15 women, 6 MotoAmerica Superbike tracks and 1 hot year. “This whole experience is a dream come true”. Total Motorcycle is proud to bring you this week’s Inspiration Friday: BTR Women Racers Return for 2022! Women and gentleman, are you ready to get inspired and hear praises like “Holy smokes, I get to do this again!” , This program has changed so many things in my life” and “I never would have thought I would be chosen to be a part of something so inspiring and motivational. I only hope this encourages many more women to chase their dreams and help the sport grow!”
Royal Enfield‘s 2022 Build. Train. Race. (BTR) season is a go and you can learn more about it right here, follow along on ALL the action, LEARN about all 15 racers and go deep into the BTR program, right here, right now, right at TMW. We hope you get inspired and enjoy this years BTR spotlight on Total Motorcycle!
Total Motorcycle would like to thank Royal Enfield as well as the hundreds of millions of motorcycle riders who visit TMW for inspiring us to bring you this week’s Inspiration Friday: BTR Women Racers Return! Each week we bring you another Inspiring Motorcycle story to inspire you to get out and ride!
ROYAL ENFIELD ANNOUNCES 2022 BTR ROAD RACING PROGRAM
New and returning riders, more races and a bigger BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. program for 2022
The field is set for the 2022 Royal Enfield Build. Train. Race. (BTR) season, and as promised, the new program is the largest yet. The BTR Road Race roster doubles in size from the previous season, with 15 women on the grid, and the Royal Enfield exhibition is set to visit six MotoAmerica venues in 2022. Professional road racer and crew chief Melissa Paris also returns to Royal Enfield BTR as the mentor to the women through each phase of the program.
“The excruciating process of selecting the participants from hundreds of applicants is now over, and we have our BTR Road Race field in place,” said Breeann Poland, Marketing and Communications Lead – Royal Enfield Americas. “We are excited to welcome back four women from previous seasons, plus one making the switch from flat track, along with 10 new faces. Royal Enfield, MotoAmerica and all the BTR sponsors are looking forward to sharing the stories, personalities and progress of these amazing women from different backgrounds and experience levels as they go through the season.”
Each of the 15 participants receive a Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 motorcycle that they will spend the next three months (the “Build” phase of the program) designing and building. Melissa Paris will work with each rider to create a design and build their race bike before they begin training.
The 2022 Royal Enfield Continental GT 650 is the base motorcycle for BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. Road Race at MotoAmerica.
Kayla Thiesler, Michaela Trumbull, Alyssa Bridges, Trisha Dahl and Bridgette LeBer make their return to the Royal Enfield Build. Train. Race. program, with LeBer crossing over from the flat track side and returning to her road racing roots. They will be joined by 10 new women joining the program, which was opened up to racers of all experience levels for 2022, rather than focusing on new riders.
2022 BTR Road Racing Roster
• Kayla Thiesler, 26, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
• Michaela Trumbull, 29, Sheridan, Wyoming
• Alyssa Bridges, 31, Orange County, California
• Trisha Dahl, 31, Minneapolis, Minnesota
• Bridgette LeBer, 29, Port Angeles, Washington
• Ash Truxal, 31, Oakland, California
• Chloe Peterson, 31, Steger, Illinois
• Cora Tennyson, 36, Brandenburg, Kentucky
• Crystal Looy, 34, Thousand Oaks, California
• Hannah Stockton, 23, Kansas City, Missouri
• Jenny Chancellor, 46, Tumwater, Washington
• Jessica Martin, 38, Savannah, Georgia
• Kayleigh Buyck, 30, Sodus, New York
• Nicole Pareso, 34, Carrolton, Ohio
• Patty Paul, 57, Berrien Springs, Michigan
“Holy smokes, I get to do this again!” exclaimed returning BTR Road Race rider Alyssa Bridges of Dana Point, California. “This program has changed so many things in my life and I can’t believe we get to do it again. I’m honored to be asked to return for a second season. This time last year I had never modified a motorcycle to such a great extent, and never set foot on a racetrack. I’m sure this year will be different from last, but I’m so grateful to be asked to join again.”
