Chatting with a couple of NASCAR fans recently, I was reminded that any competition is boring if you don’t care who wins. But if you do care, then even cars driving around in circles can be very compelling entertainment.

Those NASCAR fans really cared about how their favorite drivers finished, and not only how they finished in the latest race, but what and how those drivers were doing off the track as well.

Those fans had been captured by the personalities of those drivers. One of the things NASCAR does well is sell personalities. All major sports-related businesses do this to some extent, but some organizations do it better than others.

The NASCAR fans loved their drivers and loathed the others, so each race becomes a contest of great emotional importance. Will Good triumph over Evil? Will Justice prevail? This drama is acted out lap after lap, and then continued post-race with interviews, public appearances, blogs, and so on.

The importance of personality to the success of a sports business has been made plain for MotoGP fans by Valentino Rossi. Sure, he won a lot of races while he was charming millions of fans, but I’d argue his personality was just as important to his success as his talent on a motorcycle. I’d even say that personality is more important.

Again and again in the MotoGP paddock I hear discussion of what is going to happen to our sport when Rossi leaves. Will the fans he brought to MotoGP leave as well?

Certainly some will continue to watch and attend races, having learned to love motorcycle racing during his career. But others will leave because they are Valentino Rossi fans rather than motorcycle racing fans.

So I’m always on the lookout for the next great personality. We wondered if Marco Simoncelli would be part of the pending personality gap, with his unique but similar combination of off-track charm and on-track aggression. Sadly we will never know how far he might have taken that combination.

Marc Marquez has both qualities in arguably greater quantities than Simoncelli did, though I doubt there would be much of an argument about his on-track ability.

Along with races and a Rookie World Championship, Marc is already winning the hearts of many fans. Just take look at his Twitter account, which is racing toward a million followers. (Rossi is at 2.5 million).

I think it will take a cast of personalities to make up for the inevitable loss of Rossi’s. So I’m also constantly looking in the lower classes for those who might contribute with a combination of winning talent and winning personality. The latest contender in my mind is Jack Miller.


19-year-old Miller is from Queensland, Australia, and he did a season and a half in 125cc and Moto3 before battling to 7th place in the 2013 Moto3 season. He was outgunned by the KTMs as he soldiered on aboard an FTR Honda, impressing many with his frequent Top Ten finishes.

He impressed some enough to claim title contender Luis Salom’s Red Bull KTM for this season, and he made good use of the new machine by winning the first race in Qatar. After one race he leads the championship, and many consider him to be fighting for the title all season.

Other Moto3 contenders Alex Rins, who barely lost the 2013 title to Maverick Vinales, and Alex Marquez, Marc’s younger brother, are certainly on par with Miller for riding ability. They may have an edge on track, or the advantage may be Miller’s given that he spent last season wringing every last bit of speed from his underpowered Honda.

For personalities, the Alexes are well-mannered young men, fast on motorcycles, perhaps a bit shy, especially in the case of Rins. As I don’t speak Spanish, I can’t know what they are like when they communicate in their native languages, but the ability to be charming in English is, for better or worse, crucial when it comes to attracting fans from around the world. In English, the Alexes seem a bit dull.

So in the personality contest, I think Miller has the advantage in terms of winning fans to root for his success. He is certainly not boring, and seems to have an intriguing mischievous quality that can go a long way toward getting people’s attention.

I first met Miller at the 2012 Valencia test. He was on a scooter watching the MotoGP bikes circulate, and I stopped to say hi. Frankly I wasn’t sure who he was at the time, but I recognized his face as one of the Moto3 riders. I’m sure he had no idea who I was. Yet he was polite and friendly, not shy at all, but not full of himself either.

In 2013, I watched him turn in one solid performance after another, often the top Honda rider in a class dominated by KTM. And now he’s off to a great start for 2014, and the MotoGP TV audience got its first view of Miller on a podium.

He was excited for his first Grand Prix victory, as one would expect. At the end of the Australian anthem he wiped his eyes from the emotion of the moment. Then he decided to make sure at least one of his podium mates left sticky, in spite of there being no champagne allowed for the Qatar GP.


