February 10, 2006 4:34pm

Energy drinks commanded $1.1 billion in sales in 2005. The market is forecast to grow to $2.9 billion by 2010. So claims a number of beverage industry sources on the phenomenon sweeping across the 50 states. These same reports claim that the socioeconomic target for these drinks are the 76 million children of the Baby Boomer generation, otherwise known as Gen-Y, Echo Boomers and Millenials (born between 1978 and 2000).

In the sprawling asphalt pit area of Qualcomm Stadium this afternoon, Team SoBe/No Fear/Samsung Honda unveiled the brilliant gold Honda CRFs of Mike LaRocco, Billy Laninovich, and Jake Weimer. Moreover, when the riders went to climb aboard the bikes to prepare for practice, they were dressed in 24-karat gold and black No Fear riding gear and sporting bright gold helmets. What was up with all the gold? For a team which is normally done up in red, black, and white, the gold was about as far as removed from normalcy as the Factory Connection-managed team could get it.

Bu there was a method to their gold-fever madness.

This March, SoBe and No Fear will launch an all-new energy drink called Gold. To help roll the new drink out onto the shelves of the nation’s convenience and gas stores, SoBe and No Fear have conspired to use the San Diego Supercross as a type of “jumping-off” launch point to begin marketing Gold. With sport of supercross a virtual purpose-built sorting property for the aforementioned Millenials, the Gold launch made perfect business sense for all involved.

“I think it’s great that SoBe Gold will come in and do something special with Factory Connection in San Diego,” said Honda supercross racing boss Chuck Miller, “because anytime we can utilize outside sponsors to promote their products, that’s what it’s all about. We’re trying to promote all of our products to a giant clientele of buyers out there —  whether they be potential Honda buyers or sports drink, clothing or electronics buyers.”

Jeff Majkrzak, co-owner of the Factory Connection-owned and operated SoBe/No Fear/Samsung Honda, concurred with Miller.

“I think that we are stoked about the fact that we have a relationship with Honda that’s really a partnership that we can go to them at times like this — the Gold launch — and say, ‘We have this opportunity that’s good for both of us.’ They’ve always supported us. We’ve done these types of promotions before — maybe on a smaller scale — and every time they have been supported by Honda. Honda recognizes that it’s good for the sport. We try to execute it in a way that reflects well on everybody and we want to make sure we hold up the standard. It’s great. All the sponsors are pumped. They also gain by this affiliation with American Honda.”

Added Rick Zielfelder, co-owner of the Factory Connection outfit: “I’m really proud that sponsors want to utilize their involvement with the team to introduce new products. I think that says a lot about where the sport has come.”

A significant amount of creativity and planning went into the San Diego Supercross promotion. First came the race clothing and helmets. Skip Norfolk, head of product development at No Fear Motocross, who, in his own words, “facilitates anything taking a design on a piece of paper to something a rider will compete in on the racetrack,” was heavily involved in the overall SoBe No Fear Gold process.

“The design of the Gold can is the inspiration for everything we are doing in San Diego — ideally, the motorcycle is the can. The overall Gold look started out with Mage Design, our primary out of house design firm that works with No Fear Motocross. It was their task to design the gear and make it come true.”

When it came time to turn the Honda CRF450R and CRF250Rs into gold, Mark Blanchard, head designer at One Industries in San Diego was called into action.

“Skip Norfolk called us and said, ‘hey, we’re going to be involved in a new beverage and it’s very cool,’” Blanchard offered. “So he sent me over a photo of the No Fear Gold can and it was all gold and had the fashion pattern in the background. Basically, they wanted the bike to look like the can.

“Overall, I think it came out great,” Blanchard added, pointing at the bikes. “The gold color of the bike is definitely the star and we were also able to get the fashion pattern into the graphics. These one-off, special projects are cool for the sport. The press is interested in new things and so are the fans. It’s good for supercross.”

Then there were the logistical and mechanical challenges the team had to divide and conquer. “As far as the bike goes,” said Factory Connection mechanic Mikey Schnikey (who spins T-handles for Weimer), “we redid the rims, which we had custom anodized, the plastic and the graphics. We put some bling into it to make it shine like gold.”

And what do team riders Mike LaRocco, Jake Weimer and Billy Laninovich think of the gold racing gear and motorcycles they’ll compete with at Qualcomm. “I just saw the gear and my bike and it’s really cool,” said Laninovich, who grew up in nearby Poway, California. “This is my hometown race, and I think I’m excited to race in front of them with all this gold stuff.”