Monday, 9 May 2016

Superhooligans, Austin, Texas

Roland Sands Designs and Indian Motorcycles are doing a great job of pushing hooligan racing over in the US (along with companies like Biltwell, Suicide Machine Co, Rusty Butcher, The Speed Merchant, See See Motorcycles, Harley-Davidson), to the point there is already a backlash from a very small minority of the flat track community. The dissenters are upset that this new amateur series is taking limelight away from the professional GNC racing scene. Firstly, if that's the truth AMA Pro Racing is in a whole heap of trouble.

The RSD-promoted hooligans raced at Daytona and Austin the same day the GNC were in town, and last year Harley-Davidson and The Speed Merchant promoted a race at the South Dakota Black Hills Half-Mile GNC race. From my perspective at least, the hooligans are bringing more people into racing, more sponsors, more spectator interest. The hooligans raced right in the city centre of Austin on a temporary track during MotoGP weekend. What an amazing advert for participation motorcycle sport.

Also, this is Indian's first toe in the flat track water, the advance party that will be followed, Indian promise, by a full factory team. That means there will be at least two more pro riders earning a living in a year or so's time. How is that a bad thing? Perhaps these critics just don't know how modern marketing works. It has to be more sophisticated than a pretty girl in a tight top, or a shout out to the local Chevy dealer between the races. Marketing is crucial to the success of any product - and pro racing is a product.

Flat track had been in decline for 25 years or more, before recent small shoots of recovery, yet anyone who tries something new is shouted down from some quarter. I guess that's human nature. One critic of the hooligans complained that it was disgusting that these 'clowns on street bikes' were taking the place in the GNC schedule that could be occupied by a vintage class. But how would that attract new sponsors? Old guys on vintage bikes? I'm all for vintage racing, I shouldn't even have to say that, and it's important to the history and the current amateur scene, but it's not bringing in more money or more interest to the pro side of the sport. Flat track needs new, loud voices - Roland Sands and his company has one.

Racing street bikes on dirt tracks is nothing new. There was a single outlaw heat race at the very first dirt track race I ever went to, the Skip van Leeuwen-promoted Del Mar Short Track (the weekend of the Wrenchhead Mile, back in 2000), but social media and marketing savvy people are helping this latest push make b-i-g waves.

Superprestigio, hooligans, X Games, Rossi's Ranch, Dirt Quake, Hell on Wheels, Slidetober, The One Pro, Flat Track Frida at Mama Tried - these are all great things for flat track. I regularly speak to racing promoters and amateur racers. I know many people that have competed in a motorcycle race for the very first time at Dirt Quake and have gone on to buy framers and DTX bikes, joined local clubs and gone racing, some have even started promoting their own races. These amateur races show what is possible in the formerly intimidating world of motorcycle racing.

On another point, I've been racing flat track since 2006. I don't have to explain to anyone what flat track is, like I used to back then. Everyone knows what the sport is now. The same cannot be said of, for instance, grasstrack or enduro. I don't believe new riders have a clue what those sports are.

If you don't know, the hooligan class is for 750cc and up street bikes with stock frames. Sportsters are relatively cheap in the US, so they've become the default bike, though Roland has built a fleet of slick 2016 Indian Scout 80s (that are featured in Sideburn 24).

Some guys in the USA are really going to town on their bikes, but many are sticking to the basics, 19in wheels and DT tyres, longer rear shocks, wide bars, mid-mount foot controls, new pipe and air filter, remove as much weight as possible. This is what I've been doing to a 1991 Sportster that I'm hoping to debut at the very first round of the Harley-Davidson-sponsored DTRA Hooligan series at the MCN Festival this weekend. Come along! Former World Superbike champion Colin Edwards is racing in the Transatlantic and so, I'm told, is AMA pro Mikey Martin.

Here is a serious comment - if you don't like hooligan racing, or what it's doing to AMA Pro Racing, suggest an alternative way for the sport to grow. I'd love to hear it. Start the discussion. G
 BMW RNineT built by Revival Cycles.
 Speed Merchant-equipped Sportster
Trying hard!
 Trying too hard.
 RSD Ameritracker Sportster
 The legendary David Aldana got in the act, racing an Indian Scout
Above and below: Dimitri Coste was invited to race and won, first time on the bike. That guy is quite a talent.
Yes, I said modern marketing had to be more sophisticated than a pretty girl in a tight top, but that doesn't mean they can't be part of the message, too. Women racers are a big part of the new racing scene, and we hope to see more women racing every year. G


Harley said...

Spot on Gary.

