It’s difficult to put into words an event that will live in infamy amongst motorcycle racing fans for decades to come. On that July day in 2011, the world lost one of its greatest sports figures when Speedway legend Roger B. Myles passed away from cancer at the age of 68.
The beloved rider had spent his entire life on a motorbike, and it was only natural that he would carry on after his retirement in 1992. However, after battling the disease for nearly five years, his health began to decline, and he ultimately succumbed to the illness on June 20, 2011. The speedway community was rocked to the core by this tremendous news – not just because of what it meant for the racing world, but because it was someone they all knew and respected.
It’s fair to say that the entire speedway community came together following Myles’ passing, and the iconic organization held a number of special events in his honor. The most famous of these was the “ROGER MYLES DAY” at the Grand National Speedway in Greenville, Pennsylvania on September 9, 2011. The day was designed to celebrate the life of the legendary rider, and all of the proceeds went to the Myles Family Children’s Trust, which supports cancer research and treatment. In addition, many fans flocked to the legendary rider’s final resting place at Arlington Cemetery in Texas, USA to pay their respects and offer prayers for his safe passage to wherever he may be welcomed.
The event culminated with a spectacular tribute to Roger Myles, and it was a fitting end to the day. A flag-draped casket was placed on the starting line at the end of the traditional starting grid, and an escort of motorcycles joined forces to form an impromptu funeral procession as they escorted the casket to its final resting place. The entire event was presided over by none other than racing legend Richard Petty, who offered touching remarks during the ceremony.
An Era Of Dignity
The end of an era is often defined by sorrow and tragedy, and while there is certainly a sense of sadness surrounding the loss of Roger Myles, his passing also represents the dawn of a new era for the speedway community.
For decades, motorcycle racing fans had to suffer through the indignity of watching their heroes perform in sickeningly sweet commercials for car manufacturers and energy drink companies. Thanks to the “new generation” of motorcycle riders that came into prominence following the 1992 crash at the Grand National that killed Jeff Gordon and Kevin Windling, we were able to move beyond that dark period and finally establish a presence in the advertising world. Thanks to companies like Red Bull, we were able to see our heroes represented in an engaging manner, and it was a welcome change.
The sense of pride that the entire speedway community felt following Roger Myles’ passing was not just because of his immense contributions to the sport, but because this was a man who had achieved so much during his long and illustrious career. For years, he had been the face (and sometimes the hands) of the sport, but now, with the help of contemporary advertisers, we were able to see what the sport of motorcycle racing looked like from the inside instead of from the outside.
While the car industry struggled to find its way back from the brink of decline in the early 2000s, motorsport had an abundance of rich material to work with thanks to the new generation of motorcycle riders that had emerged since the 1970s. Thanks in large part to companies like Red Bull and Monster Energy, whose aggressive marketing tactics earned them the moniker of “energy drink promoters”, the motorcycle racing world woke up and smelled the coffee, and they began to search for new ways to grow the sport.
Red Bull went so far as to fund the construction of a brand-new track, the “Red Bull Ring” in Austria, which opened its doors for the 2018 season. The track is designed in the shape of a “bull’s horns”, paying homage to the iconic logo of the Austrian energy drink brand. The new facility serves as a glaring example of how modernizing and upgrading existing tracks is no longer effective in gaining new fans – not when you can build such world-class facilities that existing fans will flock to see.
Monster took a more traditional route, and opened up its wallet to invest in younger, up-and-coming talent. The company created the Monster Energy Supersport Championship to give established stars like James Stewart and Kevin Schwantz an opportunity to compete for more than just a paycheck, and to spread their legs a bit more.
This kind of support is vital if the industry is going to avoid a repeat of the problems it faced in the early 2000s. Fortunately, the industry recognized this and took the necessary steps to ensure that this wouldn’t happen. While the auto industry continues to battle with an overcapacity issue, and the energy drink industry continues to struggle with a brand-image problem, the motorcycle racing industry has found a way to thrive, and will continue to do so in the years to come.