“This whole experience is a dream come true,” said BTR Road Racing newcomer Kayleigh Buyck of Marion, New York. “I never would have thought I would be chosen to be a part of something so inspiring and motivational. I only hope this encourages many more women to chase their dreams and help the sport grow!”
Kayla Theisler is a 25 year old mechanical engineer living in Milwaukee, WI. Originally from a small family farm in Northeast Ohio, Kayla has had a lifelong passion for tinkering and fixing things and got her start to motorcycles at age 18. Since then, she’s gotten her feet wet in most riding disciplines but has a true love for vintage bikes. In 2020 Kayla made her racing debut in D16 AMA flat track and also as a sidecar passenger with American Historic Racing Motorcycle Association (AHRMA) where along with her pilot, Mike, she took the SC1 Vintage Sidecar National Championship in her rookie season. Outside of motorcycles Kayla can be found working on home renovations and tinkering in her woodshop, restoring her 1972 Chevy van, Vanis Joplin, hitting the slopes on skis, or trying to keep all 70 houseplants alive.
Michaela Trumbull is a small-town cosmetologist living life in the mountains of northern Wyoming. Originally from the river country of South Dakota, she didn’t grow up riding or wrenching on motorcycles but since moving to Wyoming 8 years ago you can’t keep her away from all things two wheels. You’ll often find her shredding her dirt bike up a mountain trail or ripping the highway twisties with her friends and husband. She is an adventure junky who strives to challenge herself and is constantly searching to learn new things. Michaela is a second-year BTR participant and is as excited as ever to get back on track with the speedy ladies of Royal Enfield to continue developing new skills. A motivating goal of hers is to show the world that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from, you can do anything if you want it bad enough!
Alyssa Bridges, 30 years old living in Orange County, California.
Despite living by the beach, she prefers twisty motorcycle rides over surfing. Alyssa is a professional photographer and videographer who works in the motorcycle industry as Sena’s Content Production Manager. As she explains, “I basically get paid to ride motorcycles and pay with cameras.”
Although she enjoys riding both on and off road, Alyssa has yet to participate in a formal track day or race. She plans to build her BTR bike in her own garage allowing her to spend late nights learning and fixing things if needed.
Alyssa in a nutshell: Motorcycles, Cameras, Whiskey. (preferably in that order)
I live in a small town just west of Minneapolis, Minnesota.
By day I am a low voltage technician.
My love for two wheels started just 7 years ago, I always had a curiosity for motorcycles and finally told myself at the age of 23 that I was gonna learn how to ride. So I took the motorcycle safety course, got my endorsement, bought my first bike and life felt like it got drastically better from then on.
That was the best decision I’ve maybe ever made for myself, not only did it help my self confidence by learning a new skill, but I met my husband and I’ve met my most dearest friends, all because of motorcycles.
I went from casual street riding to racing on a track for the first time at Flat Out Friday. Flat track quickly became my next passion, going on to race in my local AMA District 23 flat track series.
My experience on a road course is very little, so I’m excited to have Melissa Paris as our mentor for this program, she will be a good source to go to and will help me learn a whole new set of skills while building my Continental GT 650 into the best race bike I can
Western Pennsylvania native Ash Truxal originally came west to pursue her PhD in chemistry, but quickly found herself also pursuing a love of two wheels. In Oakland, California, Ash found herself relying on a motorcycle as her mode of transport, started learning to wrench on bikes, as well as honing her skills as a rider.
Rising to become an accomplished academic has shown the 31-year-old what hard work and persistence can do, and that overcoming self-doubt and “diving in anyway” can take her to incredible heights. Ash remembers completing her first top-end rebuild on an XR250R—she wasn’t sure it would even fire, yet it roared to life just in time for her to line up for her first-ever enduro race.
