Welcome to our weekly web-exclusive column, Transmoto USA Insider Presented By Lucas Oil. Penned each week by our man on the ground, Transmoto's US Correspondent, Jason Weigandt, USA Insider presents the story-behind-the-stories of the AMA supercross and motocross scene.
We're starting to see some real movement on the silly season front here in the US, and that's a good sign for everyone. In the big-money days in the previous decade, teams were pushing so much cash around that the big name riders were wrapped up by the end of supercross in May, and the rest of the riders were usually fixed up by RedBud in July. Then came economic turmoil, and budgets were put to the test – so much so that in July, some of the teams had no idea if they were even racing the next year, let alone how much money they had or who they could hire.
Seems like things have settled a bit. Bike sales in the US are still way off of the peak days (some tell me it's half of what it was) but things seem to have stabilised or even grown a bit, so at least everyone knows what they're dealing with. And, a few brands are actually refocused on gains instead of simply surviving.
For example, rumours are hot and heavy that Honda is trying to woo Ryan Villopoto. It's a pivotal move beyond the fact that RV is (currently, still) the AMA Supercross and Motocross Champion. In the US, Kawasaki has taken over the top spot in motorcycle market share for the first time in so long that I can't find anyone who can remember the last time. Surely, the success of RV and the Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawi Lites team has an impact there. Honda, meanwhile has been selling a ton of bikes for a long time due to their rep, as they haven't had (or really went after) a top rider (or won a ton of 450 races) in years. Honda hasn't needed to win races – they were selling bikes anyway. And plus, racing as it equates to sales is usually a tough connection – if it were everything, Suzuki would have sold a ton of bikes during the Carmichael/Reed/Dungey years.
But perhaps now Kawasaki and Honda have reached the tipping point. Plus, Honda has an all-new 2013 CRF450R to promote. What better way than by grabbing Kawasaki's greatest PR man?
The real winner in this battle is Villopoto himself. For his previous contract, he was coming off of injury and had yet to win a 450 title. Kawasaki wanted him back, but he didn't have enough leverage to fight for a higher salary, and thus actually ended up taking a cut from his previous deal. Since then, RV has delivered in spades, and he wants his reward. Throw in competition from a second bidder in Honda, and he's sitting pretty at the negotiation table.
By the way, it's worth noting that the actual Team Honda Muscle Milk factory team is already full with Justin Barcia's 2013 signing already announced, and Trey Canard now reupped. Justin Brayton may still find a third spot over there. The Villopoto-to-Honda rumours are actually sourced from a different team (and not Chad Reeds. I'm hearing the Larry Brooks/Jeremy McGrath outfit).
My expectations? I think he'll stick with Kawasaki, but at much bigger dollars thanks to the push from Honda. Kawasaki has been said to have looked at other riders, too, just in case Villopoto did walk, but, the RV/Kawasaki duo have had so much success together, I expect them to re up and keep it going for a few more years. Either way it's nice to hear about higher salaries and early-summer negotiations. It's a sign of health for the entire sport!