Like most of us that tuned into the Indianapolis Supercross this past Saturday, I was surprised (yet entertained) by the scuffle between Alex Ray and Devin Raper after a collision during their heat race. Since then, there’s been several memes and posts making light of the incident. However, to see two hard working privateers crash in a heat race, and suspended for the remainder of the evening was a bit disheartening.
In today’s world of supercross/motocross, I see a privateer as a racer that isn’t getting direct and full support from the factory. Of course, there are satellite teams that get minimal assistance from the factories, but also have budgets through sponsorships that allow for all or some of the riders’ expenses (travel, entry fees, equipment, etc). On the other hand, there are teams that don’t pay for travel or entry fees…or even motorcycles or parts. I’m not sure where Devin and Alex fit into that equation, but I’m know that missing a main affects their bottom line a lot more than a racer under a factory tent.
I’m grateful for the contrast of privateer and factory teams that I’ve worked with because it helped me appreciate when things flowed effortlessly during the week and on the weekends. For example: One team that I worked with mismanaged a lot of the funding, which meant squeezing every ounce out of every part on the bike. Not only did we reuse burned steel clutch plates by sandblasting them to be installed for the next race, we also ran clapped out practice mufflers on race day and used JB weld on radiators. Meanwhile, all of the top tier teams I’ve been apart of had an abundance of complete clutch packs (and every other part on the bike) in the shop, the test trailer, and the race trailer.
When I look at the difference between a typical privateer and a factory racer, there’s such a large gap in the efficiency of their programs. For instance, if a privateer has issues with a practice engine during the week, he more than likely won’t have a spare practice engine or parts on hand to repair the issue…and it’s very unlikely that he has a mechanic with him to perform the work. Meanwhile, your typical factory pilot ALWAYS has a spare engine/parts in any situation, a race and practice mechanic, a media person, a riding coach, and probably a videographer (I love me some BamTV).
When I first arrived at Factory Suzuki, there was a huge learning curve for me as far as the hours that we put in each part. Spending most of my career as a practice mechanic and on privateer teams, I learned to get the most time out of every part on the bike. I’d run chain sliders and blocks millimeters before the chain rubbed through. When we were sent a new bike, I would save cables with 50+ hours, clean and lube them. I would also save half worn brake pads, foot pegs and levers in case of emergency.
I completely understand that factory teams can’t risk having a mechanical DNF. Still, it took some time to come to terms with the fact that we threw away so many timed out parts (plastics, bolts, brake pads, clutches, wheels, handlebars, chains, cables, rims, chain sliders/blocks, levers, etc.) To be completely transparent, during my time at Suzuki, I could have built at least two of my own factory 450’s with all the parts that I tossed in the dumpster during my time there.
With that being said, I would love for factory teams to take the initiative to support privateers that run their colors by distributing their “timed out” parts to those racers throughout the season. Of course, you could say it’s a liability to hand out bolt or a chain with hours on it during a race. You could also say that certain parts are made to save weight or will change how the bike handles compared to stock. However, I doubt any true privateer on the circuit would turn down used parts for spares on their practice bikes. At times, a spare part can be the difference between a week of practice on the bike, or training off the bike.
Maybe my time away from the industry has turned me into somewhat of a hippie that wants to save the Earth and get the most out of every resource, but I don’t think that’s such a bad idea. Considering the fact that guys like Devin Raper and Alex Ray help fill the gate on their respective brands, the factories could give back to the racers that represent their brands on the highest level, while getting the most out of parts that cost A LOT of money quite frankly.