Why the TT World Series is a pipe dream

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Yesterday, the Isle of Man TT announced that it had begun “a feasibility study” into holding its own international championship series, tipping the US, Asia and the Far East as potential locations. The Isle of Man is awesome, so any series it ran would just bring that awesomeness to new locations, right? Wrong. Here’s why and here’s how they could do it better.

First, some background.
The goal of all this TT World Series business is relatively simple. Its organizers want to leverage its appeal to further an expansion of tourism to the tiny island tax haven in the Irish Sea. The Isle has some history with World Championships (note capitalization), having lost its role as part of any organized championship back in the ‘70s when killing famous racers on a regular basis went out of fashion. Since that time, it’s established itself as the home of one-off (ok, two-off if you count the Manx Grand Prix) bonkers road racing, holding an annual event that easily eclipses other real road races like the NW200 or Macau Grand Prix.

This feasibility study is simply the earliest possible stage of looking into the possibility of holding some sort of international championship (note lack of capitalization) centered around the TT, but someone’s obviously told MCN some details of the plan they hope to develop.

MCN says, in the Isle of Man’s press release, “it could be a six-round championship featuring a core of 15-20 regular riders supplemented by local racers at each round. The series could open in the United States, with races in the Far East and Asia before the championship concludes at the 2014 TT in the Isle of Man.”

The most interesting part of all this is another sentence attributed to MCN which reads, “the series is expected to predominantly feature all-new venues rather than existing road racing circuits.”

Real Road Racing in 2011.
“All-new venues” plus the TT’s name suggests to us that the people behind all this actually intend to see if they can hold real road races in other countries. The Isle of Man must be even more sheltered than we thought if they think they can pull that off. As a German TT expert we spoke to told us, “If I walked into my local government office back in Bavaria and said ‘Hey, let’s race some bikes though town at 200mph – it’ll be great!’ I’d get sectioned and ferried off to a mental health institution of my choice.”

That’s not to say real road racing doesn’t occur elsewhere. There’s the aforementioned North West 200 and Macau Grand Prix, but public roads are also closed off for car racing in Long Beach, California, Monaco, St. Petersburg and Nevada and many other smaller events all over the world. Many WRC stages occur on closed public roads too.

Having said that, events like the Grand Prix of Long Beach and Monaco Grand Prix (can someone please find a way to hold a race without “grand prix” in the title?) are able to run in city centers because they turn up with enormous boat loads of cash. Like literally tons of hundred dollar bills. Could a fledgling motorcycle series operated from a tiny island expect to do the same?

Events like Nevada’s Silver State Classic and Targa Newfoundland are obviously way cheaper, but take place in the absolute middle of nowhere and garner almost no attendance outside local populations and very little media coverage as a result.

Fake Road Racing in 2011.
We use the term “fake” in jest, but motorcycle racing on race tracks isn’t exactly healthy right now either. Look at Ducati quitting SBK, the ghost town that is AMA Pro Racing and MotoGP’s barren grid for all the indication you need of that. Fewer participants, less sponsorship and less overall interest is sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy of lower budgets creating lower-quality coverage meaning fewer and fewer and fewer eyeballs and then less of all of the above. Anyone watch the Daytona 200 last weekend? Speed turned it off to show NASCAR truck qualifying.

Is there room for a startup series in that environment? Sure, they’d be at “all-new venues” but it’d be the same bikes and same riders chasing the same disappearing sponsors and same vanishing audience.

It’s not that we don’t think leathered-up motorcycle racing doesn’t have a future, just that someone seriously needs to recast it into something that’s relevant to someone besides greasy old bikers. That’s probably a larger task than a tiny island nation can take on.

Tourism and the Isle of Man.
There’s one big problem facing motorcycling right now. We, as a pastime, hobby, group leather fetish, industry, passion, whatever, are unable to attract new initiates. The number of motorcyclists is aging and shrinking every year.

Yet another motorcycle racing series would serve only to appeal to that diminishing group of existing motorcyclists, not a mainstream audience.

Promoting Isle of Man tourism to existing motorcyclists means one thing and one thing only — they’re going to want to visit the TT. But, you know what? The TT already fills accommodations on the Isle and its travel infrastructure to capacity each and every year. Try booking ferry tickets or a hotel room just a week ahead of the TT, you’ll be laughed off the phone. All this money and effort to promote tourism which is already overflowing capacity? Unless there’s plans to build some mega hotels and put in a jet catamaran service that we’ve somehow missed, then we fail to see the point.

If the Isle of Man would like to pursue tourism during the rest of the year, then we humbly suggest it does so through something with more appeal than loud, scary bikes.

There’s an easier way to do this
You know what’s awesome? The Isle of Man TT. You know what’s impossible to watch if you don’t visit? The Isle of Man TT. There’s virtually no TV coverage of the existing racing at all and what does exist exists in the form of lame, action-free recaps on British television that you and I download via Bit Torrent, then fast forward through to the parts we care about.

