2014 Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Edwards Retires, Blandspeak Returns, And The Dearth Of US Racers

It was fitting – some might say inevitable – that Colin Edwards chose the Grand Prix of the Americas in his home state of Texas to announce his retirement. He had just spent the last couple of weeks at home, with his growing kids, doing dad stuff like taking them to gymnastics and baseball and motocross, then hosted a group, including current GP riders and a couple of journos, at his Bootcamp dirt track school. He had had time to mull over his future, then talk it over with his wife Ally, and come to a decision. There wasn't really a much better setting for the double World Superbike champion to announce he was calling it quits than sitting next to former teammate Valentino Rossi, the American he fought so memorably with in 2006, Nicky Hayden, the latest US addition to the Grand Prix paddock Josh Herrin, and with Marc Marquez, prodigy and 2013 MotoGP champion. It felt right. Sad, but right.

You can read the full story of Edwards' retirement here, but his announcement highlighted two different problems for motorcycle racing. One local, one global, and neither particularly easy to fix. The loss of Colin Edwards sees the MotoGP paddock, indeed all of international motorcycle racing, robbed of its most outspoken and colorful character. Edwards was a straight talker, with a colorful turn of phrase and uninhibited manner of speech. His interviews were five parts home truths, five parts witticisms and a handful of obscenities thrown in for good measure. He livened up press conferences, racing dinners, and casual conversations alike.

With Edwards gone, motorcycle racing is a much blander, less appealing place. Though Edwards was always careful not to upset sponsors too much, he refused to toe the line and just spout the politically acceptable line handed down by his corporate paymasters. He spoke his mind, complained when he was annoyed, gave praise where it was due, and always, always entertained. His interviews never contained the phrase 'I'd like to thank my sponsors,' a phrase which has even percolated down to the level of five and six year olds racing as Supercross support classes. Edwards was anything but bland, he may have been loose cannon, but everything he said was memorable. It may not necessarily have been printable, but it was definitely memorable.

With corporate backing and sponsors PR legions sucking the life out of rider statements, Edwards showed that a different way was possible. He was paid well above his performance scale because he attracted media attention. Fans loved him, supported him, the media covered him. Contrast that with the modern breed of riders who mouth nothing but sponsor-approved platitudes, and you can see who will make more of an impact on the visibility of a sponsor's product. Colin Edwards had personality, and sponsors, and most of all the sport benefited massively from his presence. Motorcycle racing just became a much, much harder sell with Edwards gone.

That is a problem which cannot be easily fixed. It requires sponsors not killing off any form of individuality right from the very beginning of a rider's career. It requires series organizers to nurture openness over obedience. That is a risk, but it is one which will pay off in the end. Loud mouths and colorful characters will attract more people to the sport than corporate yes men. This lesson will almost certainly go unheeded, however. It is easier to take the safe, short-term money than to gamble on a big pay off down the road.

The lack of characters in motorcycle racing makes the problem of a dearth of US talent in world championship racing look easier to solve. The loss of Edwards leaves Nicky Hayden as the last American rider in MotoGP, along with Josh Herrin in Moto2, if his contract is extend into 2015. Hayden is no spring chicken – the Kentucky Kid-no-more will be 33 this July – and though he still has a couple of seasons left in him, he is closer to the end than the beginning of his career. Herrin has had a rough start to Moto2, finding himself immersed in arguably the toughest class in motorcycle racing, with 20 riders on the same pace. The future for US fans hoping to cheer for an American rider looks pretty bleak at the moment.

What can be done to fix the situation? I asked Edwards, Hayden and Herrin in the press conference, and there was some pretty broad agreement. 'They need to come up with a good series to bring them,' Edwards said. At the moment, the AMA championship lacked depth of competition. 'Like Josh [Herrin] said, there are four or five guys there. You look at the way the CEV championship works in Spain, it just works. So for it to happen over here, it needs to be something more like that.' Edwards said.

