TWMX All Access: Wonder Warthog Racing

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If you venture away from the factory semis and over to the end of the pits where the three-digit riders are (and no, we don’t mean 103, 199, or 259), you’re a lot more likely to start seeing stickers like the one we found on the swingarm of Hans Neel’s number 517 Honda 450.

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A hard-working privateer from Tennessee who’s riding both the 125cc and 250cc classes at each of the west coast SX rounds, Hans told us with a smile, “Our graphics guy made those for us. They’ve sort of become our slogan.

Hans is traveling the series with his girlfriend, Kelly, who doubles as his mechanic. Watching Kelly spin T-handles, you can tell she knows her way around bikes, even though she claims to be somewhat mystified by four-strokes. “I was better on the two-strokes. I could do a top end on those, no problem.

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A new sticker was on the front fender of Neel’s Hondas at Anaheim 3…the cartoon likeness of Wonder Warthog. The brainchild of Scott Kandel (with help from Steve Bauer and a host of other volunteers), the sticker meant one thing…a shot at free entry fees for privateers.

The night before, Scott had introduced the program at a launch party that featured everyone from factory riders and press, to privateers who could scarcely believe what they were hearing. Talking with Scott before the presentation, he told us, “What we’re really trying to do is create an organization focused on helping the privateers. As you know, I really love the sport, I want to do something for the sport. I’ve gotten together with Steve Bauer, who’s also been really active in the sport, wanting to do good things. We’ve decided, based on input from a lot of great people in the industry, that we really need to focus our efforts and our energies around making privateers’ lives better. I mean, this is a great sport and the privateers are the backbone, but it’s not an easy row to hoe for these guys. They really have to work hard and really struggle to get from race to race.”

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“Wonder Warthog racing is being created to really help them address their issues. There are two parts of Wonder Warthog Racing. One is Team Warthog, which is a non-profit entity focused on building programs that directly benefit the privateers. We’re really looking at having a big tent philosophy where all the industry can come together and help fund programs.”

The first program that Wonder Warthog Racing itself is fully funding, short of getting additional sponsors, is to reimburse privateers for their AMA entry fees if they make the evening program. So what that means is, if you get out of the daytime qualifiers and into the evening program, we will pay those privateers $125 in reimbursement each week for their AMA entry fees. Typically, it’s about 40 riders, so it’s about $5,000 a week we’ll be spending on this program. We’ll be doing that through the rest of the AMA Supercross Series.”

“What we really need, though, is to get additional sponsors working with us so we can fund bigger and larger programs.”

“One of the other things we’re doing under Wonder Warthog Racing is we’re creating an entity called Wonder Warthog Apparel which is focused on marketing casual apparel to the geral audience. It’s based on the Wonder Warthog comic book character from the 60s, who used to race motocross.”

“So hopefully all this together, and using profits and revenues from Wonder Warthog Apparel to feed into Team Warthog, we can create some very meaningful privateer programs.”

While WW’s long-snooted form may make him seem an unlikely superhero, to privateers like Hans, running a sticker in exchange for a shot at free entry fees is huge. “It’s a big deal for us.”

So who is Scott Kandel, and how did he get to be the patron saint/superhero to SX privateers? His day gig is designing computer systems, and providing systems integration services to a host of prestigious corporations. For a lot of people, his introduction was on the Mototalk message board, where he was probably best known for antics like showing off photos of a Ricky Carmichael voodoo doll. But on the other hand, he was also a huge supporter of the Motocross des Nations.

Fortunately for mothers, children, and those without a sense of humor, the Warthog personae has mellowed lately, and as Scott tells it, “The Warthog is being, ah…recharacterized for family consumption, and it’s probably much closer to the original Warthog. My Internet personae was way out there. Sort of a Scott Kandel absurd take on the Warthog. What you’re seeing today is much closer to the original vision of the comic strip. If you go back through the Warthog portfolio you’ll find a few outrageous strips, but most of them are all in good fun and the Warthog was focused on doing good things. We really want to do what’s right to position this in the market so it helps our programs for the privateers. I think that the early Internet Wonder Warthog kind of personae is not the right note to strike.”

So does that mean he’s done sticking needles in voodoo dolls? “Absolutely. In fact, I apologized to Ricky Carmichael for that whole thing. I’ve met him since, and he’s a great guy. It’s obvious that he loves the sport. He rallied to the Motocross des Nations. I believe that he single-handedly saved that race for the U.S. Not only for this year, but for future years. If he had not done this past year and gone to Zolder, I think it would have been the end as far as U.S. participation.”

“The other thing to point out is that I totally do not believe in voodoo. Nobody really should. It’s all a bunch of fantasy and has no bearing on reality.   So the people who thought the voodoo was serious, they need to really take a lesson in reality. The other point is, I was given the voodoo doll as a gift. So it wasn’t something that I cooked up in my crazy mind. Some people took it way, way too seriously.”

