September 30, 2005

Sparkplug 21

It is officially the “off season” for American motocross and we all know what that means: endless bench racing sessions where we talk about the “Perfect Storm” that wasn't, and pontificate about the new year of racing to come. For this week's Sparkplug, I want to kick-off the season with continued reflection on what I'm calling my “vision” for motocross in these United States, a Professional Motocross Racing League. Sorry folks, but I'm going to keep pushing this idea until somebody proves it completely, ridiculously impossible, or they step up to the plate and ask me to help them implement it. One or the other.

One thing that many fans of outdoor motocross agree on is the idea that the facilities at most if not all of the current National tracks are woefully inadequate. In short, we want our top tracks to offer the same amenities that stadiums and superspeedways offer: grandstand seating, luxury suites, real and plentiful bathrooms, easy access, pre-wired for television, etc, etc. It is also quite clear that such facilities are tremendously expensive, and there is basically no way that a promoter can afford to build such a motorsports palace on the shaky agreement that they will get one big National event per year. How do we get around this?

My solution is to give these facility owner/promoters MULTIPLE events per year. The only way to do this is to change the current racing paradigm. We must drop the current “traveling circus” format and adopt the multiple, simultaneous regional event structure as used by the professional stick-and-ball sports. The principle is simple: if we want to have facilities such as they have in the NFL and MLB, then we need to pattern our schedule after theirs as well.

Imagine living in the Southeastern portion of this great country, where you live in knowledge that the greatest motocross racer(s) of all time live in our region, but you have to drive all the way to Maryland in order to see them compete on a real outdoor race course. How frustrating is that? Suppose the new Professional Motocross Racing League constructs a state-of-the-art facility in Alabama or Georgia, and throughout the course of the racing season holds at least 6 top level professional events... would that be exciting or what?

Let's take a look at that a little bit closer. The Atlanta Supercross can get between 40 to 60-thousand fans in the door each year. I think the Daytona Supercross does similar business. For the blue-sky sake of argument, let's say the Southeastern PMRL event gets 50,000 at each of six events, for a total draw of 300,000. At $30 a pop, that's $9 million in just ticket sales. Do you think those fans might want something to drink while they watch the races?

Here's how the multiple, simultaneous regional schedule could work. Split the country into 6 regions: North East, Central and West and South East, Central and West. Build fantastic facilities in each. Allow teams to pick a region as their “home” region (the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit team could select South West... the Starbucks/Engine Ice squad might run in the South East), but there will be multiple teams competing to represent each region. Qualifiers will be run to determine which riders from which teams will represent the region each week in region versus region competition. Arrange the schedule so that teams play “away” on alternate weekends. The season will run for 16 weeks from late Spring to early Fall, regardless of what they do with Supercross. The season will culminate in Individual titles, Team titles and Region titles.

And let me take this moment to stress that this is NOT indoor motocross. These facilities are all about outdoor motocross, and every attempt should be made to take advantage of the natural terrain endemic to each particular region. The facility itself should be engineered to provide perfect viewing of a nearly natural track. If it almost sounds impossible... that's alright; nothing great ever came from a small dream.

Yes, this idea blows tradition clear out of the water. Yes, this idea means goodbye to the great old tracks, but it also means hello to a new era of motocross, one that is exemplified by increased numbers of people taking to the dirt to enjoy the sport firsthand. More track, less land closures, more fun for all.

And for those of us getting too old to ride a whole heck of a lot, more racing to watch on TV... or better yet, on the internet. Bring it on!

September 28, 2005

Where Do They Get These Guys?

Seriously. Where did they come from? Clear Channel just released a press blurb about the NBC announcing team for the U.S. Open (read it here at Racer X Online). I mean, who the heck is "color analyst" Robbie Floyd? Or "pit reporter" Kenan Harkin? Do you know? Because I sure don't.

September 27, 2005

AMA Pro Racing Penalizes Riders

So, the men in Ohio have passed judgement on that crazy second moto event at the season finale (see press release here at Transworld Motocross Online).

The verdict? $5,000 fine against Mike Alessi PLUS a disqualification for BOTH motos (?), which moves him back to 3rd overall for the season. Alessi was also put on 12 months of probation, whatever that means. Alessis is also now ineligible for the AMA Rookie of the Year award (like THAT was gonna happen after that episode!). The AMA also penalized Matt Walker, fining him $2,500 and disqualifying him for just the second moto. Oh yeah, he's on 12 months probation as well.

