Hog Heaven

By Danny Livermore

“Holy crap, Scott Davis is wearing a cape!” screamed a random journalist from the press box of Anaheim’s Edison International Field on January 31.It was during the semis, just before the 250cc main event; a time when many fans were taking their final walk to the beer stand in anticipation of watching their favorite riders bang handlebars and fight for the top notch on the podium that night. During qualifying, World Champion Chad Reed skipped over the whoops, Honda’s Kevin Windham eyed up the tricky rhythm section, and back in the pack, a hard-working privateer donned a bright red cape that flapped in the wind behind him. The initials “WWR” were sewn proudly into the back of the unique outfit. Davis, a longtime privateer trying once again to make it into the very exclusive 250cc main event that night, was the original rider to wear the questionable cape that opened a geyser of questions in the weeks to come. As fate would have it, just one week later Davis qualified for his first-ever 250cc main after nine long years of trying; a fitting metaphor to the program he was supporting. When the Wonder Warthog phenomenon surfaced at the third Anaheim Supercross this season, it was inevitable to “wonder” what the hell its mission was. A famous cartoon character in the ’70s that raced motorcycles and liked to live life dangerously, the Wonder Warthog’s widespread popularity had faded over the years, but a couple of loyal Warthog fans refused to forget him and decided to resuscitate the fallen character’s image in the name of charity.

REBIRTH

Conceptualized by cartoon artist Gilbert Shelton, the original Wonder Warthog was the hero of a comic book that occasionally played host to the artistry of the late Tony Bell, author of “Motocross Cat,” a successful and popular comic strip that ran in Cycle News during the ’70s. Shelton and Bell had forged a relationship because of their Austin, Texas, roots, and in several issues the Wonder Warthog was depicted in motocross racing situations.

Enter Wonder Warthog Racing co-founder Scott Kandel, a computer systems consultant from Southern California and long time supporter of the Motocross des Nations. “I grew up with the Wonder Warthog,” said Kandel. “I have been a fan of his since I was 10 years old.”

An avid motocross enthusiast himself, Kandel injured his leg in a motocross-related crash and was laid up for a few months. During his immobile time, he used the Warthog character’s image, which includes a loud mouth and outspoken personality, as a code name on various Internet motocross message boards. To modern-day motocross fans, this was the first sign of the Warthog’s reemergence and a foreshadowing of what was to come.

Months before the opening round of Supercross at Anaheim’s Edison International Field, Kandel invested in a partnership with former factory motocross racer Steve Bauer on a track in Big River, California, called River MX. Talks between Kandel and Bauer continued as their partnership developed, and Kandel expressed his interest in being involved with the Motocross des Nations as well. Kandel’s devotion to the American team is second to none, and he wanted to play a bigger role than that of just a fan.

“I have friends all over the world because of the Motocross des Nations,” said Kandel. “I am a huge fan of the event and wanted to do what I could to make sure that the American team could race every year without financial burden. Originally, I had an idea to endow the Motocross des Nations.”That was when Scott contacted Davey Coombs of the National Promoters Group. Coombs appreciated Kandel’s offer but assured him that funding for the American Motocross des Nations team would take care of itself, and perhaps doing something to assist the privateers would be more beneficial to the sport in the long run.

With this in mind, Bauer and Kandel strolled through the pits at Anaheim 1. “As we walked though the privateer pits at Anaheim—and I’ll admit that had not spent much time there before—it was somewhat depressing; there were riders who were cleaning and working on their own bikes in between trying to race. It was not a pretty scene. At that very moment I decided there was only one way to invest my resources, money, and time, and that was with the privateers. We began to think about what we could do,” said Kandel.

The initial goal of the ambitious pair was to field a team of ten privateers, complete with mechanics and all of the amenities they’ve gone without for so many years. While that goal still exists, the mission was refocused when Kandel and Bauer scheduled a meeting with No Fear’s Marty Moates after the opening round of Supercross.