Nicky Hayden highlighted the financial plight of motorcycle road racing in the US as one major factor in its decline. 'One of the problems started some years ago when the economy went down,' Hayden said. 'The young kids with the talent weren't getting the opportunities, because the rides were going to the kids probably with less talent and less desire who were paying for the rides. That wasn't just in America, but the good kids who you thought really had potential weren't coming up with anybody who could pay the bills, and had to go and get real jobs. That's a big problem.'

As for the AMA series, Hayden chose his words carefully. 'I don't want to be too negative, but with only five races, two-day events, that's not going to give a sixteen, seventeen year old kid a lot of experience, so that makes it tough,' Hayden explained. 'And as we know, the competition is what brings out the best in everyone, so if there's three or four fast guys right now, that's not really pushing everyone to the maximum, whereas in Spain you have twenty guys coming fast. And as much as I hate to say it, I think young Americans, they can maybe still come though Superbike, but at the moment, all the fast guys in MotoGP are coming through Moto2. So I think that's probably the best route.'

Josh Herrin backed both Edwards and Hayden. 'We need to have some more rounds in the AMA, and maybe get the racing a bit more competitive,' Herrin told the press conference. 'But kinda like he said, seems like there's a lot of people who pay for rides, and I know a few of them had to go get some real jobs and couldn't afford to go and race, except for maybe one or two rounds. But it's pretty tough trying to come up in road racing in America. It's not as easy as it is over in Europe, that's for sure,' Herrin added.

In an interview with Crash.net, retired racer Ben Spies agreed that having just five rounds in the AMA Superbike series really hurt racing in the US. But Spies pointed to the fact that racing had remained strong in Spain despite the economic crisis. 'I'm a little bit irked by it because the economy is bad, and it was really bad, but look how many Spanish riders there are and look at their economy,' Spies said. That was down to commitment to motorcycle racing, with Spies suggesting that Dorna should take over the AMA, to nurture US talent and provide a refuge for European talent which failed to make the grade initially in Europe.

Spies singled out one rider who he felt belonged in the premier class. Cameron Beaubier, who took Josh Herrin's place at Yamaha in AMA Superbikes, was good enough to take on the best riders in the world, Spies told Crash.net. 'The kid has got massive amounts of talent and I always notice that no matter where he is and what class he is racing in if someone goes faster he finds a way to go faster.'

In conversations this evening, MotoMatters.com photographer pointed out a few poignant facts to counter the arguments put forward by Edwards, Hayden and Herrin. Was a strong AMA series really that important? Did a new series along the lines of the Red Bull Rookies Cup or Asia Talent need to be set up to nurture American talent?

There was such a series: There was a US version of the Red Bull Rookies Cup, run in the US. It ran for two seasons before they had to abandon the series, after KTM withdrew support from their 125 cc bikes. Though that two-year series had brought on talent, none had gone on to win very much.

The same is true for the American entrants for the Red Bull Rookies Cup. The European-based version of the series has already had two American champions, with both Jake Gagne and JD Beach having lifted the crown. Both Gagne and Beach are now racing in the US, Gagne in Daytona Sportbike, Beach in AMA Flat Track. Cameron Beaubier had a rough season in 125s alongside Marc Marquez, struggling with injury, but is now racing in the AMA with the factory Yamaha team. Joe Roberts was another Red Bull Rookie who had some success, though eventually, money forced him back to the US, where he is now racing for John Ulrich's Roadracing World team.

So the problem seems not to lie in competition, or having a strong series, the issue seems to be mainly one of backing. If racing in the US were not an option, teams and sponsors should send their riders to Europe to cut their teeth, and back them on their way through the ranks. Sadly, American sponsors are not interested in long-term projects to bring on talent though multiple years. In a time when instant success is demanded, nobody has the patience to wait out several years for a rider to come good.

The problems of American road racing will not be fixed on Friday. But there will be bikes on track, and for a few blissful minutes, we can forget about the dearth of Young American Riders. But it is a problem which needs to be faced. The USA is the world's biggest market, and any progress with Americans in Grand Prix racing is welcome. Whatever your feelings about the role of the USA, if MotoGP can tap into the vast potential of American TV, then both the US and the sport can continue to grow. Fingers crossed.

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Really needs to get back to Europe. One season in BSB perhaps and then off to WSB?