My take? I'm glad the AMA finally got its act together and did something about that flagrant transgression. I also think that waiting two weeks was a bit, how can I put it?.... LAZY? Obviously, they had bigger fish to fry than enforcing their own rules in a timely fashion. The press release mentions the difficulty in coordinating everyone's schedule... hey man, you're not trying to throw a party, YOU'RE HANDING OUT PUNISHMENT. It's called TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS. So what's first? Business or what?

I also don't quite understand the concept of disqualifying Mike for moto one, unless they are specifically punishing him for his altercation with Grant Langston (running him off the track and then kicking at him on the steep uphill). If they are, it should be clearly spelled out in the press release. The press release is the tool to let the racing public know that the AMA means business! Or not...

But $5,000? That's barely a penalty. As Motocross Action's Jody Weisel once noted, if the rider gets a win bonus of $50,000, a $5k penalty for cheating is hardly a deterrence. There needs to be another zero on the end of that fine. Penalties need to cause pain in order for them to have an effect. As it is, this doesn't even rate as a slap on the wrist.

Finally, does anyone really take the 12 month probation seriously? Does anyone really think Mike Alessi is going to change his style because he's "on probation"? Is the AMA seriously saying that if Mike Alessi has one more similar incident in 2006, they'll pull his racing license? This would be funny if it weren't so sad.

The AMA definitely sent a message to the troops with this press release today. Prepare yourself for more "Rollerball" antics in 2006.

September 26, 2005

I have seen the Future of Motocross...

And it has two names.

The first name is “Live, pay-per-view internet webcasts”. For the entirely reasonable sum of $4.99, a company called Mediazone streamed the 2005 Motocross Des Nations to anyone who wanted to see it; in fact, you can still see the archived version for the rest of the week. For less than the cost of an overpriced beer at a Supercross, I was able to watch, live and in real-time, Ricky Carmichael beat the best racers in the world. It was a phenomenal show, and to top the whole thing off, there were no commercials whatsoever. No breaks in the action. A single, moto-savvy announcer who could actually correctly pronounce all of the riders’ names. It was pure moto-magic, and it makes no sense at all that the American series have yet to be covered in the same way. We certainly have the technology, and the audience is just waiting for the opportunity. All we need is for certain persons to make the decision to do the right thing, for a change.

The second name of the Future of Motocross is Ben Townley. The young New Zealander put in the ride of his life at the 2005 Motocross Des Nations, turning lap times with a tenth or two of RC, and clearly beating Kevin Windham straight up, two motos in a row. Townley will be coming to America in 2006 to race for Mitch Payton on the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki squad in the 250F class, and he made it very, VERY clear on Sunday that he will be the man to beat. Current AMA 250F champion Ivan Tedesco could not even get close enough to Townley to smell his exhaust. I don't know what young Ben's supercross skills are like, but his outdoor style reminds me of Chad Reed; if Townley is anything like Speedy Reedy indoors, he's going to have a heck of a career in America. The just-married Mitch has got to be triple-happy right about now!

The Future is bright indeed.

Big Ups to Team USA!

We did it! Or more correctly, THEY did it, bringing the MXdN trophy back to America. Racer X's Davey Coombs tells it like it was.

September 24, 2005

Team U.S.A.: Number One in Qualifying!

Check out Ryan Cooley's excellent Motocross Des Nations report over at Transworld Motocross Online. Great story and pics. Man, did they get a big crowd for Saturday qualifying, or what?!

Sparkplug 20

It's the Motocross Des Nations weekend, so the first thing I want to do is say “Go U.S.A.!” However, this week's Sparkplug is not about the most important single day race of the year; I will let others tackle that assignment for now. This week I want to revisit an idea I have mentioned before on this site: how to improve the outdoor Nationals.

In particular, I want to propose, again, a total revamping of the way the series works, just for the heck of it. Some may say “if it ain't broke, don't go trying to fix it”, but I'm of the opinion that it's safe to muse about seemingly ridiculous ideas... sometimes they turn out to be sheer genius.

