August 08, 2006

Motorcycles: Things I Just Don't Get

There has long been a gap or two in sports coverage in North America that I simply don't understand.

The lack of popularity of hockey in the United States, for one. That's changing now, with the massive increase in the number of rinks over the past 10 years directly attributable to NHL expansion. For example, there were two ice rinks in Texas when the Stars came to Dallas, and now there are over a dozen professional hockey teams in that state. It'll be a while, but hockey will become more popular down south.

The other, more puzzling question is why motorcycle racing is actually difficult to find anywhere in North America outside of specialty channels. It's true, there has been frequent internal conflict and politics in motorbike racing, and a confusion of what bikes qualify for which races under what rules. (Part of this is because the technology in race bikes get upgraded every year, making it hard for race organizers to keep up, and believe you me that technology ends up on the street! Imagine buying a car that's 4 or 5 km/h slower and maybe 5kg heavier than a Formula 1 racer for $12,000 to get some idea of what I mean...) But in the real world, those conflicts are boardroom troubles, not things that casual fans care much about, or even know about.

In any case, the strange lack of air time was brought home to me after watching Troy Baliss and Noriyugi Haga fight a brilliant match in the second race at Brands Hatch today. It was on Speed Channel and nowhere else, despite being a fast, tough, and yes dangerous sport. Part of the reason may be because of a dearth of North Americans tiding at the top of the field in World Super Bike competition, but it's not like that's the only circuit out there.

I'm going to mention a few veteran Canadian racers, because I'm Canadian, damnit, and these guys were a few of the best riders in the world and I haven't heard a thing about them in the main stream media up here, even when Canadians Paul Tracy, Jacques Villeneuve, Patrick Carpentier, Scott Goodyear and the late Greg Moore were all racing cars (and doing well, I might add). So here's my small attempt to correct a major oversight in sports.

Pascal Picotte

When Harley-Davidson went back to the race track in 1994 with their VR1000, this is who they eventually chose as their pilot. He brought the technologically-plagued program their only podium finishes in 1999 before they quit racing in 2001. He's raced for Yamaha, Ducati, Kawasaki and Suzuki as well, and has been racing in the American Motorcycle Association championships since 1992. He came back to Canada in 2003, winning the superbike and 600cc championships in 2003 and 2004, and now owns and helps run Picotte Performance while still racing.

His biggest downside is his habit of breaking himself: in this year's Parts Canada Superbike Championship season opener at Shannonville in May, for instance, he managed a fourth place finish despite breaking four vertebrae, a toe, and having injuries to both knees sustained in a pre-season crash in April. July's race saw him finish 3rd, so he seems to be healing nicely.

He's raced karts, stock cars and snowmobiles, too, and has three tracks on his property in his birthplace of Granby, Quebec.

Steve Crevier

The man from Maple Ridge has five Canadian Superbike championships and one AMA 600 Supersport championship and almost 20 AMA podium finishes to his name; he's got the most wins in Canadian roadracing history, was last year's Canadian 600cc champion. For three years (1991 - 93), he was racing in three different AMA streetbike catagories. This year, he doesn't even have a ride in Canada. Go fig.

He is racing a Buell XB-RR in some events of the AMA Formula Xtreme series for Picotte Performance/Deeley Harley-Davidson (finishing 9th in his latest race), but otherwise with Honda pulling it's factory team in favour of the Red Rider privateer support program, he's a pedestrian this year.

Miguel Duhamel

Unquestionably the best street racer ever to come from Canada. Born in LaSalle in 1968, he entered his first motorcycle race in 1976 and the only times he's looked back is to see other riders. You can tell this family loves riding: his brother Mario is also a professional racer, and his father Yvon won the first AMA national superbike race at Laguna Seca in 1974. He's universally respected and (almost) universally liked in the racing world, something that's very rare in any competitive sport.

The 1991 AMA 600 and Daytona 200 champion and 1993 AMA 600 repeat champion was the first rider to race the Harley-Davidson VR1000 in 1994: he even managed to qualify in the front row in Ohio that year, leading the race until the shift lever fell off.

He went back to Honda in 1995, winning the superbike and supersport championships. He's been with Honda ever since, and has amassed an amazing record over his career:

Supersport (600cc)
Five championships
One third place overall
One fifth place overall

One championship
Three second place overall
Three third place overall
Three fifth overall

Daytona 200
Five Superbike wins
One Superbike second overall
One Supersport (600cc) win

Formula Xtreme
Two championships

The guy is now 38 years old, but if you think he'd be slowing down, last year was when he won his fifth Daytona 200, his second Formula Xtreme, and got fifth in Superbike. As of this year, he holds the records for the most Supersport race wins (41), the longest winning streak (10 races in a row, 6 in a row in Superbike), the last rider to win the Supersport and Superbike championships in the same year (1995), and is second in career Superbike wins with 32. This year so far he's racing only in the Superbike series, where he has 11 top-five finishes in the first 14 races, sitting him in third place overall. This, on a bike that is still in development, the new CBR1000RR.

This year, he's following well behind the impressive Matt Mladin and a shockingly good Ben Spies, both of whom are riding the rock-solid Suzuki GSX-R1000s. This year, those two are out of reach, but I'd place no bets against him for 2007...

So those are the old guys. Who else is there? Well, I wouldn't be surprised if 27-year old Jordan Szoke got a call from a U.S. team real soon - he's been racing professionally in Canada for 11 years now (you do the math), and has two championships to his credit. Matt McBride is another rider that is well worth watching, but he hasn't been riding very long, so we'll see where he unds up in three years.


posted by Thursday at 12:03 pm


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