Ash now has her sights set on getting herself on a road race grid, and is thrilled at the opportunity to be a part of the BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. program. “More than anything, I want to show people who think they aren’t made for building awesome machines or competing alongside ‘the guys’ that they are absolutely capable and should never let assumptions or self-doubt inhibit them from being their own heroes,” said Ash.
Coming from a background in downhill mountain bike racing, Bridgette LeBer confesses she always dreamed of racing a motorcycle. Her first taste of road racing was a track day in 2017, and the immediate draw prompted her to drop everything in move to California to pursue more.
Bridgette joined the Royal Enfield BTR Flat Track program in 2021, but missed out on much of the season after suffering a broken femur. But this setback was no match for her determined spirit; she returns for 2022, this time on the Road Race side, in a relentless pursuit of a passion that was awakened five years ago.
“This is a dream opportunity and I can’t believe it’s really happening,” Bridgette said. “Melissa Paris is my road racing hero. She’s the woman who showed me that it’s possible for me to make it in road racing even though I didn’t grow up racing motorcycles. To have her as my mentor and be racing at MotoAmerica is truly a pinch-me moment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Breeann Poland and Royal Enfield for putting this program together and believing in me.”
When asked why Bridgette was keen on being part of the BTR program she responded
“This is a dream opportunity and I can’t believe it’s really happening. Melissa Paris is my road racing hero. She’s the woman who showed me that it’s possible for me to make it in road racing even though I didn’t grow up racing motorcycles, and to have her as my mentor and be racing at MotoAmerica is truly a “pinch me” moment. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to Bree and Royal Enfield for putting this program together and believing in me.”
Chloe is a 31-year-old graphic designer and artist currently living in Steger, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. Chloe’s track riding days go back to 2015, but she only started racing last year, and also as a “monkey” or sidecar copilot, in the AHRMA road racing circuit.
Now with a taste for checkered flags, Chloe is eager to fine tune her race skills under the tutelage of Melissa Paris. The part she is most excited about? “The build portion,” Chloe stated. “I have never gotten the opportunity to take a brand-new motorcycle from street trim to full-on race mode.”
This artist is also looking to understand more about the tools of the road-racing craft—namely “suspension voodoo.” “For me, the more I learn how my motorcycle works, the better I can ride it,” said Chloe.
“Thank you, Royal Enfield, for choosing me!”
Before attending the Motorcycle Safety Foundation new rider course in 2017, Cora had never ridden a motorcycle. But from the moment she first swung a leg over a bike, the 36-year-old from Brandenburg, Kentucky was hooked. The next day she bought her first motorcycle.
After spending two years riding rural Kentucky back roads, Cora attempted her first track day in 2019. “It was on a rented bike in the pouring race,” Cora said with a laugh. “But I was hooked.”
Cora spent the entire 2021 season supporter her husband as he pursued an amateur championship with FMRRA (now known as PanAmerican Superbike), but is now ready to get herself out onto the track and compete.
“I knew it was something I wanted to apply for when they said they were looking for riders with some experience this time,” said Cora. “There’s something about going fast around a racetrack that you can’t get anywhere else, and I would love to help more women get into this sport.”
International traveler, ER nurse, teacher, and now road racer, Crystal Looy from Thousand Oaks, California, has covered a lot of ground in her life. From growing up riding horses and dirt bikes in Southern California, Looy moved to South Korea to be an English teacher at age 22. It was then she began to utilize two wheels as a primary mode of transportation, and also where her passion for motorcycles was awakened.
“The monotony of daily travel turned into a daily adventure,” Crystal said. “I spent as much free time as I could exploring the country and it allowed me to connect with fellow riders.”
Three years later Crystal moved back to the U.S. and pursued a nursing degree. Today the 34-year-old works as an ER nurse while also spending as much time at the track as possible, recently trying her hand at racing, which has elevated her passion to a new level.
