August 31, 2005

You Say You Want A Revolution?

It looks like a few folks over at MotoNews have picked up on the concept of running the Nationals WITHOUT the AMA. Check out this thread, started by "MotoChic", who has some profound ideas of her own.

Here's another thought: it seems to me that the rider's agents are in a good position to lead the charge of putting together a consortium to take over motocross. What's holding them back? I'm sure some of the agents have developed a strong taste for that factory "butter" on their bread, but they have to see that the payday won't last forever. Who's going to step up to the plate?

August 26, 2005

Sebastian Tortelli Interview

How can you NOT like this French guy? Here's an interview and riding clip of the former World Champion getting some motos in at Glen Helen, courtesy of Transworld Motocross. In the clip, "Bashen Telly" talks about going to Europe next year to try to "beat Stefan" Everts. Good stuff.

And In This Corner: Mike Brown

Man, I thought this story was over, but I forgot that we hadn't heard both sides fully. Here's Mike Brown's open letter to the fans posted over at Racer X Online. Mike makes it very clear that he is not happy about the way things went down. Yowza.

In my mind, Mike was done wrong. Yes, he's struggling, but he was chosen. Yes, we want to send the best representatives, but Mike was already picked. At some point the AMA has to close the selection process and live with the decision. Apparently, that point is later in the year than we (the fans) knew about. And it looks like we aren't the only ones surprised by the change.

Sparkplug 16

Well this has been a rather stormy week in motocross, especially considering the fact that the National Championship series is taking another weekend off as it heads into the final two rounds. For this week's Sparkplug however, I am not going to address the Motocross Des Nations hoopla but instead focus on a hypothetical: what would happen to pro motocross if the factories got out of the game?

It's a sobering question, particularly when you consider the fact that the European and Japanese factories, for all intents and purposes, STARTED the American motocross championship series back in the 1970s. Edison Dye was the forward-thinking American motorcycle dealer who convinced some Euro grand prix stars to spend a few weeks in the Fall racing in America in the InterAm series, which later became the Trans AMA series. The factories were happy to be a part of it because they wanted to enter and nurture the nascent American dirt bike market. Races were won, heroes were made and legends were born.

Motocross blew up and the factories increased their participation, building large racing organizations which doubled as R & D labs and marketing machines. The factories continued racing through the '80s and '90s to this very day, ostensibly with the idea that racing sells. This may still be true, but does it mean that the factories still have to field racing teams? Can the Nationals survive if the factories limit their involvement to selling special parts to the so-called satellite teams and well-funded privateers? I believe they can, and I believe that this type of arrangement will be better for the sport, but it comes at a price.

It's fairly common knowledge that the Japanese factories have a lot of leverage with the AMA. I am not anti-AMA, nor anti-Japanese factory... there are a lot of very good people employed by both that have nothing but good intentions for our sport... but the end result is what really matters and there's no question that the status quo for outdoor motocross is pretty shaky right now. I am beginning to come to the conclusion that it might be better if the AMA get out of the business of motocross. Just let it go. The AMA has bigger fish to fry in protecting motorcyclist rights across the board than to worry about a sport that nearly no one wants to televise. And if motocross separates itself from the AMA, it will release itself from control by the Japanese factories.

I realize that this is heretical thinking. The fastest racers in the world, our very favorite riders, are currently employed by these factories and living quite large at that. The fastest of the fast and the richest of the rich, however, realize that they can make just as much money if not more WITHOUT a Japanese contract. But there has to be a series for them to race.

I'm talking total paradigm shift here. For as long as I've been a motocross fan, the “Holy Grail” for any racer able to fog a mirror has been the coveted “factory ride” (Don't believe me? Check out “Supercross: The Movie”. Er, on second thought, forget that!). It used to be that a factory rider got a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to ride handmade prototype race bikes. They were called “works” bikes. Well, the AMA scratched all that anyway with the so-called “production” rule. But there is still plenty of perks for a “factory rider”, the biggest of which is that there's more money to go around, so they can afford the best mechanics and support staff and facilities. Yet there is nothing to keep a motivated satellite team owner from gathering enough sponsorship to rival the best factory effort in that regard. Well, there is the lack of media coverage... and whose fault is that? The AMA.

