Under the terms of most contracts with sponsors, teams have to field a full complement of riders. They can’t keep collecting sponsor dough without fielding a team. In most contracts there is a clause that starts taking sponsorship money back or hitting the team with penalties if they don’t put enough riders on the track. Thus, fill-in riders have become important to the sport. Without a host of fill-in riders the Dodge Kawasaki team wouldn’t have raced this season...as everyone of their four original riders was hurt (and even some of their fill-in riders). Honda used several fill-in riders in 2012 for Trey Canard (including Wil Hahn and Cole Seely). Valli has drafted Weston Peick and Bobby Kiniry. Jeff Ward Racing used Cody Mackie until his tourist visa expired. Jimmy Decostis filled-in for Wil Hahn at Geico Honda only to get hurt and have to have a fill-in fill-in for him. Only teams without sponsors, like the McBrooks team (Andrew Short) can afford to sit at home for weeks on end...because they actually save money by not coming out with a fill-in rider.
Finding fill-in rider isn't as easy as it would seem. Here are the rules of the fill-in road:
(1) No slugs. You can't give your bike to a backmarker. Sponsors don't want a 20th place guy plodding around on their bike. They signed on the dotted line based on the original team...and they would like competitive riders who will get exposure for their brand. Thus, a sponsor can say "no" if the rider isn't good enough.
(2) No Jason Lawrences. Unless you are a bad boy energy drink, most sponsors don't want to be associated with riders who might give them a black eye. No sponsor wants to wake up in the morning and read a newspaper headline that says, "Kleenex-sponsored racer arrested." So, unless the team is sponsored by someone who wants trouble makers, riders with bad reputations need not apply. Amazingly, there are teams that specialize in hiring riders that no one else would ever touch.
(3) No contracts. Most fill-in riders come from the group who are already riding the same brand (Honda gets its fill-in riders from either Troy Lee Designs or Geico) or from riders who don't have contracts that bind them to someone else. When Chad Reed went looking for a fill-in rider for the Nationals he chose New Zealander Ben Townley. Why? Townley was sponsor-approved. Townley was a potential front runner. Townley was racing for an Australian Honda team (who was willing to release him for the greater good). Team Honda approved of Townley because he had raced for them before (albeit he was injured the whole time). Sadly, Townley got hurt and Chad is either looking for a Townley-type fill-in or Chad is heading for Australia for a summer vacation (which would be a winter vacation down under).
(4) No conflicts. There are a lot of factors that can eliminate a rider for a fill-in ride. If the rider has a bad rep (as troublesome, out of shape or disliked) he can be nixed by anyone from the sponsor to the team manager to his potential teammate to the mechanics). One time Pro Circuit hired a rider with a bad rep and told him on day one, "You are only here by a vote of 3 to 2. If you cause any trouble with anyone, even the janitor, you will be gone." If a rider has a personal sponsor that conflicts with the team sponsors he won't get the fill-in ride. Michael Leib got a fill-in ride for Zach Osborne at Bike-It Yamaha in the GP circuit, but Michael had to agree to drop his existing sponsors if he wanted the ride. If a team has past experience with the rider it can work for him or against him. Nick Wey got fill-in rides at Kawasaki several times because the team liked working with him. If the team had issues with a rider (during previous contract talks or if he had run-ins with their team riders on the track or if he was rumored to have said bad things about the bike or team management) he isn't going to get the gig.
(5) Foreign riders. Because of the draw of American motocross, it is possible to get fill-in riders from Europe, Canada, South Africa or Australia who would like a shot at the big time. Although Euro riders rarely get the call-up for a Supercross ride, they are a decent choice for the AMA Nationals. Of course, foreign riders come with the same baggage as American fill-in riders (personal sponsors, existing contracts, etc). But a rider off to a bad start in his home series, could get a new lease on life by moving to the late starting AMA National Championship (which doesn't start until May 19).
Fill-in riders for the upcoming Nationals are a big subject right now. Here is a quick list:
Tommy Hahn got injured at Race one of the 2012 season, but he's healthy now.
Team Honda: Tommy Hahn will get called up to join Justin Brayton for the 450 Nationals. Trey Canard is not ready for the 2012 season.
Tyla Rattray didn't want to be a 250 rider for 2012, but it was the best deal he could get. Now, he gets his 450 wish.
Team Kawasaki: Ryan Villopoto’s spot on the green team has to be filled. In the past Kawasaki would just sign Nick Wey because he was racing a KX450F already and got along well with the team. Not this year. Team Kawasaki's wish list is to get Tyla Rattray from Pro Circuit Why? Because Rattray is already signed to a Kawasaki contract and proved at the MXDN that he can ride a 450.
Ivan Tedesco could be the coup of the season if he takes Pro Circuit's fill-in 250 ride for the Nationals.
Team Pro Circuit: With Dean Wilson and Darryn Durham nursing
injured shoulders, Pro Circuit doesn't have a full complement of riders – especially if they have to give Rattray to Team Kawasaki. There is some talk that Broc Tickle could return to the 250 Nationals, even though he has been racing a 450 all season, but that won't happen. Broc didn't do well in last year's 250 Nationals...and given that fact and the concept that he deserves a shot at the 450 class outdoors, Pro Circuit wants to keep him in the 450 class. So, what can Pro Circuit do about the 250 class? They showed up at Glen Helen on Thursday with Ivan Tedesco in tow. Tedesco won the 2005 AMA 250 National Championship for Mitch's team. And with his Hart & Huntington deal ending on Saturday night (he isn't racing), he is unemployed on Sunday. Mitch thinks that a mature rider like Ivan Tedesco could fit the bill at Pro Circuit. If Durham and Wilson aren't 100% soon, Pro Circuit will draft a Kawasaki Team Green rider to get the dream ride.
Signing Bubba is a risk – because he could do to you exactly what he did to his last three teams. Leave in a huff.
Team Suzuki: Brett Metcalfe will be getting a teammate, but not really. Stewart's camp says that he can't say anything until the Supercross series is over on Saturday night. So, let's assume that the press release is already in the works announcing that he will race a Red Bull-sponsored Suzuki at Hangtown. It is a good deal for Suzuki because most likely they don’t have to pay Stewart...as he is desperate to change bikes (and with his Red Bull contract he cannot go to any Rockstar or Monster team...and he wouldn’t go to a Yamaha team).
Christian Craig is not ready.
Troy Lee Designs: Billy Laninovich will get a fill-in Troy Lee 450 outdoor ride because Christian Craig’s wrist has not healed. Additionally, both Cole Seely and Travis Baker were hurt in Salt Lake City...so they are going to enter the Nationals injured (if they don’t miss rounds). Troy could need more than just Laninovich as a fill-in rider.
Joe Gibbs Racing: With Stewart gone (mentally and physically), JGR needs a second rider. They are currently using Gavin Faith for Supercross, but will probably look for riders with more National experience (plus outdoor results). Kyle Regal is one of the few guys who meets that criteria that is available.
Musquin, Dungey and Roczen.
Team KTM: Roczen, Musquin and Dungey are all healthy.