February 28, 2006

An Open Response to RC’s Open Letter

[see RC's original letter over at Racer X Online]

Rick, you are The Man. What you have done for the sport of motocross in America will never be forgotten. The mental images of you that were burned in my memory by your blinding speed on the track will be cherished forever. I personally thank you for all you have done.

Now you know, after all of that, I’m about to say something you probably won’t like… and you’re right. With regards to this bum deal you got due to your team getting caught with illegal fuel, I would like to politely suggest, using a term made popular on the internet, that you STFU. With all due respect, of course.

The reason I say this is because I truly believe there is nothing left to be said. We can argue about the rule itself, its history, and whether the penalty is fair, even though it’s the very same penalty used for the last two years. None of that changes the fact that your gas was indeed illegal. You complain that you have not been allowed to appeal; on what basis would you appeal? This is about as open-and-shut as it gets.

Rick, no one in the entire world believes that you need special gas to kick anyone’s ass. I personally believe that you could probably win the outdoor championship on a 250F against the others’ 450s… but that’s just me. It is very clear to me that a mistake was made on Suzuki’s part, not in attempting to cheat, but in not being diligent enough to prevent this awful mess from starting in the first place. Accept it and move on. It doesn’t change the fans’ acceptance of and love for you.

At the very least, Rick, leave all the political squabbling to the other Man, Roger DeCoster. He’s very good at his job, as you surely know. You definitely don’t want to get caught up in the flying crap if this whole deal comes down to spurious allegations about tampering samples and points manipulation. Stay above the fray by keeping your mouth shut (publicly).

The real truth may come out someday, if it hasn’t already. And when that day comes, you’ll either be vindicated or proven wrong, but never scorned. Sure, some very fickle (and probably drunk) fans boo you here in Southern California, but you can rest assured that you have the respect and admiration of the vast majority of true motocross fans. We’ll never scorn you… unless you start toying with our emotions. Hinting that you might pull out of the supercross championship is definitely toying with us. We’re used to you being a straight shooter, RC. Playing coy is not your style. If you’re fed up, we’ll understand. If you suddenly no longer want to race supercross, that’s your prerogative and we’ll just have to accept it. Most of us will follow you to wherever your new adventures take you. To steal another pop culture phrase, “Just Do It!”

But dang man, don’t kid around about it!

February 24, 2006

Carmichael penalized 25 points!

Wow. Even bigger than "Sparkplug" is the news that Rick Carmichael has been docked 25 HUGE points for using "illegal" fuel at San Diego! Here's the story at Racer X Online.

Talk about shaking up the points. For any other rider, that could spell the end of a championship run. For RC, all bets are still off. And I can't imagine how pissed off he must be. Ironically, this means that all of the Big 3 (Stewart, Reed and now Carmichael) have been dinged for running illegal fuel at one point during their careers. Reed was '04, Stewart in '05 and now this.

Let's wait and see what Suzuki has to say.

Sparkplug 40

Today’s Sparkplug is a kinder, gentler Sparkplug. No rant today, just a look at a new trend in rider protection, the “lite” glove.

Way back last summer, I touched on the lack of innovation in certain types of MX gear in Sparkplug #9. The fact that I completely left gloves out of the discussion is testament to the truth that we don’t really think about gloves that much. Most of us wouldn’t dream of taking to the track without covering up our hands, but what is it that we really want our gloves to do for us?

In the latest issue of Motocross Action magazine, they do a pictorial on the latest gloves, and one thing stood out: the coolest-looking, most colorful, most affordable gloves offered by the top MX gear manufacturers look as they wouldn’t protect you very well in a serious get-off. Instead of protection, these gloves seem to be designed for comfort and touch. Let’s take a look at a few.

Here’s the No Fear “Rogue” model (they’re saying this particular glove was designed for maximum comfort and control).

Here’s Shift’s “Team” glove:

Here’s Fox Racing’s “Matrix”:

Here’s Alloy’s “Clutch” glove (I posted links instead of pics to avoid copyright infringement and bandwidth stealing).

