Trackside Tuesday: Long Live World Superbike

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As the other motorcycling World Championship, World Superbike has its own amazing stories to tell, stories often very weird relative to what we are used to in MotoGP. When I went to shoot WSBK for the first time, some of my MotoGP buddies told me the same thing: don’t get spoiled, it’s a different world there. Indeed, one MotoGP veteran left Grand Prix to make his new home in WSBK and hired someone else to cover the Aliens on his behalf.

Instead of three riders on the grid fighting among themselves for the victory, WSBK saw six different winners in the first six races of the 2012 season. Instead of three manufacturers (well, two, really) fighting for wins in MotoGP, five stood atop the WSBK podium in those first six races. With one race weekend to go, nine riders have won races. Compared to MotoGP, talk about weird!

Instead of riders over 30-years-old being hounded by lightning-fast 20-somethings, riders seem to bloom around 40, enjoying second or even third winds in their careers. The lower level of technology allows rider experience to count against the raw physical talent of youth. The playing field is more even, the racing is less about having the latest parts that separate the factory teams from the satellite ones.

Tom Sykes is a motorbike racer who could be the next WSBK world champion, and a protagonist in a story remarkably different from the usual MotoGP fare. Sykes is 30.5 points behind Biaggi with one round, two races, and 50 points to go.

If you want to talk to Sykes, you don’t need to appeal to his team or personal media officer for time on his schedule, and then hope you rate well enough that you’ll be fit in among the many demands for his precious time. You just wait for Tom to change out of his leathers, and then ask if he has a few minutes.

When he says yes, you appreciate his earnest smile, his appreciation of your interest in what he has to say and what’s going on in his bid to become WSBK champ. You might be thrown off by his lack of worldly suspicion of the media, or the absent weariness with the noblesse oblige of endless interviews. You might be a bit off center yourself for the lack of supervision and the fact that there is no one there to protect Sykes from inappropriate or sensitive questions. An interview could be oddly just be like some guys chatting about motorcycle racing.

If you go to Tom’s website and click in the contact page you see this above the form: “If you would like to contact me then please fill out the contact form below. I will endevour (sic) to reply as soon as possible. Thank you for your interest.” That sounds to me like Tom just might reply himself.

Can you imagine any MotoGP title contender doing the same? And the typo is almost pleasantly human, unpolished by a top agency, the work of some regular person somewhere.

Every so often someone sounds off about the need to combine WSBK and MotoGP so that, among other reasons, there’s a single two-wheeled World Champion. But if that means losing WSBK as we know it today, the world of motorbike racing will have lost something very special.

The technology might not be as much of carbon fiber and titanium and software, but the racing is fantastic, and a guy who answers his own public contact inquires just might go on to be world champion.

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Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved