Our best day was when Andrew Belin had a couple of top five motos at the Nanaimo Pro National. That team was well established when I took it over. This time, I am starting a race team from scratch in conjunction with R.E. Cycle in Chemainus, B.C. Oddly enough, Mark Greenwood—who was Andrew Belin's mechanic at Duncan Motorsports—is working right alongside me again. It was our plan to start with a group of mini riders and grow with them up through the ranks. Sponsoring a pro rider is a big undertaking and we wanted to start smaller for our first year.
As soon as you start a team, you get kids asking, “How do I get on the team?” Having done this for a number of years, I have some idea on how to answer that question.
There are a number of things you can do to get some help and a few more you can do to ensure you continue getting help. The first thing to realize is that being sponsored is actually sort of like having a job. You are essentially getting paid (in discounts) to advertise for the shop or product sponsoring you. As such, potential sponsors look to riders as job applicants—persons seeking employment. Many of the things that help you to get a job will also apply to getting sponsorship. Of course, being fast helps, but it is only one of several criteria sponsors look for.
Be a good kid
I’ve been told many times by people who sponsor riders that the most important thing to them is that the kid is a good kid.
As a sponsored rider, you are representing a shop or product. If you have character flaws these will be attached to the product—and no helmet looks good when it’s being hurled through the air in anger! If you have a winning personality and a good attitude, you’ll be a good salesman. You have to be a positive influence. So the first thing you can do is "be a good kid."
The second thing you can do is let a potential sponsor know what a good kid you are by getting to know them. It’s no surprise that shops tend to sponsor riders who are already customers. If you have been a loyal customer at a shop for several years, your positive attitude and charming personality will be well known to the people who decide who will be on the team. Once you’ve won a shop over on a personal level, they will be cheering for you—this makes it easier to get support.
The other thing I see often is that kids simply don’t think to do up a formal resume/portfolio and present it as an official request for help. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve actually received a hard-copy application from a rider to be on a team. Handing in a resume goes a long way toward demonstrating that you take your racing seriously. It also shows you are likely to do the followup work and will bring something positive to the team.
The third thing that does have to be mentioned, of course, is speed. Most sponsors who are actually contributing a tangible amount to a race team like to see riders at least getting podiums. Speed is not the most important thing, though. Almost any local sponsor would rather help out a good kid who comes in fourth place over a snotty one who wins. If you think you have these credentials, it would help to start thinking in terms of why a company would sponsor you.
Holding up your end of the bargain
I’ve found that riders who get on a team don’t always seem to understand that they have a job to do and a role to play for the team. The riders' three jobs are 1) to ride well enough to earn people’s respect; 2) to behave well enough off the bike to maintain that respect; and finally, 3) to use that respect to help sell the products they are being supported by.
A sponsor wants to hear its name mentioned and good things being said about its products. Sponsors don’t just give stuff away to make team riders happy—they give it away as a sales tool, to sell more. I can’t even begin to tell you all the horror stories I have stemming from riders apparently not understanding that they too have a commitment to be on the team. I mean, I once had a rider collect all his freebies and discounts and then decide to take the year off!
The final thing I should mention that not only helps in the early stages of trying to get support, but also helps all the way down the road, is to try and show some loyalty. We all swap shops once in a while for whatever reason, but the more time you spend around one shop, the better your relationship should become. If you find you are with a different shop every year, or every other year, you should think about this in terms of what it might say about you. If you have been on three different teams in four years it could affect your ability to get support in the future. Bike shops look for a little loyalty for the favours they endow.
So be a good kid, get to know your local shop, work hard at getting some podium results, put together an actual application and then be a good salesman if you get hired. If you can do these five things, I can’t promise you’ll get on a team or stay on one, but I can guarantee it will vastly increase your odds.