Kickstart | May 5 2020
Have to say it feels a little odd to write about how motocross will be shaped by the COVID-19 crisis. The way society as a whole will come out from this is anyone’s guess because it really is touching every part of the world and the impact it’ll have will last for generations. My thoughts are with the people that will experience the worst of the virus firsthand, from the victims to the healthcare workers to all of their respective families, as well as the people that felt the financial-employment force of the pandemic. That’s always first and foremost. But you’re here to read about dirt bikes and that’s something that’ll be somewhat different when this is all said and done.
Still waiting. The opening line of last week’s Kickstart write-up, which stated that we’d get confirmation of the Monster Energy Supercross Series, didn’t happen as expected. While we waited with bated breath for word from Feld Entertainment, MX Sports quietly announced major changes to the rulebook for the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship and stated that the start of the 2020 season will be pushed back in order to run from July through October. The schedule change, the second by the series, was a reminder not only of the uncertainty that comes with the current situation the entire world is experiencing, but also that things will change almost daily between now and whatever “end” this has.
It’s no secret that the powers behind Supercross and motocross were at odds in the past. Feld did their best to make the spectacle of Supercross the centerpiece of American racing, while MX Sports wanted to maintain a connection to the rough and rugged roots of “real motocross.” One series would go out of its way not to mention the existence of the other on television, a comical approach that has thankfully since stopped, while the other stayed cordial and pushed on with their program. While the two kicked at each other for supremacy, the eventual outcome was decided in the court of public opinion. Fans, riders, teams, and partners all indicated that they preferred what Supercross offered in terms of attention and return on investment but still made sure that motocross got the dedication and work required for the 12-round tour. Shortly after that, it seemed like the two groups realized they were stronger together and that working towards a common goal was the best.
Which leads us to last week’s decisions/non-decisions. Even though the routing of the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross program is currently MIA, something MX Sports stated they intend to get confirmed by May 14, it’s a clear declaration that they own the calendar for that time of the year. MX Sports wouldn’t just push the start and end of their series back one full month without some insight that Feld Entertainment would do everything in their power to get Supercross finished by early summer. Not now, not considering the major implications that come in the current COVID area and the progress in the working relationship between the two groups. With these developments, there’s even more anticipation for the final decision regarding Supercross. If it gets pushed back to October, riders will have to get through the Pro Motocross season unscathed as possible, quickly change their focus towards into Supercross, click off the remaining races that could stretch into late October or early November, and then have little to no offseason before 2021. Any sort of serious injury would be a disaster. This would be the absolute last-resort plan for all parties, but unfortunately, it could be a likely scenario.
Here’s the latest that we’ve learned about the Supercross decision. In a write-up on British site MX Vice last week, industry do-all Jason Thomas stated that Feld Entertainment is still going ahead with their efforts to race seven rounds in Glendale, but that Las Vegas and Houston have been factored in as back-up venues. The plan is for the first race to happen on May 31, no matter what city it winds up in and to finish up by June 21. That would give the series, teams, and riders to get about three weeks to get everything ready for the gate to drop, and for the situation in the country to play out.
We’ve learned from our own sources that no matter where the races happen, the entries in all classes would ideally be limited to the top-40 in the championship standings but possibly lower if needed, with caps on the number of crew members allowed (one mechanic per rider, team manager, additional technicians for engines and suspension, rig drivers) and maybe accredited media. All essential staff, including flaggers, race officials, medics, and NBC Sports crews would, of course, be allowed. In an effort to promote social distancing, mechanics wouldn’t be able to join their riders on the starting line and wouldn’t congregate in the usual signal area during the race, issues that the groups will have to sort out in creative ways (riders would be recommended to gauge the position by glancing at the big screens inside the stadium, there would be little chance for mid-race repairs). There would be mandatory temperature and symptom checks during the entire month in order to prevent the spread within the paddock, and teams are expected to batten down their pit areas in an attempt to protect the staff. Everyone on the floor would wear face coverings and gloves at all times, except for the riders during their motos. Spectators will be forbidden from attending, but there would be no requirement of the industry to stay in the same inner circle of hotels and eateries, or even the host city, for the full duration of the month. Yes, that means riders could travel home and back between rounds if they wanted.
Again, that’s the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that something serious occurs and prevents Feld from holding the races in June at all, which could be possible in the coming days and weeks. A new model from FEMA this week indicates the current trend puts the death toll from COVID-19 on pace to peak in June, with likelihoods of 3000 deceased daily and potential for 100,000 total to be lost to the illness, all during what’s considered the reopening of the country. Since this issue is hitting every part of the country in a different way, it’s difficult to track exactly what’s happening everywhere, but a federal agency outlining their worst-case scenario and the President agreeing it’s likely should be taken as a sign of the seriousness to the situation, regardless of your political stance. We’ve heard from multiple people that their confidence in this whole plan lessened when no news came last week and that there is still a chance of the races not happening at all.