Fortunately, Scott seems adept at maneuvering through the potential minefields of red tape, and after conceptualizing the program at Anaheim 1, had it rolling by Anaheim 3. “We’ve been getting great coaching from a number of individuals, and one of the first things they told us to do was make sure we worked with Clear Channel and the AMA to integrate these programs. So we’ve done that. We’ve gotten very good support from both organizations. They both want to see this thing succeed because it’s focused on very positive, tangible steps. We’re not letting this devolve into political debate or pointing fingers and talking about why things are the way they are. We’re focused on moving this forward in a positive manner.”

“You’ll see Wonder Warthog Racing and Team Warthog in particular stay focused on positive steps to address the privateers. To date Clear Channel and the AMA have just been great in helping us get our program very quickly integrated into the process that they go through ever week. We’re really excited about this. We really see great things happening for Team Warthog in particular, and coming out of that, really great things for the privateers.”

Scott has also been surprised at the amount of people willing to help. “This has really been amazing. When we first conceptualized this, we were shooting for what we call primary sponsors. We’re looking at eight to ten per program, and the amount will float depending on how big the program is. But we want a manageable number of primary sponsors. But when it leaked out on the Internet that we were thinking about doing something, the response from individuals has been overwhelming. Dave Kimmey from Engine Ice signed up before we’d even launched the program. We’ve also gotten 14 individuals that have signed up for what we’re calling an enthusiast-level sponsorship of $500 or more. I didn’t expect to get that kind of reaction. But this thing has struck a chord. The people want to help the privateers. They understand the sport lacks some of the economic structure to really have a vibrant privateer program. In a nutshell, the privateers don’t get rich in this sport. People understand it’s important and they want to keep the sport healthy.   The enthusiast sponsors that have stepped up to the plate have been great. Having said that, we need to focus more on our primary sponsors and get them fully subscribed over the next couple weeks on this program, so we can move onto the next program.”

“We’ve also updated the sponsor section of our web site because we need to make this compelling to sponsors…that they see business value, and it’s not just an emotional feel-good kind of program. So we’ve tried to articulate it better on the site the value they expect, and every week we’re going to highlight what we’ve done for our primary sponsors. The sponsors should expect to get good coverage as part of this program.”

“The next program is going to be to extend this through the nationals. That’s really our goal. But we want to put this initial program behind us, and get our other sponsors teed up for the national program. We definitely want to do it, we just need the sponsors to sign on the dotted line. I don’t think this program is sustainable at the level I want it to be without a lot of primary sponsorship…without implementing the big tent concept it’s going to go slow. If we have to wait for Wonder Warthog Apparel to fund everything, that’s going to be too long. Who knows if it’s even going to work or not? I’m really promoting this cross-industry and even among outside industry sponsors. If we’re going to move quickly and keep the momentum, we need to get cross-industry support.”

“I really want to make the case that this is not the place to gain competitive advantage. You can reinforce your brand through this very positive program, and I think everyone can benefit from it, but it’s not going to be, “Oh, this is a Fox program so No Fear can’t play, or This an FMF program, so Pro Circuit can’t play. For the first program we really want to get the cross-industry…even competitors…signed up as primary sponsors.”

So what does Scott think the market is like for Wonder Warthog apparel? Will people buy it because they like it? Or just because they want to support privateers? “I don’t know. I do know that people will buy it to support the privateers, but what I say to them, and I’m very clear on this, the best thing you can do for the program is help us find primary sponsors or become an enthusiast sponsor. That goes directly into the program. It’s much more indirect going through Wonder Warthog Apparel. We’re just barely getting up and running. We’re not going to see profits from that for a while.”

“Some people really like the Warthog cartoon. They’re really getting used to it, and I think the Ninja Turtles became popular with kids and the Warthog is much cooler than the Ninja Turtles.”

When at where will the apparel be available? “Right now it’s being test-marketed at a local gear/apparel shop called High Octane in Thousand Oaks, which is where Woeen surprised at the amount of people willing to help. “This has really been amazing. When we first conceptualized this, we were shooting for what we call primary sponsors. We’re looking at eight to ten per program, and the amount will float depending on how big the program is. But we want a manageable number of primary sponsors. But when it leaked out on the Internet that we were thinking about doing something, the response from individuals has been overwhelming. Dave Kimmey from Engine Ice signed up before we’d even launched the program. We’ve also gotten 14 individuals that have signed up for what we’re calling an enthusiast-level sponsorship of $500 or more. I didn’t expect to get that kind of reaction. But this thing has struck a chord. The people want to help the privateers. They understand the sport lacks some of the economic structure to really have a vibrant privateer program. In a nutshell, the privateers don’t get rich in this sport. People understand it’s important and they want to keep the sport healthy.   The enthusiast sponsors that have stepped up to the plate have been great. Having said that, we need to focus more on our primary sponsors and get them fully subscribed over the next couple weeks on this program, so we can move onto the next program.”

“We’ve also updated the sponsor section of our web site because we need to make this compelling to sponsors…that they see business value, and it’s not just an emotional feel-good kind of program. So we’ve tried to articulate it better on the site the value they expect, and every week we’re going to highlight what we’ve done for our primary sponsors. The sponsors should expect to get good coverage as part of this program.”