“I’ve only had the time (and nerves) to race two times, but the feeling I got was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Crystal. “I’m so excited to participate in the BTR series. Seeing these other women from all walks of life who not only raced but built their own bikes is nothing short of inspirational and I hope I can inspire women in the same way.”
For 23-year-old Hannah Stockton, all it took was a visit to a track day as a spectator to get her hooked on the experience. Hannah knew she needed to be out there rather than on the sidelines, and less than 12 hours later, she had purchased her first motorcycle. Two weeks later, she borrowed a trailer and drove 12 hours away to her first out-of-town event, having never pulled a trailer or strapped a bike down.
It’s this kind of passion and drive that fuels racers of all levels, and what immediately drew Royal Enfield to Hannah’s story. The hard-working 23-year-old is an ICU nurse at a major hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and is no stranger to facing a challenge.
“I learned so much about myself in one season and grew monumentally as a person and a rider,” Hannah said. “I’ve been riding for just over one year with one season of track-day experience.”
When Hannah is not at the track, you can find her and her dog “Benny” hanging out with friends, racing go-karts, lifting weights, and seizing just about any spontaneous adventure she can.
Passion for motorcycles can emerge at any age. Jenny Chancellor from western Washington didn’t get her start until her late 30’s but found herself immediately excelling on two wheels. “After attending a women’s VIP track day, I was instantly hooked and never looked back,” Jenny said. “I’ve always told people that learning to ride at the racetrack was the best decision I ever made in my life.”
Today, the 46-year-old coaches and control rides for Track Time, the premiere track day provider in the Pacific Northwest, as well as races with the Washington Motorcycle Road Race Association (WMRRA). She enjoys helping new riders improve their skills, especially other women. More than anything, she loves to encourage women to try out racing, and helping them find their confidence both on the track and in the pits.
“I feel so lucky to be selected to participate in Royal Enfield’s BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. program,” said Jenny. “Motorcycling has become an integral part of my life and I can’t imagine a life without riding.”
When did her obsession for motorcycles begin? “I was born this way,” says Jessica Martin with a smile. The 38-year-old from Savannah, Georgia, is a self-taught motorcycle enthusiast who bought her first motorcycle at 18 years old and hasn’t stopped riding since. Her love of two wheels is rivaled only by her love of the sky. She not only works as a materials manager for an aviation company, but can be found flying a plane, skydiving or hang gliding when she’s not twisting a throttle.
Her early days consisted of street riding until a horrific accident in 2015 that changed her life. Since then, she has ridden primarily track. In 2019 Jessica began racing on a club level and co-founded Hotmess Racing (an all-women race team) with the goal of encouraging more women to get into riding and racing. She also became an instructor for Sportbike Track Time, which she calls one of her most rewarding endeavors.
“There aren’t enough words to describe my excitement and gratitude to be a part of this program,” Jessica says. “My goal is that someone sees me out there and thinks to themselves, ‘I can do this.’ I know what it’s like to doubt yourself; sometimes we just need that splash of courage, and I want to be that splash of courage for someone else.”
For 30-year-old Kayleigh Buyck (pronounced “Buick”) of Sodus, New York, learning to ride a motorcycle was as simple as moving up from the passenger seat. Having spent a lot of her childhood on her dad’s motorcycle in upstate New York “where the backroads are endless and motorcycle rides are long,” as she describes, Kayleigh finds life on two wheels to be quite natural. But it was a track weekend that really ignited her passion for road racing. “I fell in love,” Kayleigh said. “I then purchased a sportbike and felt like I was on cloud nine!”
Today, Kayleigh coaches with N2 Track Days and Ruts to Racelines, an all-female event. “The women’s events are my all-time favorite,” said Kayleigh. “It’s possibly the coolest girl gang anyone could ask for!”
Although she admits to not knowing much about building a race motorcycle, Kayleigh plans to use her background in home remodeling to learn everything she can. “Learning new skills and seeing something completed makes all of the hard work worth every second,” said Kayleigh. “This is a huge reason why I dreamed of being part of this program. I am excited to put my head down and get my hands dirty.