Instead of creating yet more motorcycle racing that will receive virtually no TV coverage and will be impossible for publications like HFL to cover effectively, what about making the most of what you’ve already got?

It’s not just a case of getting it on TV screens across the world. A race around a 36.6-mile course, against a clock, doesn’t currently make exciting viewing. Find a way to make it more viewer friendly — WRC has been trying this for years — then put that footage on teh Internets for everyone in the world to watch. We want live or virtually live on-board footage, exciting racing, informative cometary and insightful racer interviews. Just make it feel like we’re there, make the coverage live up to the event.

Not only would such a plan foster TT enthusiasm across the planet, but it’d provide far better exposure for existing sponsors and, gasp, maybe even new ones.

There’s an audience for TT racing in place, you don’t need to organize a whole new series to reach it.

  • Roman

    I remember there was talk of a Nova Scotia TT (Cape Bretton TT?) a few years back. Honestly, that’d be pretty awesome. I know going to Isle of Man TT is every motorcyclists right of passage, but having something in our backyard that you could go to every year would be pretty fantastic. It fell through, from what I remember, but I’d really dig having something I could actually ride to.

    • markbvt

      Yeah, they were going to run it on the Cabot Trail, but after lengthy negotiations, the local government put the kibosh on it. I think it had something to do with refusing to fund the road improvements that would have been necessary.

      That would have been an interesting venue though. I wonder how many moose collisions would have occurred…

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    “There’s one big problem facing motorcycling right now. We, as a pastime, hobby, group leather fetish, industry, passion, whatever, are unable to attract new initiates.”

    This is undoubtedly true, but I do have to give credit to the TT for getting me into motorcycling in the first place. Getting my license had been in the back of my mind for a while, but school/lack of friends and family who ride/lack of funds always made it a “maybe next year…” thought.

    Then I saw coverage of the TT on Speed, and was hooked. I saw the coverage at the beginning on June (obviously re-runs of British coverage, simply for the HD eye candy), and got my license by August.

    Expanding road racing would be absolutely fantastic. Who wouldn’t want a TT style event up in the twisties in Vermont or the Catskills? Maybe Nantucket? Catalina?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Don’t assume it’s remotely possible to hold a noisy, obnoxious race in a location like the catskills, nantucket or especially on catalina. I’d put the chances of any motorcycle race being officially organized in any of those locations at precisely -100%.

      • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

        Goddamn yuppie bastards.

      • markbvt

        Agreed. I doubt it would ever fly here in Vermont either. Besides, in order to make it a loop it would have to be a pretty long course, and closing those roads would be effectively impossible.

      • george_fla

        And it doesnt need to be.
        Racing @ Daytona Beach wasnt done there because it was a beautiful location and centrally located for ease of getting to and from. It was done there because it was one of the few places you could have a race that had a course as long as it was. I know this is gonna sound cheesey but “If you build they will come” ya just gotta make them want to come and this is what the Manx,the TT,Macau GP, and the North Ireland Roads Racing Series does. I know that as large as the USA is it would be hard to find a place and infrastructure that could host a 37 mile race course but, as you listed in the article there are real road race courses set up in the USA(LB,Saint Pete,Miami,etc…) that are like Macau that would be suitable for bikes and fans.
        If organizers quit being pussies and took a chance like organizers did in the past the current state of racing in the states may not be in as big of a shithole than it is.

        • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

          If it weren’t in the middle of a drug war, I’d say a place like Tijuana would be an ideal candidate. Gets around US liability laws/generally pussy-ness, but is still close to a major US city.

    • Sean Smith

      Catalina doesn’t even have enough paved roads for a road race. Just sayin…

    • Miles Prower

      Not that it could ever happen, but my riding buddies and I have daydreamed plenty of times that Storrow Drive, Soldiers Field Road, Memorial Drive, and the various bridges around the Charles River in Boston would make an awesome race loop for low-displacement motorbikes (or scooters) with plenty of choice spots for spectators to picnic and enjoy the race. Central Park in Manhattan would be great too for a 50cc race. You don’t need 150 mph bikes to make a race fun for spectators or racers.

  • moby grape

    Best quote ever…”Group leather fetish”.

    • http://greatjoballweek.blogspot.com/ Case

      The truth hurts. But it looks good on the bike.

  • hypergirl

    I suggest the IOM TT feasibility team reach out to areas that need to boost tourism and their own local economies. For example, the “Petrolia Loop” (as I call it) in Humboldt County could be a closed course (skirts the Pacific Ocean for a bit, then heads inland and up into mountains – great scenery!), and I think the community and local government officials here might welcome a fresh, revenue-generating idea.
    My 2 cents:)

  • Dave

    In the US, the problem with the “New Initiates” piece is cultural, motorcyclists (particularly racers) as a whole here, (I cant speak to the UK or Europe in general) are as elitist as cyclists. Those who ride generally look down on those who dont, as if were some sort of superior being because we roll around on two rather than four. An exception to this being the “Stunta” scene from a few years ago, you could buy a cheap trashed third hand sport bike and ride around without any special, expensive gear on, and you were among the “cool”. I think that drew alot of younger kids toward what they considered a more achievable type of riding, it didnt require special venues, gear, or honestly for most of them, skill.