“The next program is going to be to extend this through the nationals. That’s really our goal. But we want to put this initial program behind us, and get our other sponsors teed up for the national program. We definitely want to do it, we just need the sponsors to sign on the dotted line. I don’t think this program is sustainable at the level I want it to be without a lot of primary sponsorship…without implementing the big tent concept it’s going to go slow. If we have to wait for Wonder Warthog Apparel to fund everything, that’s going to be too long. Who knows if it’s even going to work or not? I’m really promoting this cross-industry and even among outside industry sponsors. If we’re going to move quickly and keep the momentum, we need to get cross-industry support.”

“I really want to make the case that this is not the place to gain competitive advantage. You can reinforce your brand through this very positive program, and I think everyone can benefit from it, but it’s not going to be, “Oh, this is a Fox program so No Fear can’t play, or This an FMF program, so Pro Circuit can’t play. For the first program we really want to get the cross-industry…even competitors…signed up as primary sponsors.”

So what does Scott think the market is like for Wonder Warthog apparel? Will people buy it because they like it? Or just because they want to support privateers? “I don’t know. I do know that people will buy it to support the privateers, but what I say to them, and I’m very clear on this, the best thing you can do for the program is help us find primary sponsors or become an enthusiast sponsor. That goes directly into the program. It’s much more indirect going through Wonder Warthog Apparel. We’re just barely getting up and running. We’re not going to see profits from that for a while.”

“Some people really like the Warthog cartoon. They’re really getting used to it, and I think the Ninja Turtles became popular with kids and the Warthog is much cooler than the Ninja Turtles.”

When at where will the apparel be available? “Right now it’s being test-marketed at a local gear/apparel shop called High Octane in Thousand Oaks, which is where Wonder Warthog Racing is headquartered. People can see it there. It will be our web site with the help and support of our web guy, Brad Zimmerman, next week.”

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“I also want to clarify, just so the companies are clear, that we are not getting into the gear business. We’re not here to compete with the gear companies. We’ve talked to some of them and they don’t seem to be concerned if we stick to apparel, especially if it’s marketed around the Wonder Warthog character. That’s a niche market, and we’re aiming to make it more popular with the kids in the mass market and the folks that support the privateers than we are trying to compete with anyone in the industry.”

“It’s important that we make that distinction, because after the cape incident at Anaheim last week, we’ve gotten a lot of calls from people who want the jersey/cape combination to wear at their local races in support of the privateer program.”

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Our current thinking is that we will not sell the jersey/cape combo, but if folks want to wear it to support the privateer program, in return for an enthusiast level sponsorship, we will provide them with a jersey/cape combination. But we will not sell it at all.

Scott’s dreams for the future come in two sizes…big, and bigger. “People need to understand this is a vision, a goal, an audacious plan. The programs we have today are important. When we got some counseling from Marty Moates he correctly pointed out, “Your audacious goals are great, but you need to focus on here and now programs in order to be taken seriously.

“Our audacious goal is really this. We want to create a fully sponsored team of ten riders. We think we need a lot of rider to make an impact, because we’re not going for the marquee riders, we’re going to sponsor actual privateers. What we mean by that is, full semis, motor coaches, mechanics, the whole enchilada, but what we want to do is have a very unique way of selecting them. We don’t want to cannibalize any existing sponsorships. So our plan would be whether it’s next year or the year after, or five years down the road, depending on how much outside sponsorship we get, how big Wonder Warthog Apparel becomes, and how much we can fund ourselves, is we want to go through a process of waiting until silly season is over and everybody that’s going to have rides will have their ride. Then anybody left standing after the musical chairs music stops would be a candidate for our program.”

“What we would do is have this team, we’d really focus on the Team Warthog brand, but when we pull in the pits, we envision pulling our semis into the center of the privateer area. Setting up there as a beacon of hope for the privateers and providing floating resources and additional capacity to all the privateers in the pits.”

“We have this grandiose vision of doing something like that and I think it’s doable. I think we can package it and spin it to the outside sponsors the right way, to where they’d see value. They could get to their demographic, or really be supporting the soul of this sport if they wanted to get into it. I think there’s a model there that actually could work.”

“We envision where the crowd would be rooting for a Team Warthog rider to finish 10th, more than they might be rooting for a Chad Reed or a Ricky Carmichael to win.   Those guys are expected to win. But a Team Warthog rider, doing that well would be really unexpected, and would be fantastic.”

“As part of that model, we would encourage our riders to get fully sponsored rides with the mainstream industry sponsors as quickly as possible. If we had a breakout throughout the season out of our riders, we would encourage any team to pick up our riders. We would not hold them back whatsoever. The sign of success would be if they worked their way up the sponsorship food chain.”

“In the ultimate vision, I believe that there’s an economic model that says that we could sponsor every privateer that’s capable of riding at the Supercross level. That’s maybe 50 or 60 riders, and people say, ‘That’s loony.’ How the heck would you ever do that? Think about this. If you take a compensation package like a Bubba Stewart or Ricky Carmi