Editorial by Crew Chief Marcus McBain
October 4, 2013
ADVICE ON MAKING IT IN THE SPORT OF MOTORCYCLE ROAD RACING
I get a lot of calls, questions, and requests for advice in regards to “racing careers” and other matters. The general inquiries are based on how to succeed both on and off the track. The truth is most of you all are in a sport that will suck your wallet dry and you will be out in 3-4 years. That is the cold hard truth. It is that way for many reasons, but it does not have to be. There are five main reasons you will be “broke and out of the sport” or tired of it altogether:
1. Motorcycle road racing truly is crack on wheels – There is no one that does not get the extreme high when they first start in racing (or track days for that matter). Our wallets beg to “buy more of it” when we first start. Like all addicts…racers don’t care what it costs when they first start, ”…just give me more of what I like.” If people actually tracked what they spend the first year, it is usually over 25($K) in most cases. When you factor in the cost of putting a motorcycle on the track, gear, and various “accessories” ranging from gas cans, generators, and canopies…all the way to 40ft. haulers, the cost for a first year can skyrocket to over 100($K).
2. Lots of bad advice – About 98% of the advice racer’s receive is just flat out crap. It is like this for many reasons, but the main thing I have observed is that advice is given not so much as “insightful and honest consultation”, but rather advice is offered to somehow justify (from the person giving advice) what they could not understand, comprehend, or achieve in their own racing endeavors. No one wants to admit that they have spent a lot of money, time, and effort and really don’t understand a lot about this sport. I have seen guys riding or involved for 10-15 years and will still give crap advice (sadly not intentionally), because it is all they know.
3. Most riders aren’t capable of accepting good advice. Simply put, most riders/racers will seek out the advice “they want to hear” and ignore what they don’t. Almost every racer is grossly guilty of this.
4. Riders stop progressing. This sport is great as it is a constant goal setting/goal achievement sport where hard work pays off. Most riders will hit the proverbial “learning wall” and stop progressing sooner rather than later. Mostly this is due to a lack of basic riding skills. I often compare most riders to the golfer that doesn’t want to fix their slice and only tries to fix their short game (hoping to shoot under a 100)…you can aim left for only so long before you have to fix the problem…and most riders just don’t do that. Proper goal setting is critical.
5. This is a team sport. Yep, it is. No one can do this alone. You have to have good people helping you. Guys and girls that last a long time in this sport have a mechanic, helper, or “quasi sponsor” to help them along the way. Every great rider has a list of people that are critically responsible for their success along the way. Yes once the green flag drops the rider is the only one that can “make it happen”, but in successful racing endeavors there are a lot of people involved prior to that green flag that help ensure rider success.
“OK THANKS FOR POINTING THIS OUT CAPTAIN OBVIOUS…WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE THEN?”
Really, there are just four main things that people need to know and then setup their racing program(s) accordingly. These points are based on one thing that you will not know until years after you start…and that is that you will reflect more on what was going on off the track than what happened on it. That means you will remember and reflect upon (generally very fondly) the people you were with and met…and the places you went to as much as the actual racing itself. YES, it is true.
The racing on the track is always fun, but it is more of a personal satisfaction that is hard to share with the majority of people around you. The people who you went to the races with and where you went will be more fondly remembered. With that in mind, the following points should ensure you are able to race for many years, succeed, and enjoy the sport.
1. Carefully setup a budget, subtract 20% of that amount, and that is the amount you should plan on spending (Because every racer goes over budget…EVERY RACER). Make sure you factor in the cost of your motorcycle in your budget. Most bikes need to be depreciated to 35% of the original cost(s) on a 2 year schedule. This means that 12,000.00 motorcycle that you spent another 8,000.00 setting up will only be worth about 7000.00 after two years (this does not include major crash damage/engine wear/etc.) of “gentle use”. So, you have to figure in an annual cost of 6500.00 for depreciation as an annual cost (in this specific example).
The budget issue is critical for one reason alone...the stress of trying to race with money that doesn’t exist means you will quickly not be racing.
2. Find a friend, mechanic, sponsor, etc. that will be your “sounding board”, advisor, sponsor, or mentor and be at the races with you. That can be anyone from your buddy that wants to tag along to one of the many vendors in your region. Most reputable vendors will help you SO LONG AS YOU HOLD UP YOUR END OF THE BARGAIN. What this means is that is that if you start using the mechanic at SHOP X and they work out a plan with you…YOU HAVE TO FOLLOW IT. I cannot stress enough how frustrating it is for these guys to try and help you and you decide to show up late for practice OR decide you going to make your own decisions about the plan on your own. THAT IS WHY MOST RIDERS DON’T GET THE MAXIMUM VALUE FROM THEIR VENDORS.