“I am pretty fanatical when it comes to getting involved with projects, so of course I was really excited and wanted to make this endeavor huge. After our meeting with Marty, though, things were much more focused. He gave us some direction,” said Kandel. “He said we needed to start the project on a smaller level, and grow it as we went. One of the best things we could have done was talk to Marty. He was the one who came up with the idea of reimbursing the riders’ entry fees, which is now the backbone of the entire project.” Kandel’s cocktail of ambition and determination to help the privateers was at the forefront, yet he still needed a voice of reason. Enter Scott’s wife, Dawn Kandel. “At first, Scott and Steve wanted to take on the world,” said Dawn. “They needed to understand all of the logistics involved. This was more than a small project.”

THE GATE DROPS

Although the complexity of Kandel’s project was pruned back, his lofty mission was now attainable. In the span of two chaotic weeks, the dynamic duo was up and running. With sidekick Bauer by his side, Scott Kandel and Wonder Warthog Racing made their debut at Anaheim 3. The night before the race, Team WWR hosted a launch party at Dave & Buster’s that they promoted via the Internet. A healthy crowd of friends, family, and industry insiders listened as the pair explained their mission statement: “WWR will focus with intensity on bettering the lot of the privateer racer; we pledge to allocate a substantial portion of our time and resources to that end. We will be unique in the manner in which we support the privateer. Support that is apathetic and shortsighted will find no home here. We affirm that we’ll be attentive to the needs of all our associates who join us on our quest to address the plight of the privateer so that our combined efforts will yield real and measurable results.”

The project began to take shape and the Warthog privateer program was in place. To be eligible for the money, each privateer had to qualify for and participate in at least one of the evening program heat races while running an official WWR sticker on their front fender. “We’ll pay $125 (the cost of an entry fee to a THQ/AMA Supercross Series race) if you make it to the evening program in one class, or $140 if a rider makes it in two classes,” said Bauer. “Each week, we’ll mail a check to the address that is specified on the application.”So there you have it. Free money for the hardest-working riders in the sport, all donated by funds either raised or generously contributed by a couple of guys with a hog on their shirts!

HOG WILD

In an image-conscious industry, the sight of Kandel walking through the pits dressed in his custom-made Warthog suit, complete with red cape and built-in, bulging foam muscles was not always well received in the beginning. While most were cautiously optimistic, a few of the riders needed more information in order to fully understand the selfless nature of the program.

“The first week I saw Scott running around in that outfit, I wanted to stay as far away from that program as possible,” said Steve Lamson, former two-time 125cc National Champion. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be on both sides of this game, as a factory guy and a privateer, so I was a little wary at first. At the end of the day, it’s a good cause and it’s money for the guys who need it the most. I think it just took a while for all of the privateers to really understand the program.”

On the flip side, from Team Wonder Warthog’s perspective the lack of immediate interest was stunning. “I was surprised that everybody didn’t jump on board right away. In my mind, it was a compelling concept that would surely work in everyone’s best interest,” said Bauer. “I was very confident in the model we set up. In retrospect, we were a bit naïve to think everyone would jump on board what from the outside might have seemed like a strange program being run by a couple of outsiders.”

STAR POWER

The manifestation of the program earned a token of legitimacy when Supercross heroes Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart offered the program their assistance. In an effort to gain capital, the Wonder Warthog Racing program began hosting Internet auctions on eBay for riders’ gear. With the help of web guru Brad Zimmerman, a website was created. As the hype on the Internet expanded, more people began volunteering their services, including Kirk Boecker, who took over responsibility of the auction service. The privateer program was finally starting to build some serious steam thanks to the help of the superstars.”Carmichael and Stewart deserve extra credit from us; they took a risk in being associated with the program at such an early stage,” said Bauer. “We could have been flaky and failed, but without them putting their faith in us, we never would have succeeded.”

With Carmichael and Stewart’s support came a host of other riders’, including Kevin Windham, though K-Dub now admits to being a tad superstitious at first. “While Windham was at the starting gate in San Francisco, our second race into the program, he asked me to put a Wonder Warthog sticker on his helmet,” said Bauer. “A few laps into the race, he wadded hard in the whoops and wouldn’t run the sticker again after that, saying it had made him crash! I felt pretty bad.” Despite his San Francisco tumble, Windham continued to contribute to the program and even ran the sticker on his helmet at the season finale in Las Vegas. In fact, his Salt Lake City-winning jersey sold for $1,025 on eBay after the final Supercross race of the season.

