Editorial: The Red Plate
by Joe Colombero
What does the red plate mean? This is a question I’m often asked and the answer is simple but complicated. Basically, the red plate is worn by the current point’s leader, the man leading the title chase for the Championship. Right now, that man is Ryan Villopoto, the defending Champion who also owns the #1 plate. This leads to some of the confusion as I’ve had die-hard fans swear that the defending Champ always wears the #1 plate and it’s always red. Not so, as I said the red plate belongs to the point’s leader, the #1 plate to the defending Champ and sometimes they are the same rider.
Way back in the last century, Supercross/Motocross racers earned a new number every season according to their point’s totals the year before. It was a huge point of pride to earn a single digit number or even a low two-digit number. So, riders like Guy Cooper, Jeff Stanton, Johnny O’Mara, and Rick Johnson would show up at the opening Supercross with a different number every season, sometimes a new bike and riding gear sponsor and everyone in the stands would argue over who was who and have to buy a program to sort it all out.
Then the AMA felt it was better to assign permanent numbers to professional riders. This would make it easier to market the sport and racers would have a career under the same number. But wait, everyone wanted a single digit number, and there are only nine available (actually eight since the #1 would have to be earned every season). This was solved with the rule that only former active National Champions could chose and hold a single digit number – hence Jeremy McGrath chose #2, Mike Brown chose #3, Ricky Carmichael took #4, Mike LaRocco #5 and so on. And only the defending Champion of the series had the right to the #1 plate.
And all was well for a while, the new numbering system was a hit with the fans and the riders liked it as well. The sport was easier to promote and riders much easier to identify and root for and former champions were easy to spot because they had a single digit plate and current champs had the big #1. Some riders like Travis Pastrana, who had the right to choose a single digit – TP had won the 125cc AMA National MX Championship – chose big numbers like Travis’s 199.
Then Ricky Carmichael won everything and didn’t want to run a #1 plate! Oops, a fly in the proverbial mayonnaise. How would the champ be identified if he didn’t wear the #1 on his bike and jersey? This has never happened before. What to do?
Ricky was within his rights, he liked the #4 and his fans identified him with #4. And with a racers instinct he had won a lot of races with the #4, so why change? There was no longer a rule that forced riders to use the number they earned so the AMA could not force him to use the #1 plate. So, after a season of races where Ricky rode with the #4 and no one wore the #1 (remember Ricky won everything), they decided that the Champ would wear a red plate. Not a bad idea as long as Ricky was healthy and racing. The fans loved the red plate.
But what would happen if the Champ was hurt and unable to race? There would be no red plate on the track and the fans would be disappointed. So, they changed the red plate rule and make it the point’s leader who wore the crimson dish.
And that is why we have the simple confusing red plate for the point’s leader, who right now is also the defending Champion.