Spoken Wheel: Rise up Racing Fans!

February 23, 2011
Gavin Trippe
Gavin Trippe
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Gavin Trippe is an AMA Hall of Fame member and racing promoter. Currently Mr. Trippe organizes the Monterey Classic Bike Auction and relentlessly campaigns for a new road racing class based off 450 motocrossers. In his spare time, the industry insider pens his serial column – The Spoken Wheel.

Max Capps on his 450 Kawasaki carrying the idea of brand and number recognition we were campaigning.
Max Capps on his 450 Kawasaki carrying the idea of brand and number recognition Trippe is campaigning.

Here we are, the 2011 season is here, Supercross is already on a roll with large crowds, but what about the rest? There is a lot of hand wringing and chest beating going on, the woes of the economy and the sad tale of riders finding that nobody wants to pay them anymore, or at best not what they are used to. I think a step back needs to be taken to hit the reset button and analyze the positives and also the wrong fork in the road that may have been taken. It does seem strange that a well-known road racing podium racer is actually out there hitting the bricks with resume in hand, not only for a ride but maybe a small paycheck and expenses!

In life, sometimes the sky falls and one tends to think your world has ended. I have always found that very often, if the sky had not fallen, then looking back, I wouldn’t have found another acorn under the proverbial oak tree of success. Depends on how you look at things and this decade is going to see some dramatic changes in all sport, out with the old and in with the new. But are the powers that be, namely the sanctioning entities that govern and control or own two-wheeled sport up to the task? Time will tell, as many don’t even seem to know how to text and to whom Facebook is a complete anathema. The good news is that there are young thrusters out there, eager and willing to pick up the slack, whether racers, PR wannabe’s or aspiring promoters like I was when I first came over here…

Like the government in Washington has found out to its chagrin, they live in a vacuum surrounded by sycophants and are concerned more with maintaining the status quo and keeping their posh paychecks rolling in until suddenly the great unwashed out there decide it’s time for “Off with their heads”! Change or live by the sword is the mantra of revolution, so where does that come from? You may be surprised by my summation, but yes, it is you dear reader that carries the sword, as it is your dollar that now reigns supreme. The reality is that in the heady days of sponsors sponsoring not only entire racing series, entire teams, and side sponsorships of the individual racers

Giacomo Agostini and his crew bump start the MV Augusta back in 1965. It would be great to see how riders like Agostini would fare on one of the modern 200 hp machines.
Long, long ago riders and fans weren’t seperated by gates or security. Fans got up close to watch future racing legend Giacomo Agostini get a bump start from his crew.

themselves while additionally paying the promoter to put on the event, panic reigns and the reset button is alive and well.

What will drive the beast and sport is the good old dollar in the back pocket of the oft ignored fan and spectator. Those poor distained mobs of nutty fans that were banned from the pits, held at bay by security as they watched the glitterati sit in the hospitality tents, noses in the air reading their Blackberries while enjoying free food and booze! You of great spirit that were delivered a program, if you were willing to pony up $5-10 bucks for one, that didn’t tell you anything on the day as it was a ‘series puff piece’ for sponsors and advertisers, with out-of-date entrants, numbers and classes. Not to mention the total inability to be able to READ the numbers on a competitor’s race bike and/or leathers these days, let alone see what brand he was riding!

So as we deal with the realities of the decade, let’s hear from the great unwashed and unwelcomed for once, those that actually who will be relied upon to pay the bills, and maybe those closeted behind closed doors will pay attention for once and help you in order to help themselves.

1. To start, let me paraphrase my old UK roommate and sparring partner of the ’60s writing in his own column in British Bikesport News under the pseudonym “Lone Wolf” Rob but now known as Sir Robin Miller!! While I came over here to become “Didn’t you used to be Gavin Trippe – now Spoken Wheel?” he stayed put and created a massive publishing empire that actually paid $1.5 Billion for Petersen Publishing at one time!

Says Sir Robin!

“Imposing ID cards on innocent citizens is not my idea of personal freedom, but isn’t it time the governing bodies of racing imposed stricter rules on racing numbers. Most people who go to motorcycle racing are not anoraks of the caliber of our own dear editors and very often haven’t the faintest idea what’s going on – BECAUSE THEY CAN’T READ THE BLOODY NUMBERS.

