Monday, September 29, 2014

TV or not TV? That is the question

I've been trying to stay on top of news about KRAVE's new MotoAmerica series. But, understandably, after a flurry of releases in the first few days, the flow of real news seems to have slowed; they're presumably busy with the actual nuts and bolts of  assembling a series.

I'm guessing that my fellow Canadians are wondering, too, whether the FIM "North American" status means that we can expect a race in Canada. I'm not sure whether there are any Canadian tracks that meet FIM standards. (Are there? There are some beautiful and historic tracks there, for sure. Mosport held a round of the World Championship in 1967. But up to modern standards?)

One thing that I did notice right away, though, was a resurgence of the obsession with television. I'm an "advertising guy". I get that the money in professional motorcycle racing comes from sponsors. But I'm not on this we-must-be-on-TV bandwagon. In fact, months ago, when (make sign of cross now) DMG unveiled Fan's Choice coverage of AMA Pro events, I was one of the first to say, Maybe this is better than television.

There are two big forces at work out in the world of specialty media and niche sports:

  • The new old guard, at KRAVE--and the heads of U.S. distribution for the Japanese Big Four--all date from a generation when "being on TV" equalled "having a nice big audience". That hasn't been true for decades. In the n-channel universe, there's an excellent chance no one's watching, and it's almost a certainty that no one's just stumbling onto your programming and about to fall in love with it.
  • TV's audience is shrinking and aging anyway. The younger audiences that motorcycle manufacturers and sponsors like Red Bull and Monster crave are online.

By putting so much emphasis on TV, KRAVE's preparing for the last war, not the next one. Just because you're "on TV" doesn't mean anyone's watching, any more. Tell the truth, have you ever seen an episode of that reality TV show built around Larry Pegram? I haven't. I don't even know what network it's on, what cable package I'd need in order to get that channel, if it's even available at all from the cable provider that serves my building. And all that presupposes that I want cable, but I don't; I've already completely untethered myself from cable. Like the land line phone, it's ancient history to me.

AMA Pro was bitterly criticized for not getting U.S. road racing (or flat track) on TV. In the end, with Fan's Choice, they put a program together that offered decent coverage and was available for free, both live and on demand to anyone anywhere in the world, as long as they had web access.

I'm not saying the series shouldn't be televised. It should be televised, if they can arrange for that. But not at the expense of a great free webcast. That's the future, and it's where young fans already live.

The obsession with a TV package is wrong-headed. If it's being driven by KRAVE, that's depressing to me. Because we don't need more old thinking; we need all-new thinking.

If it's being driven by manufacturers and potential sponsors, I guess that means they're another bunch of out-of-touch old men. But no matter how much power they used to wield in AMA Pro's heyday, they shouldn't be allowed to call the tune all by themselves now.

In summary: I understand the desire for a TV package built around the MotoAmerica series. But if the amount of talk about TV indicates that KRAVE and potential sponsors are obsessed with TV, we're not entering a brave new era; we're clinging to past, under a new name.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Note to KRAVE: Fuck Daytona

Observers from the sublime (David Emmett) to myself have already started to parse the potential futures of American motorcycle road racing in the post-DMG era. One interesting topic is, what the class structure of the new series should be. And one comment that frequently comes up is something along these lines: "Since the first race of 2015, at Daytona, is only a few months away, the rules will probably remain unchanged for an interim year."

But I've got some more advice for KRAVE: Fuck Daytona.

There is no good reason to start the season in March, during Daytona's Bike Week, and there are several good reasons not to start it there.

In 1974, Yamaha brought Giacomo Agostini and the then-700cc TZ700 to Daytona, and won the 200. It meant something. But as the opening round of the U.S. championship, it's now a depressing anachronism. MotoAmerica would be better off without it, and it's possible that Daytona would be better off too—promoting a single event, or a true endurance race.

For starters, the track’s too much of a special case; it requires special tires and special rules. 2015 was, we’re told, going to see a return of Superbikes in the feature 200. But who knows if the tires’d hold up? Even when the tires do last on the banking, the refueling and pit stops merely serve to exaggerate the gap between have and have-not teams.

The track insists on that early March date that, again, especially punishes privateers. They're the ones who need another month to prepare machines and look for a budget. And that location right down in the lower right-hand corner of the map pretty much ensures high travel costs for everyone, anyway.

