May 29, 2006

How about that Hangtown cablecast?

Those readers familiar with All Things Motocross know that I tend to be very critical of all media coverage of our sport, particularly television coverage. The reason is because I am a former television professional myself, and I am knowledgeable of the challenges and difficulties involved in covering a dynamic motorsport like motocross. I am also aware of the great impact television coverage has on the uneducated public, and I always want to encourage accurate portrayals of MX. So with this in mind, I sat down in front of a friend's TV to watch OLN's coverage of the Honda Hangtown Classic. Here's my review in a sentence: very cool.

Actually, I was very impressed with the job that Chet Burks Productions performed in capturing and cablecasting this race. Let me list some specifics...

What was cool about the show?

  1. The rider ID graphics were very nice, and included all of the information you would want.
  2. The fact that they included an interview with Kevin Windham and didn't limit their interviews to the Big Three.
  3. The bit they did on the Toyota sponsorship, featuring a short interview with the AMA's John Farris. Good pit footage and good level of detail. I'd like to see even more footage from the pits.
  4. The Track Facts section was good, informative and brief.
  5. The fact that they showed all of the early action in moto one BEFORE cutting to commercial. That was very thoughtful.
  6. The “Toyota Leaderboard” was good.
  7. The overall camerawork was very good, and the camera placement was well thought out (I do have a small bone to pick about this; see below).
  8. “Rider Tips from Suzuki”. Nice.
  9. The announcers were competent. David Pingree's partner (can't recall his name!) had that “broadcast voice”, but it was never overbearing, and he seemed to have more than passing knowledge of the sport. Pingree himself came across as quite the expert on the sport.
  10. Erin Bates did a great job on the podium. Her questions were smart and her rapport was evident.
  11. The “Racer X Holeshot Award” replays were cool.
  12. Erin Bate's mini-interview with Bob Hannah. He looked great!
  13. The fact that the AMA actually ran its own commercial (even though it was kind of weird).
  14. Showing the highlights from the WMA races; that was excellent. Even more excellent was the fact that they were sponsored by Hitachi.
  15. The Carlsbad flashback from 1980 was fantastic.
  16. Some of the new commercials: Polaris and Cuervo Black. Nice to see others step up to support the sport.

And what were the areas that could use some improvement?

  1. Pingree sounded monotone; he should work on voice modulation. Content-wise, though, he's excellent.
  2. The other guy just needs to stop saying “Jamesbubbastewart”. That was last year.
  3. Show the lap times. We know the AMA is providing them, figure out a way to get them in the show.
  4. How is it possible that they never mentioned Antonio Balbi's great first moto ride?
  5. The camera angles and lens selections tended to flatten out the jumps. They lost all sense of the height and distance that the riders were jumping, which is a huge component of the dynamics of the sport. It's like losing the sensation of the speeds achieved at an autorace... a huge no-no. Rethink the camera placement.
  6. Why did they use an old photo of James in his ID shot? He doesn't have dreadlocks anymore.
  7. Speaking of James, the camera completely missed James taking the checkered flag in moto one. That's an unforgivable error. Imagine them missing the winner of the Indy 500...
  8. When Reed said on the podium it was possible that this is his last season, Erin should have followed up on that for clarification. That was bad timing on Reed's part, but he should have been called on it.
  9. This is not the fault of the production team, but the commercial mix was questionable. Where were the Kawasaki and Yamaha commercials? What happened to Thor?

And there you have it. Sixteen cool things and 9 areas for improvement. That's a winning score and the folks at Chet Burks Productions should be proud. Yes, it would have been nice to see more race footage, but considering the fact that the second moto was basically a procession it's completely understandable. And squeezing two 30-plus-minute motos in one 60 minute block while making room for commercials and other information mean that cuts have to be made somewhere. I think they did a good job of trimming the racing action in just the right places. I feel confident that our sport is in good hands with this group.

May 26, 2006

Sparkplug 50

This Memorial Day weekend marks the second round of the 2006 AMA Toyota Motocross Championship presented by FMF. And for this milestone Sparkplug (the big 5-0… woot!), I want to take a look NOT at the racing, but at the sponsorship issues that were raised just last week.

The first press release was, er, released on May 19, just two days before the start of the new season. The intent was to announce the total list of sponsors; here it is. Note that there is the Title Sponsor (Toyota), the Presenting Sponsor (FMF), a list of 18 Series Sponsors, and then Presenting Sponsors and in the case of the Honda Hangtown Classic, an Event Sponsor for each of the upcoming Nationals. Very cool, especially compared to last year. So everybody should be just as pleased as punch, right?