Do any of you remember High School Motocross? (Steve Bauer remembers here!) I remember back in the late '70s while I still lived on the East Coast, one of the many things that made me jealous of California was the fact that some of their public high schools had actual motocross teams, and they actually held a championship race at the L.A. Coliseum! To an Atlantic Coast racer the concept was mind-boggling back in the day; even now, it seems too surreal to be true. What ever happened to those teams? I'm pretty sure that our modern, litigious society and the correspondingly high insurance rates had something to do with demise of this extra-curricular activity, but the truth is I don't know for sure. But wouldn't it be cool if we could get it to happen again? And in more high schools around the country?

Here's the thing I fantasize about (when I'm not daydreaming about playing footsie at dinner with LeeAnn Tweeden): amateur motocross competition fashioned after amateur football competition in this country. Imagine high school motocross leagues featuring Saturday afternoon, multi-school race meets; city and state high school motocross champions; college motocross scholarships and college motocross leagues racing on Friday nights, all feeding the big show: a Professional Motocross Racing League that holds weekly regional team races on Sunday afternoons from Spring to late Summer, with a big, Fall playoff series and a final, championship race in October. How awesome would that be?

I'm talking about a significant, exponential increase in the amount of PARTICIPATION in our sport, while everyone else with ideas for improving the Nationals seems to be concerned primarily with increasing spectator attendance. Which approach do you think the manufacturers will most likely support? The one that holds the highest potential for improving their revenues, of course.

I also realize that this dream of mine is far from reality. There are many obstacles, some financial, some political, some institutional that stand in the way. But the one challenge that we cannot afford to hinder us is our own ability to DREAM BIG. Ridicule my idea if you like, but you have to admit that it is a bigger vision than any that have been recently floated by the powers-that-be. Some people don't want to see motocross get any bigger; I think they are constrained by poor insight. I think they can only see our current headaches increasing in size along with the sport. But I believe that exponential growth in PARTICIPATION will help to mitigate many of the problems we face, problems like track closures and shrinking, overcrowded riding areas. There's strength in numbers, folks! If more taxpaying, wage-earning voters are riding dirtbikes, there will be more reasons for the politicians to work in our favor, and more market incentive to open more tracks. Legitimizing motocross competition as an amateur athletic endeavor to be pursued in conjunction with academic achievement will also go a long way towards reducing public antagonism towards the sport.

I may have forgot to mention that the minimum age for a professional racer in the Professional Racing League would be 18, and that some college course work would be mandatory as well, unless “hardship” could be proven for those rare cases. Why? To give these kids a better shot at a longer, more fulfilling career. It is pretty clear that while a young man or woman may be physically capable of racing at a professional level, two more years makes a big difference in their ability to make mature adult decisions, both on and off the race track. This year's Josh Grant/Josh Hansen/Mike Alessi antics are just some of the stories that give weight to my assertion.

There's a lot more to this idea of mine, and I will not be surprised to see some version of it implemented before I'm gone. Actually, I take that back... it would surprise the heck out of me! But that's what Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals are all about.

And in closing, I would just like to say... “Go U.S.A.!!!!”

September 23, 2005

Where is Sparkplug 20?

Sorry, it's not ready yet. Don't kill me. Instead, visit Wonder Warthog's site to see what the privateer champions are up to...

Sparkplug will go up later today. For now, gotta go make that cheddar...

September 22, 2005

Looks Like AMA Arenacross is in Good Hands

Here's a press release announcing that the new AMA National Arenacross series has hired High Profile PR (HPPR) to manage their public relations campaign for the 2005 - 2006 season.

HPPR is owned by Pat Schutte, a tireless fan of MX and a proven PR specialist. This is probably one of the best decisions the AMA has made in recent weeks. Good job, Pat!

Lord Alfred Returns From The Dead!

Jason "Blogandt" has an eccentric rich uncle, Lord Alfred Weigandt who is quite the motocross fan... although he clearly holds tremendous disdain for American racers. He's put his thoughts about the upcoming Motocross Des Nations together for this article at Racer X Online. Cheers!

September 19, 2005

Anti-fourstroke diatribe!

I gotta give props to Lee over at On The Pipe Racing for his funny-as-hell take on all those damn thumpers! Give 'em hell, Lee!