Daytona used to have special relevance, and link the AMA championship to the World Championship. In 1964 and ’65 they opened the World Championship at Daytona. (Hailwood won both 500GP races, on an MV Agusta.) Through the ‘70s, it was still the whole world’s unofficial first race meeting. Riders from the World Championship came to Florida on a sort of busman’s holiday, knocking the rust off at the Speedway. But that was at a time when there weren’t tracks (and early season races) in places like Qatar; there weren’t several great tracks in Spain; Phillip Island wasn’t ready for prime time.

Nowadays, the vast, empty grandstands are a silent but evocative testimony only to how far the once-great event has fallen. I can't imagine a bigger turn-off for sponsors. It’s not as if Daytona Beach could give a shit, either. The vast majority of people who attend Bike Week couldn’t tell you who Josh Hayes is. And any momentum that is developed at Bike Week is lost in the months-long wait for the second race of the season.

It would be far better to start the U.S. season with a proper race, at a proper modern track, some time in April. Austin leaps to mind. But perhaps the most important reason to fuck Daytona is, it would send a clear message: MotoAmerica isn't just AMA Pro Racing, repackaged.

Lest DMG take umbrage at my suggestion. I’ll add that, freed of it's role as America’s season opener, maybe it can find real international relevance again, either as cool 200-mile one-off run to the old Formula-USA rules, or run at an even longer distance, as a round of the World Endurance Championship.

Daytona (and Daytona Motorsports Group) is dead! Long live Daytona! Just not as the MotoAmerica opener. Fuck that.

For the record: There's an excellent chance that DMG made keeping a race at Daytona a condition of the transaction when the rights were "reacquired". So here's a note to the AMA, while I'm at this: How about launching a new era of transparency, and you tell us just what that transaction entailed, huh?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Motorcycle safety notes: "I hate it when that happens"

From England, comes this video which shows a fatal motorcycle crash, from the rider's perspective. Normally, I wouldn't touch this kind of video with a ten-foot pole, but I think it's worth a second, close watch because it highlights a number of dangerous assumptions made by motorcyclists.

I note that the driver of the car involved was charged in the accident, in spite of the fact that the rider was traveling nearly 100 miles per hour moments before the crash. This was a classic, "I didn't see you, mate" accident. This happens, all over the world, many times a day. What can we learn from it?..

Off he goes. The motorcycle is a Yamaha. I'm not sure which model. Perhaps a reader can identify it. It looks like a big adventure bike to me. [FJR1300, per comment below--MG] In the next few seconds, he's going to catch and pass several cars and at least one other bike. I can't read the speedo, but the official investigation found that he traveled up to 97mph. His mum said, "He loved speed." We all do, and we've all exceeded 97 miles an hour at some point.

The good: alcohol was not a factor. The roads are dry, visibility is good. Traffic is light. The passes he makes are all safe, although he's traveling at a rate of speed that is bound to earn him a big speeding ticket if he's caught.

The bad: Already at this point, 97's too fast. The big green sign on the rider's left tells him, there's an intersection ahead. The heavy foliage could conceal a car about to pull out. Meanwhile, the white car just ahead has seen him coming and pulled over.

Taking the invitation, the bike passes the car. His lane position is not too bad; he's to the right in his lane, maximizing his sight lines into the intersection, maximizing his own visibility. He could've just let his momentum carry him past the car and rolled off the throttle, but he's still on the gas.

He should be in Condition Orange by now. There's an intersection up ahead, with a view of potential cross traffic obscured by trees. And now, he can see an oncoming car positioning itself to turn across his lane.

A good rider using proper situational awareness would already have rolled off and taken other steps to reduce his risk by now. But anyone can be caught off guard, so this would be the time to roll off, flash high beams or sound your horn to let the driver in the turn lane know you're there and just maybe going a bit quick [See comment below--MG]. And, check the rear view mirror and flash brake lights to tell the guy in that white car, "I know I just passed you, but I might be about to hit the brakes and you should think about it, too."

But no, dude's still on the gas, accelerating. At the very least, the road on left would be a perfect place for a cop to be parked, pointing a radar gun our way. At this moment though, a cop would be the least of his problems; the rider should have a laser focus on that car's left front tire--that car's still rolling, and the driver has steered into the motorcyclist's lane.

