Monday, 17 August 2015

Peoria Reflection

There are a few strands to this post.
1. The proposed AMA rule changes for 2016 and my personal thoughts on them.
2. Yesterday's thrilling race in Peoria. 
3. A comment Sideburn reader Randon left overnight. 

First the rule changes. You can read more here and here, but in the briefest terms, AMA Pro Racing (the governing body of dirt track's Grand National Championship) is stopping the GNC1 class (the Experts as they were called) from racing 450 singles, instead making them race their twin-cylinder bikes at all tracks including short tracks and TTs. There are lots of differing opinions on this, but read the comments in the links above and leave more here if you want to debate. I am loving reading the comments and opposing thoughts on this. 

Yesterday's race was the last Peoria TT contested by 450 GNC1 bikes for, as Wiles very cleverly put it, at least one year. It was a great race to end an era with. 

Now Randon's comment, cut and pasted... 

A while back you said the Peoria TT was a "shit motocross race." 
I can't disagree more. You have it absolutely backwards. Motocross is a shit Peoria TT. 
Today was evidence of that. Watching Mees chase Wiles for 25 laps was an absolute pleasure. I will always cherish knowing I was there. I love you. I have each issue on my shelf, except Sideburn #1. You have done a lot to promote flat track world wide, but I have been pissed about this since you said it.

Yesterday, I (Gary, Sideburn editor) watched six hours of Peoria coverage on a window smaller than a postcard on a computer screen. You can believe me when I say I'm a big fan of all the modern racing and I'm not looking at it through rose-coloured glasses because I wasn't watching the racing when Aldana et al were involved. However, I like to think I know a bit about the sport and the characters involved. I didn't need telling it was a big deal Coolbeth didn't make the main. I knew it was poignant that one racer who normally runs 7 chose 69 instead. I knew that when the cameras were concentrating on race at the front that it was almost equally important to the season-long battle that Bryan Smith finished 11th. I know all that, because I try and watch every race if I can. But flat track needs more than people like me. It needs people who don't know a single thing about flat track to turn up or tune in to their local race. 

I wasn't at the race yesterday but a few things stuck out. Chris Carr (who knows a bit about Peoria and the sport in general) repeatedly commented that this was the closest race Wiles had ever had in 11 straight wins at Peoria. So, it was a good one. 

Secondly, the crowd looked a bit thin and, just from the glimpses I got, mainly of an older generation. I have no problem with an older generation and their money is as good for the sport as anyone's but it's indicative a withering, ageing fanbase.

The entry for the expert class was very small. In 2010, 47 riders posted times in Expert (GNC1 qualifying). In 2015, 26 GNC riders posted a qualifying time. Are 450 DTX bikes bringing more money or riders into the sport? From that scrap of evidence, you'd have to say no. So, if that's the case perhaps you try something else. Right? If the entries aren't healthy, concentrate on something that brings more money and interest to the cream of riders (like MotoGP does), rather than trying to make it a democratic sport lots of people can enter. The grassroots will do that and the cream will rise to the top. 

Now, my comment about Peoria being a crappy MX race. This is not my take on the race, but my clumsy attempt at describing what the person on the street, the non-expert sees. It was headline-grabbing to stir thought and emotion. It worked in Randon's case.

Look back at my posts and I've never doubted the quality of DTX racing, but this ISN'T about racing. This is about marketing the sport to secure its future. This is about USPs (unique selling points) and, of course, there are are forgettable twin races sometimes. 

There are too many sports and pastimes all looking for spectator and sponsor dollars. Show a photo or clip of Henry Wiles going over the Peoria jump to anyone and it looks like MX. No one can argue that. It has NO USP. Randon, you are an expert, you can see the nuance and detail. But to survive, AMA Pro Racing has decided to stop worrying about the fans it has now and chase the fans and sponsors it doesn't currently have. Running twins at Peoria is not going to lose any current fans or spectators, but it has the chance to attract a lot more simply because it will be unique. Of course, this will only happen if it can get the message out and market itself well.

Also, I want to add that the Peoria club and the racers do a great job to put on a race and even though there were some crashes, the hold-ups and injuries were minimal, thanks to air fences etc. People who love the sport respond with emotion when they read their favourite race called a crappy MX race, but I still believe AMA Pro Racing are looking at (or at least for) the bigger picture and revolutions always put someone's nose out of joint. 

