Backmarker: Baker Gets Superprestigio Shot

December 18, 2013
Mark Gardiner
Mark Gardiner
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In 2001, Mark Gardiner gave up his career in advertising, and moved to the Isle of Man to live out his childhood dream of racing in the TT. After returning to the U.S., he wrote a memoir of that experience, Riding Man, which is now in development as a feature film. His column, Backmarker, looks at everything from the motorcycle industry as a whole to intensely personal 'inside stories.'

I Love it When a Plan Comes Together

Earlier this month, I wrote about Marc Marquez’ plan to resurrect the post-season Spanish “Superprestigio” race, except that this time, it will be a short track race held in a spectacular Barcelona arena that was originally built for the Olympics.
I pointed out that no flat track race could really be ‘super’ prestigious unless it included the champion from the world’s top flat track series. That would be Brad “The Bullet” Baker, who won AMA Pro Racing Flat Track’s #1 plate a few months ago.

That last Backmarker column was written in an intentionally provocative way, because I knew that unless we did something to get their attention way over there in Spain, Brad wouldn’t get an invitation. The truth is, of course, that Marc Marquez has nothing to lose by inviting Baker to his race. No one could expect Marquez to beat Baker on dirt, any more than you’d expect Baker to beat Marquez on asphalt.

I set about conducting my own little social media campaign. I sent out tweets, and DM’ed people on my list that I thought might have one degree of separation from Marquez. I also targeted a few people by naming them on twitter posts. One of the key guys I wanted to reach was Dennis Noyes, an American who’s lived in Spain for decades and who is a color commentator on Spanish television’s MotoGP broadcasts.

Dennis’ son Kenny is a known fast guy in Spain; he’s raced two seasons in World Moto2, and will be racing an importer-entered Kawasaki Superbike in the CEV championship next year. I got some tips from Kenny a few years ago, at a Michelin tire launch in the Dubai (or was it Qatar?). Kenny was the Formula USA National Dirt Track Pro-Singles championship before he turned roadracer, and he runs a dirt track school at Motorland Aragon in Spain.

My friends were retweeting and generally going ‘Woot, woot’, but when two weeks passed without a word from Spain, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that Marquez wouldn’t rise to the bait. I sent out one more tweet last weekend, and was stunned when someone in Spain tweeted back that Marquez had, in fact, decided to invite Brad.

As it happens, Dennis Noyes was in north county San Diego (where he also maintains a home) for a Christmas break, and he DM’ed me a phone number. Although he’s not directly involved in Marquez’ Superprestigio event, he knows everyone concerned, and I’m pretty sure that he was the guy who intervened on Brad’s behalf.

Thanks to social media  Brad The Bullet Baker now has an invite to Marc Marquezs Superprestigio race in Spain.
Thanks to social media, Brad “The Bullet” Baker now has an invite to Marc Marquez’s “Superprestigio” race in Spain.

Noyes has a pretty interesting backstory. He grew up in Hoopeston, Illinois, where he started racing stock cars at such a young age he had to forge a driver’s license. After a couple of years of that, his family realized it was too dangerous. They offered to pay his way through college if he promised – really promised – to quit stock cars.

“I put my hand on the family bible, and promised I’d never race cars again,” he told me over the phone. “But I specifically said ‘cars’. I never said anything about motorcycles.”

Noyes did, in fact, go to college. He did well in most courses, but sucked at Spanish. His Spanish teacher told him that he was the kind of student who could only learn by immersion. At that point, Dennis headed for Mexico without realizing that he was pretty much charting the course for the rest of his life.

He traveled and lived throughout Latin America. “A few things happened there,” he told me, “that you probably shouldn’t put in ‘Backmarker’.” Eventually, he realized that if a guy loved all things Spanish, the place to be was Spain.

“I got to Barcelona in 1966,” he said. “Every stoplight was like the beginning of a Grand Prix race. Guys rode race bikes on the street. I remember one time, seeing a lawyer leave his office, and put a warm-up plug in a Bultaco 360, which he then bump started. Once it was warmed up, he switched to a race plug and rode home!”

The two-stroke Singles that dominated Spanish motorcycling were a heck of a lot easier to work on than the Chrysler V-8 Noyes had left at home in his ’34 Plymouth-bodied “modified.” He was pretty much instantly hooked on bikes and bike racing. He ended up winning two Spanish championships and being runner-up twice more before hanging up his leathers (at 43).

Meanwhile, Noyes – he’d been a lit student at Monmouth College – was approached by an ex-racer-turned-motorcycle-publisher named Jaime Alguersuari, to translate his articles into English. Noyes ended up working for Alguersuari’s magazine, Solo Moto, where one of his jobs was organizing the original Superprestigio road races. Now, along with his TV work, he writes for Motociclismo, which is sort of the ‘Motorcyclist’ to Solo Moto’s ‘Cycle World’, but he’s still friends with his old employer.

