Despite facing fines of up to $300,000 and possible jail time, Malcolm Smith publicly defied the ban on selling kids' ATVs and dirtbikes Thursday afternoon by selling three of the machines before a crowd of cheering onlookers.
Customers and industry notables thronged to the inside of Malcolm Smith Motorsports, his massive Riverside, Calif., dealership to see what had been well-publicized through various social networking websites, the Internet and a national newspaper.
"You all going to visit me in jail?" Smith, 68, asked the gathering after it erupted into applause when he was introduced. He went on to explain the reasoning behind his decision to hold what he was calling the Kids Love 2 Ride Protest.
Smith said he wanted to publicize his frustrations over the law which went info effect Feb. 10, after he found himself telling a customer that he couldn't sell her a child's dirtbike, nor could he sell any children's protective gear or parts for the dirtbike.
The law was not very well thought out, he said. As an example of how ridiculous he believes the new regulations to be, he pulled out a bag of lead split fishing sinkers that he purchased at a sporting goods store down the street from his shop. Anybody could go in and buy them, he said, and most of the time people use their teeth to clamp them down on the fishing line.
Smith joked that his next attempt to get publicity for the issue is to pull the motorcycling version of the Boston Tea Party. He plans to commission some bikini-clad girls to load one of the little banned bikes onto the back of a Sea-Doo, take it out to the Port of Long Beach, tow it around for a bit and then dump it into the harbor.
Smith said that following the protest sale, anybody wanting to buy one of the banned youth machines could come in and leave a $100 deposit. Once the ban is lifted he or she'll get the bike at dealer cost.
The motorcycling legend then sat down at a table set up in the middle of the dealership, and went over the sales documents for the vehicles one at a time. A trio of Smith's industry pals, racing and industry luminaries — Jeff Ward, Troy Lee and Bud Feldkamp — had lined up as buyers in Smith's act of civil disobedience.
Feldkamp, the owner of Glen Helen Raceway in San Bernardino, Calif., signed on to buy a youth quad for his grandson, Luke. As a friend of Smith's for 40 years, he has always known him to be very conservative and soft-spoken, so he was shocked when heard about the protest sale and about how mad Smith was about the situation.
"I think that when standing up for your rights … you can't just talk about it, you have to live it," Feldkamp said.
Ward, whom Smith has known since the racer was a small kid, said that because he's a father the issue is very close to him. What's happening is completely wrong, he said.
"This is the step that we need to take. More dealerships need to follow suit."
The dealership had something of a festive quality to it during the event with children marching around hoisting protest signs into the air. One read "What's next, recess? Let me ride." Another small boy wore a T-shirt that read, "I promise not to eat it. I just want to ride it."
There was also a fax machine set up at the entrance to the dealership where customers could fill protest letters that were immediately transmitted directly to the offices of CPSC commissioner Nancy Nord, U.S. senators Diane Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, both from California.
Smith figures he’s lost at least $5,000 in net profit since Feb. 10, on lost revenues of more than $30,000 for units and parts and riding gear that he couldn’t sell. The Motorcycle Industry Council estimates that the ban could cost the industry $1 billion this year, and Dealernews magazine estimates there is more than $100 million of unsold inventory sitting in dealer storage areas.
Smith currently has about 45 kids' units in his storeroom. In 2008 Smith sold about 1,300 total units, an off year, and rang up about $20 million in revenues. Malcolm Smith Motorsports won this year's Top 100 Grand Prize.
In speaking before Smith's public protest, racing champion and Husqvarna's national sales manager, Scot Harden, told the crowd that Smith was really hanging it out there by selling the machines, especially considering the possible consequences. Harden, who was wearing a shirt emblazoned with the slogan "Free Malcolm Smith," said that he predicted the law was a precursor to further legislation targeting the motorcycling industry.
"This is a case of the federal government gone crazy," Harden said. "Common sense has to prevail. True freedom has to prevail."