These are all a far cry from those old pigskin gloves some of us used to ride with. You remember them, with the rubber strips sewn along the back to offer “protection.” Back then, the purpose of “dirt bike” gloves was pretty clear: protect the back of the hand from tree branches and other hard objects. The gloves above are clearly not designed to protect the back of the hand from serious impacts. Instead, these gloves are designed to enhance bike control. Say what?

Think about it: the bike/rider interface is dependent on just a few contact patches, all of which are constantly engaging and disengaging from the bike. We certainly ride by the “seat of our pants”, relying on our butts and inner legs to contact, control and communicate with the bike. Our feet play a major role of course, but our hands are hands down (sorry) the most important point of contact that we have with the motorcycle. As such, it is extremely important that our hands remain “happy.” That is to say, comfortable. The need to be able to comfortably grip the throttle and actuate the levers, without binding or pinching and with a solid, in-control feel.

Right now, the most important things a glove can protect a hand from is blisters. Yes, we want our gloves to keep our hand from getting shredded into hamburger during an endo, but hopefully we’ll spend more time in the saddle than on the ground. And that’s the gamble we’re willing to take, trading protection for comfort. But my question is this: is it really impossible to have both? And what about a glove that goes beyond abrasion protection and makes bone protection part of its mission statement? How about a glove that prevents your fingers and thumbs from being hyperextended, the way knee braces work? How about a glove that includes integrated wrist protection?

I love the way our gear manufacturers come up with great styles year after year. But I would really like to see them address the safety issue with the same energy and creativity.

February 21, 2006

Honda To AMA: "See Ya!"

This could be the "shot heard 'round the world", if by "shot" you mean "press release" and if by "'round the world" you mean the American motorcycle industry. In any case, American Honda has pulled it's representative from the AMA Board of Directors, ending a 30-year-span of continuous membership on the sanctioning body's board. Here's the press release, courtesy Racer X Online.

What does this mean for the sport of motocross? In the release, Honda maintains that it will continue participating in AMA competition and that it will continue to hold it's corporate membership with the organization. But there's no question that the door just swung wide open for another sanctioning body to step up to the plate. The AMA's strongest point, with regards to professional motorcycle competition in this country, has been the fact that most of the major Japanese OEMs sat on it's board of directors. Now that Honda has bailed, who's next? And if they all abandon the (maybe not quite sinking, but certainly listing) ship, look for a bunch of new racing series to spring up out of nowhere.

I think it's time for a change anyway, so I am looking forward to what happens next.

Am I Wrong About Ralph?

After reading an article about Ralph Sheheen in the March Racer X Illustrated, I realize that I have been incorrect about his experience as a motocross announcer. In the article, which was a quickie interview by Davey Coombs, Sheheen claimed that he announced many races up in Northern California, including the USGP at Hollister, as well as a few supercross races for cable television.

And to think, I was CONVINCED that he had never called a race before. I was wrong.

So I went to the Speed Channel’s website and looked up Ralph’s biography, which you can peruse here. Looking through the brief write-up, the words “motocross” and “supercross” or even “United States Grand Prix” are all missing. In the interest of maybe saving valuable website bandwidth (?), the Speed Channel website content gurus apparently condensed all of Ralph’s experience into the sentence, “…has covered all forms of motor sports from swamp buggies to Formula One…”


Now, I do not doubt for one minute the veracity of Ralph’s claims made in that interview in Racer X. Not one minute. But I am perplexed that Speed omitted some very important parts of Ralph’s resume. Not that it really matters, anyway… he, in my opinion, continues to be at best a mediocre supercross play-by-play announcer and while I admit I was wrong about his background, I still think he (and Krista Voda) should be replaced.

February 20, 2006

How About That Race??

Wow! Did that race have everything or what? Drama, excitement, crashes, unexpected turns... man, I never thought that Jimmie Johnson would pull it off!

Oh yeah, the St. Louis Supercross was pretty good too, huh? Just kidding... I watched the Daytona 500 yesterday and really enjoyed it, but the St. Louis SX was completely off the chain! I listened to the race on Saturday night and went to bed in disbelief. And I couldn't wait to see it on CBS on Sunday. I had to see for myself the fact that it took James Stewart three laps to pass Jeff Dement! Sheesh!