September 16, 2005

Sparkplug 19

Well, the American motocross and supercross championships are now finally over, and it's time for me to pay my respects to the greatest motocross racer this country has ever seen. If you are in any way allergic to heaping amounts of praise for Rick Carmichael, then this is one Sparkplug you would be well advised to avoid.

RC. Two letters that stand for motocross, much the same way as “MC” used to stand for supercross. What Rick Carmichael has accomplished in his short professional career is nothing short of completely remarkable, and mere words cannot accurately convey his utter dominance of this sport. I will let other writers and publications list all of his wins, championships, titles and records (In fact, check out what Davey Coombs wrote about him in last week's Racerhead column on Racer X Online)... I am just going to focus on the man. I will also let other writers and publications dig up his supposed shortcomings; I have no interest in that. Regardless of what they say, it is abundantly clear to even the casual motocross fan that Rick Carmichael is the greatest American racer of all time.

And what's really, really cool about this fact is that you don't have to rely on a record book or an old video tape to prove this point. All you have to do is go to a race and watch him put it down, lap after lap. He is sheer perfection on a motorcycle, and he has the proven capacity to handle any track, any condition, any component and any unforeseen eventuality. It is unreal, but it is actually real. The kid is mind-boggling.

I saw him at Glen Helen last weekend. There was a wicked downhill double that preceded the infamous “Flounder” straightaway. It was the type of double that shoots you straight up in the air, and the second jump had a steep, unforgiving face. Finally, the backside of the double led immediately into a tight lefthand turn. Basically, there was no room for error on this jump and it spooked a good number of the very fast pros on hand for this race. Of course, Carmichael had the jump wired and hit it in the same spot on every lap. On the first moto's white flag lap, he casually whipped his bike so flat that it would have placed him third in the X Games Big Air event. NO ONE ELSE had the balls to try it, nor had they earned the right to do so.

That was just one of many, many times that I have been flabbergasted by what the man can do on a motocross track. What I am trying to say is that he, more than any other American rider, embodies the sport itself. For not only is he the winningest rider ever, he has grown up to become the greatest ambassador of the sport to date, even eclipsing the great Jeremy McGrath. He has an untarnished reputation for having a good work ethic, for practicing good sportsmanship and for being open, honest and forthright. He is truly a good role model for your kids, a position that many of today's professional athletes have sadly relinquished. And it's easy to tell where RC got these wonderful traits: I have had the good fortune to meet his parents, and they are genuinely nice people whose love for the sport of motocross is only eclipsed by the love they have for their son.

I went back into my collection of old Racer X magazines and pulled out the May 2001 issue. Savvy motocross fans will remember that 2001 was the year that RC finally pulled the plug on Jeremy McGrath's string of supercross titles. In the magazine, Davey Coombs pulls double duty, penning an interview with Carmichael and also writing a short story about “that moment” at Anaheim 2 when the guard formally changed. It was during the opening ceremonies, during the “hot lap”, when Rick pulled up alongside the King and whipped his KX hard over the triple, blowing everyone's minds.... including McGrath. A poster of this later became a semi-famous advertisement. According to the story, David Bailey, announcing for ESPN at the time, said “I think Ricky just won this race.”

That seems so long ago, but it was only 4 short years ago. Back then, while RC's outdoor dominance was well established, it wasn't quite clear whether he was going to be the supercross superstar as well. By the end of that season, clarity was no longer a problem. RC owned supercross as well.

And then, during those 4 years, Carmichael somehow managed to redefine “dominance” with regards to outdoor motocross, by doing the unthinkable TWICE. The fact that he's still undefeated outdoors after that win by Windham back in '02? What more proof do you need?

Soon, RC will lead Team America in the Motocross des Nations, and all of us can rest assured that no matter what happens that day in France, Mr. Carmichael will proudly represent American motocross in a way that will make other nationalities feel good about Americans, even as he pummels their favorite riders mercilessly lap after lap.

Rick Carmichael, congratulations on your new 450F Championship and a heck of a year.

September 15, 2005

"Sorry if they upset you, but they’re our names - get over it!"

That quote is from AMA Pro Racing's Steve Whitelock. There's more of that at Racer X Online.

Another nail in the old-fashioned sanctioning body's coffin, if you ask me.