So going back to my original question: what would happen to pro motocross if the factories got out of the game? My answer is this: if it also means that the AMA gets out of motocross as well AND the sport gets picked up by someone with vision and a deep love for the sport, well... I believe motocross will become bigger than ever, and finally take it's place alongside other successful forms of motorsport, namely, NASCAR and Formula 1.

The companies that make the bikes do NOT have to control the series. The series should ultimately be under the care and supervision of people who have the sport's best interests at heart. Unless the only point of motocross is bike and equipment sales... and that's not true, right?

August 25, 2005

You Gotta Hear This: last nights DMXS radio show

I missed the show when it was live last night, but I caught the archived version and you can too. Here's a link to last night's DMXS radio show, which featured trainer extraordinaire Jeff Spencer, Sarah Voss on the Women's Motocross Foundation bowling fundraiser, and most entertainingly, Ryan Hughes, David Bailey and Roger DeCoster getting stuff off their chest.

David Bailey… wow! Talk about shooting straight from the hip. I’m not even gonna quote him… you have to listen for yourself. As a 5-time member of Team USA, he is quite qualified to voice his opinion about what’s happening this year, and I’ll tell you this… he ain't happy!

Ryno also got on and laid it on the line, about his switch to the 250, er, 450 class (which I TOLD him he should have done at the beginning of the season in my "Open Letter To Ryan Hughes" back in May!), about certain riders not earning their keep, etc.

But DeCoster really brought it all home. He made one thing very clear to me: they want to win the MXdN so bad that they feel like they’ll be in trouble if they don’t. And winning is the sole reason behind the replacement of Mike Brown by Ivan Tedesco, who, according to Roger, was already selected as the alternate back in July. I didn’t know that. In any case, Roger gives a great interview and you will be hurting yourself if you don’t go check it out.

Captain America Speaks

Wow, what a wild 24 hours it has been in the world of American motocross! After the fallout from the Brown announcement yesterday, the de facto captain of Team USA, Rick Carmichael, posted this open letter to his fans on Racer X Online. In the letter, Rick spells out that his friendship with Brown has never wavered, and he was as surprised by the tone of the Brown press release as anyone. Check it out.

August 24, 2005

Tedesco in for Brown; but what will he ride?

This press release just showed up on Racer X Online. Current 250F National points leader Ivan Tedesco will take Mike Brown's slot on Team USA.

I like Ivan, and I think he'll probably win the outdoor title and be a double champion this year. Going to the MXdN is a great thing for him, and I have faith that he'll do well. The only question now is what color bike will he ride? He has already announced that he'll switch to Suzuki for '06... but will he have time to prep an RM250F for the MXdN, or will Mitch Payton and Kawasaki support him with one of those rocket-fast Monster/Pro Circuit KX250Fs? Here's hoping he stays green for the time being.

My condolences go out to Mike Brown. They done you wrong, man.

Mike Brown Kicked Off MXdN Team; Unfair?

Oh man, this isn't good news. Here's a press release from Mike Brown's manager, posted over at Racer X Online. According to the copy, a joint decision reached by Rick Carmichael, Kevin Windham and the AMA's Steve Whitelock made after last Sunday's national at Broome-Tioga resulted in the removal of Mike Brown from Team USA. Read it and tell me what you think.

I think it's a shame, but not totally unreasonable. I'm on record for suggesting that the team be made up of the current points leaders at mid-season. Brown certainly qualified at the time, but as everyone knows, has been struggling to find the pace as of late. But is that reason enough to boot him off the team? Or are there other issues in play that the public will never hear of?

August 21, 2005

Supercross: The Movie - I almost walked out

I went to see “Supercross: The Movie” this afternoon. Why? Because I had to see it in order to give a credible critique of the film. Here it is.

First off, the title is a dead giveaway that zero creative brain cells were expended in the making of this “film”. It stands as a warning to all who seek cinematic entertainment or even a primer in the sport of supercross. That warning is “Stay Away. Nonsense Inside.”

