks back. Yes, that's my finger in the frame, dammit... Posted by Picasa

"thunderchicken" over at MotoDrive hooked me up with this alternative, Industry-insider-only "Fox Sticker"... it's tight! Posted by Picasa

Sparkplug #11

2005 will certainly go down in moto-history as the year that the two-stoke died. Even though the writing was clearly on the wall as early as 2003, this year the evidence is overwhelming, particularly in the 125 class. The fact that even the name of the division will soon be changed to reflect the takeover by the 250c.c. four-strokes is yet another nail in the coffin of the oil-burners. So what will happen to the tiddlers?

There have been some great suggestions offered, most notably by Racer X's Davey Coombs, to form a new, two-stroke-only class for up-and-coming supercross racers. While I am in favor of such an idea, that's not the subject I want to tackle in this week's Sparkplug. Instead, I want to bid a fond farewell to the machine that arguably invented American motocross, the 125c.c. two-stroke race bike.

I happen to think that the 125 is the perfect motorcycle to begin to experience the joys of motocross. The small size of the engine and it's relatively low power output mean that the rest of the bike be made as small and light as possible. This results in a motorcycle that's almost fast enough to scare you, and agile enough to handle just about any turn you might encounter on a racetrack. 125's are not threatening motorcycles; they're like eager puppies, always ready to play. And yet, if you're serious about racing, learning how to go fast on a 125 will make it much easier for you to make the transition to bigger bikes.

With very few exceptions, all of the top American racers were masters of the 125 craft. And there is no doubt that Marty Smith and his Honda Elsinore 125 launched the popularity of professional motocross in this country (and if you DO doubt it, check out the MOTOCROSS FILES episode on Smith when it airs this fall on the Speed Channel). It takes a tremendous amount of skill and stamina to keep a fast 125 on the pipe and singing, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch a good 125 pilot do his or her thing, throttle wide open while dancing on the shifter.

The fact that you can actually turn a 125’s throttle to the stops and not panic is one of the most attractive things about the class. Since these bikes are rarely overpowering, they allow most riders to feel confident, which in turn makes the entire experience much more pleasant. Every motocrosser that has ever raced or ridden a 125 has happy memories of the old steed. My first (and only) 125 was a ’74 Honda, just like Marty Smith’s… it had a Webco head, gold anodized DG swingarm and an Al Baker fork kit (kind of like this one from the Vintage Factory website). After years on an XR75, it was my first “real” motorcycle, and I was completely in love with it. Slim, light, low to the ground and reliable as an anvil, it was all I could ask for… until I realized I needed more power to carry my 6’, 190lb. frame around (those really were the good old days!).

Today’s 125s are just the same, just with a little more… okay, a LOT more of everything: suspension, power, brakes, handling, looks and the all-important fun factor. I still believe that if a racer is truly serious about competing at the top levels, they need to learn how to go fast on a 125. The 250 four-strokes are great bikes, and many feel that they’re even more fun than their two-stoke counterparts. Marty Moates once told me his YZ250F provided the most fun he’s ever had on a bike (or words to that effect). I can see the point, and truthfully I wouldn’t know, since I have yet to ride one of the new-breed 250Fs. But my feeling is that the relatively wide powerbands of the little four-strokes make it too easy for the new racer. There’s no reason to maintain high corner speeds and momentum when racing a thumper, whereas the 125 insists that a rider learn how to flow, but in an aggressive fashion. I would hate to see American racers lose valuable racing skill because of the demise of the two-stroke.

So what I’m saying, really, is that I hope the manufacturers keep making ‘em, and I hope the motocross public keeps buying them, even if they’re not racing them. Because they are indeed great little bikes, and motocross wouldn’t be the same without the 125s.

July 07, 2005

Ride With Sean Hamblin!

Sean Hamblin hasn't been having the best season of his life this year, but the kid is still blazing fast. The proof? He was out at Glen Helen today, burning up some practice laps, and the guys at Transworld Motocross Online convinced him to put on the helmet cam and take it for a lap. Check this out; it's awesome!

July 06, 2005

WOW! Real MX TV!

Okay, first I have to admit that I found the link I'm about to share with you over at On The Pipe Racing, but this is the coolest thing ever! Coming up on the Speed Chanel, it's the MOTOCROSS FILES, a new ten week tv series about the history of motocross that will debut this fall. You may have heard of it before, but check out the website. Righteous!

