One Shot Racing covers new ground

Motorcycling: Black riders William Johnson and Adrian Jones rev up their bid to give minorities a place in the pack.

Motorcycle Racing

November 03, 2003|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

BURTONSVILLE - Walk through the paddock area at a national or regional American Motorcycle Association racing event and you won't have any trouble picking William Johnson and Adrian Jones out of the crowd of about 600 people in the pits.

"Every other team looks alike," said Jeff Coles, who owns Burtonsville-based One Shot Racing with Rudy Blyden. "Then you see Will and A.J., the black guys."

"We stand out in the crowd," said Jones with pride.

They are motorcycle racers to the core. Johnson has earned the nickname "Storyteller" because of the many tales he relates concerning racing. When Jones was so little he couldn't yet see out of the back window of the family car, he was already fascinated by motorcycle riders. He called them "Buzzomen," because all he could see was the tops of their heads going past as he strained to see what was making that buzzing noise beyond his vision.

The team is called One Shot Racing, said Blyden, a Morgan State graduate who is an editor for the television show America's Most Wanted, "because we figure this will be our one and only shot and because we think we'll only need one shot."

Unlike many other prospective team owners and riders/drivers, One Shot Racing did not go into motorcycle racing expecting a handout. Last season, its first in AMA competition, the team spent more than $70,000 of its own money to compete against teams with million-dollar sponsorships.

One Shot made the effort to demonstrate that minority teams can excel and to build a platform on which to launch its campaign for sponsorship.

Johnson, who won WERA Heavyweight Twins Expert titles in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions in 2001 and was runner-up in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2002, finished 64th among 106 riders in the Super- sport category of the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championships despite competing in just three events this season.

"There are no barriers in racing," Johnson said. "We're different because of our skin color, but we're all just racers."

Because they are African- Americans, however, One Shot brings its own diversity to a sport that has been nearly devoid of it.

"Although it is unusual to see an all-African-American team [at an AMA event]," AMA spokesman Tom Lindsay said, "we think it's great a team like One Shot Racing is both breaking the mold and setting an example for others."

One Shot, which is the first African-American-owned and -sponsored race team to compete in the AMA, sees its path to success in building a bridge between sponsors who want to make a connection with an urban audience and the growing numbers of audience members interested in motorcycles and road racing.

Coles, a commercial real estate developer in Maryland, said urban culture includes not only the "street-savvy, hardcore inner-city residents," but also suburban kids and 30-something, well-educated professionals and every demographic in between.

"Because hip-hop music has become accepted by all cultures, it's become a mainstream culture," Coles said. "As African-Americans, we're trendsetters."

Sports bikes are becoming part of the urban lifestyle. The participants in One Shot Racing say traditional sponsors, such as oil, beer, detergents and communication servers, can't reach that audience.

"But hip-hop associates can - record and apparel corporations, sport figures, folks who are recognized by the urban culture - they can," Coles said. "And they'd be a perfect fit for us. What we offer as a team is that since we're the only one, we create hyper-exposure. We're such a rarity, everyone is attracted to us. It's like when Tiger Woods came into golf or Venus and Serena Williams came in to tennis."

It might not be the perfect comparison. Woods and the Williams sisters came on extremely fast in individual sports. One Shot Racing, while opening eyes last season by just being there, is still short of money and equipment, which means it is also short of results.

Its job is to persuade a major sponsor to take a chance without being able to show a major win. Johnson has his WERA titles and so does Jones, having won the WERA B-Superbike Novice Mid-Atlantic Regional title in 2002. But the best either of them did in their limited AMA appearances last season was an 18th by Johnson.

Still, Johnson, 32, Jones, 28, and their owners bring a passion to their work. All of them started as street riders, realized they were going to "way too many" funerals of friends who were killed in bike accidents and moved to the safer, more competitive ranks of organized racing.

There were noticeably surprised looks this season as One Shot Racing made its debut on the AMA circuit. Early in the season in Birmingham, Ala., Coles and Jones were walking the course when a corner worker suggested they should be back in the pits working on their driver's bike.

"When I said I am the driver, that man almost dropped his flag," Jones said.

But, overall, Coles said there was nothing but encouragement and support from participants and fans.

Next season is coming fast. As One Shot members look ahead to February, they're working on Yamaha R6s and R1s for next year and searching for that elusive sponsor.

"I think we shocked a lot of people on how we approached things," said Coles, who figures that to be a successful operation, the team will require about $1.5 million. "We get a lot of call-backs about our professionalism and attention to detail."

But as of yet no one has stepped forward as a sponsor.

"No," Coles said. "But we have irons in the fire all over the place. Whoever takes the time to invest in us will make a lot of money. We're not just wrench heads saying we need money. Once someone thinks about this, they'll see the opportunity. Money is the driving force, and we're a marketing company, not just a race team."

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