Well apparently not everybody. Shortly after the release of the above press release, Honda sent out one of their own dated May 22. While the headline of the release says Honda will participate in the sponsor program, the second sentence of the very first paragraph says that “…American Honda will do so under duress.”

Jeepers! Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines duress as: “1. forcible restraint or restriction, and 2. compulsion by threat; specifically: unlawful constraint” (emphasis theirs).

Now, if there’s one thing we know about American Honda it’s that they are a professional outfit, so there’s no doubt a pro wrote the press release and chose the wording very carefully. What was Honda’s problem with the AMA’s sponsor program? The simple fact that the AMA rules required all competitors to run Toyota logo stickers on their front number plates.

Read the press release, if you haven’t yet. It goes on to make a strong case: “Placing competitor logos on another manufacturer’s machines is offensive to companies with strong brand identities. Such a requirement is misleading and potentially confusing to spectators and customers. It is surprising the AMA would incorporate such a requirement into its series sponsor contract without consideration to the competitive position of the companies involved. This is analogous to NASCAR naming Toyota as series sponsor and requiring, Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet to place Toyota logos prominently on their vehicles, a situation we believe NASCAR would never allow.”

Well, wait a minute. What did Honda do when Mazda sponsored the supercross series a few years back? According to Honda’s press release, THEY DIDN’T RUN MAZDA LOGOS ON THEIR BIKES, choosing instead not to participate in the Mazda rider points fund. And what about when Chevy Trucks sponsored the outdoor nationals? They didn’t address it in the press release, but my guess is that Honda didn’t mind because at the time they were not in direct competition with Chevy in the truck market.

So how did the AMA respond? You know they did, right? They issued a response on the same day, saying that they were “…unaware of Honda’s concerns over this requirement until approximately three weeks ago.” The AMA goes on to say, “While AMA Pro Racing can empathize with the reluctance of some companies to display the logo of competitive entities, this is a traditional practice in motorsports and one that is necessary to maintain commercial viability. In this case, Toyota’s sponsorship adds tremendous value and benefits to riders, fans and promoters of AMA Motocross including contribution to a championship bonus fund paid out to top finishers. Additionally, Toyota’s proactive sponsorship activation plans will generate broad benefits to all involved in the sport. Honda’s reference to NASCAR practices in this matter is completely irrelevant (emphasis mine).”

No matter where you might stand on this issue, that little bitch-slap last sentence was definitely uncalled for. The kicker is when the AMA adds this killer line: “It is AMA Pro Racing’s intention to uphold the rulebook in this regard.”

Nice to know they’re in the rule-enforcing mood these day, no? Maybe they’ll keep those underage kids out of the pits, like it says in their rule book…

Back on track, here are my feelings about this: I am concerned that the AMA has somehow lost touch with the manufacturers that sponsor the most powerful teams on the circuit. They said that they were unaware of Honda’s concerns until 3 weeks before it all blew up… have the lines of communication between the AMA and Honda completely closed ever since Honda pulled out of the AMA Board? And is the AMA completely unaware of the way the Japanese do business? Honda and Toyota are fierce home market competitors; why wouldn’t the AMA be aware of this potential problem and address it ahead of time?

Finally, I must admit that it is interesting that Suzuki, another competitor with Toyota for the automobile market (though obviously not as big as Honda), has silently acquiesced to the sponsor program. Is Honda ultimately making a mountain out of a molehill, or was the “duress” so great that Suzuki was scared to speak up?

May 24, 2006

2007: The Year of Electric Motocross?

I found this over at Motocross Action's website: a story about the latest electric mx bike. Apparently, the makers of this bike have married it to lightweight, longer-lasting lithium batteries. The result? A run time of 3 hours at trail-riding speeds and 1 hour at motocross speed! And the kicker is that recharge time is only 30 to 90 minutes, rather than multiple hours. Check it out; I believe this is the indisputable future of our sport and I welcome it with open arms.

May 22, 2006

Hangtown '06: Role Reversal

Ah, what a race to miss! This year's running of the Honda-sponsored Hangtown Classic, the first round of the Toyota-sponsored National Motocross championships, would have been my third consecutive Hangtown had a last minute snag not altered my travel plans. So instead of standing in the rain with 20,000 other MX nuts, I sat at my buddy's kitchen table and, along with untold thousands of internet-savvy motocross aficionados, listened with rapt attention as the webcast announcers bellowed the action.