The movie starts with a worthless title sequence that does nothing to introduce the plot or the characters, but does a lot to hype up supercross as it’s presented by Clear Channel. It also makes the viewer believe that the movie is actually about supercross. It’s not.

That may come as a surprise to you; it certainly surprised me. After all the hype and speculation, it turns out the movie is really about the “evil” factories versus the “righteous” privateers. Supercross barely figures into the movie at all, although they talk about it enough.

Why does a movie about supercross start off with guys riding in the desert? Why, in a movie supposedly about supercross, is the first race a SUPERMOTO race? Why, in a movie that calls itself “Supercross: The Movie”, spend so much time on outdoor tracks like Glen Helen and Piru MX?

Last month’s Racer X Illustrated featured one of the many articles about this movie, this one penned by David Pingree, who was also in the movie and received payment from the producers for his role. The article states that the producer of the film is a motocross fan. If that truly is the case, then he must be one of those guys call themselves fans but don’t really know anything about the sport. I say that because of the movie’s schizophrenic focus; it doesn’t know if it wants to cater to the diehards or to the newbies. Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because the film fails miserably at both.

I’m not really going to get into details, I’ll leave that to the other reviewers. But my “favorite” part of the film was a sequence where the brothers were watching a televised report featuring the factory’s obnoxious star. The older brother said something like “This is stupid, I’m outta here.” And that was my feeling exactly… I was ready to walk out on this movie. But I stuck it out until the end, the Vegas supercross finale, and left as soon as the credits started to roll.

My verdict? It sucks, but your kids (10 and under) will probably dig it. It’s every bit as cheesy as those “supercross jerseys” that CCE sells at every supercross.

August 19, 2005

Here's a cool pic of me with Racer X's Davey Coombs (far left) and the great David Bailey (middle, as if you didn't know) at the Glen Helen charity golf tournament way back in 2000. This day represented a turning point for me, as I went from just another fan to being on a first name basis with some of the stars of the sport. I won the online auction to be the golf cart driver for some other current racer (whose name I now forget!), but when I showed up at the tournament, the organizers asked me if I would have any problems with driving Mr. Bailey around!

So imagine this scene: it's too early in the morning, it's cold and overcast and David Bailey is looking pretty grumpy... and I show up. He didn't look too stoked when I met him (probably was hoping some hottie was going to chauffeur him around), but I had brought along some photos I took of him at the 1986 500 Nationals at his old home track of Lake Sugar Tree and we hit it off after that. By the end of the day, he was introducing me to the other riders! And yes, as you can imagine, David Bailey is my favorite motocross hero!
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Sparkplug #15

The future of motocross media is today's topic. There are a lot of people that think motocross is in trouble with regards to media coverage, and on the face of things, there is a lot of evidence supporting that position. Here it is, early in the 21st Century, and our sport STILL does not rate live television (or even radio!) coverage by any of the traditional media outlets and channels. Mainstream newspapers ignore us unless the event happens in their backyards and even then we won't get front page, above the fold articles.

This neglect, however, opened the door for enterprising motocross enthusiasts to implement alternative means of reporting race results. First, I believe, was that old call-in 900 number, where for a fee fans could call and get the latest race results. That was pretty cool back in its day. But the internet enabled a mini-revolution of sorts when Cycle News started it's “Virtual Grandstand” feature, which was basically a writer furiously typing away at the races, posting up-to-the-lap reports directly to the Cycle News website.

Text reporting soon gave way to live webcasts, and every Sunday afternoon (or Saturday evening during supercross season) thousands of motocross fans can be found huddled around their warm computers listening to the likes of Jason Weigandt and Jim Holley as they broadcast the races like old-time radio sports announcers. I've listened many times, and each time I do, I'm struck by how silly it all seems: big screen TVs are turned off, 120 cable or satellite channels with nothing on, and we're forced to pretend it's 1940... WHERE IS OUR LIVE TV COVERAGE??

