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With only two manufacturers currently offering motocross specific machines, a lack of support from the factories, and several major series shrinking, the state of ATV racing isn’t looking as good as it was a few years ago. Luckily, the diehard riders, fans, and companies are still out there, driven by their collective passion. However, many are feeling anxious and scared, fearing extinction as the effects of this ATV recession are being felt all around the country. Is it time to hit the panic button? Is the end near? Fear not my fellow enthusiasts. When you really take the time to look at it, our sport is very young, and we’ve come a long way in that short time. While things might be rough now, there is hope for the future.
Believe it or not, just over 30 years ago, the first four-wheeled sport ATV made it’s way from Japan to America in the form of a Suzuki Lt125. It was 29 years ago that they released the first high performance sport quad, the Lt250r. At that point, the three-wheeled world realized the advantage of that extra wheel and three-wheeler racing evolved into Quadcross. Of course, not everyone accepted these new machines, like our older two-wheeled cousins for example. Non-enthusiasts were especially opposed to the sport quad, and believed they needed to be stopped entirely. That being said, the fun and excitement of sport quads caught on quick.
Unfortunately, it was not long before lawsuits effectively killed nearly the entire lineup of sport quads. The heavier, tipsy machines were seen as dangerous compared to dirt bikes, and to make a long story short, the manufacturers cut their sport quads as a result. The thought of living in a quad free world is the stuff of nightmares, and that nightmare was a reality only 20 years ago. For that reason, many riders today have fear that day could come again. Luckily, the die-hards at that time kept their 1980’s machines intact with the help of a very supportive and creative aftermarket, keeping the racing scene alive. Meanwhile Yamaha kept their Banshee, Blaster, and Warrior in production which satisfied racers and recreational riders alike. Without them, we might not be here at all.
Then came the 2000’s, actually 1999 to be exact. While the rest of the world feared the end, in the form of Y2K, ATV racers saw the beginning, wrapped in red plastic and sporting the most high performance 4-stroke in an ATV at the time. When Honda’s 400ex came onto the scene, it erupted like Mt. St. Helens. It might not have been racers choice, but it got the ball rolling quickly. From the mild to the wild, every manufacturer was racing to create the best sport quad. Pro quad racing was arguably the best in history, and the industry was booming. At no point did quads surpass dirt bikes, unless you’re talking about sales, but it’s the closest they ever came. In fact, we were the first to fuel injection, reversed motors and high end air shocks, take that! Looking at the sport from 2000 to 2010, things grew at an insanely rapid rate. It’s downright impressive whether you look at it from a sports standpoint, a technology standpoint, or an economic standpoint. Sadly, all of that slowed down when the economy slowed down
All things considered, it’s important to remember that while things are slow, we are far better off than in the 90’s. Yamaha once again remains dedicated to the sport, constantly improving their Yfz450r and offering a full sport quad lineup. Some manufacturers have opted out of making changes, but still offer up proven machines. Others have disappeared completely. There is no denying that compared to just five years ago, things aren’t as good as they once were, but we still have to be thankful. Our aftermarket is one of the best in motorsports, with great thinkers and innovators, and genuine people. The environment at ATV races is one of the most friendly and welcoming. We’ve left J-Arms, confusing unconventional carburetors, strange designs, and disastrous machines in the past. Additionally, the local racing scenes show promise, and feature great talent.
Hopefully, we can get back to where we were not long ago, but hope is not all we can do. If the last few years, let alone our history, are any indication of the potential of our sport, one can only imagine what the future might look like. It is reasonable to feel afraid right now, but as a community we’ve got to act on that together. Right now is a time to support the companies that are truly dedicated to us. We can also continue to show up to local tracks regularly and create a positive image for ourselves. By putting forth the effort, and following in the footsteps of those die-hard riders who pushed through a time when our sport was thought to be dead, we can keep the dream alive. It’s not too crazy to think that one-day, we might have a national amateur program, fully involved factories, a prominent pro series, more media coverage and recognition, and respect from the rest of the motorsport community.