Yamaha Motor Canada Presents The Monday Gate Drop

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Good day, and welcome to another edition of the Yamaha Motor Canada Monday Gate Drop. On Saturday evening at Round 1 of the Future West AX Championship Blu Cru rider Julien Benek took home the Pro/AM Lites main event win. It was Benek’s first-ever pro AX win and he did it on the very potent YZ250F. We want to congratulate Julien on his big win in Chilliwack, we’re sure there’s more to come in the future.

In other Yamaha news, down in the USA, the Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha Team announced last week they’ve signed Christian Craig and Jeremy Martin for 2021. This is great news for all involved as both of these riders needed a home after the Geico Honda Team closed its doors a week ago. With the 2021 Monster Energy Supercross Series set to begin in mid to late January, it will no doubt be a short and busy off-season for all of the teams in the USA. Also, from what I’ve been told the 2021 SX Schedule will out in the next few weeks and it’s sounding like the opening round will be in Dallas with a certain number of fans allowed in to watch. This is great news for both the series and the sport as we need fans onsite to make everything work!

This Red Bull Imagination Event in Kansas has been very exciting to watch over the past few days. Photo courtesy of Red Bull Media

Moving north now to what has quickly turned into a very unsettled Canadian motocross landscape. Ten days ago the news broke that not only might Rockstar Energy be done with the Triple Crown Series, but also that the Rockstar Energy OTSFF Yamaha Team was closing its doors after 18 years. As for Rockstar being a title sponsor for the 2021 Triple Crown Series, even though they are contractually obligated for next year, it does sound like Rockstar Energy (with Pepsi Co now calling all of the shots) is moving away from their involvement with motocross in Canada, and potentially throughout the globe in the next few years. With more and more companies now reassessing the dollars they spend on sports because of this Covid-19 Pandemic, moving forward we could see multiple sponsorship deals on the chopping block. It’s definitely a scary time, and I’m sure it makes everyone sick to think that the fallout from this virus might end up being worse then the virus itself. Not just in our sport or in sports in general, but in so many aspects of our lives.

So what might racing look like next year in Canada? Well, regionally I don’t think too much will change as far as interest in motocross at a grassroots level. In fact, I think it might be even better as hopefully all of our regions will be able to open on time in the spring. With bike sales skyrocketing right across Canada as well as increased interest in anything outdoors, our regional races saw some amazing numbers at most events. Also, with these events proving all season long that they can be run safely, I can’t see any reason why they won’t be even more popular in 2021 as people will be looking for more outdoor activities to participate in. If we take the final AMO round last month at Gopher Dunes as an example, not only were the main track classes busy, but the mini track was busier than it’s ever been. With full gates of die-hard mini bike racers, leisure riders, and a few first-timers, how could the future not be bright for our sport at the amateur level, and next year should be even better!

Stay tuned for an interview with Andre Laurin that will be going live tomorrow morning. Photo by James Lissimore

In a perfect world, we’d love to see the amateur side of the sport grow at the same rate as the pro side. Both sides need to be healthy for any sport to be truly successful. Over the years, motocross in Canada has struggled at times to find this delicate balance. With the amount of support from the OEM’s not always resulting in more bike sales, we’ve always had to deal with OEM support in this country coming in waves. In certain years they’ve been either all in or sometimes all out, depending on who is calling the shots and the economic landscape they’re dealing with. Anyway, as much as the amateur side of our sport has ballooned during this Pandemic, the pro side, which relies heavily on sponsorship, support for team and riders, and at least a few fans in the stands, is facing difficult times.

As I mentioned above, the OTSFF Team is done for the next year and beyond. This leaves a massive void in the paddock as it not only removes a semi-truck, but also puts some quality people out of work. Obviously, a race team like the OTSFF Team has a lot of tentacles that reach deep into the sport. When you remove them, their absence is felt on so many different levels. I will be talking to OTSFF owner Andre Laurin later today so we’ll find out exactly what happened and why it happened. However, regardless of what Andre says, the bottom line is that like the Geico Honda Team in the USA, it’s going to be sad to see one less team in 2021.

Lawrence Hacking powers over some loamy bumps during Saturday’s Vet/Vintage race at Gopher Dunes.

In talking to some of the teams last week, the biggest obstacle they face right now with trying to secure maximum support for next year is that they haven’t been provided a 2021 Series Schedule yet. The OEM’s in particular want to have the 2021 series schedule laid out for them before they commit to a certain level of support. If the series is going to look like it did this year and just remain in Ontario and Quebec, then obviously the OEM’s will be reluctant to give the teams as much money as they have in the past. But in reality, it is only October so how could anyone know what the exact series will look like next year. I mean, it would be safe to assume that the MXTour will want to go west again for at least three rounds, as well as to New Brunswick and Quebec, but if it’s not feasible for the teams then it doesn’t make sense. Both sides know what is at stake here as they’ve been doing this for a long time. When has anything in our sport ever gotten decided for the following year in October? After all, from a marketing point of view, you cannot blame the OEM’s for being hesitant to spend a lot of money in 2021, the same way you cannot blame the teams for wanting to know asap how much money is going to be spent, and the same way you cannot blame the series for not dropping a schedule for next summer in October. These are unprecedented times and that is why it’s hard to predict what pro racing will look like next year.

