Being a privateer ain’t easy and sometimes it takes innovative, guerilla marketing tactics like Bobby Piazza taking donations to rev his bike at the Daytona Monster Energy Supercross race to make the difference between racing on a given night or watching the next race from the back of a van.
Without a factory contract, riders like Piazza must cover a majority of his costs out of pocket. Piazza has sponsors of which he is incredibly proud, but the cost of living on the road and commuting from city to city can be prohibitive.
A couple of weeks ago, NBC Sports bumped into Piazza taking $20 donations to rev his bike in the Daytona International Speedway garage.
“It costs around $1,500 every weekend just to get there, whether you’re driving or flying to all these rounds after sign up, fuel bill, hotels, all the other fun stuff,” Piazza told NBC Sports. “At first, in Houston, I did a $20 donations and you’d get a free t-shirt because you’re not allowed to sell t-shirts [in the paddock]. Then I had people take pictures with me and my bike.
I had a couple of kids rev my bike and it went off pretty much there. People started digging it and then Daytona came around. I said, screw it, rev my bike for $20 donation. Try to get me to the next round.”
The gimmick worked. Piazza raised enough in Daytona to get to the next round in Indianapolis, where he once again employed the tactic.
Once again, he earned enough in the Circle City to propel him to the Motor City, where Supercross races this weekend.
“They take the top 40 to qualify; the top 40 get paid,” Piazza said. “But by the time you go to the next round, sign up and all this other stuff, you’re negative.”
In Daytona, Piazza raised about twice the base amount needed to pay his fuel costs and ancillaries to get to Indianapolis last week. There, he narrowly missed making the night show when he mistakenly jumped on a red cross flag during his final, fastest lap of qualification.
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But for Piazza making the night show is only part of the equation. Simply being part of the show is the most important part.
“Honestly, this bike rev thing has taken off,” Piazza said. “People love it. It definitely helped me get to Indy. If I wouldn’t have done that at Daytona, I wouldn’t have been able to afford to go to Indy. And now that I did it [again], I am on my way to Detroit this weekend.”
Piazza won’t be able to employ his bike rev strategy at Ford Field in Detroit because the paddock is indoors, but he’s raised enough to take the immediate pressure off.
Ultimately, that might not matter since the next round is across the country in Seattle, followed by an off weekend. Even if Piazza were able to get a third party to haul his bike to the West Coast, (which in turn would lower his fuel costs), he might not get the bike back in time to test and train for Round 12 in Glendale, Arizona.
“It’s tough being a privateer,” Piazza said. “I have a bunch of great sponsors helping me out for sure.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be doing it, but it’s pretty much me, my girlfriend, and my dog. We travel to each supercross race in my van. … I’m trying to make the show every weekend just to get by, just to go to the next round.”
One of the defining characteristics of Supercross, arguably one of its greatest qualities, is how accessible the sport is to fans. A gimmick like Piazza’s bike rev becomes so much more than a way for him to cover his costs. It invites young riders, or wannabe riders, into the arena – into his world.
And that emotional fulfillment is a huge part of what Piazza gets out of these interactions with fans.
“I love to do it,” Piazza said. “I’ve raced professionally for 10 years now. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner, but just to interact with the fans [is important]. I mean, the results are good and everything, but just to get to go there and see these kids’ faces and all these people making everybody happy and just having a good time makes it worthwhile.”