Please feel free to leave a comment on this. If, for whatever reason, you can't leave a comment and really want to, you can email us dirt @ and I'll cut and paste your email into the comments section. G


Anthony Brown said...

"Running twins at Peoria is not going to lose any current fans or spectators, but it has the chance to attract a lot more simply because it will be unique"

Really is running twins alone going to attract any extra fans?

I am not convinced that the type of bike being ridden is the problem here or that making a change will help to get more people interested.

I think that all spectator sports suffer from the same issues that AMA Pro flattrack are facing right now. For me promotion and moving forward with modern technologies is the way forward. For example Fans Choice itself is the biggest step forward in recent times.

I dont believe that making the top riders / teams develope new bikes (twins suitable for a track with a jump) is going to benefit the sport long term. What I think it will do is put an extra burden on already hard up racers and teams to spend time and money developing bikes for one or two (castle rock) races a year. The teams will not be keen and eventually these unique races will be lost.

If you are completely new and green to dirt track racing (the type of spectator we all agree DT needs to attract) I am not sure you will think this is a "crappy MX race" because chances are you haven't seen an MX race either. In fact if you went to Peoria first and them to watch the SX in a fottball stadium you MAY think that the SX was a "crappy" version of the TT.

It seems to me a backwards step to try and relive an era which is now passed. (a bit like the leathers only rule).

I think the USP for Dirttrack already exsists. Its the simple, fast, close racing, that those who enjoy the sport know and love. I think that making minor adjustments to the rules has no benefit.

The longer term goals need to be heavliy focused on promotion and moving with the times. In an era when Robbie Maddison can generate millions of hits with a young audience in a matter of hours, dirt track racing needs to spend it time looking at ways to reach a young and ethusistic demographic.
I am not sure making riders ride unsuitable bikes is going to do that.

Sideburn Magazine said...

Replying to some of Anthony's points...

1. Really is running twins alone going to attract any extra fans?
A: Why wouldn't it? Look at all the interest from different kinds of people to the hooligan races in Sturgis. The machinery is crucial to the interest. It's what the whole of the TT, World Superbike, World Rally etc is based on. Some people join your series, the DTRA, because the want to race a vintage bike or a Thunderbike, not just because they want to race flat track.

2. I am not convinced that the type of bike being ridden is the problem here or that making a change will help to get more people interested.
A: What is the answer then? The status quo isn't working. When the X Games got interested in flat track it was because of Harley and the twins programme. Yes, Superprestigio is DTX short track with a twist (17in wheels, gate start) and that is very successful, but purely because of Marquez. That CANNOT be argued with. The indoor short track at Vegas attracts fewer spectators than a good DTRA round!

3. I think the USP for Dirt track already exists. It's the simple, fast, close racing, that those who enjoy the sport know and love. I think that making minor adjustments to the rules has no benefit.
A: BUT THAT ISN'T WORKING! Otherwise nothing would need to change and every racer would be hauling their bikes in gold-plated Winnebagos. Things HAVE to change and the AMA is trying something, whether you agree it's the right thing or not. What is the specific answer if people don't like the proposed changes?

4. The longer term goals need to be heavily focused on promotion and moving with the times.
A: This is, I understand, the AMA's first step, so perhaps there will be more to follow. But what does moving with the times mean?
I'm not having a go at you, Anthony, but people are slagging off these changes, but I'm not hearing a lot of viable alternatives to help flat track move forward.
2010 - 47 experts at Peoria.
2015 - 26 experts at Peoria.
That is not a sport that is flourishing the way things are.

And marketing costs money. By changing to twins the hope is, I guess, Kawasaki, Ducati, Yamaha join Harley in promoting the sport out of their own marketing budgets, not the AMA's limited resources. Yamaha promote MotoGP by using Rossi in their adverts. MotoGP get the glow, without spending anything on that particular campaign.

The whole twins thing is NOT about Peoria, it's about a champion, like Brad Baker or Jared Mees, having to win a title on TWO different types of bike. So who wins the title - Harley or Honda/KTM? When you have a situation like that you cannot sell it to a marketing department.

This is not a simple fix, but retaining the status quo is unlikely to work for anyone.

Anthony Brown said...