Turns out it was a great race! For details, check out this fantastic race report over at Transworld Motocross Online.

For the Cliff's Notes version, though, you've come to the right place. In a nutshell, James Stewart and Rick Carmichael served notice to the MX world that the battle begun in the 2006 Amp'd Supercross series was in fact NOT over... not by any stretch of the imagination. After a two week lull in violence, combat has fully resumed, and motocross fans across the world have reason to celebrate.

Remember the last round of the supercross season? How all James could do was win the Vegas event and hope something happened to his rivals? Well that role was taken over by Carmichael at Hangtown in the second moto. Finishing third after an astonishing come-from-WAY-friggin'-back in the first moto, Carmichael needed Chad Reed to pass James for second place in the final moto. And just like in Vegas, it simply wasn't gonna happen. Yes, Rick ran the table in moto two, grabbing the holeshot and checking out to a ridiculously huge lead, but Stewart patiently rode him in second, assured of the overall victory (and the championship points lead) because of his last-lap pass on Reed in the first moto for the win. And while Superbad Chad rode extremely well, he had to be feeling a little low after being chased down in the first moto by the dynamic duo from Florida.

The other role reversal was the simultaneous ending and beginning of streaks. By winning the Hangtown National, James Stewart ended his National LOSING streak, which effectively spanned his entire 2005 season. And at the same time, Stewart ended Carmichael's National Overall Win streak, an unbelievable string of 27 wins.

So congratulations to Stewart and Team Kawasaki for their inaugural 450F class wins at the Hangtown Motocross Classic! And here's to another incredibly exciting championship series!

May 18, 2006

Sparkplug 49

Yes, there are only a few days before the start of the much-awaited outdoor national season, so it’s fitting that I talk about… supercross? Well, truth be told, I have some unfinished business to deal with, and that’s the fact that last week’s Sparkplug only dealt with the Big Three… and there were a lot more riders giving it their all this winter and spring. So today’s article is all about the best of the rest… giving props where props are due.

“Chump” comment notwithstanding, Makita Suzuki’s Ivan Tedesco showed off his championship form, I think, for finishing fourth overall in his first season in the big boy class. At the beginning of the season I was confident that Ivan would do well and he didn’t disappoint.

Nick Wey certainly deserves special mention. Slick Nick put together a consistent season, scoring three third place finishes and five fifth place scores to finish fifth overall and top non-factory dude. And I’m sure the fact that Wey was only 6 points behind Tedesco was not lost on any of the factory insiders.

I’m not the only one sad to see “Iron” Mike Larocco retire from the sport, and we were all disappointed that it ended in an injury. Larocco was still able to finish the series in 10th overall, despite the fact that he was out after 8 rounds… a testament to his performance early in the series. Good luck with whatever you get into, Mike.

And how exciting was it to have Kevin Windham return to supercross racing?

The “not so big three” of Jason Thomas, Ryan Clark and Kyle Lewis all had good years considering. JT Money got to wear the helmet cam and did himself proud. I’m sure those guys all wanted to finish higher in the points and make more money, but they can still sleep well in the knowledge that they are among the fastest supercross racers on the planet. “Lucky” Kyle Lewis could have used more luck, as he wasn’t able to crack the top ten at any event, but that’s okay as far as I’m concerned.

Michael Byrne held up his end of the Kawasaki team bargain, finishing on the podium at Daytona after James fell. He had some good motos out there as well, but I think Ivan had him covered. Travis Preston, the nearly invisible man, brought his factory Honda home in 7th overall, but I can barely remember seeing him out there. Flashy, he’s not. Certainly, his success was overshadowed by the tragedy that befell his teammate, Ernesto Fonseco (get well soon, Ernie). Let’s hope Preston can make more noise outdoors (um, that’s the rider, not the bike).

But the real action away from the supercross Big Three occurred in the 250F classes. Grant Langston and Davi Milsaps both had amazing seasons, as they seemed to show dominant speed in their respective regions. And they both faced serious challenges from their teammates. “Rocket” Ryan Villopoto is my new favorite young gun to watch, and he had a pretty incredible rookie season, almost putting it to Langston. Of course, Honda’s Andrew Short came very close to taking it from Langston, but as they say, close doesn’t count for shit… or something like that. Ask Pingree.