    Dealers are the gateway for changing this, but they have to get people in to sell them bikes, and how many people just “swing by” the local dealership? They are often terrible ambassadors for the lifestyle, my local Ducati shop for instance is the worst elitist hive ever. We have to find a way to reach folks, and help them get their licenses in order to get it rolling. In order for racing like this to work, we further have to build some sense of identity and conection to the racers themselves, and with DMG running US racing into the ground, I dont see that improving any time soon. Anyone see the footage of Daytona American Superbike with NO ONE, and I mean NO ONE in the stands…

    I work with about 5 other guys who ride, and a few days ago I was talking about Rainey, Lawson, Schwantz and Doohan with these guys listening like I was talking about Civil War generals, they had no idea who I was talking about. Today I was talking about Daytona with a guy who actually is an enthusiast, and he said “Some guy with a really bad southern accent was calling the events on the broadcast”…uh Scott Russell..Mr Daytona….

    There is no connection to racing in the US anymore, and until something (and it could well be THIS) brings people a sense that they are a part of it, I dont see it changing. Lots of guys who arent into racing as a whole, know about the TT, and watch it, so if the money could be convinced to get involved, without completely sanitizing the racing, there could be hope. But liability being what it is in the US, its unlikely to make it here…

    • Roman

      I think part of the problem is that most of the races take place away from where even the casual race fans actually live. For example, the AMA races at NJMP (roughly between New York and Philly) saw over 30,000 people, but I doubt you’ll see those numbers at Miller, Loudon, VIR, etc… The races need to be within 2 hours of major population centers. There is a reason why most NASCAR races are in the South. It’s where the fans are.

    • Todd

      Liability is the nail in the coffin so to speak. It’s what stopped Nova Scotia. If the event had not been happening since 1907, it would be long gone. The reason it’s still around is the people of the Isle of Man. They want it to happen. Part of the reason is tourism dollar, the other is the race identifies them. It’s living history. Hell, they don’t even use gas cans to fill the bikes on stops. They still use normal gas pump nozzles. Only last year they switched to pit road speed limiters on the bikes. Before that they made you stop at a line until the marshal said you could go. The IOM TT, Southern 100, and the Manx Grand Prix has become a fabric of the island. There is a road race championship in Ireland. But if you asked someone what is “road racing”, they would say IOM TT. It never fails every year. I will watch the coverage of the TT on HDTheater channel (after the race has already been run). Then I’ll watch World Superbike and think this is really boring. After you see Michael Dunlop flying by a rider in the wet on a curve on the Isle of Man, it makes an inside pass on a dry track by Max Biaggi on Leon Haslam look pedestrian. Also the parade laps by Moto GP riders at IOM TT make me laugh. Fogarty raced at IOM TT and NW200. He didn’t casually ride over the mountain waving to spectators. Fogarty vs.Steve Hislop. Youtube it. Maybe the Isle of Man TT is more exciting because you can actually relate to them. They are competing against time on a road that you could ride if you went over there. So enjoy while it lasts, because I don’t think an international series will ever happen.

  • Ben

    Now, I love the Isle of Man TT, and motorcycling in general but…

    Racing seems the the exact wrong image to promote to get new riders… in fact, it’s exactly what is wrong with the industry and I think what HFL does a good job of highlighting. For your average person, getting a motorcycle equates to a big, intimidating Harley, or a race rep sports bike.

    The image we need back is the 60s “you meet the nicest people on a Honda” softer side of biking plus some serious education on how safe it can be. Those people will grow into road racing, maybe, eventually… but the sport/hobby/fetish is too intimidating now.

    • dux

      Maybe, but how do you promote it? We’re a whiz-bang, big noises type of society now…I can’t see anyone wanting to meet nice people at all – unless they’re on Facebook.

  • John

    Riders getting older? I don’t think so ;just in the northern industrialized countries. South America and Asia are crawling with young riders.

  • http://rohorn.blogspot.com rohorn

    Those who think that downtown racing brings in the crowds should talk to the organizers of the Formula 1 event in Phoenix AZ about 20 years ago. Less people attended the race than the nearby yet out of town ostrich races that same weekend, if I remember right.

    Hate to be pessimistic, but a lot of the new and noisy interest in TT racing – and now this blast of wishful thinking – sounds like it is peaking. Now all we need are a few (more) fatalities and this sport will look just like ultralight aviation did after its peak for all the same reasons.