Technology-wise, we are standing on the verge of new day in communications. The convergence of cheaper, faster computers and cheaper, faster internet access is rapidly leading to an situation in which any Joe Blow can be a broadcaster. Actually, we are already there: look at the success of the wonderful DMXS (Dead Motocrossers' Society) radio show, hosted by David Izer and Kevin Kelley and friends. There's also Pit Pass radio and others that I'm not even aware of. Video versions of these shows have already been started, and soon, “Podcasted” versions will be available as well (in the “Podcasting” model, instead of having to sit at your computer to enjoy the show, you download the latest copy of the show to your portable media player and watch/listen to it wherever you want). But all of this is almost old news, and not quite what I'm getting at.

Imagine this: for this year's Outdoor National Finale at Glen Helen, you log into your favorite MX website and you're able to see live feeds from EVERY major team in the pits. Multiple cameras that YOU choose from, so you can see who's in the autograph line, what type of tires Goose is mounting on RC's Suzuki, even who's schmoozing in the VIP section. Multiple on-track cameras, each sponsored by various industry and outside-the-industry companies, provide a wide selection of views that YOU select at your whim. And finally, the race itself is webcast live and you can tap into that, too. If you're like me, you'll have a bunch of browser windows open at one time, with the race feed in one, the AMA lap timer in another, a shot of mechanic's row in a third, and a chat window open so I can talk trash with my friends (“you SUCK, BobbyM!!”). Wouldn't that be cool? Isn't that what we really want?

Face it, the old broadcast model is dead. The broadcast networks and cable channels have already sent our sport a very clear message: they don't care. They certainly don't value motocross enough to pay for it; we've been buying our own airtime for years... and they still wouldn't run us in real-time. The old media believed, and rightly so, that they couldn't make enough advertising dollars off of our relatively small audiences. Fine, I say, let's defect to the internet and build our own economic model. MotoGP is already there, and I'm not saying that their way is the right way, but we need to be bringing the sport home ourselves here in America. We WILL need the cooperation of the phone companies, since they control the big pipes to the internet; maybe therein lies the key to the new model?

All I really know is this: it's time for a change. (And you don't really suck, BobbyM!!)

August 17, 2005

Would You Like To Ride Millville?

Here's something very cool: an on-bike view of a lap at Millville, courtesy Ryan Clark and Racer X. Dang, he makes it look easy!

August 12, 2005

Sparkplug #14

My apologies to those who were patiently waiting for my next “Sparkplug” column; time away from home made it difficult to maintain the same writing rhythm. In any case, here's the latest, and this time I think it's time to say something positive.

It's so easy to bitch and moan about things that tick us off, a heckuva lot easier doing that than pitching in and helping to make things right. Fortunately, it's just as easy to praise as it is to criticize, and my time off has made me aware of the fact that I need to balance my writing by focusing on good things every once in a while.

The truth of the matter is this: 2005 has turned out to be an utterly fantastic year for motocross in America. The year has been full of surprises from the very beginning. In fact, the shockers started late in 2004, when Rick Carmichael announced his signing with Team Suzuki, and continued when Carmichael failed to beat Chad Reed at the U.S. Open. The following is my short list of the great moments in motocross so far this year:

1) Rain at A1 – oh man, there were so many stories that came as a result of Mother Nature's capriciousness in January! The hyped up Carmichael/Stewart showdown was postponed as the best supercross racers in the world had to contend with ankle-deep mud. Despite the deluge, 45,000 diehard fans stood on their feet in the rain for the entire 250 main, flabbergasted at the spectacle. It was one of the most exciting races ever run in Anaheim Stadium!

2) Supercross practice got deadly serious – maybe I just didn't notice before, but this year seems like the first year that the very top racers decided that “winning” timed practice was the best way to intimidate their competition. As a spectator, if you missed seeded practice, you missed half the battle.

3) The return of Grant Langston – say what you will about the Zulu Warrior (and I've said plenty!), he did a great job taking the 125 East title and giving the fans their money's worth.

4) The Last (two-stroke) Dragon – Brett Metcalfe deserves a special award from Yamaha for being willing to sacrifice his season by campaigning the outgunned YZ125 in the “250F” class. Even if he doesn't get compensated by his employer, Brett can take comfort in the fact that he put a lot of smiles on a lot of faces by wringing that lil' tiddler's neck on those Saturday nights.