Nicole Pareso didn’t grow up around motorcycles, but her passion began—as so many do—as a passenger. From her teenage years on the pillion, Nicole went on to buy her first bike, and spent many hours in parking lots sharpening her skills before trying her hand at her first track day.
In 2019, Nicole began her racing career along with an all-ladies race team called Hotmess Racing. “The main reason we started a team was to show and encourage women to get on the track,” said Nicole. “This camaraderie has certainly helped me become a better rider and racer and I’m looking forward to continued growth on the track and possibly helping others do the same.”
Now living in Carrolton, Ohio, the recently married 34-year-old is working as a mechanical designer and finds herself a stepmom to a six-year-old. “He claims he hates motorcycles just to punk me,” Nicole says with a smile. “Although he does like it when we are tearing them down in the garage or working on them in the pits.”
Patty Paul of Berrien Springs, Michigan describes herself as a mild-mannered software development manager by trade. But her alter-ego is an adrenaline junkie. At 57 years young, Patty enjoys a love for speed and adventure and shares her passion for motorsports with her husband. Along with riding motorcycles, the pair are avid snowmobilers, and even held their winter wedding trailside in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
After 14 years of riding everything from trail bikes, to touring bikes, Patty decided to try track riding—an experience she says she will never forget. “Five years ago, I attended California Superbike School at Barber. Those first two laps, I was clueless. I was terrified. But I was in love! That day changed my life, and my track addiction began.”
As part of a personal challenge to grow as a rider and improve her fitness, both physically and mentally, Patty applied to be a part of the 2022 Royal Enfield BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. program.
“I’m beyond excited and honored to participate in BTR this season—what a dream come true!” Patty exclaimed. “The team of women is amazing, diverse in talent and backgrounds. Through this journey, I hope I can inspire other potential riders, young and not so young, to pursue this sport.”
Along with a number of riders, many sponsors are back for the 2022 Royal Enfield Build. Train. Race. program. The Road Racing program sees the return of S&S Cycle, Maxima Racing Oils, BOXO USA and Öhlins USA Suspension while new sponsors Arai Helmets and AGV come on board for the 2022 season.
The BTR Road Racing women will each build out their own unique sponsor deck that can extend to include a different number of sponsors and/or parts. Stay connected for more information on each race bike throughout the Build phase of the program at https://buildtrainrace.com/road-racing/.
“It means the world to us to have such generous support from these great companies,” said Poland. “Being able to send the Royal Enfield BTR women out onto the track with premium parts, support and protection is everything. Huge thanks to everyone who is behind our 2022 BTR Road Racing program. We can’t wait to see it all come together this season.”
Up from the previous year’s schedule of three rounds, BTR Road Racing is slated to run six rounds within the MotoAmerica FIM North American Road Race Championship for the 2022 season. Along with a return to Brainerd, Pitt Race and Barber Motorsports Park, BTR has added VIR, Road America and New Jersey to the 2022 schedule.
“The Royal Enfield BUILD. TRAIN. RACE. racers and crew were a pleasure to have in our paddock last year,” said MotoAmerica Communications Manager Paul Carruthers. “The series was embraced by our fans, the rest of the paddock and the industry. We’re excited to welcome them back this year for twice as many rounds, and with even more racers.”
2022 Royal Enfield BTR Road Racing Schedule
May 20-22 (Rnd 1) Virginia Int’l Raceway, Alton, VA
Jun 3-5 (Rnd 2) Road America, Elkhart Lake, WI
Jul 29-31 (Rnd 3) Brainerd Int’l Raceway, Brainerd, MN
Aug 19-21 (Rnd 4) Pittsburgh Int’l Race Complex, Wampum, PA
Sep 9-11 (Rnd 5) New Jersey Motorsports Park, Millville, NJ
Sep 23-25 (Rnd 6) Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, AL
MORE INFORMATION ON 2022 MOTOAMERICA
About Royal Enfield
The oldest motorcycle company in continuous production in the world, Royal Enfield made its first motorcycle in 1901. A division of Eicher Motors Limited, Royal Enfield has created the midsize motorcycle segment in India with its unique and distinctive modern classic motorcycles. With its manufacturing base in Chennai, India, Royal Enfield has been able to grow its production rapidly against a surge in demand for its motorcycles. Royal Enfield is a leading player in the global middleweight motorcycle market.
