Empire of Dirt Column

Steve Cox | April 3, 2019

Empire of Dirt

COLUMN

“Pointing Out” Should Not Exist

At the Seattle Supercross, points contender Shane McElrath elected not to race, citing a back injury he suffered at his previous round (in Atlanta) that he had re-aggravated early in the week before Seattle. It generated some controversy because, had he raced the Seattle round (if, indeed, he was healthy enough to race in his usual capacity), the TLD/Red Bull KTM Team rider would’ve almost certainly “pointed out” of the 250cc class in supercross and would’ve been forced to race the 450cc class in 2020.

This is how the rule is written in the AMA Rulebook:

Effective with the 2007 season points, riders earning at least 135 250SX Championship points in a nine-race season, 120 250SX Championship points in an eight-race season, or 105 250SX Championship points in a seven-race season, in four seasons of 250SX competition will be ineligible for the 250SX class.

  1. If the number of events in each of the 250SX class regions is different, the number of events used for points will be based on the smaller number. (i.e., if there are eight West events and seven East events, the West riders would throw out their worst finish for a maximum total of seven events)

This isn’t a controversy at all. This “pointing out” rule shouldn’t exist.

Empire of Dirt Column in Cycle News by Steve Cox
Shane McElrath is on the verge of “pointing out” of the 250cc class. Photo: Steve Cox

Sometimes, it almost seems like some of the people making the rules at the top of our sport don’t want to keep racers around. Careers are so short as it is in motocross and supercross racing that most of the best racers in our sport’s history end up retiring less than 10 years after the public even hears their name for the first time. It’s among our sport’s biggest weaknesses in drawing fan numbers and ratings like other motorsports (NASCAR, F1, MotoGP, etc.).

Fans typically aren’t just fans of the sport itself, but specific racers as well. The longer those racers stay around, the longer their fans do, and the more fans the racers can get behind them. The powers that be have known this for quite a while, and I know this because I talked to many of them about it as long ago as the early 2000s. Despite this knowledge, they still allowed the destructive WADA drug-testing program to take hold in our sport. That program has predictably ended the careers of at least two factory racers (one of whom was one of the greatest stars the sport has ever seen) who were not cheating, while catching exactly zero racers who were using true performance-enhancing drugs (like EPO, steroids or HGH).

This “pointing out” rule is just as potentially destructive as the current drug-testing rules are (and, from what I understand, at least with the drug-testing idiocy, Feld and the AMA are working on a solution). Remember a couple of seasons ago when Martin Davalos raced a 450 full-time outdoors and scored a bunch of podium finishes? He had fantastic speed late in the series. He tried to get a 450cc ride. There weren’t any. He’s still racing 250s.

Why do this to these racers at all? Why force them out of the class just by scoring an arbitrary number of points over an arbitrary number of years? How does this help anything whatsoever?

The logic back when Todd Jendro was in charge at the promoter (Feld/Live Nation/Clear Channel) was that he wanted to make the 450cc field deeper and more competitive by forcing top talent out of the 250cc class. How’s that working out? The field is no deeper, and no more competitive because there is essentially the same number of rides available today as there were then. The best way to make sure the 450cc field is deep is to do everything we can to make sure as many 450cc racers as possible finish the series. With Chad Reed and Justin Brayton just exiting the championship after their massive crash in Seattle, we are now left with seven racers—Cooper Webb, Marvin Musquin, Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Blake Baggett, Dean Wilson, and Justin Bogle—after 12 rounds, who may complete all 17 rounds. That’s it. And we still have five races left.

We need to keep top racers on the track as long as they want to be, and can be. That’s how you build a fan base.

It’s true that the 250cc class is meant to be an introduction to supercross racing, and ultimately a building block into the 450cc class, but if you can win without beating talent like Martin Davalos, Zach Osborne (over the last few years), Christian Craig, Jimmy Decotis, Jeremy and Alex Martin, etc., then who are you really beating anyway? If every racer who could point out of the 250cc class actually did, there’d be nobody left in the class for the young guys to learn from.

If one guy starts winning 250cc titles all the time and never moves up to the 450cc class (unlikely, since 450cc guys get paid way more and 450cc teams would want that guy), that could be a problem. So I would support a rule to force people out of the class after they win a maximum of two 250cc SX titles (not consecutively, and perhaps even with a caveat after a certain number of years without success in the 450cc class, they can opt to move back down again), but that’s all we need.

“But Steve, why don’t we just make it a National Championship like the 450cc class?” you might ask.

Because, if we do that, we essentially cut the number of available 250cc rides in half. All these 250cc teams with four-to-five guys (so they can have two guys on each coast, plus one insurance policy against having too many injured racers)? Those teams would end up paying more to their racers (closer to 450cc salaries), and there’d be two-three riders on each team just like in the 450cc class today. And the young talent wouldn’t even get a shot most of the time because the team slots would be filled by proven talent. Safe bets. And with the amount of money it takes to make a 250cc engine competitive, racing as a privateer (and actually competing) with the Pro Circuit, Star Racing, Geico, JGR, Husqvarna and KTM teams would be impossible.

I can see it now: After a few years of very few new, young racers making their way into supercross, someone would have a bright idea. “Hey, we should add regional championships (‘regional’ to save on travel expenses), where younger racers can learn the ropes of supercross racing without going broke trying to compete with the factories.”

Round and round we go. We need to do away with the “pointing out” rule, but leave the rest just as it is.CN

 

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Steve Cox

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