October 31, 2005

Great FUTURE Woman of Motocross?

This is NOT Betty, but you have to admit... this kid has style!

Great Women of Motocross

There are a number of wonderful women involved at the deepest levels in the sport of motocross, and quite a few of these unsung heroines can be found at many of the tracks in Southern California. But there is one lovely lady that I want to give special recognition to today.

I was at Glen Helen yesterday afternoon, checking out a late season grand prix held by the SRA organization. While I was watching Gordon Ward lay waste to the other vets in the Vet GP, I saw her standing alone at a corner, yellow flag tucked under her arm while she applauded each and every rider that came through her turn.

Her name is Betty, and I first saw her when I attended some of the Saturday REM races at the Glen Helen facility. She reminds me of someone’s dear grandmother, and I wouldn’t be surprised if her grandchildren were famous racers, but that’s not what makes her special. What she does makes EVERY racer feel special. She claps for every single racer, every single lap, for every single moto. She’s a one-person cheer leading squad, and every time I raced there, I looked forward to seeing her clap for me.

So when I saw her at the SRA GP, I took it upon myself to thank her for all those laps of support. She just smiled the prettiest smile and thanked me for thanking her. And then she went on clapping for all the riders going by. If you have ever raced in an event where she was flagging, don’t forget to thank Betty for the support.

October 28, 2005

Sparkplug 25

(Continued from last week’s Sparkplug 24) We pick up where we left off, as Paul, the Open class team manager for the popular Citibank/Gap Racing (C/GR) team, as he replays the final race of the day in his mind while he heads over to the trophy presentation.

Coming into the race weekend, the North East division’s win-loss record was 3 – 3. Their opponent, the defending National Champions of the South West division, boasted a 5 – 1 record. This particular race was the seventh meet of the twelve-race series, and the NE division desperately needed to win the meet in order to remain in contention for a post-season playoff berth.

This is one of the things that make the Professional Motocross Racing League so interesting. Not only are team tactics allowed, but intra-division team tactics are utilized as well. Racers are able to block each other to prevent passing, as long as they do not come in contact with the other rider or place that other rider in harm’s way. The caveat is that riders cannot slow to a pace slower than 50% of their fastest lap.

Saturdays are when the teams of each division face each other to determine which riders will represent the region in Sunday’s division versus division showdown. On Sundays, divisional team managers have to work together to make sure the outcome is favorable for the division, not just their particular team.

Team C/GR’s five 250F riders repeated their stellar performance from Saturday, stunning their SW rivals by sweeping the podium on Sunday, while picking up positions 6th and 8th as well. This gave the NE division a slight lead going into the final Open class moto. Roger, Team C/GR’s top-ranked Open class rider had won the first moto, but got caught up in a first turn pileup at the start of moto two with the leader of Team Callaway Golf. These two riders were in contention for the overall… now they had to scramble to get on the podium. To make matters worse, SW division riders held the first six positions at the end of the first lap.

NE team statisticians quickly calculated the points situation, and soon team managers were issuing orders to their mechanics. (Each mechanic maintained a communication link directly with their rider via in-helmet earpieces. The riders could hear but the only response they could give was by pushing a “beep” button on the outside of their helmets. One beep signaled “Yes” or “I understand” and two beeps meant “No” or “What the heck did you say?”). As Roger and his rival stormed through the field, they had to pick their way through opposition riders determined to block their progress.

At the 35 minute mark of the 45 minute plus two lap moto, three NE division riders had made their way into the top 5. None of these riders, however, were Team C/GR riders. The other 3 Team C/GR riders followed team orders and had spent much of the moto slipping backward in the pack in order to block for Roger. By this time, Roger had made his way back to fifteenth, with his three teammates in front of him, and his rival just behind. In short order, Roger was in tenth and the poor guy from the Callaway Golf Team now had to contend with passing a determined Citibank/Gap Racing Team! If only he could get some help from his own team…

It wasn’t to be, though. The SW division could not afford to send riders backwards in the pack to help their star; there wasn’t enough time left in the moto to make up anymore places. When the checkered flag finally flew, a SW division rider took the moto win, followed by four NE division riders… and Roger was the fourth one. His 1-5 score got him on the podium in third, and the North East division won the meet by the barest of margins.

As Paul made his way to the trophy presentation, he was intercepted briefly by Team C/GR’s publicity manager, who gave Paul a fresh Citibank hat and reminded him of a few interview talking points they had agreed upon. Paul got to the podium just as the champagne started spraying and just in time to have a camera and microphone thrust in his face. Paul answered questions for the viewers watching the live coverage at home, making sure to praise the selfless efforts of his team and to thank his sponsors. He was joined by his three team riders that did not make the podium, but who gave their best efforts to make sure that one of them did. They were all smiles, as were most of the 50,000 fans as they left the facility looking forward to the next "home" race in two weeks...

