Prior to the season, I wrote an article about the success rate of rookie factory 250 riders and discussed this at length with Daniel Blair and Producer Joe on the Main Event Moto Podast. The data clearly show’s factory teams are lighting money on fire by investing in amateurs and hiring first-year professionals to compete in the Monster Energy Supercross series. Once in a great, while these teams find the next superstar, but more often than not they end up wasting money and crushing careers.
Watching Rockstar Husqvarna rookie Jalek Swoll flounder around the Supercross track in Tampa was a perfect example of why these kids should not enter the professional ranks on a full factory team. Jalek’s performance was decent for a kid in his first-ever Supercross but failed to qualify after being passed by Isaac Teasdale a few feet before the finish of the LCQ. The problem of being a rookie on a factory team is the expectations, not qualifying is unacceptable. Jalek is expected to be in the main event and compete inside the top ten, at a minimum. Often these riders are forever judged on their first year or two as a professional and never get another shot.
(Jalek Swoll didn't ride bad, but for a factory rider it was bad)
Meanwhile, quite a few seasoned professionals looked great in Tampa, Joey Crown looks like a guy who can make the jump to a contender. Imagine if Joey Crown was on the Rockstar Husqvarna and Jalek was on the Club MX team. Nobody would judge Jalek’s performance with disappointment and fourth-year pro-Joey Crown would be giving Husqvarna a performance expected of a factory machine. If a fourth-year professional like Crown can’t deliver the results expected by a factory team it’s fair if they are fired. Asking rookies who are not old enough to vote or drink alcohol to deliver instant results is a recipe for injuries and heartache.
(Joey Crown looks ready to become a contender)
More evidence proving my point is the TLD/KTM team, neither of their 250 East rookies even made it to the starting gate in Tampa. Pierce Brown was hurt in the offseason and Brian Moreau was hurt in the first untimed practice session. On the other hand, the only rider on the TLD/KTM team with experience, Brandon Hartranft has delivered two podium finishes and sits fourth in the 250 West standings. Brandon was allowed to gain experience while on the satellite Rock River Yamaha team and his experience is paying dividends for the TLD/KTM team. His teammate in the west, Derek Drake has been somewhat average and sits ninth in the standings. Unfortunately being on a factory team this result isn’t celebrated, it is looked upon as the bare minimum to stay employed.
(This team isn't delivering results equivilant to other factory teams)
The only exception is the 2020 rookie class is Jett Lawrence, he looked ready to compete and almost won in his third start. While he looked fast enough to compete, his age and lack of experience left him on the ground unconscious with a broken collarbone. Even with this unfortunate outcome, Jett has proven worthy of the factory opportunity. If it were up to me I would have held him out until 2021, but sometimes no matter the precautions injuries still happen, the sport is dangerous. Jett is a rare talent and his brilliance is the reason team managers defy common sense and spend endless amounts of money developing 12-year-old kids into factory racers.
(Jett Lawrence is rare exception of a rookie ready for a factory team)
Teams should use more facts and common sense when hiring riders in the 250 class. Factories need results in order to sell motorcycles and teams get more success from seasoned 250 riders. They should let smaller less funded teams develop the talent, not only do the riders mature but teams get a better look at their skillset and work ethic. It’s common in all sports for young talented athletes to be treated like superstars long before they actually accomplish anything. Instead, these kids should be learning precious life skills, in Supercross and Motocross, it’s considered normal to homeschool young kids and send them to training facilities. Often this stunts their emotional development and after they don’t see success in racing their stories don’t have happy endings.
(Pleanty of teams out there would love to develop these rookies for the factories)
The solution to this problem is right in front of everyone. Take the money being spent on young kids racing amateur nationals and use it to support existing professional teams in the paddock. Teams like PR-MX Kawasaki, Phoenix Racing Honda, FXR/Chaparral Honda, Club MX, TiLube Honda, Manluk Racing or the host of others fielding teams on shoestring budgets. This would make the series better and more importantly protect the 12-year-old kids from potentially life-destroying expectations. The days of SX/MX racers being over the hill at 25 years old is over, the new prime is from 22 – 35 years old. Now if only the people hiring riders would recognize this fact, everyone would benefit.