MotoAmerica is far more accessible to a fan who is trackside at places like Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway. Their transporters are parked in the paddock, whereas WSBK is packed into the garages; even as credentialed media you need a separate pass to access the garages. The riders can often be seen walking about the paddock, several even carrying their own tires. WSBK still gives access mind you, but MotoAmerica gives a feel much closer to a flat track paddock: local boys here to race, and they are throwing everything they have at going faster.
Yet when watching the race or attending post-race press conferences, the lack of spectators for MotoAmerica is obvious at a glance… people are here to watch World Superbike. Maybe it’s the out-of-reach mystique or the fact that Laguna Seca is the only US round for WSBK?
Strangely, when I chatted up a group of spectators about WSBK there was little intimate knowledge. People vaguely knew the top riders names but not their race numbers. They didn’t know who was leading the championship or even what brand bike some of the riders were running. It seemed like many fans were attending because they used to come to the MotoGP round and since that was fun, they would attend this event since it’s the closest to MotoGP they can get without going to Austin, Texas.
When pressed further about MotoAmerica, people seemed to remember the previous years under Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) control where the sport languished. Simply, they did not seem interested in giving it another chance. It really got me thinking though, what is American road-racing missing? There were years of decent racing under DMG control despite the many mistakes and uneven rule enforcement, yet no one cared to watch. Are people so bitter that they simply refuse to pay attention, even as Wayne Rainey and his team attempt to rebuild the series from the ground up?
It was a question I had no answer for, so I put it out to anyone that would answer. I asked fans, riders, mechanics, marshals, and there seemed to be some consensus. For accuracy’s sake, I should mention I phrased my question differently to different people simply because I did not always have my notebook out as I asked. To some I asked, “What is American road-racing missing the most?” and to others I asked, “What does American road-racing need the most?” Similar wording, but words like “need” and “missing” can trigger different trains of thought. Most people’s answers were short, then had a follow up explanation. The follow up explanations were very similar.
It sounded to me like a circle. Any racing series needs good racing, which brings fans who want to see it. Those fans are the target market for sponsors, who put money into the series, teams, riders, etc. With more money available to teams and riders, the level of racing picks up. More riders come in to chase the money and the spectacle grows. As the spectacle grows, you guessed it, more fans. At critical mass there is web broadcasting, TV coverage, and the holy grail: live TV broadcast. People I asked may have mentioned fans or TV money, but nearly all were speaking of some part of this cycle.
And from what I see, the people at MotoAmerica already know this. They managed a tape-delayed broadcasting deal with CBS sports, though having to wait a week for the airing seemed to stunt its impact. Live streaming is still available, but fans seem too lazy to do more than program a DVR… firing up the internet to watch something at a specific time is just sooo 2005. MotoAmerica has some other tricks up their sleeve though. They are attempting to add great racing with the creation of a Superstock class to run at the same time as the Superbikes, creating something similar to the ALMS series but with the specifications being much closer.
MotoAmerica’s main job is great racing. That means fair rule enforcement and clean, close competition. The “close” part is often hard with Superbike rules, but with the RC390 Cup they should have a winner. Young riders on near-identical bikes fighting for victory. But without money, many of the teams only catch the MotoAmerica events on their side of the country. The 600cc class is also broken into two, with a Superstock600 class that boasts large grids due to relative affordability.
So, after getting some answers as to what American road-racing is most in need of, I’m left pondering an equally important question: what will it take to get American racing fans to actually notice all of the work going into the resurrection of Superbike racing?
That’s a question for another time though. Right now let’s see what people say is missing the most or needed the most in American Superbike racing:
“What we’re missing the most is corporate sponsors. MotoAmerica has done a phoenomenal job with something that was imploding. Hopefully people see that and is keeps growing.”
-Josh Fogle, #151, Team APMoto Arts
“Fans. What they really need are the fans to pay attention. The damage from before is done. [MotoAmerica] are essentially rebuilding from scratch. One thing I’ve seen so far is that participation is way up. It’s a work in progress.”
-Dustin Coyner, Rider Coach
“TV coverage… to attract sponsor opportunities from outside of racing.”
-Gavin Williams, Crew Chief, Braeden Ortt Racing, MotoAmerica #551
“I think it’s live TV. The fans want to be able to follow [the racing]. And you know, I understand it’s the first year back and the sponsors kind of want to wait and see. It’s going to take time.”
-Roger Hayden, Yoshimura Suzuki Superbike #95
“Sponsor support. The fast guys get support, but the whole rest of the field…it makes the field uneven.”
-Albert Bautista, Spectator at Rainey Curve
“TV. No TV, no sponsors.”
-Ben Fox, Mechanic
“You ask me, we need the core group of people who love motorcycle racing to spread it to people who don’t know it, because it’s the coolest sport in the world, and people who come and see it… all fall in love with it. And they don’t stop falling in love with it. You know, maybe, I don’t know if we need to sell the personalities, I don’t know what it is… but the racing is awesome. It’s exciting, it has its element of danger. On the racing side of things, I think it starts at the grass [roots] level. I think they need to make club racing more accessible to get more people out there, [and] hopefully a little less expensive. We need some more stars in our sport. Right now, even if our field grows… if Honda and all these guys come back to racing, what are they going to fill those grid spots with? There’s a huge generation gap… we need some new people. It’s going to be tough, but I think it starts at the grass roots level.”
-Josh Hayes, Graves Yamaha Factory Superbike, #1
For TV listings, webcast info, MotoAmerica branded swag, results, and tons of information on the resurgent sport of American Superbike racing, visit www.motoamerica.com