I don’t know Miller well, and have only spoken to him one on one at the test back in 2012. But I do observe him as a fan would, albeit from a slightly closer distance. And I see the potential for a solid contribution to the coming personality gap.

If he continues to achieve podiums over the next couple of years, and thus continues to show fans his strong personality, he will find those who like and cheer for him. He will also find those who dislike him – consider that no one has more vehement haters than Rossi. But like bad publicity, haters can also be a good thing, and can help one’s popularity.

Miller is playful, brash, and most important, genuine. His antics are spontaneous and sincere rather than contrived and calculated. He has powerful sponsorship in Red Bull, which brings to his career their marketing expertise. He’s also fast on a motorbike.

He has the ingredients to make for a popular rider. I don’t know if we’ll ever see another rider as popular as Rossi, but Miller has a lot of potential to keep a good number of fans watching MotoGP after Rossi has gone.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

  • sideswipe

    Absolutely! Remembering him as the weird haired mini Simoncelli of the entry class I asked if this kid was serious. He never made much of a dent in the order and if caught on camera was goofing like it was all a big after school outing. When it was pointed out that he had no right placing where he was last year I saw that he was more than a goof off and all his pre season interviews showed there was a shrewd dude queueing up for his chance to make his mark. That first race sealed it for me. I’m claiming my seat on the Miller bandwagon. A very mature race followed by one of the most infectious bits of cool down lap hooliganism I can recall. The parc ferme F-bomb, tearing up at his national anthem, and improvised dousing of his podium mate made me care where he places when he races. I’m a fan of many riders and many of his competitors but I have my fingers crossed that he’s in it for the title this year.

  • Big fan. His post race celebration in the Qatar was good old fashioned fun. Dorna can only pay him cash under the table for having a personality.

    Goddamn I miss watching Marco58 on a bike. I miss him making twats like Dani and Puig tense, more tense.

    #8 on the bike #1 really soon.

  • NortNad

    Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
    Oi, Oi, Oi

  • afletra

    NICE article Scott, I love to read this kind of article :)

  • paulus

    Not buying the PR hype piece. Time will tell.

    Unfortunately, the sport has been sanitized. Gone are the heady 70’s and 80’s with tough guys muscling unwieldy machines around. Hairy chests and porno ‘tasches. :)

    It is teeny, tiny clean living athletes… sanitized of both sin and personality. Who’s joint mission in life it to be a racer/ clothes horses for sponsorship deals and chug down liquid death for the camera. Ka-Ching

    In the meantime, they pilot the worlds greatest development show case for fuel economy strategies.
    The world stops demanding sport replicas and starts riding adventure bikes.
    WTF happened?

  • BBQdog

    Scott Jones should do something about his colour management. Red Bull KTM’s aren’t that kind of orange.

  • TexusTim

    really ? cmon lets not “hero” worship a kid that cant keep the trash out of his mouth….not very classy to drop f bombs on live tv at the podium..that gangsterpunk type thing does not impress me…sorry but this is whats wrong with this generation.

  • L2C

    The bigger question is, what will happen to the TT after John McGuiness retires? As far as I’m concerned, John McGuiness is the TT — much more so than Valentino Rossi is MotoGP. Will I still be interested in the TT after McGuiness retires? Hard to say, but I don’t see anybody replacing his larger-than-life persona in the TT. Certainly no rider in the TT has a family that’s as charming as his, or is as unconventional an athlete as he is — I mean, we would know about it, right?

    When McGuiness retires from the TT, the TT will not know what to do with itself. McGuinness is one of a kind, just like Rossi. And the two sportsmen couldn’t be more different from one another.

    As for MotoGP, I’ve always been into it for the racing. When Rossi retires, it’ll be a big bummer, though I’ll still be watching because the current crop of Moto3 riders looks to forecast great racing in the future of the premiere class. So all will not be lost, as far as I’m concerned.

  • L2C

    Valuable contribution, BBQdog.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    In the first paragraph I said out loud in my office cube “exactly.”

