Growing the American MX Nationals via track rotation

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A while back I read something, probably in Racerhead, about the unfortunate reality that in order to get a new venue into the outdoor National series an old one has to go away. This is what happened when Broome-Tioga sold its event rights to Tony Miller and Freestone in TX, and more recently, when Glen Helen lost its rights to make way for Pala (which subsequently lost them to Lake Elsinore.)

Then, in a December Racerhead, Davey Coombs was lamenting how hard it is to find a National venue in the southeast, and how even when he found one he had to get a current track to drop out of the series to make room.

That “lose one to gain one” thing struck me as a real barrier to growth. It’s a throw-back, one of the last remaining vestiges of the good ole’ boy power and politics around which motocross was built in the ’70s. How can you really grow a series, and grow the audience for a series, when you have to permanently take a race away from one location to try a new one? And when certain promoters essentially get a lifetime contract — like a season ticket holder at Lambeau Field?

When you’re talking about just 12 races a year, you need a compromise — a way to try new venues, new cities, new tracks, new locations — without abandoning or bringing undue harm to the ones that got you where you are. It’s another way of growing the pie.

So I thought, “Why don’t you just do a planned track rotation?” I did a little spreadsheet to see how a simple rotation would work and it turned out you could easily expand the AmericanMX National series to 18 tracks with a little planning. And luck. Rotation is easy. Finding new tracks is really, really hard.

But it still seemed like a good idea so I sent the email below to DC. Recently Reese Dingler told me it showed up in a print issue of Racer X Illustrated. I guess it got printed in the Letters to the Editor space. I didn’t see it, but I thought I’d put it here.

DC,

Congrats on how all the hard work for the American MX Nationals is paying off, good job on the TV thing, etc. You really are doing a top-notch job overall.

Racerhead #48 was the first time I’ve seen so much detail on what a national facility requires. Nice. Here’s something that you may have considered, may have even discussed already.

Track rotation. 3-year cycle. Everyone gets two years on, one year off. A 3-year rotation could cleanly support 18 different venues, by 2020-2022.

Does nothing to solve the logistics challenges of launching a new venue, finding a suitable facility, etc. But it’s a conceptual way to deal with the “somebody has to die before someone new can move in” situation. It seems counter-productive that a historic venue has to go away “forever” to get a new one in the mix.

Current promoters will doubtless balk, but getting (alternately) 4 or 3 Nationals in a 5-year cycle seems like a decent business proposition. “No National at Hangtown this year” is very different from “The Hangtown National is gone.”

Just a thought. Keep up the good work.

In his email response (which I assume was also printed) Coombs noted that some tracks — like Redbud, Unadilla, and Washougal — should probably be on the schedule yearly and excluded from any rotation schedule. That messes up my neatly geometric idea, but I get it. It’s in everyone’s interest to stay with the tracks that draw the biggest crowds. You just have to figure out how many of those exclusions there will be. The more tracks you exclude, the less effective the system becomes.

In the beginning, at least, this point is moot. It’s really hard to find tracks suitable for Nationals outside of SoCal, and it will be years before there’s any need to worry about whether or not to rotate all 12 tracks out or exclude some. The immediate question is figuring out who’s going to go first.

In answer to that Coombs also said that they’re going to start rotating the two tracks his family runs — High Point and Steel City — in the near future to make room for that new southeast venue. If he can find it.

Ultimately it needs to be the majority of tracks that rotate in and out. Not just one. There may be some licensing/contract issues but I’m confident no one in the National Promoters Group has a lifetime contract. They can all be negotiated into rotation, and it can be done in a way that preserves everyone’s current investment while expanding the horizons of the whole series. It complicates scheduling and series management, but it’s the only way to grow the series without abandoning its past.

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