[UPDATE: 10.3.12 11:35am]
There's the usual daily rumor that comes and goes, mostly miniscule yet entertaining. But sometimes the industry is t-boned with a big ol' Mack truck that initiates the Telephone game. And it's fascinating how quickly things can turn upside down in the matter of just a few hours.
I'll jump to the punch- Kawasaki is discontinuing their off-road racing program. Although the company has yet to issue an official press release, confirmation has come from the appropriate and accurate sources. Why is this happening you might ask? Well, to say that Ryan Villopoto is to blame is a big assumption, and something we will probably never truly know. Yes he re-signed with Kawasaki for 2013, but that doesn't mean the overwhelmingly successful company is sweeping the off-road program for Villo's sake. [Update] - Or maybe it does. Now follow along. Let's imagine some facts begin to surface and we learn that in order to meet demands for the guys that pay the bills (Monster), Kawasaki would need to meet their agreement of the deal. Which is where the off-road sacrifice comes in. It could be that millions of dollars are invested into the Monster Energy Kawasaki Supercross/Motocross team, but less than a million dollars are dealt to the off-road efforts. So maybe...when Monster and Kawasaki had their 2013 talks, Monster demanded it be an all or nothing deal; Villo being all.
As a media company, having the best news first is the trick. But I wanted to take my time with this one, do a little digging and put some deep thought into it instead of throwing out some BS and calling it breaking news. So where do I begin with this one. Factory? Gone. Team Green? Adios. Years of producing off-road legends? Haulted.
The Kawasaki Off Road program is nearing its final days and will never see the light of 2013. Will we ever see the program up and running again? Probably so, but not in this economy. If bike sales are down, Kawasaki is losing money. And in no way am I bashing the green brand, but it's a fact people aren't spending the money they used to. Losing money makes no room for a race program that's simple math. Or is it Monster to blame? It generally takes an outside investor to host a race team. Maybe they're not seeing the return investment they're expecting from off-road? So what does all this mean? Let's break it down...and be sure to weigh in at the end of the article in the user comments below.
So you bought a Kawasaki for the contingency? While you may be SOL in that department, Kawasaki is continuing their Team Green Racer Rebate. To be apart of the program, head to your local Kawasaki dealer, and fill out the appropriate application along with your one-page resume. It's a select program, but a great deal for those who go Green.
After a humbling conversation with Sean Reddish, he shed some positive light on not only the subject of Kawasaki, but also the future of racing as a whole and where his series is headed. And let's be honest here; WORCS isn't going anywhere, anytime soon. Despite complaints from the peanut gallery, Reddish has some solid plans for 2013 that will ultimately place a beneficial environment for the community. Clearly it's a big hit for the series that Kawasaki will no longer be apart of the WORCS program, but does that mean this is the death of WORCS? No matter your opinion of the series, it's a fact that WORCS has one of the largest followings on the West coast. They also have some of the highest support from the brands of the industry to maintain a healthy racing series. Now, whether the attendance is high or low may be irrelevant. It was financially a bad year all around for our industry, and is a partial cause pertaining to the end of the Kawasaki Off Road racing program.
Like Endurocross, Kawasaki has only produced 2-3 Factory Pro's on the line every race and contributed a replaceable portion to the program. Does this mean Endurocross is done, considering they have even less riders? I haven't even heard that topic up for debate, so why is WORCS?
And as for the East coast, Kawasaki has tended to the West for whatever purposes so the aftershock will be felt less when it comes to the National Enduros and GNCC.
Future Talent & Team Green
Another important thing to think about here is the future of off-road and the talent that may be overlooked. After the losses of Factory Suzuki, Factory Honda and (aside from AmPro) Factory Yamaha, the addition of Kawasaki will leave little to nowhere for the next fastest generation to graduate. Of course there is KTM, but obviously they can't take everyone in. For the first time in a long time, racers may find themselves scratching their heads wondering what their ultimate goal is. Truthfully, the career of being a professional off-road racer is slim to none today. But that doesn't mean it will be in the next year or two.
Think of the talent that could be missed? The best of the best; every one will know it but they simply can't afford them or give them what they need. After talking with Off Road Team manager Jason Smigel, the off-road Kawasaki crew is desperately searching for some sort of way to continue the Kawasaki name. Could this be a big opportunity the current Team Green teams have been waiting for? For 2012, Jacob Argubright and Gary Sutherlin were awarded the Team Green contracts, and the Off Road Support truck has represented Kawasaki at the events where the Factory was not. Could this be the cheaper, sensible alternative to continue the Kawasaki traditions?
The Current Pay Roll
You could say there are a lot of disappointed faces roaming around Kawasaki these days. Since the off road program doesn't officially end until December 31st, 2012 the team still has a job. But Team Manager Jason Smigel and riders Destry Abbott, Justin Soule, Taylor Robert and Bobby Garrison are the biggest concerns as far as their 2013 job placement. It's going to widen the pot of already hungry privateers. Regardless of getting the "Factory" ride, brands can expand their support programs and create an equal playing field. We're all still going to want to ride our dirtbikes- even if we have to work part time or carpool to the races. When you look at the bigger picture, this could be a great thing for WORCS, Big 6 or Endurocross; as this may eliminate the intimidation factor and bring out the Privateer's to get after it.
Of the bunch, Taylor Robert has got to be bumming pretty hard right now. He worked his way up through the ranks to be a Factory rider and returned the favor by giving them a championship. He'll be swiped up quickly, but to where?
KTM has some pressure coming as they choose riders heading into 2013. Although the Kawasaki Off Road program is coming to a stop, it's not to say it won't rise again. And if it does, the pickings could be excellent.
All we can really blame is the economy, a mess out of our hands. Or an underlying issue the public will never see. The Kawasaki brand was lucky to have even continued their program this far, especially after Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha had to make the same sacrifice on their own. So in closing, all we can say at this point is thank you Kawasaki and your program for all of the opportunities you have created for our sport, it's people and the world of off-road racing.