September 13, 2005

You Owe Us An Apology, Mike Alessi

Dude, this goes beyond the standard “What were you THINKING/SMOKING/DRINKING?” exclamation. By now, everyone has seen the video, and if not, they will when it’s finally aired on OLN. You were cold busted, Mike. Ain’t nothing left for you to say but “I’m sorry.”

Mike, you had a great season going! Your very first full professional series, and you were second in the points with an actual shot at the title in the final moto! It was an awesome year for you and it surely changed some peoples’ minds about you. And then you went and burned it all up in just a few seconds of stupidity. You owe the entire motocross world an apology for your actions on Sunday.

Hey man, it’s great that you have the eye of the tiger and all that, but you seem to have forgotten that honor and respect are important parts of motocross. Any honor and respect you had gained this year have been completely wiped out. Did you honestly think that tackling Tedesco in front of the scoring tower and grandstands would win you more friends? Did you seriously think that winning the title with such a move would actually count for anything? Did someone brainwash you into thinking that blatant cheating is an accepted tactic in motocross? Mike, when are you going to grow up?

If you care to peruse my archives, you’ll see, Mike, that I picked YOU as the favorite to win the 250F class this year. And you came mighty close, and for that you should be proud. Now, you have absolutely nothing to be proud of. Sure, you won a National and a few motos… too bad none of that counts anymore. Didn’t you learn anything from the Kobe Bryant story? Kobe had built his career not just on his stellar basketball playing, but also through his carefully cultivated good guy persona. That all went to shit when the real Kobe got his freak on in Colorado… and got cold busted, just like you. Now, you have to start with an apology to everyone, and hopefully, we’ll forgive you and move on.

September 12, 2005

Who is this? None other than Tony Alessi, watching his boys study the gate before they pick their spots for the first Motocross Lites moto. There's no way to tell from this shot what Alessi shenanigans are going to happen in just a few hours... Posted by Picasa

Here's Kevin Windham's Factory Connection Honda CRF450R, wearing Sebastian Tortelli's number for some reason. Actually, #103 is Kevin's MXdN number, but Tortelli ran his number anyway, the only difference between the two being Kevin's yellow backgrounds. I love the way the AMA bends the rules when they want to. In this shot, Kdub's wrench is about to do a last minute silencer change. Now, I wonder if they sound-tested both silencers, or did Factory Connection pull a fast one in the pits? Posted by Picasa

"Let Broc Bye" Here's a shot of former multi-time national champion Broc Glover, now hard at work for Dunlop tires. What's he doing? He's using his cell phone camera to take pics of the Dunlop logo on Tedesco's bike. Why? YOU ask him... Posted by Picasa

I couldn't resist this shot of Yamaha of Troy team members Kelly Smith and Bret Metcalfe. I think their gear looks awesome. But man, were they ever outclassed on the track by the might Monster/Pro Circuit team! YOT was never in contention this year, indoors or out. Posted by Picasa

Here's Ivan "Tabasco" Tedesco's race bike, outfitted in special Motocross des Nations colors. I guess that ends the speculation on which bike he'll use. This is the last time he'll ride a Kawasaki in 2005. These Monster/Pro Circuit bikes were the prettiest of all this year. Check out the trick Pro Circuit kick starter. Posted by Picasa

New Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki hotshot Ryan Villapoto calmly waits to line up for the first moto at the Glen Helen season finale. This kid is gonna be a star! Posted by Picasa

Glen Helen 2005: You Shoulda Been There.

Yeah, I was at Glen Helen for the final round of the AMA Outdoor National Motocross Championships, and it was a great day of racing. I will report on the 450F class later, because Sunday's biggest deal by far was the suspenseful 250F (ahem, the AMA Motocross Lites) class, and the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team had the hottest hand of all. With Ivan Tedesco enjoying the comfort of a 35 point lead over KTM's Mike Alessi in the championship standings, it looked like a sure bet that Mitch Payton would be adding yet another number 1 plate to his team's transporter. It only took half a lap of the first moto for that “sure bet” to disappear.

Tedesco was hit by Team Makita Suzuk's Broc Hepler in the back section whoops. Tedesco went over the bars and his chain derailed. He was able to put it back on, but it put him about a minute behind the next-to-last rider. Ivan put on a charge, but was unable to finish in the points. Meanwhile, Alessi finished second to Grant Langston in what looked like a replay of their titanic duel at Hangtown, but Langston was assessed a 5 second penalty for cutting the track, so Alessi got credit for the win... and 25 points. Tedesco's points lead was cut to ten. The stage was set for the second moto, the last race of the year.