And how about that Josh Grant kid? Fast fast fast. Only Milsaps won more mains than Josh. These two are gonna be fun to watch at Hangtown, where Grant knows how to fly.

A little further back we find the very fast Tommy Hahn. Martin Davalos surprised me by leading a few races. And how can I forget Lil’ Goose, Chris Gosselaar and his amazing rides for Monster/Pro Circuit?

Others I have to mention: Paul Carpenter has his moments. Billy Laninovich rocked the house a few times with his sick whips and fast laps. Darcy Lange came out to show that Arenacross racers ain’t no punks (I already knew that). And of course, Mike Alessi ended up being the man for KTM, after a bit of a shaky start.

There were a few riders that I have to say disappointed me, and I cannot end this column without mentioning them. This is not about calling them out or anything like that, it’s just that these guys have phenomenal potential and incredible speed and skills, and I hope they do better in the future. I realize that many of them were dealing with injuries, bad luck and other issues, and that’s okay. I’m talking about some of my favorite riders like Greg Schnell, Matt Walker, Tim Ferry and of course, Sean Hamblin. Oh yeah, and David Vuillemin. Here’s hoping the outdoors finds you all at the top of your respective games.

So that’s my loose list of supercross highlights away from the lead pack. It was such a fantastic season, I’m still having trouble letting it go.

But tomorrow night, I’ll be on the way to Hangtown!

May 17, 2006

Racer X Films now online

Just in time for the upcoming outdoor racing season, the fine folks over at Racer X had launched a site just for online videos, Racer X Films. They're still working out some of the bugs, and the first vid that I watched, coverage of their awesome ride day at Castillo Ranch, took forever to fully load even with my fast connection. But I'm sure they'll get it all worked out soon.

Racer X now joins Transworld Motocross in the online video market... late to the game, yes, but better late than never, right? Now let's see if RX can step up and compete with TWMX's bikini model videos, too!

May 15, 2006

Ernesto Fonseca Update with Pics!

You gotta check this out: Ernesto Fonseca's wife, Caroline, has started a website. [link deleted] It's got some touching photos of Ernie with some of the friends that have visited him. It breaks my heart to see him like that, but at the same time, seeing him smile and surrounded by people that love him... that's gotta be a good thing. Check it out.

May 12, 2006

Sparkplug 48

There is simply no way that I can let the 2006 Supercross season end without a final comment, so that is the subject of this week's Sparkplug.

In a word, this year was phenomenal. That “perfect storm” everyone expected for 2005, heralded by the arrival of an opponent finally able to give Rick Carmichael a run for his money? Well now we know it took 11 months for it to build up to Category 5 conditions. It wasn't until December of '05 that we finally got a glimpse of the Great War to come, during those two races in Canada that represented the unique FIM-points-only World Supercross rounds. And unveiling a new bike, a new attitude and a new number was the man who would be king (but not this year, maybe later), James Stewart.

It's not my intention to recap the season with a blow-by-blow, round-by-round summary. If you're reading this, you probably are as crazy about motocross as I am, so you also witnessed the fantastic races that made up this championship run, either on cable, network television or on the web. And that's one of the things that made this season so memorable: EVERY RACE was suspenseful and exciting, and EVERY RACE was made available to a reasonably large television audience. It was all so fantastic it's almost hard to believe.

Yes, there were never more than three riders vying for the win. The same three. The BIG three, Chad Reed, James Stewart and Rick Carmichael. Yes, it's true, not another rider was capable of turning lap times comparable to these stellar racers. Yes, it would have been even more exciting if there were more rivals for the championship, but to paraphrase our possibly senile Secretary of Defense, “you go to the races with the racers you have”, and those three are without a doubt the most talented, dedicated, motivated and galvanizing supercross racers alive today. We were blessed to be able to witness their 18 round battle.

Chad Reed has the heart of a lion. I remember watching RC seemingly tear that very heart right out of his chest in Atlanta in '05, chasing Chad Reed down and beating him mercilessly. But Chad reached down deep the very next race at Daytona... RC's home track!...and proved to Rick and the world that he could still win and win big at that. This year, Superbad Chad was all but dismissed as the perennial third place horse... I even opined, prior to the start of the season, that Reed would be fighting off a challenge for third overall from Ivan Tedesco. Boy, was I wrong about that! Reed hung tough all year, every single lap, and as such put himself in perfect position to capitalize on the mistakes that are usually NEVER made by RC and his team. Chad only won two main events this year, and each one was the result of severe bad luck striking both RC and JS at the same time. However, that was enough to put him in the amazingly unlikely position of being able to win the whole shooting match at the very last round. He made his own luck by believing in himself and never giving up. He deserves an award just for that.

