The miserable impasse between AMA Pro Road Racing and the professional road racing community is steadily worsening. This is very unsettling. Not because it is affecting any of the other racing disciplines, but because it belies a deep-rooted management flaw at AMA Pro Racing.

The behavior of AMA Pro Racing toward the road race community looks a lot like the sort of corporate raider mentality personified by people like “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap.

I don’t know what’s wrong. I have previously said that DMG will eventually get it right. I base this on four basic principles:

  • Professional racing is a business. As such it should be run by a business, in a for-profit manner. Business provides the only structure, and profit the only objective measuring stick, that can effectively measure success. This is, of course, the worst possible system except for all the others.
  • Professional racing is a sporting event. As such it must be run in an open and fair environment that is free from inherent conflicts of interest. The sport of professional racing cannot be run by any of the primary participants — including drivers/riders, manufacturers/factories, fans, or various special interests.
  • Professional motorsports in general, and professional motorcycle racing in particular, is a niche. Success in a niche requires a dedicated, specialist business model that can identify, assess, and serve all the narrow, critical interests that are part of the niche.
  • Business has a very clear failure model. If you have no customers, constituents, or participants in your niche you have no profits. And no business.

It is this last point that is perhaps most relevant, and is why I said that DMG will, ultimately, get it right. Their very survival depends on it. This could not be said of the old AMA model, or of LiveNation. The principals at DMG have all the credentials and track record to indicate they know these things. So why have they gotten this whole road racing thing so terribly wrong?

I don’t know. Maybe it is little more than hubris bred from years of running the world’s most successful motorsports franchise in NASCAR. Maybe they have forgotten they can fail. Maybe they have forgotten that they do not, in fact, have all the answers.

Maybe Roger Edmondson is confused. NASCAR is a decidedly blue-collar, beer-drinking sport. It’s rough and tumble, and there is a distinct connection between NASCAR fans and pro wrestling. This is not the profile of the typical road racing aficionado. But you would think Edmondson’s GrandAm Sports Car Series would be a good reference point…

I only know what I read in the papers and see on TV, but it appears that AMA Pro Racing have made a series of inexcusable, rookie-like errors — at least with the road racing program. They seem to have alienated every one of their constituents in one way or another. They have taken the least tarnished star in the old AMA stable and dipped it in a corrosive bath. This is bad. Very, very bad.

I cannot imagine Roger Edmondson is getting kudos from his bosses in the France organization. I cannot imagine he is getting kudos anywhere. I have to hope that he can put his ego aside, admit he’s gotten it terribly wrong, and start over. He’s only a few months into this. It’s not too late to get it right.

But remember what I said in point four, it’s very clear when a business fails. At this rate it won’t take long for AMA Pro racing to start hemorrhaging money. This will quickly change their approach. Or they will simply get out and sell the remaining carcass to someone else. (Just like what Daimler did with Chrysler.) The downside is we could be left with that rotting carcass.

It’s also possible we could see Edmondson removed. Often the only thing bigger than a big-time corporate CEO’s salary is his ego. Because of this they tend to fail spectacularly. When they get something wrong, they get it really wrong. And when they don’t back down the shareholders and the board get really antsy. Big-time CEO’s get ousted all the time. And their leash is getting shorter. Given how quickly this road race mess has escalated it’s likely that Edmondson is already feeling pressure. We won’t know that, of course. Not until the day he announces he is stepping down to “spend more time with family.” At that point AMA Pro Racing either gets their own act together or does what they’ve done with motocross – hand it off to a better suited management group and continue to operate the overall business of motorcycle racing.

Either way, I suspect we won’t have long to wait…

The idea of raising the minimum age limit for Pro Motocross is being discussed a lot in the media and by the fans, particularly since an underage Jason Lawrence got into a bit of legal trouble. New outdoor MX director Davey Coombs has publicly stated his opinion that an 18-year-old age limit would be a good thing. Much of the discussion is focused on the idea that riders need to mature before being given the money and pressure of big pro contracts, which is true. But there is another aspect that needs to be considered.

