Jason Thomas: Difficult Decisions

Chase the money or just knuckle down?

· 4 minutes read

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Seemingly in the blink of an eye, we find ourselves in late November. For many Americans, that means the Thanksgiving holiday and the real kick off for the Christmas season. For the supercross world, it means heavy training days and maybe a few international races to pad the wallet. The debate amongst riders and trainers as to how to approach this time of the year is never ending.

Riders see the tens of thousands of dollars offered for a single weekend, but trainers would call that view short sighted. Sure, even Aldon Baker would have to consider allowing his rider to go make upwards of $50,000 on a weekend. The debate comes in because Aldon knows that $50,000 is a drop in the bucket compared to what a rider can make if he is fully prepared come Anaheim 1. If his rider suffers an injury setback or simply suffers from the missed training time that these races incur, it can have devastating financial consequences when the real season arrives. That's the heart of the debate, should a rider forego an estimated 100-250K earned in the off-season (for a top guy) in hopes of a huge windfall come January.

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Even within Baker's camp, this decision is made individually. Zach Osborne tends to pick and choose his events carefully. Maximizing his earnings but also logging valuable training time, racing events like Paris (missed due to kidney stones) and Geneva. Jason Anderson, on the other hand, chose to head down under for three weeks or so, racing the S-X Open rounds of Auckland and Melbourne. He will be commanding a hefty paycheck, no doubt, but he is also missing some of the most crucial building block weeks of the off-season. While Anderson is doing PR events and flying around the world, his competition has their nose to the grind stone and is hammering lap after lap.

Case in point, Cooper Webb is in Florida suffering through full boot camp mode. Webb is undoubtedly turning down hundreds of thousands of cumulative dollars but it's in trade. Dollars left on the table now for multiples of those dollars later  that's the hope, goal and investment. An investment that paid off in spades last season. With a supercross win worth $100K plus and a championship worth an estimated $1.5 million plus, it's a gamble worth making for those so inclined. Who is right and who is wrong? Impossible to say but everyone has their own motivation.

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Anderson seems to be in a good place mentally, relaxed and secure in his choices. I think Webb is a bit more driven and wound a bit tighter, to be honest. Where Anderson is happy to tour the South Pacific and cash in, I believe that Webb's goals lie solely in defending his 2019 title. Neither can be blamed – it's different strokes for different folks. The interesting part of this will be to see how the season reflects on the different choices that these riders make. Will Webb's commitment be rewarded or will Anderson cash in both now and later?

For me, personally, I was never in a position to think championship, so the choice was clear. I took every opportunity and made every dollar possible. I would fly anywhere, anytime. I raced in places like Estonia, Guatemala, Mexico, Greece, Tahiti, and everywhere in between. The downside to this was that my regular season absolutely suffered. By the time Anaheim arrived, I was already burnt out. While my competition was jittery with anticipation, I was yawning and wishing for a vacation. I was paid, yes, but I was sacrificing my best self when the American series was in full swing. I wouldn't change a thing in hindsight but I can absolutely see both sides of this coin. Life is always a series of decisions and in many cases, compromise. Every decision is going to be different for individual situations.

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A rider like Eli Tomac rarely attends off-season events – in the past he would typically only attend one event like Paris/Bercy. Now that his salary is in the stratosphere, he has even backed away from that. The extra financial consideration is not worth the risk and not worth the precious time off that this sport rarely affords. Justin Brayton has to be the most extreme of these circumstances. He has completely foregone summer racing altogether, instead choosing to race a ridiculously heavy winter schedule. He criss-crosses the globe, cashing in at races like Paris, Geneva, and Montreal, meanwhile defending his Australian Supercross title too.

Once he finally finishes that brutal stretch, he will turn his attention to testing his HRC Honda in hopes of a strong 2020 season alongside teammate Ken Roczen. In speaking with him, I know he shares that deep breath going into Anaheim that I felt so many times before. He will have raced upwards of ten times already on three different continents. While others were recharging their batteries, Brayton was jumping on airplanes for 18 hours at a time. It's a trade-off, as I have mentioned. Those riders are rested and ready. Brayton is tired but likely made over $200K for his trouble. Now that you know the choice that must be made and possible consequences of both, which would you choose?

Words: Jason Thomas | Lead Image: Ray Archer

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