MX Sports will face other obstacles as they lay out the road map for a summer-long trip, something they intend to announce next week. The move to July 4 made many think that the series would start with a bang at RedBud like was originally planned, but when one sees the current limitations in place throughout Michigan, it becomes unlikely that they will get the green light to pack hillsides with thousands of people so soon. The new starting spot sounds like it could be at High Point or Ironman, two venues that are controlled by Racer Productions/MX Sports and are in states that have plans to roll back restrictions. Indiana’s plan is particularly optimistic, as their current guidelines would allow social gathers of more than 250 people by July 4. Will states with National-caliber tracks lift their stay at home orders in time for the full 11-race series? One very difference between SX and MX that needs to be pointed out is the importance of fans in attendance; the event promoters of the National series make their money from ticket sales to spectators and having a race without a crowd could be a financial catastrophe for a track.
Everyone is eager to go back to racing at some point. It would bring a much-needed sense of normalcy and would get money circulating again (many in the industry, including racers on factory teams, have taken some sort of pay cut or been furloughed during the downtime), but any misstep now would be very costly. Teams and riders are back into their practice routines, which means bikes are being built and parts are being used, but certain sponsors have paused their payments until racing begins again. Feld and MX Sports are in a similar situation because they’ll need to get their infrastructure to the venues with confidence that races will happen and that sponsors will cover the costs, all of which could be stopped with one positive test.
The novelty of quarantine has worn off. It’s been replaced by concern for the future of our friends throughout the industry, a hope that no one would have to endure the brutal fight necessary to overcome serious COVID-19 symptoms, and frustration of the “us versus them” animosity that’s impossible to escape. Seeing a confirmed date for racing would give us all something to look forward to, but it can only happen under the right circumstances. Rushing back could do much harm than good, but so could waiting. We won’t know what the pandemic’s full impact on the 2020 race season will be until long after the decisions are made, the races are/aren’t run, and we turn our focus towards 2021.
It’s hard to say that there are some silver linings to all of this, considering the full scope of the disaster around the world, but there are some. One of the brightest moments is how much money the general buying public has pumped into the industry. Dealerships, service departments, engine builders, suspension shops, and aftermarket brands are seeing an unexpected surge in sales through all categories of motorcycling, including off-road, and we’ve heard that some places have made more money in the last two months than they have in years. Apparel companies, including helmet and boot makers, have dropped prices on their products and have offered added incentives to sway consumers to spend their tax money-stimulus check-newfound savings on their products, which is a sign that motorcycling is still very healthy at the local level. This makes leads us to believe that a similar boom will occur in rider turnout at practice days and races at tracks around the country in the next few weeks.
What makes us think that? A local night race in Oklahoma, the first big motocross race that we know of happening in the post-lockdown world, drew 400 entrants in a full offering of classes and saw a slew of accomplished card-carrying AMA pros on the starting line for the money classes. Should SX or MX not happen as hoped this summer, these outlaw races with large purse payouts will be a way for privateers to stay sharp, promote their sponsors, and stay afloat financially while the professional racing organizations figure out what to do. We’ve already heard about a handful of events that are scheduled to run over the next month, including a race in Iowa that’s put on by Team Honda HRC’s Justin Brayton, and many more will be created due to the demand. If you know of one, drop us a comment below with the details and we’ll check it out.
But enough about the pros; let’s talk about the everyday riders, which is what we are at our core. If we don’t have to cover AMA Pro racing for the next few months, my plan is to venture around the Midwest and East Coast, turn laps at tracks that locals love, and establish a better connection with the grassroots of the sport. I’m looking to take advantage of the financing options offered by the OEMs right now (check with your local dealer to see what incentives are offered) for my first bike purchase in over a decade and then putting in as many hours in the saddle as possible. Donn, Chase, and Dommer will be doing the same out west on their fleet of manufacturer-provided models (thanks to the brands for allowing us in the media to keep a fleet of test bikes during this time; without them, we’d be unable to test products and produce content), and we’ll probably meet up somewhere during the summer for some fun.
I know not everyone will have the means to buy a brand new bike or gear right now, especially with layoffs or reduced paychecks. If fresh off the dealership floor model is out of your price range, scour the local classifieds for a project bike, send the components of your current ride off to get some much needed TLC, or score a deal on the bargain bin gear that will be lowered even more when 2021 stuff lands in retailers. Whatever you can do now to keep money in motorcycling and yourself at the track/on the trail/involved will keep our industry strong through these unexpected times. Stay safe, wash your hands, and we’ll see you at the track.