The economy has had a negative effect on race turnout.
We are not Ocean Yacht racers, F1 racers, Red bull Air racers all plastered with Fortune 500 emblems.
We are effectively self sponsored within the industry, and within ourselves.
I've often been asked in skating (Inline skating as well as skateboarding) "How can I improve my racing".
My answer.. oddly enough has always been... "Become unemployed"
For then you have time to practice, time to research gear, time to analyze technique, read the forums, and the energy to test and disassemble boards and test setups on different courses etc.
But, being "unemployed" comes with certain drawbacks..... like paying for entry fees, airfares (no problem if you get bumped regularly), hotel rooms , and gear (which really isn't that expensive- sneakers cost you the most).
Having a pro class- where if you win 1st allows you to go to 2 more races helps in this regard. and if you podium likely you cover some or most of your costs.
The time when I raced the most in the USA was when there was a series- or groups of well organized races where I thought I could depend on prize money, and of course, the company of other pros.
Having prize money- does other things. It commits the race organizer, and likely if you are organized enough to collect a good prize purse in advance...well likely you are organized enough to throw a good race.
Pros will return when the economy improves. if the purses were higher.... you would see some faster Ams jumping to pro faster, practicing more.
Without prize money-a lot of talented pros won't travel great distances on a regular basis. They might travel once to a particular event that they have read accolades about (The Farm, Antrim, Trocadero, La Costa, Catalina etc..) but they likely will not go year after year a long distance. Coming home with a check made out in your name (helps give validity to your GF or spouse that you missed all those Bridal showers, weekend at the in-laws, weddings, and shoe shopping excursions for a reason). TRUST me.. it helps far more than the dollar amount no matter how wealthy you are.
Condensing the classes is also IMHO a mistake. We have always struggled to have a good pro class with enough people in it. The pro class has suffered at many races IMHO by not having challenging pro level courses.
By condensing the classes there is even less chance to podium or win.
Lots of Ams talk to me about turning "Pro". My opinion is that the Pro designation is an EARNED status- that comes with winning several Amateur contests or placing high in their Nationals (top 5) or Worlds (top 10) regularly. People in Am agonize over going Pro. They do, and should.
That is what makes the Pro class formidable. There really are no slouches in Pro.
As a pro, I am excited when a new top am joins our ranks. But when a lower ranked am- pops in.... I just look at it as a "BYE" in the eliminations bracket. That "bye" makes it harder for the other pros in the bracket chasing the top pro who may have drawn a "no contest" race.
So when I race pro, I am guaranteed to have my work cut out for me.
Certain AM racers should be racing pro as of this year. Karl Floitgraf, Mike Duquette, Justin Collins. But, you see, you don't want to have all the fast AMs leave AM immediately- or people would go PRO too soon. The one or two fast Ams are there- as a benchmark for the other Ams. But after awhile- (one or two seasons) typically these fast Ams start to move up.
As for Masters,
I believe in a Master's class. I'm not sure if there should be cash in it... perhaps rent a hotel suite and stuff the Masters in there at no charge to sort of pay homage to the Henry Hesters, John Hutsons, Bob Skoldbergs, Tommy Ryans- who were slalom skateboarding "CoverBoys" that got you interested in slalom in the first place.
A top masters age pro- like Ritchie Carrassco, Claude Regnier, Gary Fluitt, Keith Hollien that is of age with sufficient race experience, support of our sport, and -record of wins- deserves to get recognition by the others in our sport. To a budding racer, who has followed this from his computer- the thought of going to a race, and hanging out having a beer in the Master's suite and meeting the people he has read about...to me..... is well...too cool.
Just put ALL the racers in the same Hotel (usually a good idea in slalom- as some of the funnest races are ones where we dominate a hotel- or even a hostel!) tell the hotel owner- that we expect a nice free suite for the Masters racers (and not to worry about a bunch of old guys trashing a hotel room....lol) You could book a medium nice hotel (Marriott guest quarters suites) - and a cheaper one for Ams (comfort inn- days inn etc.).
oh, and Gustavs--- I've seen you skate/skated with you, it's time for you to turn Pro too- like father like son but if you turn Pro- you have to keep up your dedication just like your Dad too- who has carried the sport of slalom in Eastern Europe more consistently than anyone else for the past 3 decades.