Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My life as a race fan

From an email I sent to a friend this summer with a little bit more added:

You know, I've been an AMA racing fan since I was a kid. I remember my first flat track races, watching Scotty Parker, Jay Springsteen and Bubba Shobert go at it on the ovals at Parkersburg, WV and Syracuse, NY. I was watching when Doug Chandler earned rookie of the year honors as a flat tracker in 1983 and again when he won the superbike title for the first time in 1990. In 1985, I knew my hero, Chris Carr, would one day carry the #1 plate. I remember when Shobert made the switch to the asphalt and the relief of the Harley crowd that there'd be one less Honda dominating flat track racing.
I was there when Eddie Lawson won the Daytona 200 in '86 (I was 10), and watched on TV when he did it again in 1993.
During high school, the end of the school year was celebrated with a one-hour drive to Mount Morris, PA to spend the weekend (drunk & belligerent) at the High Point motocross nationals.
The first time I saw Nicky Hayden race - and win – on TV was in '02 at VIR (I was cheering for Pascal Picotte on the Ducati that race).
By the time I knew the difference between an inline four and a big V-twin, I was having dreams of sitting at the top of the corkscrew at Laguna Seca, and I remember not being able to speak for a few moments the first time I rounded that last bend in the winding road through the Monterey Peninsula and looked down on that historic racetrack..
I’ve watched sidecar races and alcohol-fueled speedway heats, and I’ve seen 600cc flat trackers put spikes on their tires and race around ice hockey rinks. This is my sport, and this sport helps define huge part of my life. I've seen Mat Mladin race a Ducati – and a Cagiva, Larry Pegram on a Suzuki, Tommy Hayden on a Kawasaki. I've watched spectacular high-sides and counted the seconds until the rider was on his feet. I've seen titles come down to hundredths of a second, blown motors end championship hopes and injuries end careers.

I really don't know what's in store for AMA road racing next year, but I'm really worried about it. I'm not worried that the racing is going to be boring (I could watch guys race 50cc unicycles and think it's cool), but I am worried about losing some of my heroes. Mediocre riders = a mediocre sport. I'm also worried about motorcycle racing becoming a marketing tool like NASCAR. I watched stock car racing in the early 80s, and I remember back-woods Alabama drivers who were too dumb to give TV interviews tearing fenders off at 200mph. It wasn't about the image or the hat dance or the TV commercials; it was about fucking racing! DMG's rule proposals proved they don't give a shit about the racing. You don't start off by pissing off the factories, but it was bound to happen. Look at what they do to NASCAR. The "if you don't like our rules, don't put your cars on the track" mentality is exactly what looks to be in store for superbikes. The "equal machines = better racing" philosophy is bullshit. If you want to be competitive, build a better bike. Look at Kawasaki. It's taking them a while, but they're getting there, plus this series has some amazing riders who can do anything on whatever machine they're handed.

I wrote that email to @Bridget_NewGirl this summer when the new AMA rules were being worked out. That was before the downturn in the economy. Before Honda pulled out of AMA Superbikes, before Kawasaki pulled out of MotoGP. For the first time in my life, I’m afraid for our sport. I’m afraid that, no matter if and when the economic crisis ends, it may be too late. I’m afraid of fans losing interest, but just as importantly, I’m afraid of the potential fans we’re passing up. DORNA has it all wrong. DMG has it all wrong. It’s as if they’ve decided that racing isn’t worth the effort and compromise needed to keep it growing.

Where’s the passion for racing? The riders have it. The fans have. When will the powers that be step back and remember what it’s all about?

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