At the start of moto 2, Tedesco's teammate Ryan Villapoto got the holeshot, followed by Jeff Alessi, of all people. Close behind was Tedesco, Mike Alessi and Andrew Short. Chaos again ensued on the first lap. Here's how Ivan described it at the post-race press conference: “I was in third, I believe. And going down that mud straightaway, that's what I call it, I don't know what they call it, that long straightaway into a right-hander, I was kind of in the middle, I think he went inside and starting clicking gears and never shut off and just aimed for me. Took us both down; I'm pretty sore from that. When I was trying to get up he was actually standing on top of my bike, you know, trying to keep me from getting my bike up. Trying to push me down and stuff. You know, it took every ounce of everything to try not to just hit that kid, uppercut his helmet. But I knew I didn't want to get disqualified or anything, I knew the points, so I had to hold back. Finally Walker came over and kind of helped me out. I got my bike up, got going and just kind of... not rode around but my bike was pretty beat up and I was beat up so I just cruised into twelfth and pulled off the championship.”

Meanwhile up front, young Villapoto looked as if he was going to take his first National moto win, until his teammate Langston passed him for the win and the overall. Villapoto, in only his third National, took second and second overall... his first podium finish. A remarkable performance for the 17-year-old.

I went to the Monster/Pro Circuit pits after the press conference just to get a feel for the vibe there. I was expecting a jubilant celebration, but instead it was a quiet, almost reverential atmosphere. I watched Team Suzuki chief Roger DeCoster come over to congratulate Pro Circuit owner/manager Mitch Payton, and it made me think about how far Payton and his company have come. I was wondering how Payton felt about getting kudos from a legend like DeCoster. I wonder if Mitch Payton realizes that he has become a legend in his own right. The side doors of the Monster/Pro Circuit transporter were open, and on those doors are a series of championship number plates for all of the many championships the team has won. This year, 2005, Mitch's team has absolutely dominated 250F (er, AMA Motocross/Supercross Lites) racing, winning every title available. And when you think about how many weekend warriors use Pro Circuit pipes and equipment, you understand the tremendous contribution this company has made to the sport of motocross in America.

While I was hanging out, pretty much by myself... no one really knows me in the pits... Ivan emerged from the transporter with a beer in his hand. He raised a toast to Mitch and they shared some words. I wasn't close enough to hear, and it was a private affair anyway. Then Mitch reached up and hugged Ivan. They talked some more and Mitch hugged him again. Call me a softy, but I was nearly moved to tears. These guys worked long and hard for this title; they earned it and now they'll go their separate ways, Tedesco to Team Suzuki while Payton will tackle another year of proving that his company is the best hop-up company in the sport, and that his team is the winningest non-factory team ever.

(For a full race report, check out what Steve Bruhn posted over at Racer X Online.)

September 09, 2005

They're Kidding, Right?

Here it is, the end of summer, and we get this April Fool's Day Joke from the AMA. The link takes you to a press release on Racer X Online, in which the AMA announces new names for the 125 and 250 classes.

Brace yourself.

The 125/250F class will be known, in AMA Supercross, as "AMA Supercross Lite."

The 250/450F class will be called, in AMA Supercross, "AMA Supercross."

The "naming convention", as they wistfully refer to it, will be echoed in motocross. "AMA Motocross" and "AMA Motocross Lite."

They couldn't even spell it correctly? And really, what's "Lite" about a modern 250 fourstroke? They're only a few pounds "liter" (see, that doesn't work at all!) than the 450s.

The kicker, though, are the quotes from AMA officials. Check this foolishness out...

“When I heard the new names I knew we had nailed it,” said Steve Whitelock, AMA Pro Racing SX/MX Series Manager. “The names perfectly communicate the two classes, remove the displacement confusion and fit within each overall championship. I couldn’t be happier and I’m looking forward to rolling them out with the 2006 racing season.”

AMA Pro Racing CEO Scott Hollingsworth took the foolishness even further: "This direction accomplishes several objectives in terms of clarifying the classes, defining the hierarchy between the support and premier class and building on the inherent equity and awareness of the AMA Supercross and AMA Motocross brands." (emphasis mine)

Oh. So now it's a branding issue. Dang, I should have known.