Royal Enfield North America (RENA) is headquartered in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and is developing a growing network of more than 140 dealers in North America, including the contiguous U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. RENA currently offers the all-new Meteor 350, Himalayan and the 650 Twins (INT 650 and Continental GT 650) motorcycles, along with a range of Genuine Motorcycle Accessories and apparel.
The History Of Superbike Racing In America
We use the term “Superbike” almost synonymously with any high-performance sportbike these days. Today, Superbike road racing takes place around the world, but the source of popularity of the name can be traced directly back to 1976. Appropriately enough the American Bicentennial was the year the AMA Superbike Championship, which would later become MotoAmerica Superbike, was founded.
Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Hall & Oates “Sara Smile” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen was playing on the radio while Reg Pridmore was racing a Butler & Smith BMW R90S against guys like Steve McLaughlin (BMW), Mike Baldwin (Moto-Guzzi), Keith Code (Kawasaki), and Cook Neilson (Ducati) en route to winning that year’s inaugural AMA Superbike title.
Little did anyone know at the time, but the Superbike Production support class of AMA national road races, would catch the attention of road racing fans and within a couple of years surpass the popularity of all other road racing classes in America. It would also produce some of the elite riders in all of motorcycle racing. By the mid-1980s no one could deny it, AMA Superbike and its racing stars were what fans were coming to see. Just a little over a decade after its founding, Superbike racing had spread so wide and fast around the world that the FIM designated a World Superbike Championship in 1988. Fittingly that first Superbike World Championship was won by American racing hero, Fred Merkel.
In The Beginning
Superbike sprang up organically from the increasingly popular production racing movement at club events in the early-to-mid 1970s. Motorcycles like the Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Z1, the Norton Commando, the Triumph Bonneville, the BMW R90S, the Ducati 750SS as well as the two-stroke Yamahas, Kawasakis and Suzukis were coming out of the factory with better handling and had so much power that you couldn’t begin to tap their potential on the street. As a result, more and more Baby Boomers, who were coming of age, safety wired and put number plates on their street bikes and took to the track in record numbers.
Critical mass was reached by 1973 and race promoters Gavin Trippe and Bruce Cox saw an opportunity and invited the rapid growing cadre of production racers to Laguna Seca Raceway in July of 1973 to participate in the AMA National Road Race weekend. The Heavyweight Production class was won by Yvon DuHamel over Steve McLaughlin; both on a Kawasaki Z1s. Mike Clarke won the Lightweight Production class on a Yamaha RD350. The race proved to be very popular with fans, so Laguna held the race alongside the AMA Road Race National again in 1974. That year the production race was featured on the cover of Cycle News and the headline read: “Superbike National.” A class was born.
By 1975 Daytona and Ontario added Superbike Production racing to their schedules and the AMA could no longer ignore the growing popularity of the class.
It should be noted, the extensive coverage of AMA Superbike races in Cycle magazine, and the exploits of racer/editor Cook Neilson and tuner/editor Phil Schilling, were hugely instrumental in fostering a massive fan base for the new road racing class.
Europe Versus Japan
The earliest Japanese big-bore, multi-cylinder production bikes were known for brute power, but not so much for handling. That’s where the less powerful, but stable European mounts like the BMW R90S, Ducati SS and Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans had an advantage in cornering. It was an interesting contest on the track, the duel between power and handling. European bikes won every race in 1976 and all the races in the first half of 1977. But then Reg Pridmore, on the high banks of Pocono in August of 1977, rode a Pierre des Roches-tuned Racecrafters Kawasaki KZ1000 to victory and the tide began to turn in favor of the Japanese multis.
