(Above) David Lloyd (seated) on the bike Joe Kopp used to score the first non-Harley Twins victory in ages, back in 2010. When he and Troy Bayliss started trading messages, David looked at the 2015 GNC schedule and realized that Troy could do Springfield I and Sacramento back-to-back, then take a month off before doing Du Quoin and Indy, then take one more month off before going back to Springfield. (Below) I can think of at least a couple of Aussies that have made main events in AMA nationals in recent years—Mick Kirkness (left, with Brad Baker and Jake Johnson) can be fast on his day, though he rarely has the best luck and/or machinery. Jared Mees came back from the 2015 Troy Bayliss Classic impressed not just with Bayliss’ speed, but with the depth of the Australian field.
Behind the Scenes, as Troy Bayliss Goes Flat Trackin’
Since retiring as a certified legend of Superbike racing, Troy Bayliss has spent a lot of time and energy honing his flat track skills—and promoting flat track racing—back home in Australia. Suddenly, however, it seems Bayliss may help promote the sport of flat track here, too. Some journalists have already reported that, come May, Troy will ride the Springfield Mile on one of Lloyd Brothers Motorsports’ Hypermotards.
When I heard that, I called David Lloyd. He told me that he hoped it would come to pass, but—and it’s a big ‘but’—there’s a still a six-figure sponsorship shortfall. So, is Troy coming to America to race this season? It’s not a done deal, but here’s what’s happened so far, behind the scenes…
In just three years, Troy’s built up his Troy Bayliss Classic race into an impressive event; I heard it drew about 8,000 fans last month. Two years ago, Henry Wiles and Sammy Halbert flew down to experience Australian summer and racing, on an oiled-dirt surface and 17” wheels. This year, Bayliss met AMA champ Jared Mees at the Superprestigio, and convinced him to come to Australia, too.
At the Superprestigio, Troy started thinking about coming to the U.S. to race in a ‘real’ flat track race. He mentioned that to Steve DiLorenzi, who is one Jared’s team sponsors. DiLorenzi, in turn mentioned Troy’s interest to Steve McLaughlin.
The executive summary of McLaughlin’s career is, he invented the World Superbike Championship. That leaves a lot out; he’s currently both a consultant to AMA Pro Racing and the promoter of the Sacramento Mile. His first thought was, just having Bayliss come and ride a few demonstration laps in Sacramento would be a PR coup. McLaughlin and Bayliss were friends on Facebook, and McLaughlin invited him.
Not long after Mees won this year’s ‘Classic’, Bayliss posted a question in both English and Italian on his Facebook page, asking who’d like to see him ride a Ducati at Springfield and Sacramento this year. That got some serious social media buzz going.
Within a few days—and after a few email and FB messages had bounced between Bayliss, McLaughlin, and the Lloyd brothers—Troy’s ambitions had grown. Now, he wants to do all five ‘miles’, and he insists he wants to do them on a Ducati. (Troy won three SBK titles for Ducati, and came close to sainthood in Bologna in 2006 when, after winning the World Superbike title, he entered the final MotoGP race of the year as a wild card, and won.)
Steve McLaughlin originally imagined that Bayliss would come and cut a few demonstration laps. When Bayliss decided he wanted to win a GNC Mile, there were a few whiners who complained that the ex-SBK champ should have to come up through the singles class, like everyone else. AMA Pro Racing quickly instituted a rule that specified that FIM ‘Expert’ licensed riders would have reciprocal rights in flat track.
McLaughlin’s not just an event promoter, he’s a promoter by nature, if you know what I mean. He was quick to realize that Bayliss would give AMA Pro Flat an international star to build PR around, and leverage AMA Pro’s nascent efforts at going global—which, so far, has really just been individual American pro riders dashing off to Spain and Australia.
Of course any time the words “flat track” and “Ducati” are used together, the first guys who come to mind are the Lloyd brothers. David and Michael Lloyd put together the bike that Joe Kopp rode to a win in 2010, ending a decades long streak for the Harley-Davidson XR750. Since then, they’ve continued to evolve their machines under riders like Brad Baker, Henry Wiles, and Jake Johnson.
David Lloyd told me that over the last five years, they’ve had five races where things either broke, or they tried big changes on the bike that didn’t work and as a result they didn’t qualify. Of the 28 races they ran, they finished in the top five about 40% of the time. They only raced their Ducatis three times last year; they finished fifth once and fourth twice. Along the way they won a Dash for Cash and set one ‘fast time’. So the bikes are ready.
I’ve shadowed the Lloyd Brothers Motorsports team at a few races, so I know it’s a tight ship. Unlike a lot of the teams in the GNC paddock, they run it like a real business; they’re not self-sponsoring and they refuse to operate as a money-losing labor of love. In recent years, they’ve pulled together sponsors ranging from ENI (the Italian national oil company) to Foremost Insurance and Ramspur Winery.
In fact, the Lloyds were far from certain they’d even race this year. They’ve been freshening their bikes in the hopes a sponsor would surface, but in the back of their minds they were thinking, It’s either that or sell them.
So at the last minute, all this Bayliss buzz has given them fresh hope. Until now, Ducati North America’s done the team some favors, but it’s never been a real, check-writing sponsor. The challenge in getting Ducati to back the team at that level is, probably, that flat track has not historically meant much to Ducati’s top management in Italy.
Maybe that’s about to change. Marquez and Rossi are big flat track fans, and the Superprestigio is raising flat track’s profile in Europe. Troy Bayliss is making a sponsorship pitch direct to Claudio Domenicali. And Ducati’s own website cites the flat track inspiration for the new Scrambler ‘Full Throttle’ edition, saying “The Full Throttle version is inspired by the flat track world and makes clear references to the bikes that race around dirt ovals.”
Hopefully, Ducati’s hip to the fact that, these days, marketing is all about authenticity. It’s one thing to tie the Scrambler to flat track in marketing materials, but putting Troy Bayliss on one of the Lloyd Brothers’ bikes would give that ad copy real meaning.
I put that to Steve McLaughlin, but he was dismissive for two reasons. One I have to agree with, which is that the pitch for sponsorship’s coming too late. “You need to make your pitch in the third quarter, so sponsors can included it in next year’s budget,” he said. “Now, you’re coming to them at a time all their money’s committed.”
The other reason he held out little hope of financial help from Bologna was that in his experience, motorcycle manufacturers usually seem to feel that they’ll benefit from racing whether they support it or not. I’m sure he’s experienced that more than a few times in his long career, but manufacturers have stepped up with sponsorships—even in flat track—in the past. If anyone has pull with Ducati’s top management, it’s Bayliss.
Even if Ducati North America can’t get buy in from Bologna, McLaughlin still feels that Lloyd Brothers will get sponsorship from somewhere. “I personally know five Ducatisti who could just write that check,” Steve told me. “Or there’s the Desmo Owners’ Club; how much money could they contribute?”
That raises the interesting idea of crowd-sourcing a sponsorship. I wonder how much money Lloyd Brothers Motorsports could raise, and how quickly, with a Kickstarter campaign?
Still, I hope it doesn’t come to that. I’d rather see Ducati write the check. Over to you, Claudio.