There’s just one more race to run to complete the Vancouver Island Motocross Championship Series. It will be held in Campbell River on August 26th, which gives riders time to recover from injury, repair broken bikes, and practice up for the final round. It also gives spectators and competitors time to ruminate on the series, indentify highlights and outstanding performances, and consider ways to make the series even better. There’s ultimately only one vital statistic in regards to a racing program, and that’s rider entries. This year rider entries are up in the Island Championship Series by just over ten percent, which is huge when numbers have been declining all over the country for the past several years. The task now becomes identifying why this has happened, and then to do more of it! The racing format was changed a bit from last year, and I think it’s better but not perfect. Last year the series was held at four tracks, and most of the rounds were double-headers with racing on Saturday and Sunday. This year the series was held at three tracks and each round had a practice day Saturday and racing on Sunday. This was done because the double-headers proved problematic for a few reasons. From a racer and family perspective it made for long, tiring weekends. Most families would leave home sometime Friday and get home utterly exhausted sometime Sunday night. Doing this week after week meant there was no time for life while the racing season was on. Having a more relaxed optional practice day on Saturday means families can decide how much of their weekend they want to devote to racing. On top of this, if a bike broke on Saturday it often meant missing the Sunday round and losing all those points. Another drawback with the double-headers was that the racing season seemed to be over as soon as it began. Running eight races in four weekends meant that if you sprained an ankle, and had to miss a couple weeks of racing, you could effectively miss half the series for a minor injury. Spreading the series out has helped alleviate this situation to some extent. The drawback of spreading the series out is that families who have to travel significant distances to race have to incur this expense more often. Ideally I think the best solution is a combination of solo events and double-headers, but his didn’t happen this year because of the other primary reason the double-headers proved troublesome. From a host track perspective, race days are expensive while practice days earn money. Race days require higher insurance rates, more paid positions at the track, and more expensive grooming procedures. Virtually all the tracks lose money on a race day, so having a double-header is an expensive undertaking. Having a practice day allows the tracks to recoup a little of their cash. Having had so many double-headers last year the tracks were anxious about their dwindling bank accounts and not so anxious to have double-headers this year. Hopefully we can find some kind of compromise next season between the two formats.
The other big change this year was that we had three tracks in the series instead of four. The Port McNeill track opted out of the series and decided to do things as an independent track this year. Speaking personally, this turned out to be both a good and bad thing. I loved being at the Port McNeill track. The track itself is awesome, and the people are some of the most generous and kind-hearted hosts you’ll ever encounter. It was always a great trip once you got to Port McNeill, the painful (and expensive) part was the exhausting drive up to the north end of the island. Not having to make the long trek saved families a lot of time and money, and many families have expressed how relieved they are they didn’t have to make the voyage to compete there this season (although almost all admit enjoying it once they’re there!). The absence of this venue from the series may be part of the reason numbers are up this season. All the tracks in the series are now relatively central and easy to get to for most of the riders. Unfortunately I don’t think things have turned out so well for the Port McNeill track. Without being part of a series they’ve been unable to draw riders to the track and, to the best of my knowledge, their race program was effectively cancelled for the season. Other changes this season include holding the last round of the Championship at the start of the fall racing session. This was done partly just because there was a shortage of race weekends that didn’t conflict with other racing programs, and partly to allow riders a chance to recover physically and financially before the final round. It was also hoped that tying the last round of the Championship series to the fall session might increase interest in the fall racing program, which has traditionally lacked enthusiasm and turn-out. This year the fall program was shortened, and measures were taken to decrease the cost of the series. Other ideas are still being floated around in regards to making the fall racing program more fun and attractive to racers. It’s yet to be seen if these measures will result in higher rider involvement.
