Motorcycle racing in the United States of America was practically on life support as recently as five years ago. I knew that MotoAmerica had a hit on its hands with the King of the Baggers series when I attended a closed-doors race last fall, but had no idea how incredibly receptive the two-wheeled community would be until this weekend’s likely-to-be-record-crowd at Laguna Seca.
Even top-tier international series like MotoGP and World Superbike couldn’t justify travelling to world renowned Laguna Seca after 2015 anymore, thanks to dwindling crowds and waning interest. When MotoGP pulled up stakes in 2013 WSBK gave it a try for a while, but a couple of years later it was also gone. Dire straits.
Meanwhile, the American regional feeder series, AMA Superbikes, was flatlining. A quartet of enthusiasts, lead by legendary racer Wayne Rainey, founded MotoAmerica as the new Superbikes promoter, and vowed to bring the series back from the brink. In spite of a global pandemic, I can definitively say that they have all succeeded in doing just that. Bikes are back, baby!
(Full Disclosure: MotoAmerica saw how much I loved the races last year and asked if I’d like to attend again this year. While I had to miss the Saturday proceedings for Radwood NorCal, I got up bright and early on Sunday to check out the races in Monterey. The series organized my media passes. I paid for my own food and fuel, though I did get a few free beers on Motul Oil’s dime.)
I rocked on down to the track from San Mateo on Sunday morning bright and early, running my new Ambulance on its proper maiden voyage. It served incredibly well, despite the ride home from the track being hot as shit and not having functional air conditioning.
From the minute I arrived, I knew the series had produced a winner. Last fall when I was here, everything was empty thanks to COVID closures. The paddock was half-full, the parking lots were empty, and there were a few campers parked in the track’s various sites. Just nine months later and the whole track was packed to the gills. I’ve been to a few sports car races here which didn’t attract this level of crowd.
Not only were there the traditional European and Asian sport bike riders on hand to check out the Superbikes, Stock 1000s, and Twins Cup pros take to the circuit, but there was a level of leather-clad neck-and-knuck-tattooed V-twin riders to fill an episode of Sons of Anarchy. Would a Hells Angels member have gone out of his way to attend an AMA event in 2013? I won’t speak for him, but I doubt it. Throw some American potato potato racers on track, however, and he’s interested in the whole shooting match.
King of the Baggers was tested as a one-off in late 2020 and it was immediately the most viewed video MotoAmerica had ever posted to its YouTube channel. Okay, so that’s a hit, then. The series expanded the KotB championship to three rounds in 2021, and Laguna Seca was the final round of three (following Road Atlanta and Road America). Next year the series will likely expand again, and the racers are hopeful that they’ll be able to run these giant fairing bikes on the high banks at Daytona. I don’t know about you, but that sounds fucking amazing!
In addition to the KotB bangers, MotoAmerica added another incredibly addictive class to the mix. This time they tapped the marketing magic of Roland Sands, hauling his Super Hooligans series up to the big leagues. Super Hooligans was created as a multi-disciplinary series for a wide variety of compact-ish naked bikes to run with American Flat Track. This series rips on dirt, but it’s even cooler at a big track like Laguna Seca. Some of the racers in this class had never set foot on a road course, but it produced the typical bar-banging fight that Hooligans is known for. Sands built this gorgeous Chief for Super Hooligans racing, and I’ll have a full rundown on the bike later this week.
Down the paddock a little bit was something else that caught my attention, the Suicide Machine Co. team running a pair of LiveWire One machines in Super Hooligans. From what I can tell the bikes were largely stock, save wheels and tires, and a bit of tweaking. This is another team that I will be chatting with later this week to get the full rundown. They didn’t go very fast, finishing 20th and 22nd of 22 bikes, but for a first time out, it was really cool to see them blasting out of the corners. More on these later.
The sport bike stuff was there, too. And the racing was great, as usual. Not much to say about that, though, as it’s been largely the same for over a decade.
I talked to a MotoAmerica representative on Sunday who couldn’t confirm exact numbers just yet, but did say that this was a record-breaking number of entries for a MotoAmerica weekend, and a record-breaking number of pre-order tickets sold. They didn’t want to say definitively that this was a bigger crowd than World Superbikes drew before they pulled out, but he was pretty sure that it would be when the tallies were finally run. Based on what I saw with my own eyes—a full paddock, a full parking lot, and a full camping area—I believe every word.
The crowd was awesome, as everyone there was having a great time cheering for bikes and riders outside their own riding discipline. Anything that MotoAmerica can do to bring riders together in common support of each other is excellent. Bike enthusiasm is definitely growing, but instead of gatekeeping or discouraging riding, we should all come together as a community to bring others into the fold. We can only do that together, and MotoAmerica seems to have uncovered exactly that.
It’s clear to see that there was pent up demand for in-person attendance after all of us have been cooped up in our homes for so long. Thankfully vaccine numbers continue to grow and people have plenty of room at Laguna to spread out, because this is just the shot in the arm (pun absolutely intended) that the series and motorcycling in general needed. I had a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday, and I recommend everyone who can grab tickets for the next MotoAmerica event to head anywhere near you.
What a killer day. Even with the massive sunburn I got.
If you’re interested in checking out the racing, and I recommend you do, watch these videos below.
The Super Hooligans race was incredible, and while the KTMs really ran away with it, they hounded each other until the end. It’s worth mentioning that Patricia Fernandez finished an impressive fifth in class in this race on an Indian FTR1200. Jalopnik Bump!
And the King of the Baggers race was equally fun to watch. With a huge grid, it was all down to the start going well. Pole sitting Indian Challenger rider Tyler O’Hara bobbled the start, allowing Harley’s Kyle Wyman to get by into the lead and go streaking off into the distance with a plate in his arm from a shattered bone a few weeks ago. Wyman managed to turn faster laps during the race than he did in qualifying, so it wasn’t even a fair fight at the front, but every position behind was tightly contested. With a 1:31.1 lap during the race, Wyman was running similar times to the top ten Twins Cup sport bike racers. Heck, his bagger was running times that would have qualified him for the Superbikes grid!
This stop on the calendar will be on my list of visits for pretty much the next decade as long as they have big V-twins on hand for my enjoyment. I can only imagine how much faster the Baggers will be in 2022.