Carmichael's bike literally tried to kill him. It slammed him to the ground with a vengeance and just missed hitting him a second time. Some say RC's luck has just run out, but I say he was damn lucky to escape that crash without breaking a few bones. I hope to God that he's alright. Like the soldier that he is, he answered the call for the semi and won it just as expected. But nobody could believe that his Suzuki actually broke in the main!

And what are the odds that Stewart's bike would also break just a few laps later?? Unreal!

To top it all off, for a moment it looked as if IVAN TEDESCO was going to win his first 450F SX main! IT was flying, but Speedy Chad Reedy finally got his second wind and ran Ivan down and over. Congratulations to Skippy for the win AND the points lead! Like I said before, Wow!

Now I REALLY wish I were going to Atlanta!

February 17, 2006

Sparkplug 39

Well, the only way you could possibly miss the Winter Olympics telecasts is if your television is broken or you failed to pay your electricity bill. So with that in mind (the Olympics, not your dire personal situation), this week's Sparkplug is all about the Olympics and motorcycling, as in “Why the hell are motorcycling events excluded?”

I am old enough to say that I grew up in the era during which the Olympics truly represented the pinnacle of athletic achievement. Rare was the kid who did not aspire to stand on top of the podium to receive that special gold medal and hear the National Anthem played for his or her own personal triumph. EVERYONE in this country wanted to go to the Olympics and represent America. But the problem was, and still is, that not every sport is deemed “Olympic.”

For decades, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) stuck to their guns and kept a lot of the newer sports segregated from their exalted Games. However, as the Games became more expensive they responded by becoming more commercialized, and the floodgates were opened for the new, more popular sports to get a toehold. The Olympics were held hostage to the almight television ratings, so drastic changes had to be made to battle the loss of viewers. All of a sudden, what was once the bastion of the amateur became the home of the professional. And once million dollar pro athletes were allowed into the Games, they were naturally followed by their million dollar brand name sponsors. Team Uniforms not only carried the name of the sportsman's home country, but also the name of the highest-bidding conglomerate. And still, the tv ratings sank.

So the Olympics held “exhibitions” of sports like mountain biking, mainly because mountain biking had already become wildly popular and had resurrected the entire bicycle industry. The same has happened with snowboarding. Yet the IOC has steadfastly refused to cross the line and allow motorsports to be represented at the Games, using the disengenious argument that a motor transforms the sport into a “non-athletic” endeavor because they're not human-powered.

Hmmm. Look at all of the Olympic “sports” that rely on non-human-powered vehicles: bobsledding, canoeing (whitewater), luge, sailing, skeleton. Ah, what's the point? We all know that a double-standard is being applied here, so why continue to fight it?

Why indeed. So my proposal is that an “Olympics of Motorsports” be organized, a once-every-two-years event that brings together ALL major forms of worldwide motorsports in practice today, both two- and four-wheeled. The host nation will have to be able to provide appropriate venues for each type of racing. If done correctly, can you imagine how big this would be? Here's my list of sports to include:

For Automobiles -

- Open wheel road racing
- Sportscar road racing
- Oval track pavement racing (NASCAR-style)
- Oval track dirt racing (World of Outlaws-style)
- Rally racing (and/or hillclimb)
- Drag racing

and for Motorcycles -

- Regular roadracing
- Supermoto roadracing
- Motocross
- Supercross
- Trials
- Cross Country
- Speedway

There you have it. Not too many disciplines, but enough to cover the sports well and to attract large worldwide audiences. Plus these sports provide plenty of opportunities for sponsorships and have a proven track record of generating good tv audiences. What do you think?

February 15, 2006

David Bailey Rides Again!

Oh my friggin' God! You have to see this video: David Bailey riding a modified CRF450, courtesy Transworld MX Online. More than unbelievable, it's downright inspirational. And he jumps that darn bike farther than I would!

All I can say is "Wow!"