When Suzuki launched the great-handling GS series of sportbikes with Wes Cooley riding, massive horsepower was finally mated with a stable frame and suspension, and the modern Superbike was born. Gradually the European-made machines became less and less competitive. In 1979 when Rich Schlachter won Loudon on a George Vincensi-built Ducati, it marked the end of an era – the last European-built machine to win an AMA Superbike race for 13 years, all the way until 1992 when Doug Polen put a Ferracci Ducati back atop the podium at Laguna Seca.
Big H Enters The Fray
For the first four years of AMA Superbike, the class was relegated to support status to AMA Formula One. The tide began to turn, and the stakes rose considerably in 1980 when the factory Honda entered Superbike featuring a young racing phenom named Freddie Spencer. Even though Spencer ultimately never won the title, the presence of a rider of his stature and participation by Honda and its accompanying media blitz, set the stage for Superbikes supplanting Formula One’s popularity, and in relative short order becoming the premier class in AMA road racing by the mid-1980s. It was also during this era (1983) when the AMA recognized the power of the 1000cc beasts were outpacing tire technology, so the formula was changed from 1000cc motors to 750cc for multis (although Twins were still allowed 1000cc). Superbikes would be 750cc machines until 2003 when the one-liter bikes were brought back.
During the earliest years of AMA Superbike racing, the spotlight was primarily shared between BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki. It took a few seasons for Honda to hit its stride, but the mid-1980s marked nearly total domination by Honda, with the company winning five consecutive AMA Superbike titles with Fred Merkel, Wayne Rainey and Bubba Shobert from 1984 to 1988.
In 1986 Fred Merkel became the first rider to hit the 20-win mark. Merkel would go on to solidify AMA Superbike racing’s reputation across the globe by twice winning the Superbike World Championship in 1988 and ’89. Merkel’s 20 wins was an AMA Superbike record that would stand for 12 years before Canadian Miguel Duhamel took over the all-time AMA Superbike wins in 1998. Duhamel, like Merkel, raced for Honda.
Peak Of Popularity
Prior to the mid-1990s only select AMA Superbike races were televised, but with the explosion of cable TV and channels like ESPN, TNN, and Speedvision, races were televised more and more frequently until by the mid-90s the series was on TV full time. That combined with an explosion of motorcycle sales during the late 1990s, meant that the manufacturers had plenty of money to spend. For about a 10-year period from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s AMA Superbike racing reached a peak of popularity. Factory participation reached an all-time high, likewise for fan turnout and rider salaries.
It was also a period of unprecedented parity in the sport. During this period nearly all of the manufacturers that participated enjoyed success with Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki winning championships. American maker Harley-Davidson even entered the fray for the first time. Harley won a pole with Chris Carr, led races with Duhamel and came close to winning several times.
Key milestones during this era included Doug Chandler tying Reg Pridmore for the most AMA Superbike Championships with three titles in 1997. Also notable were record winning streaks by Duhamel, including him becoming the all-time wins leader, the start of the Mat Mladin era of domination and future MotoGP champ Nicky Hayden becoming the youngest ever AMA Superbike Champion in 2002.
A Series Of Rivalries
AMA Superbike racing has long been marked for red-hot rivalries between riders and manufacturers. The earliest bigtime rivals were Wes Cooley, Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson. The 1980 season saw some epic battles between the trio. The season ended with Cooley winning the title in a controversial manner, with protests and counter-protests being filed between the Kawasaki and Suzuki Superbike teams. Cooley had to wait two months after the season to finally be awarded the championship.
The early 1980s marked a fierce competition between Kawasaki and Honda, with Kawasaki being cast as the David vs. the Honda Goliath. Amazingly Kawasaki came out on top three years in a row on the strength of the talent of Eddie Lawson and a young up-and-comer named Wayne Rainey combined with the tuning skills of Rob Muzzy.
