I have tried to turn one eye away from focusing on Baja motorcycle racing for the past year. It is disappointing to face the reality of how much it has become nothing but a back-burner topic and perhaps nuisance to new SCORE owner Roger Norman.
Watching the CBS Sports broadcast of the 2014 Baja 1000 really brought into focus the direction on the new SCORE regime. But before I get too far on that path, I do have a few comments on the show itself. First, the production quality was very good. There was plenty of good footage of the top few Trophy Trucks and teams. It gave us something that is very lacking in most motorcycle based TV and movie productions, a story line to follow.
I call it the Bruce Brown method. To make a great motorcycle production you go out and gather footage and clips from every major player in the game. Then, once the race is over you sit down and write the script backwards. Start at the finish line and write back to the starting line. Sort of a reverse pyramid idea, everything builds up to the finish line finale. Isn’t it amazing how only 5 drivers made up the entire story line for the Baja 1000? They just happened to be the top finishers at the end of the race too. It is a good formula which is perfect to engage the casual observer.
SCORE is working hard to develop a marketable brand image, one with a handful of celebrities to match the story line. But that means that everyone else gets left by the wayside. The casual observer watching the program would have no idea how many classes and total teams are entered in the race. There was certainly no mention of motorcycles anywhere either.
Watching the show, there was more total time spent on building up the main protagonists than actual race footage. It is a shame, some of the segments on Baldwin, MacCachren and Vildasola were completely redundant. They were there just to reinforce the image building. Some of that time would have been far better spent talking about winners in other premier classes. Ultimately we are left with a well produced program that is completely self serving to SCORE’s vision of the future, one that is entirely about Trophy Trucks.
In a way, we have no one to blame but ourselves. With absolutely no factory level involvement for 2014, there is no one to buck up for the kind of money it takes to get time on the TV broadcast. That stuff isn’t free. Those Trophy Truck drivers aren’t on the the screen for their good looks, it takes money to pay for that time and it has to come from somewhere.
The real irony for motorcycles is this – Baja motorcycle racing is more grassroots than ever before. At the top level, the competition remains very thin. But back in the pack, the enthusiasm from weekend warriors is as strong as ever. The overall speed of the competing teams is way down. It is particularly obvious in the once fierce Class 30 and 40 ranks. But there are still plenty of teams lining up to give it a go.
The disparity was particularly obvious in this year’s long peninsula run. The top three teams were hours ahead of the pack. Pop quiz hotshot – who rode on the third place team in the Baja 1000? They were really fast, but with a broken tracker and not much media coverage, they got almost no exposure.
Once again it is amazing how bad the real time race coverage is. It is crazy to listen to Weatherman on the air asking if there is anyone within his radio range that has an internet connection to tell him the tracker status on some rider. But I digress….
The point is this, it is the really the fast guys who are the big losers in the SCORE formula and perhaps motorcycling as a whole. Yet there seem to be enough Sportsman riders to fill up the ranks regardless how the race series is handled.
I don’t want to discount the valiant rides of the top two teams that competed this year either, the Honda and Kawasaki. As individual riders and collective teams, they are still setting a pace down Baja that is staggering. It is just a shame that it is in a series that will probably see a continued slide from prominence in the motorcycle community. Even in a very best case eventuality, only Honda and KTM might be in line to come back with factory efforts. I don’t see much that tells me either will be up for anything but offering some support, no full factory programs.
So where do we go from here? Frankly, no where. There is not really any thing out there as a viable option to the SCORE program. Who knows, maybe it is for the best. It is a big fancy show that gives average racers a chance to be part of the act. Just step up and pay your money (lots of it) and be a tiny part of the big time. You will never get famous or make a living as a desert racer, but Baja is certainly far more glamorous than any other desert race.