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Thank you for all you do for our sport. Hey, I've been watching MXGP lately and I've been struck by the riding of both Tom Viall and Jorge Prado. Watching them perform leads me to believe we've entered a new era of beautiful mastery and we see it in their riding (most recently at Lommel). No, they are not perfect riders, but to watch them is to see all of the techniques and teachings around body positioning and becoming 'one with the bike' come alive. It is a beautiful thing to see and an inspiring level of mastery to pursue. Here in the US, I think Chase Sexton is often mentioned as being one of those with great form. Your thoughts? Are we seeing a changing of the guard driven in part by the maturing and mastering of what to teach and how to teach it in our sport?
You’re absolutely right about technique! If you go back to the 1980’s and 1990’s, any of those riders will tell you that things were much less refined back then. Training consisted of riding until you ran out of gas, running until you wanted to puke and eating boat loads of carbs and chugging Gatorade. There were no riding coaches preaching about the nuances of bike control back then, just the basics like elbows up, finger on the clutch and foot out when you round a turn. We’ve had some very influential riders since that time, including Jeremy McGrath, Ricky Carmichael, James Stewart and Stefan Everts that were used as the models for how to be a better rider. In the past, you could watch a GP racer and, regardless of the track, know instantly that he was a GP racer. Elbows were dropped, back was straight and stiff and bulky chest protectors under the jersey gave them an amateur hockey player look. Now you would be hard pressed to tell the difference from one continent to another, except that maybe the GP racers are in front of the American riders on the track.
Sexton, the Lawrence boys and Ken Roczen are the most impressive in terms of technique right now. All of them have a very neutral, balanced riding position that keeps the chassis calm and they all tend to ride in a lower RPM range, which also allows the bike to work better. Study these riders if you want to emulate somebody; this is the new way forward in motocross.
We always hear about the plight of the struggling privateer – you know, the guys at supercross and the nationals running around the country living out of their sprinter vans with 300,000 miles and eating cold Spaghetti-o’s out of the can with a spoke wrench. But, if you go to a big amateur race, it is toterhomes, toy haulers and rigs that would rival factory race teams to support little Johnny in the 50cc senior class. So, what happens to all of these “rich kids” from the big events as they get older? Obviously, they burn out, lose interest, can’t handle the competition or the parents who act like they have money actually run out once the third HELOC has them over-leveraged. Why do you think all of the “big money” we see at these amateur races seemingly disappears when you get to the pro level and it looks like either feast or famine with a lot of riders living from race-to-race?
I think if you went through the history books and did a study of all the greats, in our sport and others, you’d find that the most successful athletes come from very humble beginnings. Carmichael, Stewart, McGrath, Henry, Lusk, Hannah, to name a few, all grew up in lower middle-class families that had to work their asses off to get to the races. There is something about knowing that you don’t have any other options, and understanding the sacrifices that your folks made to give you the opportunity, that drives people to do whatever it takes to win. Carmichael went into detail about this on his episode of The Whiskey Throttle Show, if you want to hear it in his words. Or, again, look at a history book. In 1519, Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes was on a mission to conquer the Aztec Empire. He gave his men an order after they had all gone ashore to “burn the ships.” His reasoning was simple: His men would fight much harder if their only options were to win the battle or die right there on the shore; retreat was not an option. Staying alive is a hell of a motivator. Apply that to James Stewart, who knew that his family leveraged everything they had to give him a chance in the sport he loved. He was exceptional because he had no other choice.
Now, I’m not saying this is a pragmatic strategy. If you look at the odds of a young rider making it big in this sport, regardless of how talented he is, you’ll quickly realize you’d be better off pulling all the equity out of your house and betting it in on one hand of blackjack in Vegas. At least in a smoky casino you’ll get free drinks and maybe even a comped room after you’ve spent every last dime. But there is no doubt that having your back up against the wall brings out a determination that you’d otherwise lack.
So, while those wealthy families that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to go racing look great, it is no guarantee of success. I don’t mean to slander those affluent folks in the sport, either, I’m just pointing to the historical record. The time you spend as a family doing something you all love together (assuming that is the case) is priceless, and money well-spent, in my opinion. I just think that families with money will reason with their child at some point that being a pro racer just isn’t in the cards for them and, for their own sake, they need to consider another career path. Some privateers are too stubborn to see that, or they love racing so much they are willing to eek out a living racing bikes for as long as they are able to do it. There is nothing wrong with either of those choices, they are just two different ideologies.
First off Ping,
Always been a huge fan of yours when you were lining up on the 1994 RM125 with full JT gear, so 1990’s! Plus, I anxiously await every Whiskey Throttle show to come out so I have something to listen to while I wrench on my green steed in the garage. GL and yourself are doing wonderful things for the moto community and I applaud you both for your efforts. And a shout out to Donnie B, the man behind the scenes is good at what he does!
Anyway, I was wondering after your small, but Oscar-nominated performance in the movie “Supercross” in 2005, have you ever thought of getting into the acting scene? I’m pretty sure you could have added some major flare in “Bennett’s War” and maybe even you could do a Fresno Smooth reboot with Fro and Seth! Keep up the great work Ping and enjoy the test bikes.
Thanks for the support over all these years! Man, you’re going back to the early 1990’s, which makes us both pretty damn old. Or is “experienced” a better term? Supercross: The Movie was supposed to be the motocross feature film that brought the sport to the masses, like Days of Thunder did for NASCAR. Sadly, we didn’t have Jerry Bruckheimer producing it or Tom Cruise starring in it. While it did have some great talent like Channing Tatum, Sofia Bush, Daryl Hannah and Robert Patrick, it really got screwed up in editing. Acting is a whole other animal, and I am not nearly narcissistic enough to pull that off.
I did perform the stunt work for one of the main characters, along with Dave Castillo, Rich Taylor and Tyler Evans. We were shooting with cameras that were so much better than anything we had seen in the racing world to that point and the raw footage we saw was insane! We were sure the movie was going to be awesome. But they chopped up the footage, edited in two-stroke sounds over four-stroke bikes, and stuck in these ridiculous close-ups of the rider’s goggles that made it feel cheesier than a block of Velveeta.
That said, the money was great. I made close to $25,000 for a couple weeks of work and one stunt, or “gag,” as they call it. I had to dive off my bike off a triple and land in some cardboard boxes; it was pretty sketchy and I earned all the money I made for that segment. But to make it in that world, you have to fully commit. Dave Castillo and Andy Harrington did just that, with the help of a couple stunt coordinators who liked motocross. They made themselves available for anything and everything that came along, and they’ve turned it into a very lucrative career. I just wasn’t as passionate about it and I didn’t want to be away on-set in different states for weeks or months at a time. My wife and I just had kids around that time and I wanted to be home more, not less. Still, it’s a pretty cool job if you can get your foot in the door.
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