A few years later Rainey would become part of perhaps the best-known rivalry in the history of the series, when in 1987, he beat out archrival Kevin Schwantz after some of the most intense battles fans of the series ever witnessed. The normally congenial competitions between the Japanese makers were thrown out the window that year when protest and counter-protests flew back and forth between Honda and Suzuki. What made the Rainey/Schwantz rivalry even more epic was the fact that they carried it on in Grand Prix racing.
Maybe the most contentious rivalry came in the mid-2000s between Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Mat Mladin and Ben Spies. After nearly a decade of largely dominating the championship, a young Spies ended the Mladin era by winning the title in 2006. That set up an epic battle with Mladin trying unsuccessfully to win back the championship from his younger teammate for the next couple of seasons and tension was thick in the air at many of the post-race press conferences. Spies went on to win the World Superbike title, following in the footsteps of other American riders to step up and win the world title such as Merkel, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, John Kocinski and Colin Edwards. Spies often credited his trial by fire with Mladin for preparing him for the world stage.
Eras Of AMA Superbike
For most of the history of AMA Superbike racing, the series was sanctioned and managed by the American Motorcyclist Association in Ohio. In 2007 AMA Pro Racing was sold to the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG). It proved to be a difficult period for AMA Superbike, primarily due to a dramatic downturn in the economy. While the series saw decreased factory participation and fan interest during the DMG years, the racing continued to be strong with Yamaha ace Josh Hayes emerging as the dominant rider of the first half of the 2010s.
The 2010s also marked a decade of domination for Yamaha. The company won nine of the titles in the 2010s with Hayes scoring four, Josh Herrin one, and Cameron Beaubier matching Hayes, also with four titles. The Yamaha championship streak in the 2010s was only broken one time by Toni Elias on the Yoshimura Suzuki in 2017.
MotoAmerica Takes The Reins
The 2015 season saw a new era in the history of American Superbike racing, when MotoAmerica became the series organizer sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).
MotoAmerica is run by enthusiasts and businessmen with deep roots in motorcycle racing. Most recognizable among MotoAmerica leadership is three-time Grand Prix World Champion and two-time AMA Superbike Champion Wayne Rainey. Rainey is part of the KRAVE Group, a strong leadership team that includes three additional partners – ex-racer, former vice president of motorsports operations at the Circuit of The Americas (COTA), and former managing director of Team Roberts in the Grand Prix World Championship Chuck Aksland; executive director of the Petersen Automotive Museum Terry Karges; and energy sector investor and businessman Richard Varner.
Under the guidance of MotoAmerica, the series recovered from the depths of the Great Recession. MotoAmerica signed ongoing national television deals with Fox Sports, NBC Sports Network, and MAVTV. In addition, they launched MotoAmerica Live+, a proprietary subscription streaming service.
MotoAmerica Enters A New Decade
In 2020 Superbike racing entered its sixth decade. The start of the 2020s began as the 2010s left off with the leading contenders being defending champ Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha’s Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias of M4 ECSTAR Suzuki. The Beaubier/Elias rivalry has been fiery at times and has become one of the longest-running rivalries in the history of the series.
Beaubier’s 2020 title moved him into rarified air in terms of the history of MotoAmerica Superbike. His fifth championship surpassed his former teammate Josh Hayes’s four titles, and he clinched the second most championships in the 45-year history of the series. Australian Mat Mladin, with his seven championships, leads the way. Beaubier also climbed into the upper echelon on the all-time wins category, moving into third on that list with an impressive 54 career Superbike victories.
Beaubier’s former Yamaha teammate Jake Gagne is also a former MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 Champion and former World Superbike competitor. But, prior to the 2021 season, Gagne had never won a MotoAmerica Superbike race. Well, that all changed in the second race at Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta, which was round one of the 2021 campaign. Gagne not only won that race, but he went on to collect a record 17 victories on the season, including a record 16 wins in a row, on the way to clinching the 2021 MotoAmerica Superbike Championship.