December 30, 2005

Sparkplug 34

The Year in Motocross: 20 Things that took me by surprise in 2005

1) The rain at A1. In all the years that I've attended that race, that was the first time it rained... and it poured! My usual strategy of buying my tickets at my local Yamaha dealer backfired, as they didn't get assigned tickets for the first round. My good friend Paul Fleming came through with extra tickets, but they were three rows from the field, uncovered, right out there in the downpour. It was, as you probably remember, a fantastic race.
2) James Stewart's second round injury. What a huge letdown that was for the entire series.
3) Chad Reed's Daytona domination, particularly after getting smoked by RC at the race in Atlanta. Reedy showed a lot of heart there.
4) How good the Monster/Pro Circuit Kawasakis looked. Not only were they easily the prettiest bikes in the pits, but they were apparently pretty quick,too.
5) James Stewart pulling off in the second moto at Hangtown. Right there, I thought “this is not his year”… what an understatement!
6) Grant Langston throwing his championship away in the second moto at Hangtown. I thought it was an unsportsmanlike move when I was at the track; when I saw the tape, it was clear that he didn't intentionally try to run a “pick-up pass” on Mike Alessi, but still he should have chilled and taken the second place... he would have still won the overall for the day.
7) Mike Alessi losing his mind at Glen Helen in the final moto. Incredible to watch, sure, but a dark day for sportsmanship.
8) Ivan Tedesco. Talk about stepping it up, “Tabasco” showed the nation that he is truly an all-around motocross fastguy.
9) How cool it was to be able to watch the MXdN webcast LIVE. American motocross really needs to step up to this level of media sophistication.
10) Getting an assignment to write my first feature article for a major motocross magazine from Racer X's Davey Coombs. More about that later…
11) That Honda would actually market an additional silencer as a handling enhancement.
12) That arenacross racing is good stuff, and the BooKoo Arenacross series is the best of the breed.
13) That Erin Normoyle is even hotter in person than her photos lead one to believe!
14) James Stewart's physical ailments.
15) How funny the DMXS guys are. I mean, genuinely funny.
16) How cool One Industries' Danny Dobey is.
17) What nice people the Carmichaels (Big Rick and Jeannie) are.
18) That if you had to be trapped for the rest of your life in one state, Hawaii is the one to pick Preferably Oahu, somewhere near the Kalaku Motocross Park.
19) James Stewart’s year-end performance at the Canadian rounds of the Amp’d World Supercross series. I had no idea that he would be so dominant so soon.
20) That someone could actually take fantastic supercross footage shot by Troy Adamitis and edit it into a sub-standard television program.

All in all, it was a great year for American motocross and the future truly looks bright for our beloved sport. Thanks to all who make it possible, from the media to the mechanics… ya done good! Here’s hoping that your New Year is the best year yet!

December 28, 2005

Alessi Apologizes?

I read it on Sunday, but it took until today for it to finally register in my old brain: according to Racer X's Davey Coombs, Mike Alessi has finally apologized for his foolish actions at Glen Helen. The apology actually is part of his "800" column for Racer X Illustrated, and will be in the January 2006 issue. But DC printed part of it in last weeks "Racerhead" so you can read it here.

Way to man up, Mike. Yes, you should have done this months ago, but better late than never. Good luck in '06!

December 23, 2005

Sparkplug 33

It’s nearly the end of the year, and most enthusiast publications are running their typical year-end wrap-ups, or the top ten lists or some other way of summing up the events of the last 365. Well, Sparkplug will be no different, but my year-ender will come next week, when I’ll take a look back at the things in motocross that most surprised me in 2005.

For this week, I want to tackle women in our sport. Er, that is, the subject of how women get involved in motocross. Or to paraphrase Cleavon Little in “Blazing Saddles”: “Where are all the black women at?”

As an African American man and huge fan of motocross, I know all too well the fact that the sight of a single, adult African American woman at a local motocross race is about as rare as a Husqvarna winning a supercross. But since I didn’t get into motocross in order to pick up chicks, so to speak, this state of affairs has never been much of a concern to me. Yet the question has been asked numerous times: why aren’t black women into motocross like their white counterparts?

I think I finally came up with the answer, and it’s simply that 99.9 percent of the time, it’s a man that starts the interest in motocross. Think about it. Your dad probably was the person that introduced you to the sport. Or maybe it was an older sibling, or a relative or a friend. I was introduced to minibikes by my neighbors; my local Honda dealer was responsible for my learning about motocross.

Or to put it another way, very rare is the woman who enters the sport of motorcycling, and in particular dirtbiking, on her own accord without having someone else provide the familiarity. Yes, I know I’m heading down the path of dangerous generalities, but I appeal to my sisters of all races to let me know their own stories, if they’re different from what I’m proposing here. When you see a top female motocrosser, you also see somewhere in the background the man that gave her a start in the sport. Usually it’s her father, but it could be her brother, boyfriend or husband. I’m not saying that she wouldn’t be supported by her mother or sisters. But can you imagine a mother coming home to her family and saying “Hey, I’ve got an idea… let’s all get dirtbikes and go riding!”

So in the case of the black females, the absence of them in the sport of motocross points directly to the small number of African American males in the sport. It’s funny, when you think of how many black people are involved in streetbiking. There are plenty of beautiful black women that like to hang around the streetbike scene (okay, well here are two, and that’s because there are plenty of black guys riding streetbikes. As you probably know, there are only a handful of us racing motocross or riding dirtbikes. So that limits the opportunities for our sisters, wives and girlfriends to be brought into the sport. And that, in turn, decreases the opportunities for me to meet single black women at the races… it’s all about me, right?

What about the appeal of the sport itself? Is it not possible for some women to just be drawn to the excitement of motocross on it’s own terms? In a word, no. Or at least, probably not… I mean, let’s look at a sport like basketball. Even back in grade school there were two types of girls that liked basketball: the ones that played the sport, and the ones that liked to watch the guys play. It’s like us guys watching women’s volleyball; some of you watch for the action, I watch for the ACTION, if you know what I mean. I’m a big fan of women’s volleyball. And I’m sure that many female motocross fans are into the sport at a professional level because they think the guys are hot. I don’t have any problem with that, but apparently they’re not hot enough to attract a lot of attention from black females. Or maybe it’s just a media thing; if motocross received some coverage from the likes of Essence or Ebony magazines maybe that would turn the tide. That’s funny just thinking about it!

Some people in the sport believe that James Stewart will be responsible for making motocross more visible to a wider audience. I’m not sure how that will work, but if it means more black women at the races I’m all for it! Go James!

Oh yes... and Merry Christmas to All!

December 21, 2005

Supercross on TV? You Must Read This...

DC pulled off a killer interview with CCE's supercross/TV head honcho Ken Hudgens. Check it out here at Racer X Online. The man gives more insight into the network/cable motocross wars than I've read in quite a while. There's no doubt that Ken knows of what he speaks, and he speaks very plainly in the interview.

Also, look forward to seeing the special supercross preview show on CBS (!) at 5pm EST on Christmas Day! Christmas Day motocross (well, supercross) on network TV? How can you beat that?

Well, with live coverage every week, that's how. Where not there yet, but if this year goes good with the CBS/Speed coverage, who knows?

December 16, 2005

Lucky #7: James Tells All!

Here in is own words, James Stewart wraps up his Canadian Journey in his latest newsletter.

I gotta tell you, I really like what I'm seeing from the Stewart camp these days. It sounds like they've got a good plan for 2006 and beyond.

Sparkplug 32

I'm a big man, not just in physical size, but when it comes to doing the right thing, I try my best to do it all the time. So after I spent last Saturday evening in the Long Beach Arena THOROUGHLY enjoying myself at the BooKoo/K&N Filter/Toyota Arenacross, I realized that I would have to write a Sparkplug column that would basically retract the bad things I said about arenacross in an earlier column (found here).

So I will now open my mouth, insert my foot and chew upon it slowly and thoughtfully.

It was a full day of motorcycle immersion for me and my buddy Lliam, as we took in the International Motorcycle Show that afternoon before we went to the races, which were conveniently held right next door. After a few hours of browsing, girl-watching, throttle-twisting, girl-watching, shock-bouncing and girl-watching, we grabbed a bite to eat and headed over to Arenacross way...