One question, guys: how will these new class names translate to the amateur classes?

Sparkplug 18

I call this week's Sparkplug “A Tale of Two Racetracks” because I want to compare and contrast two famous motorsports facilities and the way they do business. One of the tracks is Glen Helen Raceway, host of this weekend's National motocross finale. The other track is NASCAR's California Speedway, which hosted a big Nextel Cup race just last weekend over the Labor Day holiday. Ironically, these facilities are within 50 miles of each other here in Southern California, so they both service the same large population center.

Clearly, comparing NASCAR to AMA Motocross is like comparing your favorite NFL team to your kid's high school squad. But I think the comparison is important because it gives us motocross fans a good idea of how big our sport could be if it were managed competently.

Let's look at the bottom line first: attendance. Last weekend, about 90,000 people attended the Nextel Cup event at the California Speedway. According to a cover story in last week's Fortune magazine, the average ticket price for a NASCAR event is $88. Doing the math, that equates to nearly $8 million at the box office. Last year's Glen Helen national drew a crowd of around 24,000 (just guessing here) and the average ticket price could not be higher than $30, but for the sake of argument, let's say it was $40. That comes out to a little less than $1 million. Big difference.

Of course, ticket sales are not the only means for generating revenue. NASCAR track owners get a split of the TV money. FOX, NBC and TNT currently pay the organization $543 million a year for the privilege of airing the stock car races. Of that, the track owners get $318 million. Let's look at those last two sentences again... three major media outlets are PAYING the sanctioning body more than a half a billion dollars A YEAR. Do you think their broadcasts ever get pre-empted? Compare that to what will pass for television coverage this weekend at Glen Helen. The Outdoor Life network (OLN) is great, but they are in no position to either pay or demand to be paid good money for airing our races. This particular point is so painful I'll just leave it at that.

With regards to sponsorship, NASCAR tracks are splitting some $94 million a year in sponsor fees. Divided by the 36 events, and that's only $2.6 million per event. Could this possibly be an area where Glen Helen can compete? Get real; AMA Pro Racing would probably sell title sponsorship of the entire National series for not much more than that.

Well then, how about the golden calf called Merchandising? In NASCAR, the tracks sell and profit from merchandise, the teams sell and profit from merchandise and the sanctioning body gets a cut from both. Win, win, win, baby! A total of some $320 million is divided among the parties. Back on the motocross side of the fence, AMA Pro Racing prohibits teams from selling merchandise at the races. There is a vendor's row, and businesses can sell all the stuff they want, just as long as the track and AMA Pro Racing get their cut. The teams are left out in the cold. And how much are they making? Sorry, I do not have that information, but I think it's safe to assume that it's much, much less than $320 million a year.

But it's not just about the cold hard cash, right? What about the sport itself? What about the racing experience for the fans? Well actually, this is the area where the California Speedway REALLY kicks Glen Helen's ass. The facility is built to handle over 100,000 fans in comfort, with bleacher seating, paved and lighted parking lots, real bathroom facilities, luxury suites for those with extra cash, state-of-the-art sound systems, comfortable press facilities with high-speed internet access, hardwired broadcast facilities, kitchens, garages, showers ... you name it, they've got it. Meanwhile, down the arroyo over by the penitentiary, Glen Helen DOES have some flushing toilets... only there's no roof over those toilets for some reason. Parking? Forget about it. Comfort? Are you kidding? Sound system? Only if you brought it yourself. Seriously, Glen Helen has a P.A. system... it's just not very good. Truthfully, the racetrack itself is Glen Helen's ace in the hole. It's a World Class circuit. Too bad it's surrounded by Third World accommodations.

I'm not going to beat this horse any further; I think my point was made. But here's the deal: last week at Steel City, I was able to watch the motos in air-conditioned comfort because the track owners had the foresight to build a few VIP viewing suites next to their announcer's tower. It also helped that the track was laid out in a manner that offered excellent viewing from almost anywhere in the park. This type of facility should be the bare minimum for a National motocross race, not the gold standard.

Ultimately what I would like is to be able to view a track with the characteristics of Glen Helen, but in the comfort of a facility like the California Speedway. It can be done; so who's going to be the first? I believe what they said in that movie is true: “If you build it, they will come.” Someday soon, someone will build our sport’s “Field of Dreams”… and I will go to every race they hold!