James Stewart is the fastest supercross racer the world has ever seen. And that's not just my opinion; that same sentiment has been voiced by the top names in the sport, including one Rick Carmichael. Stewart overcame broken bones, intestinal illnesses, disastrous results and a lot of flack from fickle fans during the first 11 months of 2005 to triumphantly record stunning victories in December of the same year. He went on to compile an impressive win record in '06, winning 8 more rounds and on the way, winning every heat race he entered, a feat never before achieved, not by Carmichael and not even by the undisputed King of Supercross, Jeremy McGrath. Of course, heat race wins are ignored by the record books, but it still remains a remarkable accomplishment. Yet James still had moments on the track that caused him to finish off of the podium a number of times, losing valuable points in the process. Now James is the World Champion of Supercross, a title that used to mean little, even when it was held by the likes of Carmichael and Reed. To some, it still means little, but I'm sure it means a heckuva lot to Stewart, his team and his family. On top of that, James is the first rider in the history of the sport to wrestle a championship title away from formerly unbeatable RC. Now that's saying something about the both of them.

Rick Carmichael is simply the greatest motocross racer that has ever lived. And my opinion is backed up by fact: his number of championship titles is unprecedented, his records are arguably unbreakable. And if you need more proof, all you need to know is this: not only did he beat the King of Supercross at his own game, when faced with the fastest supercross racer of all time, he rose to the occasion, did what he had to do, and came away retaining his National Supercross Championship. No, it was not easy and he didn't make it look easy. RC suffered an uncharacteristic mechanical DNF at St. Louis and just missed serious injury in a scary getoff at Dallas. But he never stopped working hard and like Reed, never stopped believing. If he did, there was no way for us to tell.

Some say the fact that one series crowns two champions is unnecessarily confusing, and I understand where they're coming from... but at the same time, I feel strongly that having two winners is the best possible outcome for this season. These two guys put on the show that we've been waiting for since RC dethroned MC back in the day. And the truth of the matter is that there are many more winners this season than just two. We've all won something of value as spectators: the experience of watching one of the best years of indoor racing to date.

Now, who's ready for the OUTDOORS??!

May 07, 2006

Oh yeah... Congratulations to our Champions!

Big ups to Rick Carmichael for another championship season. He dug down deep and kept his AMA Supercross title.

And big props to James Stewart for winning his first 450F supercross crown, the FIM World Supercross Championship. And congratulations for becoming the first rider in history to actually beat Rick Carmichael in a championship series! That is saying something!

So... How did I feel after watching the Las Vegas broadcast?

I wanted to hurt someone.

That was part of my reaction after watching last night’s Supercross Finale broadcast live from Las Vegas. I mean, I was looking forward to a FANTASTIC night of racing, and in all honesty, the qualifying races were great. Too bad the 450F main turned into a boring procession. But it wasn’t the race that angered me, it was the coverage.

And let me be clear, I wasn’t pissed about the technical coverage. I thought the technical execution was superb. The great camera angles gave me the feeling that I could see the entire track. The director and technical director seemed to capture the action at just the right time; their timing was nearly flawless. And whoever was able to talk Kevin Windham into wearing the helmet cam deserves a bonus! It was great to see what it’s like riding with one of the fastest riders in the sport. I could have watched even more of that, despite the signal breakup whenever he went down “Thunder Alley”.

And the graphical information offered on screen was nearly perfect. The scrolling position chart that alternated between laptimes and gap times was just great, and the color coding to show who’s in qualifying position… very cool. Laps remaining, point standings, rider number and name titles… the crew did a great job. They were on point and I have no complaints about that aspect of the broadcast. So what was it that made me squirm in my chair for three hours?

One, the show was visually boring. A three-hour live sporting event cannot afford to be boring for 15 seconds, but last night’s show became uninteresting whenever the racers left the track. I COULD NOT BELIEVE that the only cutaway available was a shot of the fans in the stands. A heat race would end, they would show the winner ride off the track, then they would cutaway to people in the stands as the announcers wrapped up the race and transitioned to a commercial. USING THE SAME CUTAWAY FOR THREE HOURS = FRIGGIN’ BORING!