... and the first thing we got to do was walk right out onto the arena floor and walk the track! Folks, that right there is just about worth the price of admission. Compared to supercross, where the security guards have snipers in the stands, ready to pick off any “civilian” that dares to touch the track, at an arenacross they literally invite the audience to come on down and feel the dirt between their fingers, and to stumble through the whoops and stand on top of the triples. Which, by the way, don't really look like triples when you're standing on them. The first triple only had about a four-foot run up out of the corner... no WAY anyone would triple THAT, right?

But that's what the track walk is all about: letting the spectators really get a feel for what it must be like to do battle in an arenacross. Plus, they set up autograph tables along the start straight, and all of the “factory” riders were there, instead of out in a parking lot somewhere. You could walk all around them, and most of them were just sitting there talking to each other... and trying to catch glimpses of Erin Normoyle, Miss Arenacross.

You wouldn't believe how hot this woman is in person. Sheesh. You may have heard that a speaker caught on fire during the Friday night races, but how did it get started? It must have caught fire when Erin passed by it...

During the track walk, the announcers were doing their thing, and I have to take my hat off to Mike Kidd for hiring DMXS Radio's Kevin Kelley to be one of the announcers. Kevin was calmly standing on the track just running his mouth like it wasn't anything. In complete control. And when he saw me, he actually came over and did a quick on-mic interview with me! Then my head blew up and that was my night...

No, I managed to keep my ego in check, but I must confess that it was quite a thrill to address all of those people who weren't listening to a word I said. 15 minutes? No, more like 15 seconds of fame...

But the racing was what we were all there for, and when it started, it was intense all night long. It was so exciting, I didn't even take a moment to record any laptimes, which must have been in the 15 to 20 second range. Maybe 30 seconds? In any case, there was no place to rest on that track. It was attack or be lapped... in three laps.

So who stood out? Turbo Reif came out and immediately starting kicking ass. Unfortunately, he ended up breaking his collarbone in the 250F main, I believe (correction: per David Pingree over at Racer X Online, Turbo dislocated his hip). Shane “Daddy Knows” Bess (remember him?) was a solid contender as well, but had some problems with starts in the mains. The man of the night, though, was “The Sheriff” Josh Demuth, who won both mains by riding as aggressively as I've ever seen a motocrosser ride. How aggressive was Josh? If Mike Alessi were there, Josh would have used him as dental floss, to pick the other riders out of his teeth. Demuth never did anything dirty, he just rode it hard and put it away panting and slippery.

This is not to take anything away from any of the other riders. Even the “privateers” came to race hard, and everyone put on a great show. Unfortunately, the fine citizens of Long Beach all decided to stay home that night, so the crowd was miserably small... truly a surprise considering it's in the middle of the motocross kingdom. Some blamed the promoters for not doing enough; I think that SoCal is more of a supercross town, and the Long Beach arenacross was the first event of its kind to be held in this part of the state in a long while. But the small crowd didn't slow the riders down any, and it didn't stop me from having a blast.

So if the K&N Filters presents BooKoo Arenacross Championship Series brought to you by Toyota shows up in your town, do yourself a favor, get yourself a ticket and go see the show. It's racing, baby!

December 15, 2005

Get Well Soon, Kevin!

A collective "arrrgh" arose over the motocross world last night, and it wasn't because people thought it was "Talk like a pirate day". Kevin Windham, it was announced, went down at the Honda practice track and broke his arm, effectively ending his supercross season just weeks before it even got started. (Here's the brief press release, courtesy Racer X Online)

I personally think that this is not such a bad deal for Kdub, because I feel that he's stronger outdoors than in, but my pal MXWordNerd (aka Steve Cox) reminded me in a friendly way that Windham has won many more supercrosses, both 125 and 250, than he has won outdoor events.

But since he returned from that broken femur to showcase the abilities of the mighty Honda CR450F, Kdub has seemed more of an outdoor specialist to me.

In any case, get well soon, Kev. Spend some quality time with the family, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and we'll be looking for you on the line at Hangtown.

December 09, 2005

Sparkplug 31

This week, as the Holiday season gets fully underway, I've decided to tackle an issue that doesn't normally get a lot of attention, even though it truly is a very big deal. I want to discuss American Morality in American Motocross.