By the close of the 2004 SX series, a total of $58,465 was paid out to the privateers who qualified for the program, averaging $4,872 per event. Overall, 183 privateer riders joined WWR, proving the immense popularity of the program. Of course, all of this is in addition to the existing privateer bonus structure put in place by Clear Channel Entertainment’s Motor Sports division. Top-finishing 2004 privateer Damon Huffman was awarded a new Nissan Titan truck, $25,000 from the United States Smokeless Tobacco Company and a 26′ Weekend Warrior trailer. Another $75,000 was paid out to the privateers who made it to the main event in THQ World Supercross GP/THQ AMA Supercross Series.

REAL RESULTS

“This season my brother and I were planning on racing 125cc West Coast Supercross, but I was the only one who had the funds to travel back East,” said privateer Daniel Blair, who was paid more than $1,000 from Team Warthog throughout the course of the series. “When the Wonder Warthog program started, it enabled my brother to compete on the East Coast. Without them, there was no way he could have traveled with me to those races.” Similar success stories to the Blairs’ began popping up more and more in the pro pits at each round of Supercross.

“I have been racing professionally for several years now, and the most impressive part about the WWR program is the promptness of the money,” said James Polvolny. “The following week after you qualify for the money, a check just shows up; there is no running around looking for it, wondering if it will even show. They treat the program like it’s their business; very professional.”The stakeholders in the program are first andirst. At the end of the day, it’s a good cause and it’s money for the guys who need it the most. I think it just took a while for all of the privateers to really understand the program.”

On the flip side, from Team Wonder Warthog’s perspective the lack of immediate interest was stunning. “I was surprised that everybody didn’t jump on board right away. In my mind, it was a compelling concept that would surely work in everyone’s best interest,” said Bauer. “I was very confident in the model we set up. In retrospect, we were a bit naïve to think everyone would jump on board what from the outside might have seemed like a strange program being run by a couple of outsiders.”

STAR POWER

The manifestation of the program earned a token of legitimacy when Supercross heroes Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart offered the program their assistance. In an effort to gain capital, the Wonder Warthog Racing program began hosting Internet auctions on eBay for riders’ gear. With the help of web guru Brad Zimmerman, a website was created. As the hype on the Internet expanded, more people began volunteering their services, including Kirk Boecker, who took over responsibility of the auction service. The privateer program was finally starting to build some serious steam thanks to the help of the superstars.”Carmichael and Stewart deserve extra credit from us; they took a risk in being associated with the program at such an early stage,” said Bauer. “We could have been flaky and failed, but without them putting their faith in us, we never would have succeeded.”

With Carmichael and Stewart’s support came a host of other riders’, including Kevin Windham, though K-Dub now admits to being a tad superstitious at first. “While Windham was at the starting gate in San Francisco, our second race into the program, he asked me to put a Wonder Warthog sticker on his helmet,” said Bauer. “A few laps into the race, he wadded hard in the whoops and wouldn’t run the sticker again after that, saying it had made him crash! I felt pretty bad.” Despite his San Francisco tumble, Windham continued to contribute to the program and even ran the sticker on his helmet at the season finale in Las Vegas. In fact, his Salt Lake City-winning jersey sold for $1,025 on eBay after the final Supercross race of the season.

By the close of the 2004 SX series, a total of $58,465 was paid out to the privateers who qualified for the program, averaging $4,872 per event. Overall, 183 privateer riders joined WWR, proving the immense popularity of the program. Of course, all of this is in addition to the existing privateer bonus structure put in place by Clear Channel Entertainment’s Motor Sports division. Top-finishing 2004 privateer Damon Huffman was awarded a new Nissan Titan truck, $25,000 from the United States Smokeless Tobacco Company and a 26′ Weekend Warrior trailer. Another $75,000 was paid out to the privateers who made it to the main event in THQ World Supercross GP/THQ AMA Supercross Series.