My God, how many other things are there to shoot at a supercross race? How about the pits for one example? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see what happens when a factory rider returns to the pits after just missing a qualifying spot? There was not a single shot of the pits… and the factories spend a ton of money to make them visually appealing to fans. I mean, were the pits closed to the Speed camera crews? I think not.

Or how about a shot in the tunnel as the riders and mechanics make the trek to the starting line? Or how about a shot of the announcers in the booth?? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a good idea to show the television audience the size of the sellout crowd… once or twice. We get it after that!

Pre-taped packages were another problem. I missed the first 20 minutes of the program, so maybe I missed the killer, kick-ass package, but the ones that followed were basic at best. I mean, another mini-interview with one of the top three, telling us how important the championship is? WE’VE SEEN THAT ALL WEEK, for chrissakes! There was ample downtime to run more 1 and 2 minutes packages. How about one showing the riders preparing for the week? You know, send a crew out to the factory practice tracks; show RC pounding out the miles on his road bicycle; see Stewart pumping iron in the gym. How hard would that have been?

And the commercials. Oh my god, I am SO GLAD the supercross season is over so I don’t have to see those same three commercials again! I was actually grateful that the local cable station was running some bullshit car sales commercials, just to break up the monotony! Would it have killed Amp’d mobile to produce a new commercial for this huge broadcast? I guess it was out of the budget… cheap bastards. Either that or they just didn’t care. Which one is it? And even Thor would have benefited from running something new… even if it was one of their older commercials from years past. Yes, advertising if more effective when repetitive. But there is a point of diminishing returns when the target audience gets sick of the same old message. I believe that point was overtaken months ago…

And the announcers… I still don’t like them, that’s not a surprise. But what really did surprise me was the fact that the announcing team has not “gelled” in the least bit. It’s like they’re still strangers to each other. There was absolutely zero sense of camaraderie. Denny Stephenson has a well-earned reputation for being a bit of a smartass, that’s a large part of his appeal, but his personality never shined through. There was even a moment when Ralph took an uncharacteristic jab at Denny, regarding wearing pink gear, and Denny refused to strike back. And Ralph gave Denny PLENTY of opportunities because Ralph said things that give the impression that he has no idea what he’s talking about. And Denny should have blasted him on it every time. That would have been entertaining as shit.

One example happened right before the start of the 450F main, when Ralph called the siting lap the “warm up lap.” If there were any NASCAR fans watching, they would have scratched their heads in confusion, wondering why those racers were trying to “warm up” something at walking speeds (there was another “cutaway” opportunity: show the riders in the pits, warming up on their stationary bikes). Denny should have corrected Ralph immediately. Yes, they eventually explained that the riders were looking for changes in the track condition, but Denny missed an opportunity to assert his personality. The sad part was I don’t think he even noticed.

The field reporters were no great shakes, either. There was a moment when Greg White talked about the hardpacked dirt in Thunder Alley. He pointed out some “lines” in the dirt, which were obviously ‘dozer track, and he compared them to “cobblestones”. Why he didn’t just identify them as ‘dozer tracks I’ll never know (is it possible he didn’t recognize them?), but then Ralph adlibbed that the mechanics were “working furiously” to address the traction issues. Um, okay. Picture Alan Olson in the pits, “furiously” changing tires. It never happens; the tire company guys do all the tire changing; Alan would change wheels, but “furiously”?? Instead, the producers missed a great opportunity to spend 60 seconds with Dunlop tire rep Broc Glover, letting him explain the fact that they use special, limited-use tires for supercross races. And Dunlop was one of the advertisers! What could have been a win-win turned into yet another missed opportunity, and a better visual alternative to a cutaway shot of a guy picking his nose in the stands.

I’m not even going to say anything about Krista… ah, who am I fooling? First, why a white belt with black shirt and pants? Was she trying to convince the nation that she has absolutely zero fashion sense, or was she trying to shame CBS into hiring a wardrobe person? She seemed lost throughout the entire broadcast, as if she was having trouble finding things to talk about. There was a great shot of racers preparing their starting slots by packing the dirt with their feet. Would it have killed Krista to get a rider or mechanic to explain exactly what they were doing? To a casual fan it must have been confusing.

I think, seriously, that Krista could benefit from sitting in a room and watching all of her “interviews” for a few hours, and then be forced to write better questions for each situation. She appears to “wing it” whenever she’s confronted with interviewing a rider, and she usually gets it wrong. Of course, that’s just my opinion, and who am I but just a guy with a blog, right?

