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The author, filling the pack as usual.

There are a lot of feelings that a racer associates with the beginning of a new season: excitement, anticipation, perhaps a dose of trepidation and uncertainty all run through the racer’s mind as we all relish the opportunity to get back to doing what we love and wonder if our preparation has been adequate. For someone who has been in the sport for a few years now, a new season also poses the question of what sort of state our sport is going to be in on this go-around. Pessimism is certainly not uncommon, nor is it unwarranted in many cases. Years of disappearing races, higher entry fees, old tracks, and smaller purses have worn down many of the faithful. There has been enough finger pointing and blame-laying about what happened to downhill racing in the US, that’s not a horse that needs any more beating. In my estimation, the last few years have proven to be somewhat of a steady period overall for downhill racing. No doubt the economy has had a big effect on the racing scene, but we have seen some ups to go along with some downs. Race attendance in the pro class has wavered at some formerly popular events, but seen improvement at others. Promoters frequently bear the brunt of accusations when a race series goes south or the racers are unsatisfied. While that may not be entirely undeserved, I don’t envy the role in which the promoter is put by having to satisfy several different sets of requirements from different parties. They have a sanctioning body with their set of rules and expenses, a series financier looking to keep the bottom line as low as possible, resorts with their own laundry list of wants, and finally the racers to please.

Looking back at the NORBA national series as the epitome of failure, it seems to me that more than anything else it was forgotten than the racers were in fact the customers and that providing those customers with the product they wanted was the keystone of the business. If the racers go away, the business goes away, simple as that. This is frustrating to me, because from where I’m sitting it looks like downhill racers are really easy people to please. We all share one thing in common; we like to ride our bikes, and we like to be challenged while doing so. That is basically the definition of a downhill racer. What we don’t like paying a bunch of money to go to an event where we don’t get to ride as much as we’d like, or aren’t challenged by what we’re given to ride. How often have you heard a dissatisfied racer comment that they get to spend way more time riding on a day at the bike park than they do at a race? When I look at events, and their respective levels of success and failure, that seems to be the common theme. Give the people a fresh, decent course and give them enough time to ride it, and everyone goes home happy. Make them ride for a stunted amount of time on an old, stale, or crappy course and they don’t come back because the value simply isn't there. Someone putting on an event now has the advantage of marketing to a crop of riders who weren’t around for the days of big cash purses and exposure. These days there is no doubt that anyone taking racing seriously is in it because they love to race, and it is the least an event organizer can do to give their customers the chance to do what they love.

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A little fun goes a long way.

I believe there is a wave of excitement swelling right now for downhill racing. It was evidenced by over 90 pros who showed up for the first round of the Pro GRT in Port Angeles. An American just won a world cup. Course building is coming into it’s own. The US talent is no longer having to suffer through the memory of what used to be, and can focus on what is to come. And perhaps most importantly there are people starting to take charge of guiding the sport who really understand what it will take to make downhill great. However, lots of challenges still loom. The cost of fuel this summer could be prohibitive for travel, I know I am personally still reeling a bit from the amount of money that went in my gas tank in the 2008 season. Rumors are circulating that our national champs might not receive UCI inscription. While that will be a non-issue for most in attendance, what it does mean is that UCI points will have gone from scarce to almost non-existent for any Americans hoping to earn their way into world cup racing. The limited races that do offer points have very few to offer, and the reality is that most of those points will be grabbed by people who already have plenty. So my optimism is tempered by a few reservations. But compared to years in the past, you could say that my pessimism is tempered with some optimism. Hope to see everyone out there.

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Dave Beeson, one of the faithful
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