The problem is relevance and the Olympics give us an interesting case study. It’s been nice to have some sports distractions — the Olympics and the NFL preseason — during this two-week break in the Pro Motocross schedule. While the Olympics have some compelling stories — Michael Phelps, 41-year-old Dara Torres, the Redeem Team — I don’t want to talk about them. I want to look at one of the least compelling sports in the Olympics — women’s gymnastics.

We only care about women’s gymnastics once every four years, and then only a little bit. Fans are mostly Mommies with little daughters, and pubescent boys. Beyond that no one cares. Why? Because “women’s” gymnastics is a girls sport — literally. No adult woman can compete. Period. Ever. By the time a girl reaches puberty and develops boobs and a butt her polar moment and center of gravity change to make it impossible to be a gymnast any more. I remember reading an interview once (which I cannot document now) where I believe 1984 Gold Medalist Mary Lou Retton (who was 16 at the time) noted that she didn’t actually enter puberty until she was nearly 19 years old because of her rigorous training schedule.

So little girls practice and train for years. Between the ages of 14-18 they get one shot at being a star. At 19 they are done. Kaput. Over. Move on, nothing to see here.

There’s no career path, no adult challenges to conquer, no compelling story about hard work and perseverance. Basically it’s a crap shoot — a few rare kids have the discipline and early maturity to reach the top of their pursuit, they get a shot at a medal, and they’re gone. It’s not that the sport doesn’t require athletic ability, skills, talent, etc. It does. It’s just there is nothing in women’s gymnastics to attract adult fans of either gender. The sport is as irrelevant as wiffle ball.

Unfortunately, this scenario sounds an awful lot like modern professional motocross in America. We spend an inordinate amount of time, energy, money, and media space on 15-16 year old riders. They come out at 16, many with factory contracts already signed. They get 1-2 years to prove themselves. If they don’t make the cut — for whatever reason — they are considered a failure by 18. By 20 they are done. Gone. Off to be a carpenter or a plumber or something.

As grownups we can’t relate to that. It’s dumb. Makes no sense. It’s not even an effective way to find the best talent. The human body doesn’t reach it’s physical or mental peak until the early 20s. Yet we judge the ultimate potential of someone in a sport as physically and mentally demanding as motocross and toss them out by 18.

Over the July 4 weekend I had an old friend come and stay at the house. We used to race MX together back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. He hasn’t paid any mind to the sport for years so I got him to sit down and watch the live webcast of the Red Bud National. His first comment after seeing some of the pre-race interviews? “They’re just kids. I don’t want to watch this.”

This guy is a race fan. He spends money on race tickets. He goes to events. He watches on TV. But children riding motorcycles doesn’t get his attention. He can’t relate. And he’s not alone. According to the US Census Bureau there are 33 million males in the 18-34 age bracket. But there are 45 million males in the 35-60 bracket – the bracket that includes all the vet and vintage racers.

You can relate to a 16-year-old up to about age 30. Beyond that the gap gets too big and your life experience plays a much bigger role in your view. You start to see them as children. Once you have your own kids it gets worse. You don’t want to watch a bunch of teenagers do anything as a spectator sport, it doesn’t matter what it is.

These young riders are fast. Very fast. A few of them are mature beyond their years. But it doesn’t matter if a huge portion of the potential adult audience can’t relate. It’s not as if at 22 you suddenly can’t go fast anymore.

If we really want to grow MX as a mainstream sport, how can we ignore 60% of the mainstream population of potential fans? The mind-numbing sameness of the sterile, technologically perfect motorcycles has killed any mechanical interest older fans may have had. All that’s left is the riders’ personality. And when the majority of focus is on personalities 18 and under, that’s a problem. Even the NBA — that paragon of bad planning, bad pr, bad management, and gangsta-hoopster street thug mentality — waits until kids are out of high school to put them in the pros.

If the goal is to achieve more mainstream acceptance we need to look at the long-term mainstream sports — both motorized and stick-and-ball — and emulate those things that make sense. We need to look at “fan life” – how long a typical fan stays with a sport.