But the last straw that broke my camelbak was the “ceremony” during which the top official of the AMA and the FIM presented their respective number one plates to our exalted champions. Did you see it? I just couldn’t believe it. After hyping up the title chase for three hours, the actual title presentation consisted of a few mumbled, un-microphoned words by Whitelock and Gallagher, while Ralph talked over them, adding absolutely nothing to the process.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you the Supercross Champion of the World!! Here, take this piece of plastic, good job, now scoot…” Unfriggin’-believable. If I were a casual fan, I would be perplexed; as a huge fan, I was hugely disappointed and embarrassed.

And what was the deal with the stadium announcers? Why were they on the stage interviewing the racers at the same time? DID NO ONE TELL THEM THE RACE WAS ON LIVE TELEVISION? The fans in the stands seemed to know it was on live TV… why not let the television announcers handle the entire podium presentation… for the television audience AND the stadium audience? Whose idea was it to pretend this was just a regular race being taped for cable? At that point, I turned off the TV…

What it comes down to is this: I feel an unbelievable opportunity was wasted. There was enormous publicity and anticipation heading into this final race. The stage was set, but the production team dropped the ball bigtime. It was as if no thought or preparation went into this special program. I know that isn’t true, but the end result, to me, suggests that the preparations were insufficient. Either that or the people doing the preparations were in over their heads. Of course, this is just my opinion, and again, who am I? Just a guy who loves motocross and is not afraid to tell it like it is.

May 05, 2006

Sparkplug 47

Well, it's the Friday before the Greatest Supercross Show on Earth commences in Las Vegas, and it's about damn time that I got back to writing Sparkplugs, doncha think? Since our great sport is on the verge of crowning two champions in an unprecedented winner-take-all finale, you would think that this week's topic would be all about this big race. But really, what can I say that hasn't already been said by writers better than I? I mean, check out my man Jason Weigandt's blog, or check out Andy Bowyer's excellent “Rev Up”. Or read what my internet hero Steve Giberson over at TWMX has to say. Even former Supercross champ and all around motocross hero Jeff Emig weighed in over at Racer X Online. So I'm going to leave all the speculation and pontification to the pros.

But I will say this: I predicted that James Stewart would win the title this season in Sparkplug 35, where I said: “I think Rick Carmichael will take James to the wire this season, with the championship being determined at the very last round in Las Vegas.” I was actually expecting a mechanical to finally hit uber-champion Rick Carmichael. Well, I got the breakdown part right when RC's shock gave up the ghost in St. Louis... now, if either RC or Chad Reed fail to finish second to James, the talented Mr. Stewart will win both the AMA Supercross title and the FIM World Supercross crown. And then I'll say “I told you so...” Until then, not another word from me...!

So this week's topic is about something entirely different: the concept of racers “giving back to the sport.” For some fans, that is the mark of a “true” champion... that they not only win decisively, and win graciously, but they also take up some other extra-curricular activity to bring even more value to the sport.

The shining example of this would have to be the great Jeremy McGrath. “Showtime” is known and revered not only for his complete and utter domination of supercross in the late '90's, but also for changing the sport itself for the better. Jeremy is known for introducing the “bmx” style of riding, in which the rider “pre-jumps” the jumps in order to fly lower and return to the track faster. This style allows the rider to accelerate down the landing ramps of jumps, increasing their speed and dropping their lap times. McGrath used this technique to absolutely annihilate his competition, and a thousand young racers adopted the method with much success. It's standard supercross racing technique now.

I also believe that McGrath had a hand in the standardization of supercross tracks. The way the tracks are built now, each obstacle has consistent measurements and angles from track to track. Triples are always a certain distance, with the takeoff and landing ramps always having the same angle and height. This was no accident, and I could be wrong (as I have no proof whatsover), but I suspect that McGrath worked with the promoters and the track builders to nail down some consistency in track design. Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong.

There's no doubt that Jeremy changed the atmosphere in the pits. No rider before his time enjoyed the massive fan popularity that MC has. Even during his “part-time” seasons, he had some of the longest autograph lines.

But Jeremy went even further. He was the first to prove the concept of a rider running his own factory-backed team was possible, when he teamed up with Chapparal and Mazda. He brought in major outside sponsorship with the aforementioned Mazda, as well as MCI's 1-800-Collect and Bud Light. He was the first racer to own part of a major gear manufacturer in No Fear. He even promoted his own race, the Summercross that was held in the fabled L.A. Coliseum (and he's promoting another one this winter, the McGrath Invitational).