As I reminded readers in my last post, in the late ‘70s Kenny Roberts proved that dirt track-style ‘rear-wheel steering’ worked as well on 500 Grand Prix two-strokes as it did with XR750s. After Roberts had made the transition to team management, he started bringing Grand Prix riders to his training ranch in California. For a while, Roberts operated a version of his training ranch in Spain; he brought Jimmy Filice over as a lead instructor. Alex Criville was one of the Spaniards who said that training with Roberts on little XR100s had dramatically improved his lap times on his 500.
Noyes raised the profile of dirt track racing in Spain a little more when he promoted the first real flat track races there. He brought over American Grand National stars like Jay Springsteen, Steve Morehead, and Ronnie Jones about 15 years ago.

More from the news of Bakers invite to Marquezs Superprestigio.

Dennis confirmed my suspicion that Dorna’s contracts with racers specifically prevent them from entering other road races. But nothing in their contracts prevents them from racing an event like Marquez’ Superprestigio, which will be held on an oval barely 1/8 of a mile around, where speeds will be relatively low.

I was actually a little surprised to find that Marquez was such an avid dirt tracker. A few years ago, I talked to Nicky Hayden about flat track training, and at that time he told me that he almost thought it was a disadvantage, in the era of wheels-in-line, traction-controlled MotoGP bikes.

So what’s changed? According to Noyes, riders like Stoner and now Marquez have pushed the envelope that much further, so that traction control or not, they’re sliding again. He sees Marquez’ ability to ride the bike looser as an advantage over Jorge Lorenzo, for example, who’s still keeping the wheels more or less in line.

“Stoner showed the way,” Noyes told me, “but he was helter-skelter and intuitive. Riders like Pedrosa and Hayden who have had access to Stoner´s data both say that you can understand what he does but you can´t imitate it. Marquez rides, according to Shuhei Nakamoto, a somewhere between Stoner´s style and Pedrosa´s. If you watch Marquez, you’ll see he’s got a method; he’s breaking the rear wheel loose to get it turned on purpose. Watch him at the end of races. He hangs the rear out like the American 500 riders did.”

Noyes definitely sees the pendulum swinging back towards the sliding style. He knows the minds of all the riders, and he told me that Valentino Rossi has been lobbying hard behind the scenes for control ECUs and traction-control software sufficiently restrictive that riders who rely on traction control pay a penalty for doing so.

“You take a bike like the new Kawasaki 1000, [street bike]” Noyes said. “It’s got a pretty good traction control setup for guys like you or me, riding it on the street where we could come across a bad surface. It’s really useful in that setting. But if you want to race that bike, you’re going to turn the TC way down, because you’ll realize that it kills your drive.”

Rossi, from what Dennis says, thinks that’s about how TC should work on MotoGP bikes – it should help prevent the rear really spinning up and highsiding the riders, but it should not help them get off the corners. With control ECUs in MotoGP’s future, there’s a good chance that flat track skills will again prove essential in Grands Prix. That will be good for the show, and for American racers’ prospects over there.

I hear that the MotoGP rider Marquez most wanted to represent in the Superprestigio was Nicky Hayden, who obviously has major flat track cred. But when Nicky’s wrist operation made participation impossible, it left a spot open for Brad Baker.

Originally the promoters wanted only GP riders to race each other and were putting on an “open class” series of heats and a final for a select group of Spanish and other European dirt-trackers, but it was Marquez himself who said he wanted there to be a “Superfinal” that would send out the top four roadracers against the top four dirt-trackers. This may make Honda and Marquez´s sponsors nervous, but the new MotoGP World Champion says “this race is going to be fun and I want to race the best guys on the day.”

I think that Baker and Marquez will hit it off; they’re twins from separate mothers! There’s a huge buzz surrounding the revived Superprestigio in Spain – it will be on national television there – and there’s already talk of making it an annual event again, perhaps bringing in one or two more Americans in 2015. I have my own inkling that Baker may race in Europe more than once, and not just on dirt.

Contracts have been emailed back and forth, and within the last day I’ve confirmed that Brad will fly the Stars and Stripes at Marc Marquez’ Superprestigio event. That’s great news – and exposure – for Brad’s sponsors, both Harley-Davidson (he’s the factory rider in the 2014 Grand National Championship) and Fun Mart Cycle Center of Moline, IL who are providing the KTM he’ll race on GNC short-tracks and TTs.

It’s also a real boost for AMA Pro Racing’s whole flat track program. There’s renewed interest in the series here, with a proliferation of brands now competing against Harley on the big tracks, but flat track needs all the good press it can get. Some GNC pros basically race for gas money here in the US, but the fact that the organizers of the Superprestigio are ready to fly Brad to Spain proves that there’s still international respect for America’s home-grown racing.

The Spanish media are already hyping the arrival of the young American champion. Marc Marquez’ main sponsor, Honda, would probably have preferred Nicky Hayden to represent the US, but the Spaniards are already excited about a visit from the reigning #1 plate holder. His appearance will be a shot in arm for the international prestige of AMA Pro Racing’s Flat Track series, too.


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