There was a time in American motocross when how you finished in the total AMA points was your number for the following season. For example, the rider who had the fifth most point in 1983 wore number five and the rider with the 35th most points was number 35.
That all changed when the powers-that-be decided to adopt what-they-thought was the NASCAR numbering system. The change caused a firestorm because the purists felt that earning a high National number was the ultimate prize for a Pro racer?and that handing them out based on performances from several years before robbed young riders of their due desserts.
There is no doubt motocross bikes have to have numbers, but how the numbers are awarded is a touchy subject?you be the judge.
THE CURRENT AMA SYSTEM: Under the current system, every former AMA National Champion is offered a single-digit number (current champions get “number one” when racing in their class plus a single-digit number when racing outside of their Championship class). Additionally, any rider who ever made the top ten in combined AMA National and 250 Supercross points gets to choose a permanent number that he can keep as long as he is still active (originally determined by earning at least one AMA point a year). Once all of the former AMA National Champions and permanent number holders have selected their numbers, the rest of the numbers are distributed in the order in which the other riders earned them (up to 99).
NUMBER ODDITIES: Since the number of active former National Champions can easily exceed the number of single-digit numbers, some former champs can elect to choose whatever number they want (Chad Reed 22 and Trey Canard 41). However, 4, 6 and 8 are currently available and no one chose them.
PERMANENT NUMBER POINTS: In the past all a rider had to do was earn a single AMA point to keep his permanent number. In 2011 the rule was changed to read that any rider with a permanent number had to earn a minimum of 25 points (there are exceptions for injuries) to keep that number in the next season. Additionally, starting with this year’s numbering system, the 250 East and 250 West points will count towards National numbers for next year. This is a stupid decision, since those numbers are earned in a regional series that does not have National Championship standing?or race against full field (since it is divided into two divisions). Obviously, someone lobbied for a “good buddy” rule change.
TWO-DIGIT MANDATE: Under a rule change from one year ago, a rider who earned a two-digit National number (10 to 99, but not including permanent numbers or single-digit numbers) must run the two-digit numbers they earned. In practice that means that riders no rider in the top 100 can choose a personal number. Personal numbers are like the 338 that Jason Lawrence ran. Now all riders must run their earned numbers. Paradoxically, if and when Jason Lawrence comes back?he will be able to run 338 (if he requests it because he has no AMA points). Thus, he has to start over. You might think that the real 338, Zach Osborne will have 338, but since he earned points in the 250 West this season, he will get an earned number?and will not be allowed to run 338 if he returns in 2013. Thus, Lawrence could get 338, but Osborne can’t.
EARNING IT: Ryan Villopoto earned number 1 (and runs it in both the 2012 AMA 450 Supercross and 450 Nationals, while Dean Wilson won the 250 National Championship but can only run it in the 2012 AMA 250 Nationals (not in Supercross?because Broc Tickle is number 1 in the 250 West?even though Tickle was moved out of the class and will never get to run the number 1 plate).
THE ORIGINAL AMA SYSTEM: Back in the day, the current AMA National Champions were allowed to run number one when racing in their Championship class. All other AMA National and Supercross riders were assigned numbers, starting at 2 and ending at 99 based on how they finished in total Supercross and AMA National points for the year (prior to this season East/West Supercross point did not count). There were no permanent numbers and no single-digit numbers for former Champions. A fan could tell at a glance where the riders he was watching ranked in the sport (in essence, number 23 had scored more points than number 43).
AGENT’S PAYDAY: Back in the era of action figures and motocross toys, the factory rider’s agents lobbied for the AMA to give their riders a recognizable permanent number. Why? So that their clients (Ricky Carmichael, etc.) could sell products with their number on it (without having to worrying about the current number being a thing of the past by the time the toy came out).
The agents and the AMA were under the mistaken assumption that NASCAR drivers had assigned numbers?and they wanted to market their motocross racers just as NASCAR marketed the “3” of Dale Earnhardt. They didn’t know that NASCAR does not have a permanent driver numbering system. Instead the numbers belong to the car owner not the driver. If the driver leaves the owner’s team, he loses his number. Dale Earnhardt, Sr. stayed with the same team his whole career and was synonymous with number 3. The same was not true for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who left his team and lost his recognizable number 8.
EARNING IT: Does anyone believe that Mike Brown is the third best motocross racer in America or that Ivan Tedesco is the ninth best or that Trey Canard is the 41st best or that Ken Roczen is the 70th? Many fans want to return to earned numbers (from 2 to 99) because that is really the yardstick by which the riders measure themselves?plus the toy market has long since shriveled up.
And as for Ricky Carmichael’s permanent number 4, it seems like a moot point since during the length of his career, Ricky earned number one 15 times?and would have had the number 1 on his bike almost his whole career. Wouldn’t that have been a more marketable number?