In February of this year, the WSMC (Willow Springs Motorcycle Club) — the club roadracing organization responsible for events held at Southern California’s long-standing racing circuit, Willow Springs International Raceway — was abruptly shut down by circuit owner Bill Huth. Huth stated that declining club revenues (i.e., lack of entries) were putting the WSMC further and further into the red, and he decided to stem the bleeding. Willow Springs will reportedly run track-day events on those weekends formerly reserved for WSMC until further notice.
This was especially sad news for me. Like many Southern California roadracers who cut their teeth on the “Fastest Road in the West”, club roadracing at Willow Springs generated some fantastic memories. But the challenging economy has proven to be a difficult obstacle for club racing…if not racing in general.
I was lucky to be participating in the golden years of club roadracing in the ‘90s, when entries were so abundant that grids in the major classes often were packed to the gills, and there were so many contingency payouts that you literally had to be careful not to miss any. Many of those contingency payouts were from the OE manufacturers that paid relatively handsomely for what was considered “amateur” racing; if a very fast racer played his cards right and planned correctly, he could make a very good living for a few weekends’ work (in fact, many AMA professional racers whose contracts didn’t conflict did just that, racing on off weekends to supplement their AMA income).
The WSMC in particular was doing well enough that in addition to the contingency payouts, it had cash purses in nearly every category. For those “sportsman” racers who were competing on a budget for the fun of it in the less popular classes, that cash payout was surely icing on the cake. And because the grids for the major classes were so full (pre-entry through the mail was a must, as there was no guarantee there would be room for walk-in entries on race weekend), the purses for those classes increased proportionately; add the numerous contingency payouts, and a racer could make a decent living just racing at Willow Springs.
In fact, there were several years that I made a good amount of money racing there. With my Yamaha TZ250B that I bought new in 1991, plus an FZR600, I was able to take home upwards of $5000 on a good race weekend. A friend of mine had a Yamaha FZR400, and he even lent it to me a few times when Yamaha was paying contingency for that class; that I was able to win those races only padded my take-home pay for those weekends (one rider was planning on protesting the legality of the FZR400, until he saw me hand it off to my friend who was a regular in the 400 class).
Unfortunately, those years were also where I came to know my tax accountant quite well, because Uncle Sam wanted his disproportionate cut of my winnings. Keeping track and a paper trail of every little expense became one of those necessary chores, and adding up those expenses opened my eyes to the vast amounts of money I was spending on racing. Testament to how much money I was making in club racing at WSMC was that one year I actually turned a profit, despite my best efforts at using more funds (it was not uncommon for me to have a $600 - $700 tire bill at the end of a weekend) than I took in.
I don’t blame track days for the (hopefully temporary) demise of WSMC. While the proliferation of track days might have played a small role, I think the issue of declining club racers is a much more complex problem than just pointing the finger there. The sputtering economy surely has played a greater role in the lack of racers…one need only look at the aforementioned tire expenses to realize that it can be one expensive habit.
Other club racing organizations are already moving to fill some of the holes left by the cancellation of WSMC weekends. And unlike the years I raced, there are many more tracks in California to take up the slack. Let’s hope the economy picks up — and club racing with it, so that motorcycle roadracing can once again return to my old stomping grounds at Willow Springs. SR