And let's not forget his invaluable contribution to the birth of freestyle, the Nac Nac.

Truth be told, Jeremy's contributions to the sport, both on the track and off, are numerous, and this article is not just about him, so I'll leave it to you to fill in the rest of MC's accomplishments. But who else has “given” to this sport we love?

I think it's safe to say that David Bailey has given of himself, not only with his riding schools and coaching of up-and-coming pros, but with his contributions from the broadcast booth. I believe DB has been one of our greatest television personalities, and I hope someone can talk him back into the booth someday.

Roger DeCoster is an obvious choice, as well. Here's a guy who could have retired years ago after his extremely successful racing career, but by taking the reigns at Team Honda and now Team Suzuki, he has advanced the cause of American motocross in an immeasurable way. Not to mention the fact that he has coached and managed nearly ALL of our Motocross des Nations teams, even leading them to victory against his own home nation of Belgium. I love RD.

There are other riders that have done well by motocross, and I don't mean to dis them by not mentioning them here. But I am truly perplexed when I hear some people say that the current crop of racers have not done their part, have not “given anything back to the sport.” Like, what has Kevin Windham done for the sport; what has Mike Larocco done for the sport; how has Rick Carmichael given back to the sport?

Here's my thinking: all a racer has to give is his or her best effort. That's all they “have” to give to the sport. I believe that's true for any professional sport. Do what you're paid to do to the best of your ability. Leave it all on the track or on the playing field, and the fans have NO RIGHT to ask for anything else.

I also think it's preposterous to assert that someone like RC hasn't “given” anything to this sport. Representing us at the MXdN last year, in my mind, qualifies as a great act of giving. Setting the bar so high that it may never be topped, by doing what it takes to accomplish not one, but TWO perfect seasons... that's giving, in my book. Is it on the same level as the stuff that McGrath has done for supercross. No, but the comparison is inappropriate. You can only give what you have, and Jeremy was and is gifted with a lot of fan appeal and personality. Rick is gifted with an unmatched level of drive and determination, and so his “gift” to us fans is his numerous record book entries.

And here's the biggest thing: I believe that racers are in a better position to “give” back to the sport AFTER their racing days are over, like Bailey and DeCoster have. So it's much too soon to come down on our racers about not “giving”. Give them some time.


And one more thing: GO JAMES!

May 03, 2006

Welcome Back, Brian Deegan!

I know, I'm a little late, but I just read this great interview with Brian Deegan over at Racer X Online, in which Deegan announces his return to racing motocross!

What really got me stoked about this news was that it was clear that Brian has really grown up. He's a family man now and a successful businessman and he admitted that he misses the sport and wants to ride the nationals simply for the pleasure of it. I think that's awesome. He even said he had a positive attitude now! That's the commandant of the Metal Militia talking!

Brian, welcome back. I am going to be one of the guys cheering for you on the sidelines, no matter what position you're running in. Good luck!

May 01, 2006

Congratulations Grant Langston!!

Wow, talk about putting it down when it counts, Grant "Lucky" Langston dominated the muddy Seattle Supercross last Saturday to clinch the West Region 250F supercross championship. Good job, Grant!

Now, at the beginning of the season I wrote an article about Grant, saying he was selling "wolf tickets". For those that don't know, "wolf tickets" is a slang term for bragging. And it was true; the article was in response to a press release issued by Langston's people, talking about how Grant was going for the "Grand Slam": by winning the West Regional supercross title, he would be the only rider in history to win every possible 125 title in the world.

And there's some truth to this. Before he came to race in the U.S., Langston won the FIM 125 World Championship on a KTM 125. Cool. Then he won the AMA 125 National Championship, also on a KTM 125. Then last year, Langston won the East Regional 125 supercross championship... but he was riding a Kawasaki 250F. No problem because they're legal in the 125 class, right? Okay fine, but this year is different. Yes, he won the title, but the class is no longer the 125 class. According to the AMA, it's now called the "Supercross Lites" class, and in fact, there was not a single 125 c.c. motorcycle contesting the entire series. Technically, it is NOT a 125 title for Lucky.

So, Grand Slam? I think not. But don't despair, Grant, because it is still a great championship and a great way to wrap up your career in the tiddler ranks. As Steve Whitelock ungraciously said when handing you the number one plate, "You're racing Supercross now, boy." Or something like that. I have no idea why he would call you a boy...