IVAN J. WAGAR
RACE FANS at American Motorcycle Championship races this year undoubtedly noticed the increasing number of stickies and decals on competitior’s machines. Some motorcycles, in fact, have so many of these little adhesive backed, decorative jobies plastered on fairings and seats that only the number plate is left uncluttered.
The reason for all this decoration is a very good one, namely contingency money. Except for a few free loaders, the stickies advertise products or firms offering monies above the purse to riders who do well in racing. Apart from the exposure realized by the stickie some of the firms receive little recognition for this very important contribution to our sport. And that’s the reason for this month’s column being devoted to contingency prizes.
Although contingency awards are not new in racing, it was virtually unheard of in AMA racing just four years ago. Because of their programs in car racing, Bell Helmets, in fact, was told by the AMA staff that contingency awards presented too much book work, and that the association did not have the staff to handle the “problem.” This attitude was quite a shock to Bell, as they were being solicited almost monthly by car racing organizations and drivers.
The AMA now, under the guidance of Russ March, not only permits, but solicits contingency prizes from legitimate firms with good products.
This past year some 26 firms actually paid out more than $100,000 in contingency awards. The Trans-AM A motocross series also will offer about $100,000. We have come a long way in just four years. Not all of the firms are industry giants. Some, in fact, are quite small, some with a very limited line of products, but all of them are doing something they don’t have to do to help the sport.
The extent of this help to our sport can be measured by a statement made to me by Mark Brelsford a couple of days after the Champion race at Ontario. The occasion was HarleyDavidson’s 1973 model showing to the press. Mark, our new National Number One, and a real great guy, received a bonus check for $10,000 from company VP John Davidson.
I was sitting with Mark, and asked him what was the figure we should use for publication for his earnings in motorcycle racing for 1972. He seemed a little confused and I explained that in
most sports the earnings are inflated in the press so as to bring more public attention to that sport. Mark told me that he hadn’t considered that angle,
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but that the bonus check brought his true earnings to more than $ 100,000 for the year. Mark hopes to double that figure in 1973. Product endorsements, long overlooked in the motorcycle racing world, will bring some coins into Mark’s pockets. He has already been contacted by two very large companies, and the products reflect the youthful motorcycle champion image.
What I’m trying to say is that we are on our way to the big time. The time is coming when our champions will not have to “graduate” to car racing, or work in a motorcycle shop after they have hung up their leathers. One of our greatest riders of all time, Carroll Resweber, now a racing technician at Harley-Davidson, recently remarked that riders now earn more in one race than he picked up all year as National Champion.
Another shot in the arm for the sport has been the sponsorship of major races by motorcycle companies. The nice people at Yamaha started the ball rolling when they got indoor short track into Madison Square Gardens, thus elevating motorcycling to a real sport level. Kawasaki followed suit by backing the Championship road race at Laguna Seca, long the mecca for the elite in car racing only.
Champion Spark Plugs footed the $50,000 purse for the Ontario classic in 1971, and lost money. Undaunted, Champion returned to sponsor the 1972 event. Although attendance was up for the second running of the race, Champion still is in the red. But the company feeling is that they believe in motorcycling and want to make some real contribution. Champion already has a sanction for the 1973 race, to be held in May.
One person that cannot be overlooked when giving out credit for bigger purses must be Bill France. Bill has hosted motorcycle races at Daytona every year since the Speedway opened. Bill says, “I’ve never made much money on the motorcycle races, but they are good people and I want to help the sport grow.” Another approach to putting extra money into riders’ pockets is lap money. To the best of my knowledge, the man that really got that program underway was AMA President J.R. Kelly. At Daytona two years ago, “JR” (usually a mild mannered sixfooter) persuaded firms to donate $100 a lap to the race leader. Kelly “sold” all 52 laps in two nights of campaigning the shows. The lap money program will continue to be promoted for the nine scheduled National road races for 1973.
Let’s try to make Mark our first Two Hundred Thou Champ.