A new ‘try before you buy’ program was also instigated this year that allowed riders to race once before purchasing their CMRC license. This was taken advantage of by many new riders, several of whom came back and bought full licenses. Credit must also be given to Westshore Motocross track in Victoria, which has done an admirable job of soliciting new riders into their private program, many of whom have also gone on to join the full CMRC/VIMX Island Championship series. Since people close to the situation have asked about it, I’ll point out that I’ve been openly critical of Westshore’s resistance to integrate themselves with the other tracks and sanctioning bodies on the island all along, and I stand by those words, but this is not to say that they aren’t doing good things. I believe the best tactic to building racing numbers is to start at the club level. If clubs are offering events and services that attract new riders, a large percentage of those new riders will eventually drift up to sanctioned Championship racing. There’s no doubt Westshore MX is setting the standard for what a club can aspire to do. Their ‘learn to ride’ program, regular groomed practices, and casual weekend and evening races are the kinds of things clubs need to be doing in order to give riders a positive experience. All the tracks should strive to be more like Westshore in this regard, although it’s admittedly harder to do some of these things as a non-profit volunteer organization. Another of my primary motives for getting more involved in the MX community this year was to try and bring all 5 tracks back into some kind of unison. I think both ‘Club’ and sanctioned VIMX/CMRC racing are important to offer riders, and I believe the strongest island race community would be a unified one. Club events help to get new riders comfortable with the sport, and the sanctioned racing gives riders a higher level of structured racing and levels of progression to aspire toward.
Aside from the fully sanctioned Island Championship Series, and the less strident Fall Inter-Club Series, at least two of the non-profit clubs and Westshore have also offered evening club races. These events allow seasoned racers to have a formal, groomed practice session and new riders to get their feet wet racing in a casual and inexpensive atmosphere. There’s certainly lots of racing occurring on the island and all in all things are looking up for island racing. It’s always exciting to see new racers making their way out to the tracks and there’s been many doing so this year. One of the highlights, if not THE highlight, of this season was the size and quality of the Intermediate class on the Island. Participation in the Intermediate class was up by about 25% this year, and the skill level of the riders seems to have improved dramatically across the board. The Intermediate class is where the talent pools. All Intermediate riders have won at the Junior level, and most of the top Intermediates have dominated the Junior class at some point. The fascinating thing about the Intermediate class is that you get to see dominant Juniors from different years racing each other; it’s like an All-star Junior race! The other great thing about a strong Intermediate class is that this is where Pros develop their skills. Ironically, perhaps the biggest shortcoming on the island this year is the lack of Pro riders racing the circuit. While rider numbers are generally increasing in all other classes the Pro class has completely disappeared. This is puzzling and warrants further investigation.
Vancouver Island has produced some of the top Pro riders in the country over the past decade, and one has to wonder if there is more talent in the pipeline. Darcy Lange, from Courtenay, was a Canadian Pro Champion and contender for many years. He won several AMA Arenacross titles and finally landed a ride with the prestigious Pro Circuit AMA team in 2007. That year Lange was well into arguably the best AMA season ever by a Canadian, battling with team-mate Ben Townley for the AMA Lites Supercross title, when he was struck down with the illness that ended his career. Lange ended 2007 in second place in the series, but he beat the cancer; he won the battle that counted most! Then, of course, there’s Dusty Klatt from Campbell River, who’s a four time Canadian National Champion. Klatt has been at the forefront of Canadian motocross for about a decade now. So inquiring minds want to know, where is ‘the next one’? As I mentioned, there’s been no Pros riding on the island this summer. Coleton Mclean has recently become a Dad, Nick Syrotuck went away fishing, and of course Andrew Belin has been out for a couple years since he crushed his feet landing a jump in Campbell River. Some might be worried about where our fast guys are, but I’m really not. They’re there, just hiding in the Intermediate and lower classes. The island appears to be in an interstitial state between the Lange/Klatt/Belin era and a new era of talented young riders coming up the pipeline. Who, you might well ask, is going to replace these legendary riders? Stay tuned for my assessment of the top up and coming prospects on the island…the bugle is sounding to summon them, and they’re coming!