(Note: Some questions have been lightly edited for clarity.)
Do you think pro motocross riders are dumber than other pro athletes given the huge injury risks they are willing to take on a weekly basis? Some riders come off as smart, like the David Bailey aka “Little Professor,” but after I hear the stories on your podcasts about jumping rental cars, blowing stuff up and riding naked I really have to wonder about most of these guys. What’s your take? Are motocross pros fairly intelligent, or a bunch of dumb asses in denial? How do they compare to the stick and ball pros?
John in Norcal
No, I don’t. I think motocross attracts kids who like adrenaline and aren’t afraid of scraping their elbow or breaking a bone. Football players take hits on every play, so I don’t think there is much difference between the type of athlete competing in each sport. The difference is that many parents are allowing their young racer’s education to take a back seat to their racing “career.” Maintaining good grades should be mandatory to keep racing but, sadly, many kids drop out of school to chase their racing aspirations. Statistically, very few of those riders make a decent living at it, and will end up jobless with no skills, no high school diploma, and very few options. The responsibility lies with the parents.
The other problem is that our athletes are very young. While there are anomalies, most NBA/NFL/MLB/MLS athletes spend several years playing at a college and continuing their education. The smart ones will earn a degree before signing with a pro team and having a go at a professional career. The putty-heads who squeak by will still get a few years of growing up before signing huge contracts and having to deal with the pressures of being a pro athlete in the spotlight of the media and public. So, we have multiple things going against our guys. If the parenting is good, there usually aren’t any issues. When the parenting is bad, it gets very ugly.
This sport can teach you things that even a college career can’t. Every tool you need to be successful in any career is learned along the way, you just have to brave and ambitious enough to apply it elsewhere.
And if you think jumping rental cars and blowing stuff up makes you stupid, you aren’t doing it right. Immature? Sure. Fun? Oh, yeah. A rental car with a full liability waiver is the best time a twenty-something year-old male can have on four wheels. Tell my friends at Avis I said hi… I’m still on their do-not-rent-to list.
Your podcast, The Whiskey Throttle Show, that you and Grant Langston put on is spot-on, and exactly what the sport has needed for some time. I wait each week anxiously for the next episode. I wish you both great success, along with your sponsors.
I am an ex-racer that saw my last gate drop in January of 1978. Proud to say I got to race with the best. In our day, it was you and your mechanic rather than factory or privateer. Teams were big always searching for that breakthrough win. I follow the sport like no tomorrow and still love it. I make it to as many races as I can and view the others on TV. I was there when Jim West died, Marty Tripes won both Superbowl of Motocross events, Bob Hannah had his first pro win, all the way to RV on minis to his MXGP win in Thailand. Yes, I am fanatic! Now the questions that an old fart like me has:
Today riders have mental coaches, rider coaches, motorhome drivers, etc., etc. Who pays for this, the rider or the team? It seems to me teams will soon need Greyhound buses to carry the entourage from suspension gurus to goggle builders along with the above. Today's teams have two riders in the 450s (with some exceptions). As a fan, paying airfare, hotel etc. to see a team with no riders but their bikes on display is a disgrace to that team. Teams need to have more riders, and not wait to fill in with some top 20 entry. What does it cost to add one more rider? Not a top of the class guy, but one with top five potential.
I saw that Oscar Wirdeman, Ken Roczen's mechanic, left Honda HRC to be AC's crew chief at Monster Energy Kawasaki. Is this for the whole team or just AC? What does a crew chief do, versus a team manager?
Riders are not employees, they are contracted labor. As such, things like insurance, retirement plans, 401K, riding coaches, bus drivers, trainers, psychologists, pharmacologists… all of that is on the rider. The teams have expanded to having engine specialists, suspension technicians, team coordinators, team media directors, crew chiefs, etc. and all of that is covered by the team.
I know it seems like a team could just add another rider for a very small amount of money, but that isn’t reality. Even if you don’t pay that extra rider a single dollar in salary, he will run you well over $150,000 to do an entire season. The additional cost in parts, equipment, staff, travel and lodging expenses, food, etc. adds up in a hurry. And, honestly, you aren’t going to find a top-five guy who will ride for zero dollars, so that idea turns into a quarter of a million dollars by season’s end.
I haven’t heard specifics on Oscar’s job, but my guess is that he was hired to replace Mike Williamson. The team’s crew chief is in charge of overall bike development for all the team riders. There is an engine guy, Dean Gibson at Kawasaki, who handles all the motors, as well as a suspension guy who takes care of all things suspension. The crew chief is the guy who brings those components together and makes sure all the ancillary parts on the bike are making the rider happy. The team manager is more of an office guy, typically. From testing schedules to rider negotiations and contracts to dealer signings, the team manager sets the schedule and makes sure everybody gets where they need to be. They are also in charge of many of the sponsorship negotiations and contracts, depending on which team you are talking about. Hope that answers some questions.
Now that Eli Tomac has won his third outdoor title, how do you think supercross is going to go? Because I think we are all tired of watching him mess up the first half of the season then try and win it in the end. So how do you think it’s going to go? Do you think he can keep it together this season or is just going to be a re-run of every year?
Well, I’m hesitant to answer this question because I don’t even think Eli knows. When we talked with him earlier this year, he made it very clear that the supercross title is his white whale. Without a supercross title, in this day and age, it’s difficult to include yourself in the upper echelons of the sport’s greats; that’s just the way it is now. Eli has won a million races (maybe that’s a slight exaggeration) but the title has eluded him. For the last three seasons I’ve picked Tomac to win the supercross title. Three years! And each season was derailed by one thing or another. Will he do it in 2020? I have no idea, but the longer it takes the more drama that builds up for us fans, and the more pressure that accumulates for Eli. His time at the top is limited, just like every other elite racer, and he knows he has to get it done soon. The Kawasaki 450 isn’t radically different this year, he seems to be gelling with the bike, he’s healthy, he’s happy… I’m going keep it going for the fourth year in a row and say this is the year. Then again, I’ve been wrong three years straight, so what do I know?
Have a question for Ping? Hit him up at firstname.lastname@example.org.