One other thing to remember…The vendor you now are using for this guidance will be well intentioned, but if you find he is doing a lot “for free”…well that means he is taking money out of his pocket…and every vendor gets trapped in-between wanting to help…and having to pay the bills. Look for ways to help the vendor as much as he is helping you. That means doing things like DELIVERING THE BIKE TO HIM at his convenience NOT YOURS (Don’t constantly make them wait after closing hours so they can get your bike…and work at a discount). Think about if you were mentoring someone in your own profession. Most people would not put up with themselves in the context of how they behave and their expectations to their “motorcycle racing mentor”.
3. Don’t over practice (ON THE TRACK). Many riders think riding a track day is great cheap practice. It is great for most riders, but a track day costs a rider around 900.00 a day when travel, wear/tear, tires, and consumables are factored in. Track days are great, but keep them down to two or three events (outside your race weekends) a year if you are doing a full season of racing. Riders are better served training and exercising relative to conditioning as much as riding.
It is highly recommend you get dirt bike and do trail riding. Even without instruction, 90% of riders reading this will benefit greatly from simple trail riding. At the same time, you don’t need to spend big $$$ going the superdirtcampextravaganza school to learn how to be a flat tracker or motocrosser. Just spending some time riding in the dirt helps so much with conditioning, learning how to counter steer (or you will crash a lot), and being comfortable with a bike moving around.
4. Make a reasonable plan and execute it after you decide, “I love this sport…I am doing it!” Sounds simple, but most people get in this sport and just start going crazy. Make a reasonable plan. Be reasonable in your expectations…no you are not going to be riding for Yoshimura next year because you won a novice race. I think this is one of the most difficult things for riders to do. Why?...because when most riders first start, they learn so fast and can do so much so quickly that it is human nature to want so much more of this sport so quickly.
I think the other issue is, “how seriously should I pursue this sport?” Yeah if you are under 21 and going fast…and winning all the novice classes, there is the Natural inclination “to get serious”. You need to know that no matter what you may think, the chance you will make money in this sport “because you have talent” is less than 1 in 20,000. Seriously less than 10 guys in the U.S. actually get a “paycheck” in the AMA. You are likely to financially be more successful running ASRA or WERA Nationals (through self-promoted sponsorship) than the AMA.
It is healthy to pursue “being a professional” if you consider it responsibly, but realize it is really hard to make it…and most likely you won’t make it. If you truly love this sport and want to “do it”, you will find that opportunities will present themselves…it just that it takes 3-5 years for them to come to you…and most riders are out of the sport by that time.
“OK “MR. KNOW IT ALL”…YOU ARE KIND OF BUMMING ME OUT ABOUT THIS SPORT…SO WHY DID YOU JUST PUT ALL THIS CRAP UP?”
The truth is I see too many riders just running around the pits trying to “make their own rules”. Guys that have been around this sport a long time will often joke with each other, “…Yeah, that guy will be buying a boat and fishing within 3 years!”
The two most predictable scenarios are the “fast guy” that has some funds/resources and is just “hooked on this sport” and the fast kid who has the over competitive/over controlling dad. In terms of the “fast guy”, you usually can’t help them as they think they know more than they do…and will be out of the sport within 3 years usually. As far as “fast kids”…that is literally a whole different story (and yes I will be putting an article up about “kids”), but several AMA team owners generally will tell you, “yeah, the kid has talent…but the parent(s) are impossible to work with.” There is a lot to that statement and many team owners I have worked with won’t work with kids that have parent(s) that are too involved in the racing.
These are some thoughts for you to ponder. I hope the reader will take a step back and really think about it. The racing community is unlike many others and if you set realistic expectations, you will have a great time in this sport…and the people you meet and go to the races with will be part of your life forever…and that is what you will take away from this sport more than anything else.
Crew Chief – RPSRaceTeam.com
Danny Kelsey prepares to launch the RPSRaceTeam.com GSXR-750 at Texas World Speedway. Copyright 2013 RPSRaceTeam.com/Blair Hart/Hart Photography
Danny Kelsey and crew chief Marcus McBain await the start of the AMA Pro National Guard Superbike race at Barber Motorsports Park. Copyright 2013 RPSRaceTeam.com/Brian J. Nelson