"We need to attract new members/ competitors/ participants" is a common cry these days but, all too often, the subtext is: "Providing they don't rock the boat in any way, shape or form."

Of course, as you've pointed out, the reason new members are needed is frequently because the current incumbents have run out of ideas and whatever they're offering just doesn't look that appealing any more.

When an organisation needs an influx of commitment and enthusiasm to move forward, I don't think it can afford to be too picky these days about how that commitment and enthusiasm is delivered.

The "clowns on street bikes" appear to be having a good time, and people want to watch said clowns having a good time. If the AMA can't see how to plug into this grass roots racing, and make it part of what they do, then they really have no-one but themselves to blame for more decline.

On a connected note, I'm all in favour of big names getting involved to support a sport, but wonder whether the combined might of Indian and RSD might detract from the "amateur" image that the Hooligan classes currently enjoy? Or would a grid of factory supported Hooligans (Indian, HD, Triumph to name the obvious suspects) be such a bad thing?

Garrett302 said...

Well thought-out, G. I agree on all points.

Jordan Baber said...

Very interesting read! I really appreciate this authors point of veiw and the fact that he brought light to some of the older crowd I have heard complaining about the super hooligan class running during AMA nationals. But I believe this is only a good thing for AMA pro flattrack. I have seen, first hand, the attention it has brought to flat track. I won the hooligan race in Sturgis last year and the crowd at that race was spectacular. At first I thought it was just because it was during the Sturgis rally. Then a few months ago I went to Mama Tried in Milwaukee. I was racing my 4t0, but the race was promoted by alot of said companys in this article. It promoted a hooligan class and quite a few other off the wall run what ya brung try classes. One class even required you to wear a costume (which quickly became the crowd favorite.) And let me tell you, there was more people in this small arena than I have EVER seen at any AMA national! The seats were sold out before the heat races started. Something like 4,000 tickets from what I remember hearing. It was insane. So I see how some old timers are up in arms about a bunch of tattooed outlaw looking bikers sharing some limelight with the pros, but they don't recognize how much attention it draws to the sport. Also it appears to me to be another from of "class C" racing. Which need I remind you pretty much resurrected flat track racing in the 50s.

TCL said...

I for one, think it's great. They're bring new blood and new fans into it. That equals more buttz in the sears, and people are gonna go home and tell their friends about it. Migh even get some new Riders, Venues and maybe even better puses. WHEW, guess I'll get off my Soap Box now. Tom Laird Owner/Sponsor and general Dogsbody at L-A Racing.

Garrett302 said...

2 things:

First, I'm a huge fan of Sideburn, Jordan Baber, and especially one of my flat track senseis, Tom Laird.

Second, the first time I rode on a flat track was on a hooligan bike. I now field a team of 5 full-on flat track bikes from 50cc to 450cc. I believe the hooligan thing sucks people right in. One vote "for" right here.

Frank said...

Interesting perspectives as always, Gary. It is true that the interest in racing stock or street bikes on flat tracks will only help build interest in the sport.

Maybe what troubles the grumblers is the knowledge that the resources (= $) supporting this type of racing involvement would go a long way toward raising the quality and viability of existing racers involved in and committed to flat track, which has been under-supported by sponsors for decades. It is true that the powers-that-be / organizers of the sport haven't been able to tap into this new source of support.

It is a new landscape for sport, with sponsorship interest from areas outside the traditional motorcycle and bike parts industries and the thing I think the hooligan/stock bike racing movement has to be careful of is to be sure to take the successes they are seeing for their own type of racing (which there is plenty of room for in the motorsports landscape) and being respectful to (and maybe sharing a few of the rewards) the original sport which made their success possible.

I think what scares the grumblers is not the worry that our secret little niche sport will get too big as much as it is the idea of losing the sport we love to a crew who don't respect the history and then having them move on to some new shiny bauble/sport-of-the-moment in a few years and being left in the dust, in even worse shape than the sport is in now.

Pete Stansfield said...

Everything i've read in the post and comments above i agree with but just a thought from a complete outsider, would the AMA be more disposed towards it if it wasn't called "Hooligan" racing ?

Sideburn Magazine said...

Hi Pete, that is a very good point, but I wonder if it would have the same attraction to the Harley kids, skaters, Simpson wearers, Cafe Racers of Instagram type folks, who are getting turned onto the sport.
The answers is er.. dunno? Possibly.
I'm not crazy about the name.

Dan said...

(i don't think 'hooligan' has the same cultural connotations in the US that it has here - over there, it's archaic, tied to the past, linked vaguely to real or imagined irish heritage, not associated with topless fat men from small towns throwing plastic chairs at belgian coppers)