Will the 2021 Triple Crown Series head west for a few rounds? I sure hope so! Photo by James Lissimore

Back in March when Covid-19 hit, the entire industry (and the world for that matter) went into a short holding pattern as they waited to see what would happen. No one knew if there was going to be a racing season or even a riding season. March and April of this year was a scary and uncertain time for everyone and our sports largest supporters weren’t immune to that fear. But then, just when we thought we were all up Schitt’s Creek, something incredible happened. Without much else to do people decided to live life to the fullest and get outside for the summer. The result was a record number of bikes, parts, and accessories being sold right across North America. The OEM’s were in shock, heck, everyone was in shock as in the past anytime the world went into financial uncertainty one of the first things to suffer was our sport. Now, who is to say that there aren’t tough times in the near future when this glorious bubble goes pop? But for now, we’ll take it and let it ride as long as we can. My point is, for 2020 and at least the early part of 2021, the OEM’s have many reasons to be happy as these past few months have been a gift. They’re sold more units since May than they have in years, without spending an exorbitant amount trying to sell them. Unfortunately, this sales bonanza didn’t come under better circumstances, but even in the worst of times, there has to be some good. I’m guessing that all of us have found some good during this Covid-19 Pandemic? Whether it’s more time spent with family or just a general appreciation for some of the simpler things in life. From a business point of view, and in the current marketplace where if you can use it outside then it sells, it’s no wonder the OEM’s want to see exactly what they’re going to get for their money before they commit to it. But there always has to be a middle ground as whatever goes up, always comes down. Before we know it, the companies that have benefited the most during the past six months will need all the help they can get to sell their products again. 

In my humble opinion, the SXTour rounds at Gopher Dunes were a huge success. Photo by James Lissimore

The hope for next year is that as I mentioned above, amateur racing will not only continue with a normal schedule but also showed the same amount of growth that it did in 2020. For years, we’ve tried hard to get new riders to join our sport and this summer it appeared like all of this work had finally paid off. We need to keep this momentum going as any successful sport is strong at the grassroots level. As for pro racing, I can honestly see things not returning to normal until 2022 or even 2023. I can see the Triple Crown Series in a position by next June where some fans will be allowed at the races, but there may still be restrictions and health protocols that will still have to adhere to. I can also envision the 2021 series having a western component to it, maybe with two rounds in Alberta and one in Manitoba, as long as the team budgets are there. Next year also may present the opportunity to either keep trying new things or do what they did this past summer. I still maintain that the back to back rounds at Walton Raceway with the TransCan wedge in the middle were some of the greatest ten days in Canadian motocross history. As far as indoor racing is concerned next year. I can’t see there be any need for the early season AXTour events. Arena’s are expensive to rent and if the restrictions won’t let you even try to fill them, what is the point. However, the end of the season SXTour races could easily be done again at Gopher Dunes. Throw a few bleachers up, maybe some lights, and you have yourself some entertaining, but inexpensive rounds of SX. It’s all doable next year, it has to be because pro racing in this country has come so far in the past 20 years, we can’t retract too much. However, at the end of the day, this series can only operate on what the industry is willing to give. I’m pumped that the top riders of today have the opportunity to do this sport as a living. I’m also thank-full that our pro series has been successful enough in the past two decades to support all of the people, including myself to be a part of it. Is next year going to be challenging, you bet it is as more and more companies are finding the need to spend less money on marketing. I know that’s a tough pill to swallow as most of these companies are selling more product than they did a year ago, but they seem determined to head in this direction. That is the reality of our world right now. As I said, next year is going to be tough, maybe even tougher than this year. But let’s hope we don’t lose any more teams or riders for 2021 and let’s get through this!

Our Ladies only riding school on Friday was a massive success.

Well, that is it for me this week. Before I say good-bye I want to mention that this past Friday I hosted a Female only riding school at my home track. We had a great turn out and a really fun day of riding. I want to thank Lindsey Bradley for helping to organize it all. We’re definitely going to be doing more of these in 2021. In closing, I wasn’t able to make it, but I heard that the Vet/Vintage race at Gopher Dunes on Saturday was a big hit as the weather and the turnout was great. The Future West AX Championships also go again this coming weekend in Chilliwack. The opening weekend of the series was a success with almost 300 entries and entertaining racing in all of the classes. Thank you for reading and if you have any questions or comments please email me at chris@mxpmag.com.

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