Long ignored by ATV manufacturers and often treated like an ugly cousin to the dirt bike racing industry, quad racing stayed afloat the last 15-odd years thanks to its stalwart grass-roots makeup and a hearty investment from the ATV aftermarket.
Now things are changing. Factory sponsorship has returned, albeit on a small level, television coverage has increased and all-new contingency programs have been created to bring the spoils to an industry that is not used to being spoiled.
In 2004, quad racing grew enough that some racers can now declare it their profession. While it hasn’t happened for all riders, it has taken a turn in the right direction. And 2005, if these recent trends are any proof, looks even better.
One of the first manufacturers to bring contingency to ATV racing was Kawasaki. Unfortunately, Team Green entered the new year by indefinitely pulling its contingency gig from the Grand National Cross Country series.
But there’s hope and a new face to replace Kawasaki.
Polaris Industries announced January 11 its new GNCC contingency program as well as the signing of its first professional GNCC racer, Matt Smiley. This is big news on the ATV racing scene because Polaris joins Honda as the only ATV manufacturers to offer ATV contingency awards.
“This move signals our commitment to the high-performance end of the market,” said Bennett Morgan, vice president and general manager for Polaris ATVs.
The new program will offer contingency for all GNCC ATV classes as well as the newly created youth series. The potential annual payout is $250,000, and the maximum per-race payout is $2,000 for the Pro class. Plus, Polaris is the first manufacturer to back the GNCC youth ranks. Polaris has committed roughly $10,000 total to the three-class youth series, with a maximum per race payout of $150 per race.
Though not offering contingency, American Suzuki is one of the most vocal supporters of ATV racing. Along with 2004 ITP/ATVA GNC MX Nationals Champion “Digger” Doug Gust, Suzuki has signed former champ Jeremiah Jones to a full factory ride. Suzuki also signed a “support” contract with Jeremy Lawson, the 265A GNC champion.
Yamaha Motors announced the resigning of 2004 and five-time GNCC Champion Bill Ballance and GNC pro Kory Ellis to full factory rides. The terms of the contracts were not disclosed. However, Ballance said his two-year deal will allow him to focus solely on racing.
Any rider aboard a 400EX or 450R has the potential to earn Honda Red Rider Rewards.
For ‘05, Honda signed former GNC champion and 2004 Pro Quad Stadium champion Tim Farr to a full factory ride and has a contingency program for the GNCC series.
The aftermarket supported ATV racing even in its most desperate times, but more and more aftermarket shops and companies have been joining the industry and supplying money.
Streamline Performance Braking signed on as the “Official Brake Sponsor” of the ITP/ATVA Grand National Championship MX Series, FMF/ATVA TT Grand National Championship Series and ITP QuadCross Series, it has also signed on to support several other top teams in ATV racing.
Fox Racing Shoxs, Watsonville, Calif., has signed John Natalie Jr., to a contract. A runner-up in the ITP/ATVA GNC MX Nationals Pro class last year, Natalie will use FOX Racing Shox suspension products on his Honda 450R for the 2005 season.
Along with Ehlert Publishing’s “ATV Sport TV” covering the entire 2005 GNC MX Nationals, ESPN has plans to bring ATV Racing to the television screen.
The Great Outdoor Games, televised on ESPN, will this year include an invitation-only quad race, July 9, in Madison, Wis.
“The officials at the Great Outdoor Games initially wanted this race to just be a side show,” said Donny Banks, who is a former ATV racer and current ATV race promoter. “But we wanted this race to be special, so they agreed to offer $30,000. Now the event has gone from a side show, to the main event.”
Banks said the final number of racers will be 16 or 18, and invitations won’t be limited to men as one or more women may receive an invitation.
“Some people might be upset they didn’t get invited. But being selfish isn’t the answer. This race is the exposure our sport needs,” Banks said.