When I turned professional a decade ago, the motorcycle industry didn’t have a lot of confidence in flat track. Fewer events were added to the AMA Pro Grand National Championship schedule every season, and the quality of those events didn’t seem too important. The current American Flat Track Singles class didn’t exist, and none of the races were broadcast on television. Few publications covered the sport, and even if your name was Chris Carr, finding outside-industry sponsorship was difficult. Many within the sport fought to “keep tradition” so long that the sport fell behind other forms of motorcycle racing. If you were involved in flat track, you had a strong passion for it, not because you were planning to make it a career.
The situation is much different now. With weekly coverage on NBC Sports along with the annual X Games competition on ESPN, flat track has been transformed into a far more marketable sport. Last season, more than 1.7 million people watched AFT on television. That is valuable to companies within the motorcycle industry and outside of it as well. Even so, you still have to create awareness about your program and market yourself well to develop partnerships. After all, you only get out of this sport what you put into it.
As I transition from AFT Twins to Singles, I have been faced with many different situations. When I raced Twins, I really didn’t have an option as far as what brand of motorcycle I raced; Kawasaki was the only feasible choice. The reason for this was simply the cost associated with building a motorcycle capable of competing against factory efforts and teams with bigger budgets. Going into this season, however, I suddenly had options. All the current 450cc production motocross bikes are priced similarly so I simply had to determine which bike would be the most competitive and which manufacturer is offering the most financial support.
When I decided to race a single, I reached out to several manufacturers to see if they wanted to be involved in my program. As a competitive rider who also writes about the sport, I believe I have a lot to offer a brand in exchange for motorcycles and a small parts budget. Over a three-month period, I sent out multiple proposals. The results? I heard from four manufacturers and all four declined. Well, three declined. One didn’t respond to any of my emails. Remember what I said in Part 1 about motorcycling being a “dog-eat-dog” industry? You can’t have thin skin when it comes to the business side of racing.
I figured I could wait around and hope for an opportunity to come my way or I could buckle down and make it happen on my own. Initially, I only planned to switch to the singles class if I could find a manufacturer with which to partner. After I lost two of my largest sponsorships during the off-season, however, that wasn’t an option anymore. So I purchased two brand-new 2017 Honda CRF450Rs. Even though Honda was one of the manufacturers that turned me down, I have received support the past few seasons from my local dealership, Lancaster Honda. If not for its backing and the manufacturer contingency program (which requires a Honda logo and predominantly standard production colors), I would fit black plastic and plaster a big “Cory Texter Racing” logo on the sides of the bike. Our sport offers a lot of value, so I don’t want to promote any brand for free.
After purchasing the bikes, I went to work researching which parts I could put on these bikes to give myself the best chance to win races. I haven’t spent a lot of time on the single-cylinder machines during the past few seasons, so I had to play catch-up on the latest and greatest components for the CRF450R. Ironically, I found more success with product sponsorships this off-season than I have in the past. I am still putting all of the pieces of that puzzle together, but I will provide a full parts breakdown before the season-opening Daytona TT at Daytona International Speedway on March 15.
In addition to finding the required race parts, I needed someone with mechanical knowledge to actually install everything for me. I will be the first one to say I am a subpar mechanic. My little sister Shayna is usually my go-to for help in the garage. I was planning to “wing it” with a little help from family and friends when former roadracer and flat-tracker Rob McLendon reached out to me. He graciously invited me and my family to Florida to prepare for the season. The McLendon family owns D&D Cycle, which is a local Triumph/Ducati shop in Pensacola. Not only has he given me, my wife, and my four-month-old son Cruise a place to stay, he has been working nonstop prepping my motorcycles and coming up with ideas to make them even better.
McLendon is also the owner of Pensacola Dirt Track, which is a really cool little short track about a mile from his shop. When he isn’t working on my bikes, he has been prepping the track and keeping it top-notch so we can get seat time on the new bikes. In addition, Harley-Davidson factory riders Brandon Robinson and Jarod Vanderkooi are in Florida preparing for the upcoming season so I have been able to link up with them almost daily to ride and train.
With Rob building the bikes, I have been able to spend more time on my computer and phone trying to find a co-title sponsor for the year. We aren’t living large; at this point, I don’t even have enough money in my race account to pre-enter all the races. Heck, my wife and I are sleeping in bunk beds. We are, however, working hard, having fun, and enjoying the process required to be competitive in the American Flat Track series.