Motorcycle racing isn’t a game for old folks and I’m not talking about the riders, I’m talking about anyone involved in the sport. Walk through a paddock at any motocross, Supercross or Superbike race and you’ll rarely glimpse seasoned citizens. Only at tradition-filled flat track races, where experience seems more cherished, are you likely to see more than one or two older folks working in the pits.
I’ve seen many highly-experienced people in motorcycle racing who are basically forced into early retirement from jobs they love often because their 30-something (or younger) bosses see them as old fuddy-duddies. These fine folks left looking in from the outside include mechanics, announcers, PR people, journalists and other racing-support people.
I once heard a respected leader in the sport talk about filling the job of AMA Pro Racing Media Manager and classifying the position as a “young man’s job.” I understood what he meant. Having done the job I fully knew the energy it took to constantly write releases, make media calls, answer emails, hold press conferences, set up interviews and so on. It required a high energy level to say the least.
There are some extenuating circumstances that might keep a well-trained professional from doing their racing job at the highest level as they get older. I once met an iconic racing photographer who was beyond retirement age, but for the love of what he did, or just plain financial need, he kept on shooting. He was still very good, but hanging out with him one day I watched him struggle walking up steep grades carrying his load of lenses. Hopping over fences, which were a breeze for me, a 31-year-old, this older photographer had to walk another 75 yards up the track to a gate and back again to get to the prime shooting location. By the end of a long day of lugging gear he was looking ragged. I offered to carry one of his monster lenses back to the press room. He accepted.
The same could be said of mechanics. It’s tougher as you get older to bend down and work on you knees, or contort your body into a pretzel trying to get to a hard-to-reach part of the bike. TV personalities or magazine editors perhaps no longer match the demographics a racing broadcaster or publishing company is trying to reach, and on and on.
To be fair some of this weeding out is self induced. When you first come into the sport maybe it’s that era’s riders and machines that you consider the gold standard and it becomes tougher to get excited about the constant recycling of new riders and bikes as they years go by. I see this especially in motocross. It goes something like — Why would anyone get excited about Ryan Dungey, haven’t they ever heard of Bob Hannah? Some who’ve spent their entire lives involved in the racing simply lose interest or end up in more comfortable in the vintage scene.
Also sometimes older people don’t keep up with the times. I clearly remember in the early 1990s when AMA Pro Racing hired an old guard car racing PR gentleman out of retirement to do media work in the Superbike series. We were well into the computer age by then with laptops fairly common. After a race at Road America this older gentleman was going to write up a release and race results to fax out to the wire services and local newspapers. “Where’s your typewriter,” he queried Road America’s PR staff. All us younger journalist in the pressroom got a good laugh at that one. For all I know this gentleman was an excellent PR man, but computer technology was lost on him.
I turn 50 this year. I don’t know about you, but I see 50 as a clear demarcation between being considered a young man and being middle aged. If I’m not careful I can actually see the beginnings of my own obsolescence. Social networking is something I’m aware of, but you won’t find me on Facebook or Twitter. Thankfully I’m up to speed and could easily put myself “in the game” if I needed to for my job.
The one good thing about my generation is that we grew up with technology. I was an early adopter, filing reports via computer by the mid-1980s. I came up in the DOS days and was the first motorcycle journalist I knew of filing stories via computer networks — anyone remember 300 baud rate, stop bits, parity, x or ymodem and acoustic couplers? I always carried a small tool kit in my travel bag so I could tear into my hotel room’s phone wall outlet to hardwire up my modem.
But in spite of my technical expertise I too risk becoming obsolete if I don’t keep learning. Fortunately for me I still enjoy meeting the up-and-coming riders; I’m into new technology, new methods of media outreach and enjoy working on this blog (Think about this – blogging is already becoming old school in certain respects).
Let’s hope the upcoming younger generation of racing leaders are a little more tolerant of old fogey motorcycle racing enthusiasts than we baby boomers were of our elders.
I’d like to stay in this sport awhile longer.