October 27, 2005

Here it is again: the ENV

I touched on this phenomenal bike once before, and it looks like they've upgraded their website. Check it out: a hydrogen fuel cell-powered bike! I think they're on to something here...

October 21, 2005

James Stewart: Stomach Infection!

According to this press release I found over at Racer X Online, James Stewart has finally discovered the cause of his ill health: an infection in his stomach and intestines. Yikes.

The good news is that he is undergoing treatment for it, and hopes to be 100% for the new season. I certainly hope so. Get well soon, James, and thanks for letting us know what's up!

Sparkplug 24

This week I continue with my off-season “theme”, looking at what might be possible if professional motocross were run differently. This time it’s from the viewpoint of a team manager, who I will call “Paul” for fun.

In the Professional Motocross Racing League, teams can be as small as two riders, and as large as ten, but teams are only allowed to enter 5 racers in each class. Paul is the Open class manager for the powerhouse CitiBank/Gap Racing team, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Team CitiBank/Gap Racing, or C/GR, is one of five teams representing the North East division, and is the current division champion. C/GR, like the other top teams in the league, has a full complement of ten riders, and they hire separate managers for each class. Five of the riders are mounted on 250Fs while the other 5 race 450Fs that have been bored out to 475 (a necessary modification in the PMRL). All of the C/GR bikes are Kawasakis prepared by Pro Circuit.

It’s just past the halfway point in the season, and the North East division is racing at their home facility against the visiting National Champions, the South West division. The checkered flag has just fallen on the last moto of the day, and Paul has a few minutes to collect his thoughts and reflect on the weekend as he heads over to the podium presentation.

Coming into this weekend’s meet, it was clear that the NE division desperately needed to pull off a strong performance against the defending National champs if they wished to remain in contention for a slot in the playoffs. There are more than bragging rights at stake; all of the teams split the bonus money available in the post-season. If your region doesn’t qualify for the playoffs, then there’s no more racing at your home facility and that means no additional money is gathered and there’s no opportunity to share the playoff bonus.

At the same time, there were divisional title points on the line as well and C/GR was facing a serious challenge from their divisional rival Team Circuit City. Saturday’s qualifiers were the scene for this showdown, as this is the day when it’s decided who will represent each respective division in the final motos on Sunday. Team C/GR’s 250F team led the way, with all 5 riders advancing to Sunday. Paul was slightly disappointed in his rookie’s performance in the Open class, as the youngster failed to qualify, finishing 12th. Fortunately, his 4 other Open class teammates made it into the show. However, Circuit City’s star riders took the wins in both classes, further tightening the divisional points race.

But Sunday was a different story entirely. The only points awarded during Sunday finals are points for the division as a whole and points for the individual championships. One of Paul’s racers, a veteran named Roger, is in serious contention for the individual title, and he had a terrific battle for the win in the first Open class moto, swapping the lead numerous times with the captain of Team Callaway Golf, one of the top South West division teams. So going into the final moto of the day, the North East riders held a slight edge over the South East squad… the heat was on! (to be continued…)

October 20, 2005

Pastrana's Amazing DOUBLE BACK FLIP!!

I gave my man Travis Pastrana a hard time for breaking himself at the 24 Hours of Glen Helen, but I really like the kid. Honest. So here's an amazing video clip of Pastrana pulling off THE WORLD'S FIRST DOUBLE BACK FLIP on a dirt bike, courtesy of DC Shoes.

This kid has stones so big, I'm surprised he can fit into his riding pants!

October 19, 2005

MX Vacations: How Cool Is This?

Earlier today, I ran across this press release at Racer X Online. It describes a special package deal that MX Vacations is putting together for the great "A Day In The Dirt" race, which runs the weekend after Thanksgiving. I thought to my self, "what a cool deal!"

But then I went to the MX Vacations website... and came across this: The Ultimate Supercross Vacation!

Hey, the riding part is great... as many as 5 days on a fully prepped new model racing machine, with complete pit support, fuel, food and refreshments provided as well. And you get to ride on the best tracks in SoCal: Glen Helen, Perris, Cahuilla Creek and more. But the clincher is the Famous Pit Party with Jeff Emig, which included tickets and pit passes to Anaheim 1, snacks, drinks, dinner... ALL the good stuff!

If you're traveling to L.A. for the opening of the Supercross season, an MX Vacation package might be the best New Year's present you could give yourself!

October 17, 2005

24 Hours of Glen Helen: Pastrana Breaks Another Bone

Okay, this isn't really news. Unfortunately, injury has become an expected outcome whenever Travis Pastrana takes to a motocross track. Here's the story from Cycle News Online.

Big props go out to Ty Davis and his Montclair Yamaha team for absolutely dominating the race by sweeping the top two positions. I recently had the honor of meeting former pro motocrosser and current WORCS 40+ Masters champion Andy Jefferson. He was originally slated to ride on Montclair's B team, but wrist surgery forced him to sit out this year's event. So instead he helped prepare the bike. I guess it did alright!

October 14, 2005

Sparkplug 23

First, I’d like to open this week’s Sparkplug with a brief message to James Stewart, Jr.: Get Well Soon! I sincerely hope that you and your doctors get to the bottom of whatever ails you and that your healing is as rapid and painless as possible. Good Luck!

This week’s Sparkplug takes a look at a fictitious racer in my proposed Professional Motocross Racing League series. This guy, who I will call “Pdub” for giggles (try not to get confused), is at the end of his racing career and about to embark on the next phase of his life. Here’s how it all happened.

Like many of today’s top racers, Pdub started riding when his parents put him on a peewee at the age of 4. By the time he was 10 years old, he was an expert racer with years of experience and a bedroom full of trophies. Although Pdub was one of the top racers in his area, when his family took him to the big amateur events like Ponca City or Loretta Lynn’s, he usually finished in mid-pack, not quite fast enough to run with the top dogs in his class.

But since he was a local champion, Pdub was heavily recruited by the high school teams in his area. The school he eventually chose had a history of sending its graduates to the top college motocross programs in the country. Their team was well outfitted, and was one of a handful of high schools in the country that had enough sponsorship dollars to be able to provide bikes and gear to their riders, just like the big college mx teams. Pdub thrived at the high school level, gathering an individual state championship in his junior year. He was unable to repeat that feat his senior year, but he was still able to earn a full ride scholarship to one of the top universities in the country. This was a very big deal, because this particular school required not only a solid racing resume, but also very good academic scores in order to qualify for their scholarship program.

Pdub went on to become a bonafide college sports star, helping to lead his school’s mx team to two National Championships. Pdub, unfortunately, was unable to win the individual titles, but his performances were sufficient to gain the attention of a number of professional scouts. By the time he graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing, he had deals on the table from five major professional teams. Pdub signed with Team Dell Computer, which raced in the South Central division of the Professional Motocross Racing League. His 4-year contract included a hefty signing bonus, six-figure salary, a lucrative performance-based bonus program, comprehensive health insurance and other perks. His team included a full training staff with nutritionists, sports psychologists and mentors. He moved to the team’s headquarters in Texas. He was only 21 years old, but by this time in his life, he had been racing for 15 years.

Pdub’s rookie season was rough. As a “newbie”, he was expected to be a team player and as such, was relegated to “domestic” chores on the race track: blocking for the team’s star racers, or by being the “rabbit” and setting an ultra-fast pace out of the gate in an attempt to wear the other team’s riders down. While Pdub qualified for over 90% of the races he entered, podium finishes were rare indeed. But his team was very happy with his performance and gave him great encouragement. And the fans loved his team-player attitude and rewarded him with long autograph lines.

Disaster struck for Pdub in his second year, when early in the season he suffered a broken femur. The injury also aggravated an old injury in his knee that he damaged during his high school career. The doctor’s diagnosis was grim: his racing career was suddenly over.

It was a sad couple of months for Pdub and the sport of motocross, but it wasn’t a total loss. The injury clause in his contract meant that he would continue to receive a portion of his salary until the end of his contract period. And Team Dell’s front office had become fond of the kid. After all, Pdub DID have a marketing degree and during his brief time on the team he had proven to be a valuable asset when it came to working with the team’s sponsors. So the team offered him a position with their marketing division, with the caveat that he return to school to get his MBA… on their dime, no less. Four years later, Pdub was Director of Sponsorship Marketing for Team Dell… at the age of 27.

What I have just described is a Cinderella story, of sorts. Yes, it is a pipe dream, but it describes the type of thing that actually happens in other professional sports in America. It can happen in motocross if we want it to.

October 12, 2005

Pastrana and Deegan on the Same Team?

Can you imagine what it's going to be like this weekend at the 24 hour race at Glen Helen? Travis "Yes, I do believe I HAVE broken every bone in my body" Pastrana has entered the race and has teamed up with none other than Brian "I've broken a few bones too, ya know" Deegan and Jason "I'm taking bad boy lessons from Brian" Lawrence. And another guy who's less famous. Check out the brief press release from Racer X Online here.