Despite all the people who've come through the UK and how good the BSB series is in it's own right, there's still something not quite right about it as a feeder for MotoGP. From the UK, It's easy to suggest that the AMA need to send a few people over to the UK to study what Stuart Higgs is doing right and how to transplant that back to the USA. But it may still not generate world class riders or get them rides in competitive teams in world championships.

I don't think there can ever be guarantees in Motorsport. Even some of the best 125 riders (world champions) have gone on to disappear.

But, I think it's the case of providing high level competition with profressional teams, the riders stand more of a chance of making it out the other side. BSB provides arguably more of that at the moment than it has done at any point in the past, and certainly a lot more than AMA in its current incarnation.

I do think Spain benefits as motorbikes are practically a national sport there, narrowly behind football and the top riders are all household names - as such the national level racing is tremendously well supported and teams have no trouble getting sponsored. Contract with the US; will never forget seeing Kenny Roberts JR going on to the court at the start of an NBA game to throw some hoops (as 500cc WC) and the collective murmuring of 'who'? from the crowd..

So, Spain's economy may be down the tubes, but the bikes are getting a much bigger proportion of the overall pie, certainly compared to the US. If I was a US rider trying to make it in the modern era, I would head straight for Europe.

I think that big part of the lack of riders' personalities is due to the fact that none of the top racers are native English speakers. It's really hard to express yourself in original and creative ways when you don't command the language well. Except for Rossi, but to me that's more like an exception that proves the rule. Listening to Stoner's, who wasn't much of a talker, post race interviews was much more interesting than to the ones given by the Spaniards. Generally, southern europeans don't speak English very well and what you get usually is "i give 100 per cent and zen i push!" :D

Hard to show much personality through that, even if there is some.

And 'I am so 'appy, thank you for the bike, small mistake, etc etc' yes Colin will be missed in the paddock but us here in tv land have missed him for years. He has stuck around a little too long though I'm just glad he has kept his health. Now he can get back to Texas sized steaks and beer. All the best Colin and thanks for the good memories.

There have been some riders whose personality has come accross well despite the language barrier - Haga springs to mind for instance.

In the current crop, Sandro Cortese just because he is so ridiculously OTT (although his English is admittedly excellent)

I'm always surprised to see so many team PR people in the press conferences. They aren't going to ask any questions, so why are they there? Just to stare sternly at the riders???

Where's the coverage? Where are the billboards? Where are the commercials? Where are the endorsements? I know this is shocking to the racing freaks here, but precisely zero people I know--friends, family, coworkers, ZERO people--would know the name of a single MotoGP rider were it not for me. Most still don't. I'm doubting 98% of Americans even know what MotoGP is. And AMA roadracing? Similar story. If you don't ride a sport bike, subscribe to a motorcycling magazine, or happen to hear about it via word of mouth, your life will carry blissfully on in Anywhere, USA without you realizing at all that people actually race motorcycles on road courses.

I think you can point the finger at the economy, talented riders no longer being able to afford rides, at a mismanaged domestic series, or whatever, but to me it's a game of sheer numbers. No American has a prayer at winning (or at this point even racing) at the highest level because the candidate pool is such slim pickings. The pickings are slim because very few kids have any exposure to the sport.

It comes down to a different biker culture here, with Harley still dominating the street sales, and what corporate interests have chosen to market to people (or not market to people). You can't drive two blocks without seeing a billboard featuring wannabe pirates riding 800 pound fashion accessories, but where's Marc Marquez on a Wheaties box? Where's Lorenzo in an XBOX commercial? Where are those late race passes from Qatar on the SportsCenter Top 10? Hell, where's ANY MotoGP coverage ANYWHERE at ESPN.com!? You can seriously click a link off the main page that takes you to bass fishing--freaking bass fishing!--and yet it is impossible to find any MotoGP news at the website of the inventor of the 24 hour sports network.

And let's not forget the inexcusably awful TV coverage of the events themselves, when there is any, although this has already been beaten to death here.

AMA Supercross is a great counterexample to the economy destroying American roadracing. A lot of kids have dirt bikes, tracks are everywhere, the races are plentiful, covered extensively on TV, marketed well, and the riders themselves get great exposure in the media and via sponsors. I know the Supercross near me sells out every year, so they must be doing something right.

Put roadracing heroes in front of kids' eyeballs, and you'll get kids to race.

This had to come and I'm not surprised, but yet another 'character' is lost from the sport, and it will suffer accordingly.

Pleased to say I saw his last ever podium in the wet race at Silverstone 2 or 3 years ago when he was still with Tech 3. He got the biggest cheer of all on the final lap, the Brit fans certainly think he's great.

All the best to Colin, a class rider and real entertainer.

That weekend at Silverstone when he got on the rostrum a week after breaking his collarbone was also memorable for another reason:


I've seen Colin come up back in the mid nineties in the Superbike world championship (then as Colin Edwards III), seen him win on The RC45 and VTR1000 SP1/2's, riding the brutal Aprilia RS3 Cube and so on. He's always been a great character. Too bad he just missed out on that MotoGP win back in 2006 at Assen, when he outbraked himself in the last corner.

After the Pedrosa/Hayden incident at Estoril in 2006 and Puig stating that Honda didn't give team orders, Edwards noted that Yamaha didn't issue any formal team orders either... "but I ain't a f**ing retard".

This is from Julian Ryder in the official 2006 MotoGP Season Review book. Ryder, in a great display of British understatement, noted that the comment displayed "a certain lack of political correctness".

Note to self: of course it's Colin Edwards II, not the third. Got myself a bit too much impressed I guess...

The only Aus racers that are going to come through the system are already in Spain, including Wayne gardner's sons, and I'm fairly sure Jack Miller and Arthur Sissis didn't hang around in Australia before trying to get a break overseas, our domestic comps here are fractured, local tv coverage is patchy at best and anyone who is any good heads to Europe cause that is their only hope. unfortunately mediocre racers with a lot of money and backing will take over from the really talented penniless ones.

If you put the average MotoGP race in front of an American audience (and they have...Laguna and others were on NBC pretty recently), do you know who will watch? No one. They'll tune out because most MotoGP races (like F1 races) are boring. As Juan Pablo Montoya put it on Top Gear when interviewed by Richard Hammond: You have more passes in one lap in NASCAR than you do in Formula1.

How do you fix that? I don't know, but I know the one person responsible for getting a lot of butts in the seats was Valentino Rossi, who has said he'd rather race another guy than lap out in front with a 10 second lead. He battled everyone (Biaggi, Gibernau, et al.) and he really didn't have to. Remember his battles with Lorenzo?

It's also the culture: the Health and Safety KGB in America have taken over. "My 13 year old child on a motorcycle going 100 mph? Are you crazy?" Parents aren't letting their kids play football (U.S. version) because their of fear of concussions. Heck, we are the only parents that we know of that let our kids play outside unsupervised. As for Supercross, it is acceptable because those are just "dirt bikes." To be honest, Supercross really doesn't have the ratings that we as motorcyclists would like, as it's watched by kids. Go to your local and ask people who James Stewart is and 99% of the time you'll get the actor from "It's a Wonderful Life."

So part of it is marketing: Witness any video on MotoGP and you will see crashes...lots and lots of crashes. Personally, I don't get the attraction, but apparently marketers have determined that people watch racing for the crashes. Couple that with the "Safety First" culture, and MotoGP is doomed in the U.S.

If the races were more like a 600 Supersport race, MotoGP would be more popular.

I don't have to say it because they are spot on. I will add that a BIG reason is because American kids don't grow up riding mini bikes like European kids do. They spend all their time playing stick and ball sports and video games.

Also, the dollar is king in America. If some of our major corporations would get involved with sponsoring/promoting motorcycle road racing (like in Supercross) it would explode. Problem is, none of the corporate execs have ever ridden a mini bike in their youth. And the beat goes on.

And finally, put Josh Hayes on an M1 like Jorge's and Americans will have something to cheer about this weekend (and beyond)!

Was hoping he'd make one more run in WSBK, but oh well... he's accomplished much. Like Nicky said, he's got a lot to look forward to, onward!