First, I have to admit that this is an extremely complex subject, and this little column will in no way offer any answers to this touchy matter. In fact, it will barely scratch the surface. But it's something that needs to be discussed; hopefully this will inspire further talks and introspection.

The funny thing about the recurring “morality in motocross” discussions is that they are usually triggered by a picture of a girl in a skimpy bikini. Transworld Motocross magazine or Racer X Illustrated will run an ad or poster of a bikini-babe, and then they'll get letters from irate prudes claiming that the publications are ruining the sport by exposing their children to human body parts. Most recently the subject was brought to the fore by a series of commercials aired during the first round of the Amp'd World Supercross series. I didn't see the commercials, so I cannot comment on them directly. But I do wonder how they could possibly be as big a deal as some have made it?

“Motocross is a family sport.” This statement is accepted as fact by just about everybody, but it's also the line in the sand drawn by everyone worried that the sport will be overtaken by oversexed imagery and outright debauchery. It is true that motocross is one of those rare sports that can be enjoyed by every member of the family, regardless of age or gender. But that doesn't change the fact that the primary audience is made up of MEN between the ages of 18 to 49, so it should come as no surprise that images of beautiful young women work wonderfully in attracting said audience. Yes, these men often want to get their women and their children involved in the sport they love, but again, look at the chain of influence: first, the men take up the sport, then they recruit the rest of the family. Since the man is the primary target, the advertising adjusts itself accordingly. This is simply the way business works.

Does the pandering appeal to everyone? Of course not. Does it offend some sensitive souls? Without a doubt, and guess what? They don't have to put up with it if they don't want to. But will they or should they be able to force the advertisers to change, to make them stop using their very effective marketing tools? Not in a free market society. Not in a society that guarantees the right of free speech to its citizens. Not in a sane world.

The truth of the matter is that American morality is pretty messed up. The fact that a bare breast nipple glimpsed during a televised sporting event can cause mass hysteria and much wailing and gnashing of righteous teeth proves my point. It's as if people have forgotten that if it weren't for nipples, many of them wouldn't be alive today. And don't even get me started on genitalia. Take a picture of a naked penis and everyone will call it pornography. Show that picture to a kid, and you'll be thrown UNDER the jail. How did we come to hate our bodies so much? But that's an entirely different matter, well outside the scope of this week's column.

The fact is, beautiful women and motorsports go together like, well, like beer and motorsports. And the best place for mixing beer, beautiful women and motorsports will be at Dave and Buster's in Anaheim on the Friday night before A1, but I digress.... Motocross may indeed be a family sport, yet it is driven by adults and their adult appetites. So that basically means pin-up girls forever and ever, amen. And there is nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as you remember your parental duties and take the time to explain to your little ones why they can see the umbrella girl's thong.

I told you there wouldn't be any answers!

December 05, 2005

James Stewart Wins Toronto SX!

I am sure this is old news to you true motocross fans, but I had to post something, right? I would have posted earlier, but blogger issues... woulda, coulda, shoulda, blah blah blah.

Anyway, James Stewart took an exciting race win on Saturday night in Toronto, leading many to believe that this will indeed be the year that he goes all the way to the Supercross title. Here's an excellent race recap by Jason Weigandt over on Racer X Online. And here's a great report by Brendan Lutes from Transworld MX Online.

I didn't get a chance to see the Speed Channel next-day coverage, but I listened to the race live via the CCE webcast, and it sounded like a great race! Jim Holley was the first person to say that James was "toying" with RC, which I found hard to believe... but then Ricky himself said the same thing in his post-race interview. What's funny is that James didn't feel like he was "toying" with anyone! Check out his interview with TFS over at Racer X Online.

In any case, there is now officially no question that this new supercross season will be one for the ages. And the Amp'd World Supercross rounds are finally on the map as being important races. I can't wait to see it all in person January 7th at Anaheim!

December 01, 2005

Sparkplug 30

Well, looky here! By the time you read this, we'll be less than 48 hours away from the start of the 2006 Supercross season, and it looks like it's gonna be a good one. My original intention for this week's Sparkplug was to list my picks for this season, but a press release I read yesterday over at Racer X Online has changed my mind. Instead, I want to talk about a favorite topic of mine: media coverage of our sport. In particular, I want to address the announcement of the new “broadcast team” for the Amp'd Supercross series.