REAL RESULTS

“This season my brother and I were planning on racing 125cc West Coast Supercross, but I was the only one who had the funds to travel back East,” said privateer Daniel Blair, who was paid more than $1,000 from Team Warthog throughout the course of the series. “When the Wonder Warthog program started, it enabled my brother to compete on the East Coast. Without them, there was no way he could have traveled with me to those races.” Similar success stories to the Blairs’ began popping up more and more in the pro pits at each round of Supercross.

“I have been racing professionally for several years now, and the most impressive part about the WWR program is the promptness of the money,” said James Polvolny. “The following week after you qualify for the money, a check just shows up; there is no running around looking for it, wondering if it will even show. They treat the program like it’s their business; very professional.”The stakeholders in the program are first and foremost the privateers, Clear Channel Entertainment’s Motor Sports division, AMA Pro Racing, the factories, the fans, and the media. As the year progresses, so has the program for both the riders involved as well as the supporting sponsors. One such sponsor is Engine Ice’s Dave Kimmey, who joined the program in its infantile stages.

“Dave committed several thousand dollars to this project because he understands how important the privateers are to this sport. Because we initiated this program several races into the season, most potential sponsors’ budgets were already locked for the year so they were unable to make the commitment like Dave. But I think now that we have proven ourselves; next year will be different,” said Kandel, who has shaped his sponsorship opportunities like that of a building at a University.

“Sponsors get exposure in a positive manner; we create programs,” said Kandel. “We envisioned it as separate programs with each having its own fundraising goals. We went out like a company at a college who raises money to get a building built. We defined a manageable program with the goal of acquiring eight to ten primary sponsors at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year we had obtained four.”

UP, UP, AND AWAY!

With a full season of Supercross racing under its cape, Wonder Warthog Racing has a bright future. Utilizing a game plan that aligns perfectly with their underlying mission to help the privateers, a board of directors has been set up with a diverse make-up, including riders like David Blair in the lineup.”I am on the board of directors, and we have Internet forums to discuss what we need to do,” said Blair. “Once we decide what is needed, we have a vote and that keeps everything fair. Being on the board is beneficial for me as well as my fellow privateers that I represent, and I will do whatever I can to give back to Steve Bauer and Scott Kandel; they have made a huge impact on my career.” The bottom line is that the hog isn’t going anywhere but up, so don’t let the funny red cape and fake foam muscles get in the way; these guys are doing the right thing for the right people.

and foremost the privateers, Clear Channel Entertainment’s Motor Sports division, AMA Pro Racing, the factories, the fans, and the media. As the year progresses, so has the program for both the riders involved as well as the supporting sponsors. One such sponsor is Engine Ice’s Dave Kimmey, who joined the program in its infantile stages.

“Dave committed several thousand dollars to this project because he understands how important the privateers are to this sport. Because we initiated this program several races into the season, most potential sponsors’ budgets were already locked for the year so they were unable to make the commitment like Dave. But I think now that we have proven ourselves; next year will be different,” said Kandel, who has shaped his sponsorship opportunities like that of a building at a University.

“Sponsors get exposure in a positive manner; we create programs,” said Kandel. “We envisioned it as separate programs with each having its own fundraising goals. We went out like a company at a college who raises money to get a building built. We defined a manageable program with the goal of acquiring eight to ten primary sponsors at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year we had obtained four.”

UP, UP, AND AWAY!

With a full season of Supercross racing under its cape, Wonder Warthog Racing has a bright future. Utilizing a game plan that aligns perfectly with their underlying mission to help the privateers, a board of directors has been set up with a diverse make-up, including riders like David Blair in the lineup.”I am on the board of directors, and we have Internet forums to discuss what we need to do,” said Blair. “Once we decide what is needed, we have a vote and that keeps everything fair. Being on the board is beneficial for me as well as my fellow privateers that I representt, and I will do whatever I can to give back to Steve Bauer and Scott Kandel; they have made a huge impact on my career.” The bottom line is that the hog isn’t going anywhere but up, so don’t let the funny red cape and fake foam muscles get in the way; these guys are doing the right thing for the right people.