I know you are not aiming it at me.Dont worry I am not taking it personally unlike the sack of potatos comment from Ben last week! Nor am I critising the AMA I am just saying I dont agree with some of their choices and your views.

Why do you think Yamaha or Kawasaki are more likely to be involved if twins are in the line up ( they both already have the opportunity to be heavily envovled with the MX bikes the series already uses). I dont think any major manufacture will want to be heavily envolved unless the sport is growing (chicken and egg). There are some green shots right now in my opinion and hopefully things will continue to move in the right direction.

You have asked what I would do so very specifically
My 5 year plan would include

1) International Superprestigo Series (maybe this is already closer than we think).I think that looking at Dirt Track as an international sport will help to create a brand that multi national companies will find attractive.
Do you notice all the names that get read out on Fanschoice for the local dealerships. This type of marketing does not translate to an international audience. No one from the UK is going to buy a motorcycle in Illinos but they may go to the shop and buy some jeans or an energy drink. I love the feel to these regional meetings in the USA and its some of the attraction for me. But for a truly top end event the mony needs to come from larger sources. Think back to the camel days.

2) Marketing tied into digital media (think a series of short videos tied into well now motorsport names). Riders using there skills in less well know areas. Dirt track racing on the roof of buildings, car parks inner city ect ect ect.To attract a young crowd the action needs to take place close to where they live. Its no coincidence that when DTRA races near london we get a better crowd.

3) Inclusion of events during MotoGP racing. A sub series providing entertainment during the evening at Motogp / F1 weekends. Lets face it the F1 fans would really benefit from seeing some actual racing.

4)Use of the current interest by Harley due to the Hooligan scene. AMA seem to be working with this and thats a great step.

5) A real focus on how to include new young riders in the sport. Folks like Johnny Lewis are doing a great job with this. This is where I have a real problem with heavily modified machinery. I actually think that the AMA where heading in the right direction with DTX bikes as they are a really great way to get people riding.There is nothing better than riding a bike that looks the same as your hero who rides in the Pro's

6) Continued collaberation with X games and developement plan of Indoor series for indoor racing specically including electric bikes. I think the TT in the IOM have been very forward thinking with the Electric race. ( i know at least one private individual in the USA is thinking about this)

Actually I can see plenty of positives that are happening right now I just dont happen to agree that twins at all rounds is one of them.

Let me make a prediction
2010 - 47 experts at Peoria
2015 - 26 experts at Peoria
2016 - twins = < 20 experts at Peoria.
2018 - twins = No TT in the US calander. (I hope you are right and I am wrong on this one)

Randon Swearingian said...

I have to admit to my bias right off, though I think that was already understood.
I apologize if that altered my judgement about the "shit mx" statement. Although it did feel as though my friend was being insulted, I get where it comes from and I hold no grudge. I am not a member of the PMC, but I have friends and family that are, and it is my home. I am defensive of Peoria, but not blindly. I want our TT to endure another 67+ years, as well as the Grand National circuit.
I see the benefit of having a definitive brand when it comes to flat track. That brand is largely attached to twins racing, On Any Sunday, leathers, to looking like a flat tracker. We have to honor that, and cultivate all the attention we can from that popularity.
On the other side, a twin hasn't won at Peoria since, I think, Jay Springsteen in 1983. Scott Pearson won with a Yamaha XS in 1981. The Rotax was lighter and faster. Twins weren't ruled out by the AMA until the 450 production bike rule of 2006, but by then results ruled out twins on TT's.
That's what rubs me wrong about the rule change. You are going to put a worse (to me) product on the track. You punish Henry Wiles for being the best since Chris Carr.
I am speaking about the Peoria TT because that's what I know. You are correct that this, on the broader scale, isn't about Peoria, isn't about racing. But, we have a change to the rules that affects racing in an attempt to fix the broader problems. Is it worth a shot? Of course. As you said, I'll be there whatever they ride. I just think there are other areas that need addressed.

Brad Hardman said...

You've all put extensive thought into this compared to my musing over a brew while I read your comments. However, it seems that it's not just dirt track having these problems. Look at any motorsport outside of the top flight and they all seem to be having the same problems. It seems speedway promoters are having very similar discussions at the moment. I raced in a grasstrack meeting at the weekend, that was well attended but chatting to other riders it seems a few meetings are but many struggle to even get enough riders. Drag racing has a few well attended meets but not much outside that. If anything flat track internationally is having a much better time of it than many motorsports of a similar type.