First, let me make it clear that this isn't about WHO was or wasn't chosen to be the “voices” of Supercross. I've known for a while that my personal tastes in announcers apparently runs counter to prevailing opinion. For example, while I admit that Art Eckman has a superb voice and has shown a great deal of love for the sport, his consistent inability to get riders' names right, among many other things, used to bug the heck out of me, yet he was no doubt a huge fan favorite. I accept that I may be out of the mainstream... that's no big surprise.

But what I'm concerned about is our sport's insistence in “following the leader”, as it were, rather than going for the pass by using a new line. What I mean is that it seems that no one has asked the basic question of “how many announcers do we really need?”

This past Fall, I had the great joy of listening to live web coverage of the greatest single day motocross event of the year, the Motocross of Nations. How many announcers did they need to broadcast such an important event? Exactly one. And as I listened to that webcast, I began to question the “common wisdom” of our current two-in-the-booth and one-on-the-floor configuration.

The fact of the matter is the “color analyst” and “play-by-play announcer” setup was originated for television broadcasts of stick-and-ball sports, sports that actually HAVE play-by-play. ABC's Monday Night Football team of Al Michaels and John Madden are perfect examples of this. Network coverage of autoracing adopted this style of coverage out of familiarity, not necessity. But the concept sort of works: one guy focuses on describing the action factually, while the other adds “color” by giving voice to insights derived from his or her experiences with the sport. For a sport like Supercross, however, all this two-position team really adds up to, though, is a lot of chatter. The play-by-play person has to give up mic time in order for the color guy to get a few words in and many times, the color guy is pontificating on something that happened, just as a new development unfolds, changing everything. Then the play-by-play person has to play “catchup” to bring the viewers back to the present. It can be very frustrating for the viewers at home, who are watching the big pass for the lead unfold while the color man is still talking about the guy in third place.

And pit reporters? Why in the world do we need a pit reporter for Supercross, a sport that has exactly zero cameras in the pits during the race because all of the “action” (and that's stretching the term) in the pits occurs before the race starts? Even if they change the title to “floor reporter”, there is very little insight that they could possibly provide during a 20 lap sprint that cannot be effectively communicated by the main announcer. Now, I have always been an advocate of televising the behind the scenes aspect of motocross and supercross, but this is stuff that does not happen during the race, so that means the broadcast must make time to air pre-recorded scene-setting packages, just like they do with stick-and-ball pre-game shows. Our sport is dynamic, and the “story” changes from race to race. The audience must be informed of what is going on and what is at stake BEFORE the gate drops, otherwise they'll never “get” what the sport is really about: the athletes. Cutting away from race action to watch a pre-recorded piece, though, is more than annoying. It's bad TV.

My point is simply this: there's no point in carrying extra personnel simply because “that's the way we've always done it”, particularly if they add no real value to the broadcast. All that's needed is one very knowledgeable person to call the race, while occasionally adding limited “color”. This announcer would not be working alone, of course; they would have a staff of spotters and statisticians working with them, feeding them information that they can use as they see fit. But one voice is enough, and it's also okay for that lone voice to take a breath and be silent for a bit. There does NOT, contrary to American broadcast belief, have to be announcer-chatter filling every available millisecond of airtime. It's okay for us to only hear the bikes every now and then.

Think of all the times you have stood trackside at a race; did you really need to hear the announcer to know what was going on right in front of your face? Think of all the times you've watched taped replays of races, and turned the volume down so you wouldn't be subjected to all of that useless noise. Then think of all the times you've said to yourself, “I wish they'd just SHUT UP!” How much silence is it reasonable to expect, when you have a team of three competing for airtime?

So as far as this new team is concerned, I wish they would just let Denny Stephenson handle the entire broadcast and pay him double, then get rid of the other two announcers. Denny can handle it by himself and he knows the sport and the riders. Everybody else on that team, in my humble opinion, is just unnecessary fluff. Do I expect this to happen? Of course not.

P.S. I don't know who's gonna win Saturday night's battle, but I believe James Stewart is going to come out on top of the 2006 Supercross war.