    Exactly right. …and in a moment of reflection after reading this great article I caught myself wondering, “is it weird that I like some riders and hate others?”

    Was Max Biagi a bad guy? Maybe he’s the coolest guy on the planet.
    Are Nicky Hayden or Valentino Rossi the coolest dudes on the planet? Maybe they’re really insufferable jerks.
    Is Casey Stoner a whiny villian? Maybe he’s a totally nice guy.

    I was rooting like crazy for Rossi to beat MM the other weekend. Why?

    Point is, I have cheered for (or rooted against) these guys like they’re people I actually know. …but that’s kind of what is done in all of sports.

  • Singletrack

    Every rider on the starting line/grid deserves to be there. And every one has a story about how they got there. Its incumbent on the race series promoter and TV producers to tell those stories, preferably on TV, not just online in a bio.

    Every one of those riders grew up in some small town/big city and rode in a gravel pit/desert/forest/gokart track while learning the craft. How and why I cheer for any rider depends on the personal connection with them. Even if the rider doesn’t have an outgoing personality, they’re still worth knowing about.

  • Yeeha! Stephen

    And we need more of them!
    Just look at John Force in NHRA drag racing. Castrol laughs itself all the way to the bank with that old man.
    (yes I’m his age…. sorry)

    Yeeha! Stephen

  • BonBob

    TexasTim= old, and getting older by the minute

  • Thanks for the comments. I’m just catching up on BTSport’s Losail coverage and in the pre-Moto3 race footage, Gavin Emmett interviews Aki Ajo, who runs the Red Bull KTM Ajo team.

    Asking about Miller, Gavin says: Jack is a bit of a crazy character. He has a lot of energy. But you worked your magic last season with Luis Salom. Do you think you can do the same with Jack?

    Ajo: All the guys are a bit different in character, so always I think the team has to find a way to work with each person. Maybe outside it looks like Jack is crazy, but for me, Jack is different. He’s very clever, and I really like his attitude. He respects the people around, he’s a really hard worker. So it’s not too much work with him, just keeping everything running.

    Gavin adds: He’s a fantastic kid, is Jack Miller. He lights up this paddock all the time. He’s like an old school racer, as well.

    A fair point about profanity on the podium, not appropriate, but personally I’m willing to cut him some slack for that given that he’s still quite young and had just won his first GP race. I hope he’ll grow out of this in a way Rossi still hasn’t done, as he swears in the press conferences without a second thought, and not even in his native language. I’ve not heard Miller swear nearly as much as Colin Edwards, and few seem to hold profanity against the Texan.

    But I think Miller is interesting because he’s different from the many young riders who are already so mature about their sponsorship deals and being on perfect behavior all the time. To me that’s rather boring, where I see what Miller is feeling without those emotions being filtered through a concern about how he represents his sponsors. That heart on your sleeve behavior isn’t for everyone, fair enough. But I like it, and I like Miller for being himself, come what may.

  • NortNad

    Your not a real aussie unless you drop F bomps

    F@ck yeah!

  • sideswipeasaurus

    @Paulus WTF happened? Well, the old dinosaurs smoking fags on the grid & drinking till the wee hours before a race just can’t cut it with riders whose focus includes training & conditioning that would leave previous generations of riders gasping for breath. Meanwhile those development showcases for fuel economy as you put it are faster, better bikes in every respect than the unwieldy things you pine for. Even those old riders say they were crap. The speeds have increased, the lean angles have increased, the stopping distances decreased, and lap times and records are continually being smashed by those tiny, clean living athletes. If you have a special fondness for hairy chested men with porno staches you can always dig up your old Village People LP’s. My guess is that the 70’s and 80’s were heady because that’s maybe when you were young and you aren’t any more and grouchy about it.
    You can respect the past and the challenges they had to compete with and still appreciate the present state of the art.

  • paulus

    No. I still ride, race and enjoy the touring pleasures of my motorcycle.
    I just miss watching interesting racing on TV :)

  • crshnbrn

    re: “I think it will take a cast of personalities to make up for the inevitable loss of Rossi’s.”