Why Maxim got it wrong about flat-track racing

Brad Baker

Brad Baker deserves all the rewards and recognition he gets. But no matter what he does, flat-track racing is not going to be the next big thing.

I’m only picking on Maxim because a media empire built on cleavage is an easy target. Their argument is not unique.

Last month, Maxim published a story online claiming we should all get ready because flat-track racing is going to be the next big thing (Why you’ll soon fall in love with flat track motorcycle racing).

Maxim threw in a few new wrinkles, such as ridiculing flat-track fans (“the wrinkly man wearing a dozen pieces of moonstone jewelry, and the obese woman resting her feet atop her mobility scooter and a bucket of buttered popcorn atop her belly” and “couples spilling Bud Light as they scream at each other”) while urging them not to go away. But other than that, it’s basically the same old argument I’ve been hearing for more than a decade.

“Flat-track is great racing. Any minute now, it’s going to take off, just as soon as everyone recognizes how great it is, like I do. Cool guys like Roland Sands were at the season finale in Vegas, and so was Thor Drake. It’s going to be the next big thing.”

Now before everyone starts hating me in the comments section, let me say that I agree that flat-track racing is good, close, exciting racing. You’ll probably see me at one of the races some day, and it won’t be my first time. I’m not denigrating the sport, just recognizing its reality.

Flat-track racing is not going to be the next big thing. It’s a former big thing.

That’s the key element that die-hard fans of the sport and the occasional writer miss: Time flows one direction, sweeping humans along with it, and we rarely go backwards. Whatever the next trend in music is, it isn’t likely to be a revival of the Big Band era. And while flat-track will be around a while, it’s not the future of motorcycle racing.

There was a time when the best motorcycle racers in the United States competed in hillclimbs. There was a time when board track racing had the biggest crowds and the biggest stars. There was a time when AMA Grand National flat-track racing was the pinnacle of the sport in this country. Those times are all in the past, not the future. Those sports won’t come back to displace Supercross and roadracing. Something will. It will be something from the future, not from the past.

I know, I know, there’s a new man in charge of flat-track, and new and interesting bikes are changing it from the same old Harley show. I know the racing is close and the riders incredibly skilled.

I also know that even though Moto3 races are almost always closer than MotoGP races, they’re always watched by fewer people. More people will watch Ryan Dungey win another Supercross race by six seconds than will watch Jared Mees and Brad Baker and two other riders cross the finish line in a dead heat. There’s more to making a racing series a success than having close finishes.

Old-time fans often make the mistake of thinking that because flat-track offers up close racing, it’s always about to take off, just as soon as everyone recognizes that. Now, I think a younger crowd (probably including the Maxim writer) makes the mistake of thinking that because there are thousands of photos on Instagram of flat-track-style bikes, the sport is about to experience a revival. Both are equally wrong. All those young guys may like the retro, flat-track style, but they’re not buying tickets to the races. They have better things to do on a Saturday night than go to some old horse track and get dirt in their beers.

Look, I hope flat-track racing does do better and stays around for a long time, long after mainstream magazine writers have moved on to make fun of the fans of other sports. I just don’t expect it to be the next big thing.