Motorcycle racing in the United States of America was virtually on life support just five years ago. I knew thatt MotoAmerica suffered a blow to the hands with the King of baggers series when I attended a closed-door race last fall, but had no idea how incredibly receptive the two-wheeler community would be until this weekend’s crowd was likely to be record breaking at Laguna Seca.
Even top international series like MotoGP and World Superbike could no longer justify making it to the world-famous Laguna Seca after 2015, thanks to fewer crowds and waning interest. When MotoGP upped the ante in 2013, the WSBK tried it for a while, but a few years later it was also gone. Terrible straits.
Meanwhile, the American region the feeder series, AMA Superbikes, was flat. A quartet of enthusiasts, led by legendary racer Wayne Rainey, founded MotoAmerica as the new promoter of Superbikes, and vowed to bring the series back from the brink. Despite a global pandemic, I can say with certainty that they have all succeeded in doing so. The bikes are back, baby!
(Full disclosure: Indian Motorcycle Company saw how much I loved MotoAmerica last year and asked if I would like to attend the race. While I must have missed Saturday’s debates for Radwood NorCal, I got up early Sunday to watch the races in Monterey. Indian organized my media passes. I paid for my own food and fuel, although I got a few free beers on Motul Oil’s dime.)
I swung up to the San Mateo track early Sunday morning, running my new ambulance on its own maiden voyage. It served incredibly well, despite coming back from the track be hot as shit and not have functional air conditioning.
From the moment I arrived, I knew the series had produced a winner. Last fall when I was here everything was empty thanks to the COVID closures. The paddock was half full, the parking lots were empty and there were a few campers parked at the various locations on the track. Nine months later, the whole track was packed. I’ve seen a few sports car races here that haven’t drawn that level of crowd.
Not only was there the traditional European and ASian sports cyclists on hand to check out the Superbike, Stock 1000 and Twins Cup pros on the circuit, but there was a level of leather-clad neck and fist-tattooed v-twin racers to fill out an episode of Sons of Anarchy. Has a member of the Hells Angels gone out of his way to to attend an AMA event in 2013? I’m not going to speak for him, but I doubt it. Throw a few American potato runners on the track, however, and he’s interested in the whole shooting game.
King of the Baggers was tested in one go at the end of 2020 and it was immediately the most watched video MotoAmerica had ever posted on its YouTube channel. Okay, so it’s a success. The series extended the KotB Championship to three rounds in 2021, and Laguna Seca was the last round of three (after Road Atlanta and Road America). Next year the series will likely expand again, and riders are hoping they can get those giant fairing bikes to work on the high shores of Daytona. I don’t know about you, but it looks awesome!
In addition to the KotB firecrackers, MotoAmerica added another incredibly addicting class to the mix. This time around, they harnessed the marketing magic of Roland Sands, transporting his Super Hooligans series to the big leagues. Super Hooligans was created as a multidisciplinary series for a wide variety of compact bare bikes to run with American Flat Track. This series rocks on earth, but it’s even cooler on a big track like Laguna Seca. Some of the runners in this class had never set foot on a road course, but it produced the typical fight that Hooligans are known for. Sands built this magnificent Chief for Super Hooligan races, and I’ll get a full look at the bike later this week.
Something else caught my eye at the bottom of the paddock, the Suicide Machine Co. team running a pair of LiveWire One machines in Super Hooligans. From what I can tell the bikes were largely stock, save wheels and tires, and a bit of tweaking. This is another team that I will be chatting with later this week to get the full rundown. They didn’t go very fast, finishing 20th and 22nd out of 22 bikes, but for a first outing it was really cool to see them come out of the corners. More on these later.
The sports bike stuff was there too. And the race was great, as usual. Not much to say about it, however, as it has largely been the same for over a decade.
I spoke to a MotoAmerica representative on Sunday who could not confirm the exact numbers yet, but said it was a record number of entries for a MotoAmerica weekend and a number record of pre-order tickets sold. They didn’t want to say for sure that this was a bigger crowd than the one World Superbikes had drawn before they pulled out, but he was pretty sure it would be when the counts were finally done. From what I’ve seen with my own eyes – a full paddock, a full parking lot, and a full campground – I believe every word.
The crowd was awesome as everyone was having a blast cheering on bikes and cyclists outside of their own riding discipline. Anything MotoAmerica can do to bring the riders together and support each other is great. Enthusiasm for cycling is definitely growing, but instead of watching or discouraging riding, we should all come together as a community to bring others into the fold. We can only do this together, and MotoAmerica seems to have discovered just that.
Clearly there was a pent-up demand for in-person presence after we had all been locked in our homes for so long. Fortunately, the number of vaccines continues to grow and people have plenty of room in Laguna to spread out, as this is just the hit in the arm (pun absolutely wanted) that the series and the bike in general needed. I had a very enjoyable Sunday and would recommend anyone who can buy tickets to the next MotoAmerica event to visit anywhere near you.
What a murderous day. Even with the huge sunburn I got.
If you want to experience racing, and I recommend it, check out these videos below.
The Super Hooligans race was amazing, and although tThe KTMs really got away with it, they harassed each other until the end. It is worth mentioning that Patricia Fernandez finished an impressive fifth in her class in this race on an Indian FTR1200. Jalopnik Bump!
And the King of the Baggers race was just as fun to watch. With a huge grid, everything was going well for the start to go well. Indian Challenger rider on pole sitting Tyler O’Hara missed the start, allowing Harley’s Kyle Wyman to take the lead and walk away with a plaque in his arm from a broken bone a few weeks ago. Wyman managed to do faster laps in the race than in qualifying, so it wasn’t even a fair fight up front, but every position behind was hotly contested. With a lap of 1: 31.1 during the race, Wyman clocked times similar to those of the top ten sports bikes in the Twins Cup. runners. Damn, his bagger was showing times that would have qualified him for the Superbikes grid!
This stop on the calendar will be on my visit list for pretty much the next decade or so as long as they have some big V-twins on hand for my enjoyment. I can only imagine how much faster the Baggers will be in 2022.