September 07, 2005

Missed Opportunity: Last Saturday at Steel City, Mike Brown's mechanic is shown here wearing the "old" version of the official MXdN t-shirt. I'm surprised he wasn't fined by the AMA for being "out of uniform" (maybe he was) In any case, Brown answered Sunday's first moto call in intimidating black gear, on a Honda that sounded strong, but he blew his chance to send a message to the AMA by failing to finish in the top ten. A weak motor can no longer be an excuse for Brown, since he's running his own team and has had ample time to resolve the matter. Posted by Picasa

September 05, 2005

Steel City Notes

I was able to attend the penultimate round of the 2005 National Championship at Steel City, thanks to my friend Davey Coombs of Racer X Illustrated. It was a fantastic weekend, and I met so many great, great people that my head is still spinning. I'm so stoked that I'm not even mad that United Airlines lost my luggage on the way back...! But enough about that, here's some impressions that I picked up over the weekend... and if you want a full race report, check out Racer X's report by Jason Weigandt here.

1. Mike Alessi is a holeshot machine. And he's quite the gamester in practice, cutting the track and not really playing his full hand. When the first moto came around, he finally displayed the speed he was capable of... and it was very fast!

2. Newbie Ryan Villapoto rode more like a seasoned vet in what was his second pro racer ever! Fast, fearless kid.

3. Broc Hepler was a man on fire, "Iceman" nickname notwithstanding. He struggled the tiniest bit with traffic, but once he got into the lead, he was uncatchable.

4. All of the Monster/Pro Circuit Kawasaki team looked strong, although soon-to-be National Champion Ivan Tedesco, fast as he was, could not top the pace of Hepler and Alessi.

5. Davi Milsaps rode an inspired second moto, making the last few laps extremely exciting as he pressured Villapoto, Short and Tedesco.

6. Rick Carmichael was simply a joy to watch, even though we've all seen this story before. He did fall on the last lap of moto one, but he got up quickly and didn't even stall his Suzuki. Of course, his lead was never in jeopardy.

7. For a moment it looked as if Ryan Hughes would take third in the first 450 moto, but it just didn't happen.

8. Kdub had a masterful first moto, charging from next-to-last to second. It made everyone wonder "what if?" had he gotten a better start...

9. Sean Hamblin "looked" fast on his 250 Kawasaki, but he was never in contention for much of anything.

10. After the race, Carmichael gave an impressive podium speech, urging folks to pull together to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Then he donated his ultra-trick BBR-framed 110 mini to an auction for the hurricane relief effort! DC Shoes' boss Ken Block won the bidding for the bike, paying something like $16,000 for it! Good job!

September 02, 2005

Sparkplug 17

I hope that this is the only time I feel moved to write a Sparkplug about anything other than motocross. For even though I am currently preparing to head to Steel City to witness the amazing Rick Carmichael wrap up yet another championship, I am not feeling a lot of excitement for the sport I love right now. Right now, because of the tragic events that have unfolded in New Orleans, I am feeling a deep concern for the people I love, the citizens of America.

So I am taking this opportunity to appeal to all people to be positive. We have by now all seen the news footage and read the reports and have felt the deeply disturbing emotions that were dredged up by all that has happened. My appeal is simply this: it is time to stop pointing fingers, time to let go of blame and to embrace the fact that we’re all in this together, as Americans. Yes, there has been a lot of evil done. Yes, there has been a lot of grievous errors made. But all that counts now is that people are suffering, and we must do what we can to help.

Basically, it is “put up or shut up” time. Actually, it is “put us AND shut up” time. Until the hungry are fed, the ill cared for, the homeless sheltered and the hopeless given hope, NOTHING ELSE MATTERS.

I gave blood on Tuesday and sent some clothes to Houston yesterday. I say that not to toot my own horn, but to simply say “I put up”. And now, on this subject, I will shut up.

I will end this piece, and this discussion, with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. This quote is admittedly being taken out of its original context, but I think the meaning rings true for the situation we face today.

“We must use the weapon of love. We must have compassion and understanding for those who fear us. For though we stand in life at midnight, we are always on the threshold of a new dawn.”