5) Chad Reed got pissed – and put a stop to the Carmichael party in Rick's home state, taking both Daytona (!) AND Orlando. Reed stepped up big time, especially after he was soundly whipped by RC at San Diego and Atlanta.

6) James Stewart figured out 250 Supercross – by winning 3 of the last 5 rounds, James ended his rookie year in the premier class with a thunderous bang. This is a positive column, so I won't mention what happened at the series finale in Vegas...

7) Watching Rick race outdoors – On any track, on any day, under any conditions... watching RC do his thing will never get old. The man is a malevolent maestro on a motorcycle, bending that yellow thumper to his will, and beating his opposition mercilessly. On any racing Sunday, Rick Carmichael can be found channeling the spirit of Lance Armstrong, who believed that success in racing was all about pain... pushing oneself so hard for so long that your opponents have no choice but to give up. No one has beat Rick straight up yet. There's a good chance that no one ever will.

8) Mike Brown: Back in the U.S.A. - Brownie's ability to put his early '05 European soap opera behind him and put together a privateer campaign for the U.S. 250F title on a shoestring budget was a great accomplishment in itself. The fact that he not only got the Honda 250 its first AMA moto win and overall win and was even leading the championship points race for a time is nothing short of phenomenal.

9) DMXS Radio – Good God, is there anything better than this crazy show? David Izer, Kevin Kelly and the rest of their crew have created a program that is simultaneously funny, entertaining, ground-breaking, profane, spirited, informative and outrageous. Sitting on computer listening to them interview the top riders and people in motocross, while engaging their rabid fans in the chat room is one of life's greatest pleasures... or maybe I just don't get out enough?

10) The Great Outdoors – I could say Hangtown was great, since I was there (and the 250F finish was epic); or I could say High Point was awesome because of the two-moto battle between RC and Stewart. Or I could go on and on and on about ALL of the rounds run so far, but that would be just going too far. As I mentioned at the start, 2005 has been a great year for motocross, with record attendance, a new track in Colorado, a fantastic battle in the 250F class and more. I can't wait for Glen Helen.

11) Way to go, OLN – I have to admit that I have yet to catch any of the races on OLN, but that's nothing new for me; I rarely watch motocross racing on TV simply because I cannot justify the cost of cable for the very few things that I want to watch. But I am glad that motocross has found a new home at a channel that seems to believe in the sport, and I look forward to good things happening in the upcoming years. And the return of David Bailey to the announcer's booth is the icing on the cake!

12) Look out World, Team America is coming! It seemed sort of anticlimactic at the time, but you can believe that the announcement of the U.S. team for the Motocross des Nations... Rick Carmichael, Kevin Windham and Mike Brown... sent a shockwave through the rest of the world. Those guys across the pond aren't stupid: they know that Carmichael is the Man, and that Windham and Brownie can haul the mail, too. Only a catastrophe can stop the inevitable American win... and we don't believe in catastrophes anymore.

Oh, there's more to be happy about, a lot more. But I want to stop here on a really high note: we are going to beat the best in the world this fall, because WE ARE the best in the world!

August 07, 2005

The X Games STILL Suck

Yeah, I watched the Supermoto race today. In fact, I almost watched the entire X Games presentation this afternoon, meaning I sat through the Sk8 Big Air craziness and the BMX Vert Big Trick contest, while waiting for the big Supermoto show. Was I disappointed? Very.

First off, I was always skeptical about the foolishness of adding a mandatory "pit stop" to a short motorcycle race. I never got how that made Supermoto more "extreme". If the "pit stop" resulted in making this race an improvement over last year's race, someone please explain it to me. To me, it violated the entire spirit of the X Games. The X Games were always about wild 'n crazy guys doing wild 'n crazy things, and INDIVIDUALISM was key. The fact that most of the top X Games events are creative endeavors that are scored by subjective judging only underscores that point. Adding a mandatory "pit stop" to the Supermoto race meant adding a "team" aspect to what was before a solitary athletic pursuit. And to top it all off, it was goofy.

