It's no secret that northern Nevada motocross has reached a difficult point in its history. Event turnouts have been flat or down for years. Racetracks have been disappearing or struggling to stay afloat. Series have been rescheduled or even cancelled with alarming regularity.
It's understandable why newcomers to the scene might wonder: How did we get here? Why is there seemingly so much discord in northern Nevada motocross?
I have been involved in local motocross for more than 20 years and I'm not certain I can offer satisfactory answers to those questions. But what I can offer is an account of what I've seen since I arrived in northern Nevada in 1993 as an 80cc Junior.
The growth years
In 1993, the race scene here was pretty understated. Races primarily consisted of Friday night events at Carson City's Silver State Speedway, an occasional CMC Golden State or Trans Cal race at the same venue and, every now and then, an Over The Hill Gang or Old Timer's MX national at Fernley International Raceway.
There were periodic race circuits like the Dealer Challenge -- a series that pit riders and their sponsors against each other for a few races -- but there was no area championship or major series to really speak of yet.
By the late 1990s, however, it was clear the local MX was on an upswing. New events began springing up at places like Stead, and Fernley began to host more races too. Silver State endured some challenges during this era, but its final chapter was still to come. It wasn't long before contests like the 1997 Sandmaster Series were drawing strong turnouts and bringing more racetracks into the fray. (I even remember racing at Carson City's Fuji Park at one point around this time. Today it's a dog park.)
This momentum led to the creation of a sanctioning body that sought to unify the previously fragmented race scene. It was called MX West. While this sanctioning body had both critics and supporters throughout its life -- full disclosure, I was on its board at one point -- this much is undeniable: It presided over one of the most prosperous eras northern Nevada motocross had ever seen.
The high times
By the early 2000s, MX West had brought tracks such as Fernley, Stead, Winnemucca (both Calder Cycle Park and its successor), Lovelock, Silver State (now called Champion Speedway) and the Fallon Fairgrounds under its umbrella. It formed a Nevada State Championship Series that hosted rounds at most of these venues, as well as a Spring Series that typically kicked off with a huge event each February at Fernley.
I had become a reporter for Cycle News by this era and nearly every story I wrote contained some tidbit about how the turnouts were growing and each class was getting deeper and more talented. And this wasn't hype -- it was truly a remarkable time for local racing.
At round one of the 2004 MX West Spring Series at Fernley, the turnout reached the highest point I can recall: 612 entries. It took all day to get through those motos, but there was such a buzz around the pits during that time, hardly anyone seemed to mind.
A scene divided
But success often breeds competition, and it wasn't long before a rival sanctioning body, Sierra Motocross Racing Association (SMRA), arrived to challenge MX West. Sierra disagreed with MX West on a number of points, and since several of the founders of SMRA were also part of the Nevada Old Timers or the Reno Over The Hill Gang -- which at the time were the two clubs that promoted races at the popular Fernley circuit -- SMRA represented an immediate threat to MX West's dominance.
Regardless of which sanctioning body you preferred, it was clear that the emergence of competing race series in the area played a role in diminishing the mega turnouts that had marked the decade to that point. While MX West initially fought to compete with SMRA, within a couple of years MX West disbanded -- most of the major tracks in the era were leaning SMRA's direction by this point -- and left SMRA as the sole major sanctioning body in the area.
While 2006 and 2007 were still relatively decent years for local motocross, there was a storm brewing in the form of the financial crisis and the Great Recession that would follow. By 2008, this storm had hit with full force, causing northern Nevada motocross, which was already struggling with political discontent and disunity among its promoters at this point, to take a serious nosedive.
Effects of the downturn
There were a few reasons the economic downturn hit northern Nevada motocross especially hard:
- Nevada was one of the states hit hardest by the housing crisis.
- Many of the families in local motocross were in the trades, and the downturn in building cut sharply into many of their budgets. The high unemployment rate in the state meant alternatives were scarce.
- The general costs of racing were on an upswing independent of the nation's financial woes. Pricey four-strokes had all but replaced two-strokes by this point, and the era of the 250f -- a high-strung race machine prone to costly engine failures -- had numerous families struggling to keep their children in equipment.
- The political discord had already tempered race turnouts to some extent over the previous two years, which made it easier for some to simply continue staying away from the races in light of the economic troubles.
Still, local racing continued on a muted level as the nation wobbled through a unsteady economic recovery that, for the most part, persists to this day. Within the last few years, new venues like Exit 28 have arrived to breathe fresh life into the scene, and the Regional Motocross Association (RMA) -- a sanctioning body that sought to rival SMRA -- has made periodic attempts to hold its own series. However, its latest effort -- the RCH Series -- was cancelled, reportedly because of a lackluster turnout at the first round.
SMRA has continued to hold events since its inception, though it recently cancelled its 2014 Fall Series for a lack of venues. SMRA has promised it will return, but any way you slice it, its absence this fall is yet another troubling sign for local motocross. The same goes for the unsteady trajectory of the last series put on by Club MX775, which also faced a series of unreliable turnouts.
Searching for answers
The paragraphs above offer some insight into the question of how we got to this point. Yet they do little to answer the second question of why there is so much discord in the local scene today.
The simple truth behind the apparent enmity among promoters, sanctioning bodies and even riders is that most motocross people -- race organizers included -- are a competitive and independent breed, and very few of them have yet been forced into a corner. For years now, events have been able to squeak by, suffering losses that have been offset by occasional successes.
But given the dismal trajectory of the last few years, the era of acceptable losses may be coming to an end. To survive in this climate, race promoters and sanctioning bodies have to start seeing each other as allies rather than competitors (though of course, they remain both in the end). The time for going it alone and wishing ill on your competitors has passed, and any promoter who fails to see this likely won't remain a promoter for long.
Contrary to what many say, I don't believe promoters should do this for the good of local motocross. I believe they should do it for the good of their pocketbooks. Local motocross may not be a cash cow as it sits, but a year or two of good, unified efforts by some savvy promoters could change that in a hurry.
I've long suspected that most local riders care little for the drama surrounding the local race scene. I believe most racers simply want to contest well-run events and series at a number of worthwhile race venues. And the promoter who delivers that -- or, most likely, promoters -- will reap the benefits of awakening a rider base that stopped caring about local race politics years ago.
Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that SMRA was founded only by members of the Nevada Old Timers, instead of members of both the Old Timers and the Reno Over The Hill Gang.