The cynic in me says that DMG bought the rights to AMA Roadracing so they could run it into the ground just when it was at its peak and making (however so small) gains on the beloved NASCAR, but that is conversation for another day. ;)

I know money plays a huge part and when the economy took a downturn, Companies and Sponsors have to be more cautious where they choose to spend their advertising dollars.

The biggest problem in the US is that it has been and maybe always will be an automobile culture. Regardless of the economy, America is still a country of excess and when kids turn 16 and can drive, parents put them in a car. Drive by any US high school. How many motorcycles do you see in the parking lot?

Motorcycles are a luxury item or recreational item in the US. It is not that way in Europe.

How to change it? I don't know if it can be changed. Maybe as the World and the US go greener, perhaps small motorcycles and scooter will be considered as a viable form of transportation, but US winters/cold weather will have a say in that.

Americans rose to the top in road racing because the stars were aligned. The bike and tire technology of the day rewarded riders that could master sliding, pitching and mostly out of control motorcycles -- the American Dirt Tracker fit the bill. Now technology has caught up and European style of wheels in line and high corner speed are driving the technology. American Roadracing needs to develop a series that mimics that and I agree with Hayden that the AMA/DMG should try to establish a Moto2 class in the US.

I think American Honda and Yamaha USA should do more too. I am a huge Hayden fan and I am glad American Honda helped step up to keep Hayden in MotoGP, but I also think that money may have been better spent trying to get another American over to Europe. Beaubier definitely is the next great American hope. A lot more so than Josh Herrin.

I've been following top level bike racing for years and years and I do not have a single local friend that shares my interest.

I'm Canadian, but it's much the same deal here as the US as far as exposure goes.

Dorna shoots themselves in their own foot by keeping GP racing behind a pay curtain. How can anyone desire something they have never seen or heard of? It's the horse before the cart.

When very few races per year are broadcast on TV they are handled by a totally incompetent crew who have no idea what they are talking about with the riders or racing dynamics. The exception being Scott Russel. They show annoying side scrolling Nascar style leader boards and now and then they interrupt the string of the same 4 commercials shown over and over again to show someone riding a bike around a race track.

We are basically being served crap on a plate with local coverage which makes it hard to grow a fan base outside of those of us who already have the passion (mostly bike owners) and are smart enough to find a way to view the races.

I don't recall ever seeing any mention of any GP race in local print media.

I'll also say the glass of milk riders waving their energy drinks at the camera don't do much to bring in interest.

We need shark tanks and laser, maybe even a ring of fire.

Les, I couldn't agree more with you! It seems that Dorna really haven't given any serious consideration to viewers in Canada or just do not care.

Sorry, I am just quibbling perhaps but I am surprised that the write about Colin Edwards above has a lot of the past tense in it. Colin had, his interviews were, he had livened up etc. I thought he is on for the rest of 2014 and to date only one race of the season is over. I think we can still speak about him in the present tense and he has not gone already, only announced that he will be going. Please do not take this as an attempt to correct grammar David Emmett, my English and grammar are pretty poor. Somehow I felt this was a eulogy of someone who is no more. I apologise in advance if I am being perceived of as being offensive here. That is not my intention.

It's been great to have Colin in MotoGP and he's always funny and honest, but I don't think the current crop of riders are too bad at saying what's on their mind.

While many of the Spanish and Italian riders struggle with our language (it's a lot easier to memorise 'thanks to my sponsors' than manage an unrehearsed witticism in English), I'd take a bet that the likes of Iannone and Pol Espargaro are a lot funnier in their native tongue than we give them credit for.

As for the Anglophones, Cal Crutchlow is usually brutally honest, if holding his tongue at the moment while he gives Gigi a chance to get Ducati sorted, and Bradley Smith is starting to speak his mind refreshingly often this season. Hayden's not exactly a shrinking violet either, and Scott Redding is pretty direct when he's got something sensible to say.

I agree with the suggestion that Colin should co-commentate though. Great memories of Mamola going wildly and hilariously off-piste a few years back when he 'helped' the commentary team...