February 10, 2006

Sparkplug 38

Alright, I’m laying it on the line this week, no holds barred. I’m talking about motocross on television in America. And the reason I’m talking about it is because the situation sucks and it has sucked for too long now.

“What situation?” you ask. “Didn’t Clear Channel report that ratings for the supercross series have been great??” Sure they did; you can read it for yourself here at Cycle News Online. In fact, they’re saying that this “…series has been watched by more fans this season than ever before in the sport’s history…”

But did you see the actual ratings numbers? 1.5! That’s “one-point-five.” As in less than two. So what does that mean? According to Yahoo, “There are an estimated 110.2 million television households in the USA. A single ratings point represents 1%, or 1,102,000 households for the 2005-06 season.”

So according to the Nielsen ratings (a scam if there ever was one, but that’s another story), the Amp’d Mobile Supercross series was able to draw an audience of 1,635,000 viewers for just one broadcast. In fact, that rating is high enough to put the show in the top ten list of sports programs for the week… not counting the superbowl, of course. Well shucks, where’s the champagne?

But here’s the kicker: network television is dead, Jim. Been dead for a while. The networks have been hemorrhaging viewers to “other” forms of media for over twenty years now. So getting real excited about these network ratings NOW is a little bit late. In fact, it’s my opinion that the only reason we’re seeing MX on a network now is because they’re, basically, desperate. Particularly the so-called “Tiffany Network”, CBS, which does not have an X-Games or a Gravity Games to appeal to the much-sought after extreme sports audience.

So to the ratings gods, we hereby sacrifice our sport: “Oh god, please let us get a 1.6 this weekend! We’ll do anything… we’ll… hire announcers that have no working knowledge of the sport! How’s that for a good idea??”

Yes, I took a round-about way to get to what’s really bugging me: Ralph and Krista. But my problem with them goes beyond the fact that they’re basically unqualified for their positions. My problem is that in this country, motocross/supercross has such low self-esteem that it has historically accepted the worst possible television packages. Put another way, if the sport were a nerdy elementary school kid, it would be the one that gets beat up by the school bully everyday and gets their lunch money taken each time. And when the bully finally tires of the beating and just demands the money, the kid, our sport, is actually grateful that the extortion continue “because it used to be much worse.”

You hear it all the time: “Why are you complaining about the CBS broadcasts, jerk? Why, I remember when we used to wait SIX MONTHS for ABC to air the U.S.G.P. at Carlsbad!” The entire motocross industry has been bullied by the American media conglomerates. ESPN used to say “You’ll take these weird timeslots and last-minute schedule changes and LIKE IT!” And that’s just what we did. And when this year’s joint CBS/Speed Channel coverage was announced, with (brace yourself) NEXT DAY COVERAGE… well, we collectively soiled ourselves in excitement.

And for those few still willing to complain… about the fact that the 250F class is omitted from network coverage, about the fact that editing of the program leaves a lot to be desired, about the fact that fully two-thirds of the announcing crew are not qualified to announce a local PeeWee race… ABOUT THE FACT THAT THE SPORT DESERVES AND DEMANDS LIVE COVERAGE… well, we just get bashed for being unreasonable and ungrateful.

So back to my pet peeve. Look, there is no way in hell that CBS would put a rookie announcer in the lineup of ANY OTHER SPORT THEY AIR. Think about it. CBS airs a lot of different sports; can you imagine that they would show an ice skating event using announcers with zero experience in the sport? They certainly wouldn’t do it for any of the stick-and-ball sports. Hell, they wouldn’t do it for girl’s collegiate basketball! So how is it possible that it is acceptable for the greatest form of motorsport in the world? You want to know how? I just explained it: because this industry is just happy to be in the game. We’ll take whatever scraps they throw at us. We have no pride, our sense of self-worth is truncated. And somebody needs to stand up for this sport and demand that we be treated with respect.

