Ask Ping

March 28, 2008 5:59am | by:

Hey, Ping!
I enjoy your column along with all the other informative pieces on Racer X Online. My only complaint is that some of my other duties get short-changed while I'm planted in front of my computer! Oh well. Anyway, I was watching a round of supercross on CBS recently, and my brother happened to be there visiting. He knows next to nothing about supercross/motocross, but is a huge fan of other sports and, in fact, has been a broadcaster and still writes about local sports. My brother started asking some intelligent questions about the race, and one that I couldn't answer, and that I found myself wondering about as well, was this: How much do those guys make? In most mainstream sports, its public record what athletes' salaries are, and we often hear about endorsement payouts as well. But it's an interesting question where supercross is concerned. I can guess that a small handful of frontrunners are in seven figures, but what about the guy running in 20th -- or those who didn't make the final? And those who are "in the pack"? I think a lot of people would be interested. Any insight?

BTW, I was in attendance at the Supermoto in CT last summer, and will definitely be back this year. The racing was great, and the access to the riders brought back memories of how it used to be at the motocross nationals. It was very cool to be sitting in the stands and have Jeff Ward, Mark Burkhart and, yes, even David Pingree come out and sit among us. Perhaps the highlight, though, was having Doug Henry roll out in front of us (he actually looked back to make sure he wasn't blocking our view) and then proceed to stand up! There's a guy who truly deserves to be called a hero.
Steve Farenell. Saratoga Springs, NY

There's more where that came from...if you've signed the right deals
photo: Simon Cudby
Dear Steve,
I get asked that question often, and I think the reason that motocross riders’ salaries aren’t public knowledge is because they aren’t that impressive. I don’t know exact numbers, but from what I’ve gathered from some of my racing friends, here is an estimate: As you imagined, top riders such as James Stewart and Chad Reed are making salaries in the seven figures—the high seven figures, by the way. These guys are going to win races and they demand a big salary. Obviously, the extent of their yearly income depends greatly on their results through the season.

The next level down includes guys like Short, Ferry, Millsaps, Tedesco, Alessi, etc. They are making mid-to-tall six-figure salaries. These guys probably have bigger win bonuses in their contracts because they aren’t expected to win. Over the course of a good season these guys can still make great money when you add up all of the sponsorship deals, be it gear, energy drinks, eyewear, whatever.

The next step down is the support rides. Guys like Josh Summey, Nick Wey and Josh Hansen. These rides can pay as good as a couple hundred thousand or as little as seventy or eighty thousand; it all depends on the rider. These guys usually have great bonuses so the money they don’t get in salary they can make up with good results. They also get good endorsement money.

Most privateers are happy to be making a living racing bikes. Some of the top-finishing privateers can make between $100-200,000 annually when all is said and done, but they aren’t the norm.

There are also some well-paid Lites riders. Villopoto, Dungey, Lawrence and the very top guys can pull down tall six-figure salaries and even seven figures based on their potential. Winning races and titles can really bump those numbers as well. Keep in mind that winning a supercross race pays pretty well from the manufacturer. While Live Nation only pays about $5,000 for a 450 win, most of the manufacturers will pay their guys $100,000 for a Supercross class win. The Lites class is probably around $50,000 to $80,000 for a win now.

On top of all that, riders can still make good loot doing off-season races. The ESPN Moto X events at the Summer X Games and the Moto X World Championships have a $100,000 purse for each event. That is $50,000 to the winner—unlike SX and MX, let alone the GPs in Europe, where there is no purse for the riders, ESPN has their own network and production crews, and they can show it all live—and not a bad way to pad your annual income. Hope that gives you some insight.

Also, I’m glad you enjoyed the Supermoto racing in Connecticut. It’s one of the few East Coast rounds we have this year, and it is a great event. And that old-school-motocross vibe that Supermoto has is exactly what attracted me to the sport. Let’s hope that by the time that race comes round this year, Doug is actually walking again. He is truly a hero.

Hey Ping,
I have been attending supercrosses for 11 years now and I am starting to get bored with the opening ceremonies. Besides a few Monster logos, they are exactly the same now as they were 11 years ago. The same guy calls the riders’ names, the same fog and laser machines, even the riders do the same little intro they used to. David Vuillemin will ride to the end of the starting line do a nose wheelie, turn around and stand on the seat, etc. What is your opinion on this redundant lack of creativity?
Alex in Kentucky

Dear Alex,
The now-familiar opening-ceremony fireworks
photo: Simon Cudby
I’m torn here, brother. On the one hand I can see your point. I want to pop my head into their show office and shout, “Hey, 1985 called and it wants its green laser-light show back!” And I’ve seen Windham do his nose-wheelie so many times I start to doze off during opening ceremonies now. The growling voice introducing riders, the smoke, the parade lap, the same old question.… Yes, Terry, I am ready for supercross! On the other hand, they have done a great job of growing the sport, and a lot of fans come for the very first time—they eat that stuff up.

Personally, I’d like to see Travis Pastrana be a part of every opening ceremony. He and his Nitro Circus crew could come in and do a different stunt every Saturday night. The backflip over the finish line was cool, but I’d like to see Erin Bates, all covered in baby oil, come flying down a super-slip-n-bleed from the top of the stadium. Maybe they could run it out into a whoop section and see if she could build up enough speed to skim the whoops. That would be entertaining. Or better yet, just pull a random person from the stands, put them on a 450, point them to a triple and say, “If you can clear it, you can keep the bike.” Man, that would be cool!

Mr. Pingree,
I have been waiting for the onslaught of negative reaction to Chad Reed's behavior in Daytona when his motor quit. I guess I expected to read about what a huge misdirection of blame it was for him to throw his arms and gesture to his mechanic when we all know that there is no way even the Charlie Daniels of the torque wrench could have set up a bike to hold together after that kind of abuse. And yet I have heard nothing mentioned of his tantrum. He alone is responsible for his mechanical failure. Am I missing it or have his crybaby antics gone ignored? Do you really think K-Dub, Ricky, James or even your favorite for the championship, James Povolny, would have been such a little bitch or would they have acknowledged that the conditions were too much for the absolute desecration his YZF took?
Your loyal man-friend,
Bob Combe. Temecula, CA

Dear Bob,
Chad Reed in Daytona
photo: Steve Cox
First, thank you for all the years of servitude. If there ever was a #1 plate for man-friends, you would certainly be the champion. I saw Reed point over to the mechanics’ area when his bike wouldn’t start and shout something under his helmet. I agree that it was wrong of him to blame anyone for his DNF. The truth is that motocross bikes were not meant to run in those conditions, and the fact that his bike, or any bike, lasted that long in that race is a testament to those teams’ professionalism. I’m not sure what was said back in the San Manuel Yamaha truck, but I’m sure it was heated. After all, Chad was two turns away from winning the Daytona Supercross. I’m not sticking up for Chad’s tantrum, but as a racer I can understand that frustration. You get so charged up with adrenaline and emotion that sometimes you do things you regret once you cool down. I know this because I actually kicked a guy after I came across the finish line at a race two years ago because he intentionally held me up. Not one of my finer moments. I’m sure once Chad got out of his gear, calmed down, and realized that still finished sixth … er, well, seventh, and still had a 24-point lead he was much more rational. I guess his mechanic and Larry Brooks are the only ones who really know.

One thing that Chad probably does regret is not going a little easier those last couple of laps. He only needed to get maybe 200 more feet out of that bike and he would have won.