747 said...

I like sack of tater style and twins.
I imagine I will continue to set up DTX bikes for local customers and maybe a few more twins.
When I got into this sport some six years ago I could have built my 450 pikes peak bike into a DTX but a twin was way more interesting. I now have both but prefer racing my old stock framed twin. Racing on the twin I can make enough money to pay gas and sometimes even beer but I have never made a single dollar racing my DTX. Maybe I am just being self centered but I look forward to seeing twins catching air.

Frank said...

(from your post...) "AMA Pro Racing has decided to stop worrying about the fans it has now and chase the fans and sponsors it doesn't currently have".

You could probably substitute "racers" for "fans" and be as accurate. But if they change the rules for next year, or wait until November after the Las Vegas race to announce changes, who would have time (and money) to get bikes ready by Daytona in March?

The troubling constant in this is the AMA itself. They have not seemed up to the (considerable) task of developing a stable rules package for racers and manufacturers in the past (the Basic Twins bikes were only introduced in April 2013), or of consistent marketing, promotion, and ticket sales for events even now (go click on the "Buy Tickets" button on the AMA website; every promoter has a different ticket sales arrangement. One will even sell you tickets if you call an 800 number! But they won't sell you one online).

It seems to me that changes like this should come in 2017, and AMA should spend 2016 sharpening their marketing skills, geared toward a newer, younger demographic they do need to attract. They could run an exhibition class for the twins (maybe an extra Trophy Dash/Dash for Cash race?) next season, if they feel the need to get them on track and show off this "new" flat track model. But can we ditch the GNC1? What was wrong with Experts?

ps Thanks for giving us a great forum to talk about this awesome sport.

Sideburn Magazine said...

Hi Frank
Thanks for your perspective. I've wondered a lot of about Basic Twins, and we have featured one that was built purely to compete. Now that class is dead.

Frank said...

I've done some more thinking on this one, and think that the biggest problem with these ideas is that it is the AMA that want to make them. I think it's going to take a MotoAmerica-like takeover to save big league dirt track, and the dudes in charge are not up to the task.

I did some web surfing to refresh my memory, and these are the same guys that introduced and then killed off Basic Twins in 2 1/2 years, fired Mike Kidd a year or 2 ago, (mostly due to a failed attempt to get the big 4 Japanese manufacturers interested as sponsors by restricting the 450's to stock frames), changed the designation of the top class after 40 or so years from Experts to the ultra-descriptive name GNC1, and now think that making another class of $8000-
$15000 race bikes obsolete is a good way to grow the sport.

So enough negative, here's what I think they oughta do:

-Find a marketing/social media company that really knows and can reach the 20-35 demographic, not some half-assed outfit run by an AMA board members kid (I have absolutely no proof that this is the case, but you've gotta wonder about how you could set up a more unfriendly website, user experience-wise).

-Get the race purses up, maybe with a Kickstarter sort of thing from online viewers. I'd kick in $10 a race if it went straight to the racers. Do that 500 times, and you'll see bike counts go up, tout suite. Do it 3000 times and we're geniuses!

-Keep the 450's. Maybe a separate championship for the DTX bikes, and not just for the Juniors (sorry, GNC2). It would have to be easier to find some suitable short tracks near some of the places AMA Pro wants to end up, right? You can race in your jammies if you want.

-Have multiple races at the good longer tracks: Friday night and Sunday, or Saturday and the holiday Mondays we get once in awhile. Rainouts would be less likely a total washout if you could still get in one race. Maybe set up points so you could throw out low finishes (or skip cross-country trips) and still be in contention for the championship, then have a 3-4 race "playoff" at the end of the season over 2 consecutive weekends. How about Friday-Sunday-Thursday-Saturday over Thanksgiving week?

-Buy out DMG, and let them stick with cars. Not sure if you can keep AMA away, but set up an autonomous sanctioning and organizing body not controlled by the AMA board in any way.

-Grow the online presence. Fans Choice is a good start, but can be much better. Charge a few bucks per race and put it back into the production.

-Can we please call them Experts again? If we're gonna make 'em ditch the jammies for traditional leather garb, can we ditch the marketing-genius GNC1 name?

Thanks for letting me vent. Happy racing!

(45 year flat track fan)

(good article about Kidd here: