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...

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