Now even I know the sport needs all the sponsorship it can get and that is why bikes bear a close resemblance to mobile poster boards, but the paying public are important too because without them you don’t have sponsors. And while people like the race commentators who do a great job on the PA, audio reception is quite often poor.

Memo to the powers that be: 1) Could the number be bigger and in a more visible position like the nose; 2) Could it be black on yellow as tests have proved that is the most noticeable combination?” Sir Robin!

I remember clearly producing programs for Ascot, Carlsbad and Laguna, that read:

King Kenny was unstoppable from 1978-1980 when he took his YZR500 to the 500cc crown.
The days of bold readable numbers appear to be a thing of the past.

#2, Kenny Roberts…. Modesto, Ca. Age 25… Yamaha 500cc, OW30.
Entrant Yamaha Motor Corp.

And on his bike you could clearly see the numbers front, central and side, the brand color and/or name and the rationale behind the importance of where he was from. Fans love to root for the local hero or have a connection somehow, even though their boy is mid-field, but they have to first be able to find him! “Where is old what’s his name who lives in my town?” Those old enough will remember Roxy Rockwood’s dulcet tones at Ascot Half mile every Friday night…”Who’s for BSA, who’s for Harley, who’s for Triumph?” As the fans in Turn 1 cheered or booed while they took another ‘toke,’ he would add more fuel by adding “Northern California, #7 Mert Lawwill,” more boo’s and our own Gene Romero, #3,” big cheers. And so the show rolled on. Guys were actually known for their number, bike brand and alliances and you could read them on those big National plates and on the back of their leathers! Who actually knows what a Jordan is and did Rossi really race a Fiat? One wonders why manufacturers paid big salaries when their brand is secondary to a beer company or copying machine!

2. Let’s please stop calling everything ‘SUPER’ such as Supersport, Superbike, Daytona Sportbike and Motocross ‘Lites.’ For God’s sake, it is a stock 600cc ‘four’ or a Triumph 750cc ‘Three’, a Honda 1000cc ‘four’ or a Ducati V-Twin production bike, or even a Honda 250cc CRF motocross bike. A Lite? Give me a break! Ignorance of the fans to identify or understand is the death knell of attention and attraction, which in turn kills the atmosphere of the cheering crowd. Those with the trick Pit or VIP passes trolling through pit lane and sealed off from the peasants, either know, don’t care or even don’t want to know, but are there just to be seen on TV as poseurs!

Red Bull KTMs Ken Roczen landed on the podium for the first time in AMA Supercross at A2.
KTM’s European star, Ken Roczen. This new blood in racing has already shown he’s a real contender in AMA Supercross.

3. Finally let’s have a class for something other than 600s in road racing and take a leaf out of the Flat Track and motocross book with young bloods like KTM’s Ken Roczen and Flat Track’s Steve Bonsey scaring the lights out of the older generation throwing around their $8000 base cost bikes with youthful abandon! When Red Bull pulled out of their KTM ‘Rookies’ class, road racing took a big hit because of egos and intransigence. I championed the cause for 450cc-based racers, but moving on, what about setting the stage by investing in what will be the future before someone makes you. In other words, the new 250cc four-stroke class MotoGP will roll out in 2012. You could get started with the $12,000 ready-to-race Honda Moriwaki class this year!! By 2012 I guarantee there will be 250cc single-cylinder four-stroke bikes available from KTM, Honda and others that are already on the prototype phase as we speak for 2012… Steal a march; speculate to accumulate as procrastination is the thief of time. And the winner IS? The race fan again, just as the uprising in Egypt and our own recent elections, the great and silent majority are heard again and have a loud voice.

Agree or not, let’s hear you. I’m there with you, even as a promoter, I always enjoyed going to the races, not asking for a VIP pass on the basis of “Oh, here comes Gavin again with his hand out.” Hanging over the fences and enjoying the vibe and atmosphere with vociferous others is a high and addictive. More promoters and sanctioning mavens should try it sometime, you may be surprised! Just as in war, the mantra was “The Army marches on its stomach,” so too does racing’s future more than ever. March to the tune of the racing fan and his precious presence, with that filthy lucre in his/her hot little hands and empowering vocal refrain!