Art Eckman's Column: Bar to Bar (Houston TX.) It all happened so quickly. And it interrupted decades of traditional pre-season routines. "Go to Europe" Clear Channel Motor Sports said, "And we will reward you with financial incentives plus...
Art Eckman's Column:
Bar to Bar
(Houston TX.) It all happened so quickly. And it interrupted decades of traditional pre-season routines. "Go to Europe" Clear Channel Motor Sports said, "And we will reward you with financial incentives plus invite your mechanic or significant other, all on our tab."
There were those whose factory teams who weren't keen on the idea of participating in the THQ World Supercross GP series. There were others whose off season hobbies or recreational leisure meant a late start in getting ready for the traditional AMA supercross series. Some feared the added competitive racing would further expose them to injury, endangering their seasonal obligations. And there were those who simply felt more comfortable with their own personal routine.
Several reasons were invented for not participating in the expanded supercross schedule, but now that the 2003 supercross season is in the home stretch, what did those riders who stayed home really miss?
They didn't avoid injuries, and illness. Here we are going to Pontiac with only three factory riders at the gate. The real answer was money.
They missed the financial incentives Clear Channel instilled to encourage participation. And it's apparent that the biggest financial boost will end up helping the little guy -- the privateers who were essential in filling out the field.
Larry Ward inundates his off season with hunting trips. This season he didn't read or simply failed to understand the new rules. In an interview he stated that it was the Nissan pickup truck he really wanted. He was unaware that in order to be eligible to win the, "Riding to a New Frontier Nissan Privateer Program" (a new pickup) you had to have raced in Europe. Also to be eligible for the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company Pro Privateer Challenge, which awards $25,000 to the top privateer, $15,000 to second place and $10,000 to third, you had to participate in the expanded schedule.
Larry has won more than $13,000 from the traditional Clear Channel Motor Sports Privateer Bonus Awards program, but those privateers like Keith Johnson and Ryan Clark who did go to Europe not only gained experience rubbing shoulders with some veterans like David Vuillemin and Jeremy McGrath but also are in line for some big money for racing only two extra events at no expense.
If the season ended with the current standings Keith Johnson would win $71,479. Seventy-one THOUSAND bucks! I can remember when the top privateer got a measly five grand. That's $31,647 more than Larry Ward despite Ward's lead in the AMA supercross series.
Let's compare a couple of support team riders. Nick Wey's fifth place finish in Houston helped him to a 15 point lead over Mach One teammate Heath Voss in the AMA series standings. Wey couldn't open the season in Europe because of a back injury suffered in practice. Voss went to Geneva and Arnhem and is currently in line to make $12,700 more than Wey.
It might be tip change for big contract riders like Ricky Carmichael and Chad Reed but just for the curious I added up their current earnings on the season. Reed by going to the two races in Europe would make $21,400 more than "RC" if the season ended after the race in Houston. That's with Ricky leading the AMA supercross series by 19 points, winning seven races to Chad's five, and missing the podium only once to three missed podiums for Reed. Reed already has the THQ World Supercross GP championship in hand if Vuillemin and Ferry don't return off the injury list.
It used to be in the old days the more veteran riders would get good appearance money to run in off season races overseas. That well has dried up. Even the famous Paris race in Bercy has only 125cc bikes at the starting gate.
This year's World Supercross GP series made it apparent that it's not only the top riders who benefit, but also it also opened up substantial opportunity for those not getting big factory salaries.
Next year because of the added financial boost expect fewer rejections by those on the top twenty list. It's also likely Clear Channel will try and expand the international series by offering even more financial reward.
There's another future value in establishing a strong European series and it has nothing to do with offering American riders extra cash. Michael Pichon tells me that young Euros who are not on factory teams can't afford to participate. Dorna just announced it was dropping the World MX GP series. Pichon sees younger riders coming to the United States earlier just for opportunity. Helping to build a stronger rider base in Europe can do nothing but strengthen the sport. My dream would be to see a strong enough world supercross series to be able to have their top ten riders meet America's top ten in a World series of supercross.
Come to think of it why couldn't we have a Supercross des Nations in Yankee stadium? Now.