Every manufacturer in Australia has discussed no longer racing in this country over the last few years. And the reasoning is always the same; it makes little financial sense.
When the big bosses in Japan or Austria asks why a tiny series in a far away country should suck a million-plus dollars out of the budget every year, they most certainly use the reasoning that, given they throw mega-dollars at European and American racing, isn’t that enough to sell bikes in this country? Shouldn’t Cairoli, Balzusiak, Gasjer, Haaker, Tomac, Cooper, Roczen and Barcia each be big enough and certainly expensive enough to warrant calling a global marketing tool? Why spend more money here where there are stuff-all spectators and barely a handful of riders with a true broad-reach profile and any sort of commercial cut-through?
There isn’t a proper Kawasaki Factory team and hasn’t been for years. Same with Suzuki and with Honda and none of them go racing in the AORC. Yamaha and KTM pour more money into off-road racing through motocross and enduro than any other manufactures via team budgets, event sponsorships and marketing and they too have been asking to question as to where the reward is.
So, what’s the answer? It can’t be so a couple of hundred people can see a bike go round at the motocross. It can’t be via the AORC which is by its nature, generally not spectator friendly. The AUS-X Open can’t carry an entire racing industry over a few nights.
Why should the manufacturers keep racing in Australia? The answer is kind of simple. How many kids twisted a throttle for the first time because they idolised Chad Reed and how many of them are now our top riders? Probably 90 per cent of our top 10 at least.
How many kids, in those insanely long autograph lines at Finke, met Toby Price and will never forget what a top bloke he was and will forever want to follow every move he makes and maybe one day cut a prologue lap as fast as him. Or perhaps reach for the sky and dream of racing Dakar.
What impact did winning the ISDE have on a generation of kids we haven’t even seen ride away from their local track yet?
I watch Chucky Sanders’ videos and I wish I was Chucky! Imagine what an influence he and Dan Milner and Josh Green, Jess Gardiner or Josh Strang are having on young minds right now. What better example could a rider give on how to be a champion and a pro athlete than Todd Waters or Dean Ferris?
Go a little further back and you’ll find Jay Marmont, Craig Anderson, Geoff Ballard, Stephen Gall, Craig Dack, Glenn Bell and Matt Moss, just to name a few, who have inspired and given rise to the next generation. Because that’s how sport works. The athletes matter and access to the athletes matter.
We can go see our guys race – we can’t see Tomac or Herlings. A connection to a real person is stronger than a connection to an Instagram post, TV schedule or YouTube video – if it isn’t then this species is screwed let alone racing.
Racing matters because it’s the breeding ground for not only great competitors, but inspiration. And we’ve done a damn fine job at breeding greats thus far. Through our relatively small series offerings and apathy from some manufacturers, we still manage to produce enduro world champions, a Dakar winner, supercross titles and GP winners. The guys and girls that will drag others up with them – both their contemporaries and the those watching from the small capacity club days dreaming of a win on their 65, just like Chad or Toby, or Todd or Dean.
And my God does a fire have to be lit to put your all into racing. It is a brutal existence with mostly little reward and a shitload of hard work and discipline needed to just make a good showing of it let alone make a living.
If we take away the homegrown racing we will turn the tap off. We will close the nursery. It may not be felt for a few years but then the rot will set in. Watch what happens to a sport with no tangible local heroes.
Why do you think Formula One pushes to have drivers from all around the world competing? There have been some awful drivers in F1 over the years (I’m looking at you Japan), but each territory is worth money if they tune-in and they’ll do that in their greatest numbers of there’s a countryman involved. So, a lack of outright pace or even a propensity to put a car into a wall at half the races is forgiven because the country of origin tuned in and made a region infinitely more marketable to.
Racing is about aspiration and it’s made fiscally feasible by good marketing. If a company that makes a product wholly unrelated to motorcycling owns a race team and the manufacturer is happy to hand them bikes and then think little more of it for the next 12 months, then next to nothing can be made from this that will move the metaphorical industry needle. and that’s often the Aussie offroad race team model.
Supercar drivers have an immense following in Oz and it’s never just about the winner. Mid pack drivers also have huge public profiles, which Supercars encourages, the media enhances and the manufacturers and sponsors exploit. But as drivers can come and go, the focus cleverly comes back to the manufacturer. They sell cars off the racing and they don’t even race the cars they sell. That’s not really a Falcon or a Commodore, it’s just marketed that way, but in contrast we do sell what we race so it should be easier.
But stop racing all together and none of this will matter. A lot of money will be saved, but an industry will have suffered a terrible blow mid-to-long term. If dirtbikes matter to the corporate class of 2020, then they must endeavour to build again, what was once built before. Not run away from it to please a balance sheet. And frankly, fist-pumping a win in Thailand or Utah when you put no effort into Victoria or Queensland is insulting to us all. For fuck’s sake – let’s go racing proper.