Finally, he's rolled off. I can't know what was inside his head at this point, but I'm guessing that he's jumped straight from Condition White (daydreaming) to Condition Orange (potential threat identified) or Red (immediate action required). 

But what's he going to do? He's 100 feet or so--less than a second--from the point of impact. His speed hasn't yet decreased at all. He's now in the middle of his lane. I can't blame him for moving towards the verge from the earlier position. At this point, his brain hasn't caught up to his situation. He's probably still thinking, "This car signaling a turn will poke into my lane, the bastard." But, as understandable as that drift to the left was, it's put him in a shitty position for an emergency evasive maneuver. He's now on the dirtiest part of the asphalt, at a moment when he needs maximum braking grip.

Now he's in Condition Red. He's realized that the car's not stopping. Look at his right hand. He's reaching for the brake. C'mon you guys! Always cover the front brake! The time it took him to reach for it has already made some kind of crash almost inevitable. Note that at this point, although the horizon is tilted, it's not any more tilted than it was on the straightaway; he hasn't taken evasive action, he's just drifted towards the left. He hasn't looked for an escape route; he's looking at a gap, but that gap's closing--he's looking right the point of impact.

Although it's easy to second-guess this poor bastard, it's now a certainty that the car's momentum is going to carry it into his lane. It would have been better if he was at either the extreme right, where he could've used the center lane as an escape road, or on the far left, where he could've stayed on the brakes as long as possible, and at least attempted the left turn.  

He's finally on the brakes, but still hasn't scrubbed much speed. And, our worst fears are confirmed, the car's fully entered his lane. A crash of some kind's impending, but remember Gardiner's Rule #7: A low-side is always better than riding into an impact.

A maximum braking effort followed by a banzai left turn will probably result in a survivable (but still extremely fast and dangerous) low-side into the hedge. Again, although it would take impressive presence of mind to realize it, and racer-level machine control to negotiate it, there's a viable route behind the car. But even if the rider had the skills, he'd have to have been planning it a second or two earlier.

His little scream, as he realizes what's about to happen, is heart-rending. In the video, his mum says, "He had no time to take evasive action." He certainly has no time now. Although he's on the brakes, his speed's still barely changed. Considering the vectors involved, serious injury or death are now inevitable.

It's worth noting that the car driver admitted that he hadn't seen the motorcyclist. That was obviously the immediate cause of the accident. But even if he had seen him, the guy'd been driving down a road, meeting oncoming traffic traveling 60-70mph. When he saw a motorcycle up ahead, he couldn't have expected it to close at a 50% greater speed. The car driver might have turned even if he had seen the motorcycle.

I'm not blaming the motorcyclist (although his illegal speed was also a contributing factor.) But what the fuck?..  This accident was completely avoidable. As a motorcyclist, you should never assume you've been seen unless/until you've made eye contact with drivers, and you should never, ever assume they realize you're going 100 miles an hour.

Monday, September 1, 2014

If Marquez can make it here...

Update: It's not THAT John Burns. Who knew there were two guys with that name writing about motorcycles in the U.S.? I guess MO's guy is John P. Burns, while the Times' guy is John F. Burns. Most of what I wrote still stands, the only thing different is, I realize that I've been jealous of the wrong guy, for cracking one of the country's most elite writing markets...

John Burns, an ex-editor at Motorcyclist who recently landed at whoever he is, has carved out a nice niche as "the motorcycle guy" for the New York Times.

For the last year or two, I've been noticing occasional motorcycle reviews in the Times' automotive section. I'm sure that those freelance wins have firmly ensconced the guy with the big manufacturers, when it comes to assigning coveted seats at product launches.

This morning, I saw something new in my daily scan of a  feature on Marc Marquez.

Burns has obviously convinced the paper of record that Marquez is, or at least should be, a mainstream news story. They ran 1000+ words on him, which is a coup for  motorcycle racing in the U.S.

Although the feature was written from secondary sources, the author still did a good  job explaining just what a phenomenon Marquez is, without oversimplifying for the Times' general audience.

I wonder if, now that Marquez is on the Times' radar, they'll continue to pay attention? He'd be a great subject for the paper's weekend magazine.