The race ends at 10am this Sunday, after 24 hours of banging around the Glen Helen track and the arroyo that surrounds it. There will be some great racing to watch, but the Pastrana/Deegan/Lawrence show by itself might just be worth the price of admission!

October 11, 2005

James Stewart Has a Mystery Illness

James Stewart has posted a letter to his fans on his website, explaining what happened to him last weekend. I am very glad that he has taken the time to keep everyone informed, and I am very concerned with the young man's health. Hopefully it was something simple, like a bad dinner from the night before. I'm crossing my fingers.

Just as RC had an unbelievably stellar year, James had his worst year ever in 2005, and apparently his bad luck isn't over yet. With the opening round of the 2006 season less than 6 weeks away, here's hoping Lady Luck can find her way back to the Stewart compound in Florida.

October 07, 2005

Say It Ain't So: Stewart's Out of the Open?

Check out this news from Racer X Online; it appears that James Stewart has missed both practice sessions for the U.S. Open! That's a pretty strong signal that the kid is not planning on racing the event. What now?

Sparkplug 22

Well, it's the U.S. Open weekend and it looks like the race is shaping up to be an epic conflagration between past winners Rick Carmichael and Mike LaRocco and superfast hopefuls James Stewart and Kevin Windham. But the only decently-paying race of the year is not the subject of this week's Sparkplug. Instead, I am going to continue to lay out my vision for a new day in American motocross. So put your thinking caps on and join me for a mental journey.

One of the benefits of a league-style racing season is being able to see multiple professional-level races at each facility. This means that each facility can sell “season tickets”. At a top notch facility, season tickets would give the ticket holders privileges that regular ticket buyers just don't get.

Imagine a small family at the races. Husband, wife, young child and toddler. They've got to carry enough gear to keep the kids safe and happy, so they have their hands full with bags and a stroller. They get to the track and because they're season ticket holders, they get to park in a reserved lot that's closer to the facility than general parking, so they don't have to walk as far.

They make their way to their seats, and because they decided to upgrade their seat option, they have box seats, which gives them extra room to stow their stroller and kid-related paraphernalia. Their box seat also includes a small tv monitor, which is currently showing replays from yesterday's practice sessions, with commentary from the in-house production staff.

Dad takes the older kid off to get snacks for the family. They go to their favorite concession stand, which is not too far from their seats. While they wait for their order, they're able to enjoy the practice videos from monitors at the stand. Meanwhile, Mom takes the littlest one to the restroom for a diaper change, where there is a clean diaper changing station. It sure beats kneeling on a blanket at trackside!

When the family returns to their seats, they're greeted by their neighbors who have just arrived. Since they're all season ticket holders, they see each other regularly and have become friends. Just as all are settling in, the announcers ask all to stand for the national anthem, and everyone can hear everything perfectly because of the top notch sound system.

As the riders take their sighting lap for the first moto, the conversation picks up. “Can you believe Team Dell? This is the third time this season that all four team members swept qualifying!” “Yeah, looks like hiring David Bailey as a riding coach was a good move for them, huh?” “I want to see the Motorola squad kick their ass, though.” “It might happen; Motorola had an easy time with Black & Decker/Pennzoil last weekend in New England...”

The banter slows only slightly as the first moto gets underway. On the box seat monitors, lap times and rider positions are presented, while the family is able to see the entire track from their seats. In comfort. In style.

Like all good motocross fans, they stay until the checkered flag falls on the last moto of the day. They watch their trophy presentation and give a final cheer for the victors. Then they pack up their belongings and stroll back to their car. They stop and buy last minute souvenir t-shirts on the way. They're in no rush because they know that there's no hassle in getting out of the parking lot and back on the road for the drive home, even though the place was nearly packed with over 70,000 fans. They're already looking forward to the next home race in two weeks. And waiting for them in their mailbox at home is the renewal application for their box seats, which they will enthusiastically renew.

Like the movie said, “If you build it, they will come.”

P.S. Enjoy the racing in Vegas!

October 05, 2005

He's Back!

Okay, it may be slightly premature, but the truth of the matter is James Stewart is back! After his worst season of professional racing ever, number 259 will take to the track this weekend for the U.S. Open of Motocross. Internet good guy Steve "TFS" Bruhn got in a few words with James over at Racer X Online. When you read the interview, you'll notice as I did that Stewart's tone seems reasonably subdued. Good for him! Let the talking happen on the track!

So, who's going to take the win this weekend? Smart money would NEVER bet against Rick Carmichael, but there's one thing that everyone has to finally admit: if ANYONE is going to beat Carmichael at the MGM Grand, it will probably be James Stewart.