Racer X Online's Steve Whitelock Interview

This article over at Racer X Online is a MUST read. Davey Coombs takes off the gloves and GRILLS AMA Racing's head honcho Steve Whitlock. The questions are blunt; Davey doesn't pull any punches. The problem? Whitelock doesn't have any answers.

Don't get me wrong, I have a ton of respect for Whitelock and just as much empathy for the man; he's got a tough, tough job. But still, that's no excuse for:
- not being able to articulate the MXdN plan
- not knowing where the money goes, in terms of rider fines and penalties
- not knowing the situation between the AMA and the FIM
- not knowing (or admitting to knowing) why Supercross is getting a better TV deal than MX
- not knowing why privateers don't want to use Arenacross to prepare for Supercross

Read the interview. It's an eye-opener.

My final thought on this remarkable interview is a trivial one, but I think it says alot about the leadership out of Ohio. The question is "Should photographers wear collared shirts?" And apparently Steve and the AMA believe that "...you can’t wander around looking like a guy in a T-shirt, because you’re going to be on television."
Bad TV deal notwithstanding, who made the decision that T-shirts are inappropriate apparel? I understand the history behind this decision: the AMA wanted the sport to "look" professional, so it requires team uniforms for all mechanics and other support personnel. But setting a dresscode for the media? Maybe the spectators should be required to wear jackets? The AMA is overstepping its bounds here; they should be focusing on getting sponsors and media coverage, not telling the media what to wear.

July 05, 2005

Red Bud 2005, Courtesy On The Pipe Racing

Lee over at On The Pipe Racing was at Red Bud on Sunday. Here's his illustrated race report... he's a good man!

July 02, 2005

Team Kawasaki Penalized!

Holy Toledo. James Stewart and Michael Byrne, Team Kawasaki's only two riders AND the only two stroke racers in the Open class, were both penalized and docked 25 points (!) for using illegal fuel at Budds Creek. Here's the story at Racer X Online.

One word: unbelievable.

I think it was last year during the Supercross season when Team Yamaha was given a similar penalty. It turned out that Yamaha had some old, not-legal, gas left over in the team's transporter. We'll see if Kawasaki cops to that excuse, or maybe they'll admit to cheating? Riiiiiiight....

July 01, 2005

Sparkplug #10

First off, Happy Independence Day weekend to everyone! Have fun, stay safe and try not to blow up the kids with those bottle rockets, okay?

The outdoor nationals are back on again this Sunday, at the fantastic Red Bud facility, and the national championship is creeping up on the halfway point. Silly season, that time of year when riders begin to jockey for new contracts, is getting underway. But what I want to talk about in this edition of Sparkplug is the selection process for the Motocross des Nations. Because I think the current process stinks.

What is the process? Someone at the AMA makes a list of who they want to compete, and then they get on the phone and ask them to race. Of course, I’m guessing this is the process, because I don’t really know what it is, but that’s sort of what Rick Carmichael said the process was like, when he described it in his “Open Letter From Ricky Carmichael About Motocross des Nations” last year. He should know.

Here’s my question: why doesn’t the AMA make it MANDATORY for the top riders to participate. And by “top” I mean current points leaders in the 250F and Open classes at mid-season. And here’s the answer I anticipate: because they CAN’T.

If the AMA does not have the power to decide when and where the racers race, what power do they have? If you answered “none”, you are close. I believe the correct answer is “very little”.

It has been explained before by guys with much more experience than me: American motocross is controlled NOT by the AMA, but by the Japanese factories, represented in this country by their American race team managers. And if the factories don’t see any benefit in funding a competitive American effort in the MXdN, guess what happens?

It would be very easy for the factories to make MXdN participation mandatory for the racers that are on their teams; it’s just another line in their contracts. But Honda will be represented by teams from Belgium, Great Britain, The Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and many more countries, so it’s not like they need to put more bikes on the starting line, right?

The Motocross des Nations is due for another major change in format, and I touched on this before in Sparkplug #6, so I’m trying to avoid rehashing that argument. But here we are in July, and not only do we not know who’s going to represent the U.S.A., we’re not entirely sure that we’re going to compete! That fact presents more than a little challenge to any fans who want to go see the race; they were talking about that over on MotoNews this week. So, the best we can do is guess? That is plainly unacceptable.

It’s way past due for the AMA to step up and assume accountability for this. I went to the AMA’s motocross website and searched their news database and they haven’t written an article about the Motocross des Nations all year. What does this mean? As a fan, should we no longer care about the event, or should we no longer trust the AMA to be the caretaker of American participation in it?