Back to the ratings issue. It is my fervent (yes, I said “fervent”) belief that supercross can garner network ratings of over 5 points. The sport is dynamic; it is visually stimulating; it has a rich history and it is populated by great characters. But it needs to be treated with respect as a legitimate sport, as legitimate human competition. To steal a line from Lance Armstrong, “It’s not about the bike…” Now, I’ll give credit to the current series in that they seem to be playing the human aspect of the Big Three well, but this sport is more than RC/Stewart/Reed. That may be the storyline for this season, but it’s not the story of the sport. This is a great sport!

But the single biggest change that HAS to happen, that will trigger a MASSIVE audience, in my opinion, is live coverage on Friday or Saturday nights. We don’t have to broadcast the entire show; we can show highlights from the heats, etc. But we have to show both classes LIVE. It will become a must-see event, because supercross is naturally compelling. Sure, there are a lot of people who couldn’t care less… we don’t need them to get a 5 rating. We just need to put the sport in the best possible timeslot, keep it there consistently, promote it properly and use experienced pros to create the broadcast. Then we can sit back and watch this thing takeoff like those fireworks in the opening. It’ll be awesome. And that's just the start...

February 09, 2006

The Jeremy McGrath Invitational?

You gotta love Racer X Online... always posting interesting press releases, like this one. It was announced today that the King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath, is promoting a special invitational supercross this year, to be held in early October!

Shades of Summercross!

This time, instead of the Los Angeles Coliseum, MC's race will be held in the Home Depot Center in Carson, California, just a few miles down the road from the Coliseum. The Home Depot Center is a pretty nice facility... it has hosted some major World Cup soccer games, so there's plenty of room for a supercross there.

But is there room for another supercross in the so-called "off season?" I don't know, but as a Southern California resident I can only smile that smug "we got another race to attend!" smile that some of you love to hate!

February 08, 2006

Godspeed, Kevin Crine

Shocking news today. Kevin Crine, a superfast privateer based in my old home district of the State of Maryland, was killed in an auto accident. Here's the story at Racer X Online.

I didn't know Kevin personally, but my heart goes out to his family.

February 07, 2006

National Couch Racing Series?

That crazy Jason Weigandt is at it again. Over at his blog in The Racing Paper, he’s running a story that claims that ATV racing is on the cusp of the big time, noting that Suzuki just spent big bucks wining and dining motojournalists for the introduction of its new quad racer, the LT-R 450.

Basically, he’s saying that the National Motocross promoters are looking to begin a series for four-wheelers!

Heaven help us all.

Seriously, though, when you consider the fact that quads outsell motocross bikes by like a 50 to 1 margin (exaggerating here), it makes sense that the big manufacturers would get behind a racing series dedicated to the couches. But if they build it, will you come? Er, show up?

As for me, I wouldn’t mind having a 450 c.c., fuel-injected quad racer in my garage. But as far as the racing part goes, I’d have to see if first. So bring it on!

February 06, 2006

What's up with that front wheel, James?

Wow, after watching A3 on the Speed Channel yesterday (right before the Superbowl... whoohoo!) it became very clear to me that my man James Stewart was having serious difficulty with his left turns. Going for the holeshot in the main, his Kawasaki washed out in the first turn, dropping him back to last place. A few laps later, in another left hand turn, he washed out again. And then there was that crash involving Jeremy McGrath, but that was more of a mental error, as James took MC high in the bowl turn leaving poor Jeremy nowhere to go but into the Kawasaki's rear wheel. MC took James down, but in my eyes it was James' fault.

Watching the laptimes, it was clear that James was just as fast as Carmichael, but man, they must have been giving him fits back in the pack because once he broke into the top ten it took him forever to advance. In any case, it was another fantastic race in a phenomenal series, and San Diego is sure to be off the hook!

I just wonder what they'll do about that front end problem?

What? Another Missing Sparkplug?!

Ah, technology. Yep, that's my excuse this time. I was out of town on business Thursday and Friday and I tried to complete and update "Sparkplug" using the "high speed" internet connection in my hotel room. I put "high speed" in quotation marks because it was anything but fast. And it caused my MS Word program to crash for some reason. So instead of throwing my laptop out of the window in frustration, I spent the evening watching "Beauty and the Geek."

I will post a belated "Sparkplug" tomorrow, and my subject will be the state of Supercross television.