With increased factory involvement and a competitive field the first shoots of a resurgence for motorcycle racing in United States are starting to grow.
The United States has been a consistent breeding ground for world-class racers over the last four decades, but the decline of domestic racing has hit that talent pipeline hard in recent years.
Honda’s WorldSBK star Nicky Hayden is the country’s sole representative on the Superbike grid, and with no American riders racing in MotoGP, it’s clear just how far the country has fallen from the map.
One of the biggest reasons for this was the decline of production based racing in the USA. Whereas the likes of Kenny Roberts, Freddie Spencer, Wayne Rainey, and Kevin Schwantz all came from flat track and superbike backgrounds, at home it has been some time since riders were able to develop in the series and come to Europe.
Hayden made the move to MotoGP in 2003 as the reigning AMA Pro Superbike champion and Ben Spies moved to WorldSBK in 2009 as a four-time champion.
In the last ten years though, the opportunities for a rider to do the same have been almost non-existent. Road racing in the United States had been upstaged by Supercross, with most young riders content to race on the jumps rather than jump on a plane to Europe.
That could be set to change in the coming years with the work that has been undertaken by Wayne Rainey and the MotoAmerica series.
Rainey, a three-time 500GP champion, is one of the biggest names in racing history, and has taken on the role of series president with gusto.
Feeling a debt to the series that was a springboard to his career and success he took on the role when the AMA Pro Superbike championship was in serious jeopardy and over the last four years has worked tirelessly to return it to former glory.
“In the first year that we acquired the rights, we had to create a new series in just six months,” explained Rainey. “We had to stabilize the sport, so we created MotoAmerica. We wanted to have a good TV package, and we have that now.”
“And BeIN Sports has a big interest to make it work, to make it more accessible for the fans to get to. They really want to promote and market what they do and also what we’re doing. So now it’s about year three.”
“It’s about marketing and promoting the sport, the riders, the brand, and to let everybody know MotoAmerica is the US superbike championship. For this year, we also have Honda back coming after 11 years, and a brand new bike from Suzuki.”
“We have a lot of cool things happening right now. That’s the first three years for us, and I think for the next three years we want to work on getting more sponsorship, growing the depth of the superbike teams, and also to work on getting younger talent coming into the series.”
Where that talent comes from is the big challenge facing MotoAmerica but they have developed a path through the classes. Starting with the KTM Cup riders can then progress to Supersport machinery, and then STK1000 or a Superbike.
Having that staircase of talent is key, and with double WorldSBK champion Colin Edwards being involved in the KTM Cup, there has been investment of time and resources from some of the biggest names in American road racing.
“The goal for us to have a competitive and stable series,” continued Rainey. “It’s very positive that we have a rider such as Toni Elias here because the MotoGP paddock knows how good he is and it’s a good comparison to our riders.”
“If Toni’s strong in our championship, and we’ve got some riders putting it on him, it’d help teams understand that they have to look at this other kid.”
One of the brightest talents to come from the US stage in recent years is Cameron Beaubier. The double MotoAmerica champion raced in WorldSBK last year as a replacement rider for Pata Yamaha, and his performance is something that the MotoAmerica organisers are keen to showcase as a reflection of the level of the series.
“Now with our rules all being together if we can show that we’re competitive, then it’s up to the rider to show what they can do,” said Rainey.
“Last year Cameron stepped off his MotoAmerica bike onto a World Superbike. It said Yamaha, but nothing was the same for him – he was riding on different tires, on a track he’d probably never been to, against competition he’s never raced against, and he was a replacement rider. Also he was still trying to win our championship.
“I don’t think we saw the best of Cameron Beaubier there. He’s a good rider, but it looks like he’s got his hands full now in MotoAmerica. That competitiveness is good because we want to make sure that when he does get that chance, or if he wants to go chase the world championship, that he’s going to be competitive because of our championship.”
It may be some time before we see a rider truly illustrate the fruits of the work being undertaken by MotoAmerca, but for the first time in a long time the future of road racing in the United States looks bright.
Photo: Suzuki Racing