I mean, why change a tire that doesn't need changing? Why limit the crews to non-powered "hand" tools and production wheel mounts? What other X Games event has equipment rules and limits?

But the "pit stop" silliness was just one of the many very bad things that happened during this race. Here are more:

- What was the point of having the AMA involved? Just so the racers would get to run their AMA numbers? Maybe to "enforce" the rules? Since when do the X Games have rules and referees?

- The announcing was beyond terrible. What was the point of having some of the world's best supermotard racers in the field if the announcers never even introduce them or talk to them?

- Why have a field of 20 racers, for that matter? Ten would have been plenty. As it was, there were just enough lappers in the way at the end to make the finish more confusing than it needed to be.

- Why have timed qualifying (or "seeding" as they called it) and then start everyone on a supercross gate in the dirt, instead of in rows on the pavement as they would at any other supermoto race on the planet? That was the only "extreme" part of the race... extremely goofy, that is.

- The coverage was spotty, to say the least. They were covering the race live, and still ended up going to commercial break just as key passes were being made. Eh, that's TV, right? Whatever.

By the time the checkered flag flew, I had enough. I didn't stick around for the post race foolishness, although I did watch Doug Henry stop to give one of his crew members a ride for the victory lap. Henry is a class act, and it was great to see him get the gold.

I know a lot of people were stoked about this race, and I was truly looking forward to it. But it could have been so much better, if only the X Games producers had truly cared.

August 06, 2005

The X Games Suck

I'm sorry if I'm hurting any feelings here, but after watching Thursday night's live coverage of the "Motocross" Big Trick competition, this is simply my conclusion: The X Games Suck.

How else to explain why Twitch won gold over my man Travis Pastrana? Twitch threw a no-footer backflip to one hander; Pastrana threw down a saran wrap backflip to NO hander... how did that score less? And to top it off, Pastrana's first run was a failed backflip BARSPIN using a custom fork (unfortunately, the fork broke off; check out the press release at Racer X Online). I understand that the fiasco put Travis behind in points, but he was robbed on his second jump.

And how about that clown Carothers? Last year he was the X Games cinderella man, winning the gold by pulling off the body varial, or "Carolla" as he later named it. One year later, you'd think he would have practiced that trick until he could do it in his sleep... that's the way the top dogs in FMX roll. But no, Chuck rode as if he hadn't turned a wheel in practice since the last X Games, and his aborted attempt in his first run and his spectacular crash in his second confirmed this. WTF?

I haven't checked out the Games since Thursday, and I have to admit that I am plain JEALOUS that they're able to get prime time coverage for these "sports". I will probably check out the madness that they've turned Supermoto into... friggin' pitstops?... just because I like bikes. But I've come to disrespect the X Games.

August 03, 2005

Why Can't/Won't AMA Pro Racing Get A Sponsor For The Nationals, Part 2

Here is one of the more intelligent conversations to take place over at MotoNews, dealing the issue of sponsorship of Arenacross vs. Motocross. Apparently, Mike Kidd's new arenacross series has landed energy drink manufacturer BooKoo as a sponsor, before the first race has even been run! Meanwhile, for some reason AMA Pro Racing has YET to find a sponsor for an Outdoor National Championship series that is more than halfway over.

Some major players represent in the post, including Mike Kidd himself. This thread is why venues like MotoNews exist. Good stuff!

August 01, 2005

Godspeed, Marcad57, Whoever You Were...

I was just reading the Rick Carmichael interview over at Racer X Online, and in it RC mentioned something that stunned me. He said that a guy that called himself "Marcad57" on the MotoDrive board passed away from heat stroke and a heart attack.

Now, I didn't know Marcad personally, and since I've been out of town and surfing the 'net through my parent's AOL account, I have been basically locked out of MotoDrive for some reason, so this is all news to me. But I want to say one thing: Marcad was one of the valued members of the MotoDrive community. I'm sure we didn't always see things eye-to-eye, but he was a good person as far as I could tell. My prayers go out to his family. Marcad, enjoy your new digs!