Long-term success means we need long-term fans. Alienating people over 35 is not a good plan. Pretty much every successful fan-sport in America focuses the bulk of it’s players in the mid- to late-20s. The 18 or 19 year-old phenom is an exception, not the rule. Veterans of the sport are in their early- to mid-30s.

This always occurs as a result of planning and management on the part of the sanctioning body or league. The teams and players are universally incapable of maintaining any such discipline.

But this 22 to 34 age period corresponds to the human body’s physical and mental peak. It’s when athletes are truly at their best. It’s when their personalities are complex enough to be interesting to the broadest group of fans, and when the largest number of fans can identify with them.

Want a little anecdotal evidence? Who are the most popular riders on the tour, outside of the two dominant racers? 33-year-old Timmy Ferry and 30-year-old Kevin Windham. Who’s one of the hottest up-and-coming riders? 29-year-old Michael Byrne of Australia. We don’t need a sport dominated by 30-year-old+ riders, but we really, really need to get past the 16-18 focus and build the sport around adults, unless we want pro motocross to be the motorized version of women’s gymnastics. Moving the minimum Pro age to 18 is a great first step.

Back in February I did a little profile on Ducati based on an article in Cycle News. You may recall that Harley-Davidson made a run at buying Ducati late last year, but the move was quashed by the investment group Investindustrial, which owned a significant, but not controlling, portion of Ducati stock.

H-D has since satisfied their craving for a European marque by acquiring MV Agusta. And now it appears that Investindustrial has insulated themselves from foreign management by putting together a larger private investment group, Performance Motorcycles S.p.A., which consists of shareholders Investindustrial, BS Investimenti and Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan (HOPP). According to the press release:

The three shareholders owned a combined 30% share of the Italian OEM in February when they announced plans to buy out the rest of the company for 1.70 euros a share, an arrangement worth 390.8 million euros (US$579 million). At the time, Investindustrial held a 15.6% share, HOPP 7.4% and BS Investimenti 7%, and stock in Ducati Motor Holding traded at 1.40 euros per share. Stock in Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A. has gone up in value by 16.4% since three key shareholders announced plans to buy out the company. Stock in Ducati Motor Holding S.p.A. has gone up in value by 16.4% since three key shareholders announced plans to buy out the company.

Under the Performance Motorcycles banner, the three shareholders currently own a combined 86.7% of Ducati while the value of shares has increased to 1.63 euros.

Unlike American and Japanese motorcycle companies, Ducati’s sales continue to grow, as do MV Agusta’s. Perhaps the world is growing tired of the technically perfect sameness that is the Japanese motorcycle industry, and is looking for something with a bit more personality. I know I am (even though I still want a Kawasaki Versys.)

Two things of note this past week in the world of motocross (three, I guess, but I’m not all that interested in who hired Chad Reed — it was obvious someone would) – Youthstream opens U.S. office in southern California, and CycleNews publishes an interview with FIM president Vito Ippolito confirming the FIM’s intentions to grow a Supercross World championship (Cycle News Issue #32, Aug. 13, 2008, pg 7.)

Neither of these things is unexpected, but together they are an important warning — nature abhors a vacuum, particularly the vacuum created when the AMA sold off professional racing.

Under the AMA pro racing in every discipline except road race and SX was a goat rodeo and a national embarrassment. Getting out of the racing business was overwhelmingly the right thing to do. Selling most everything to Daytona Motorsports Group was the right choice. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t get some new and different problems in the bargain.

One problem is that Supercross is a sort of bastard stepchild, grandfathered under a very nearly perpetual contract to LiveNation, a company whose business is live event promotion. LiveNation produces nearly 30,000 events each year, ranging from monster trucks to rock concerts. The AMA still has significant interest in, and rules-making rights for, SX under this contract. Although there have been rumors that these rights might be sold off as well, it’s not clear that they will be. This has split the US motocross scene in two, with the AMA/LiveNation on one side and the new AMA Pro Racing’s MX Nationals on the other. There’s currently a big disconnect between the worlds of MX and SX, and there is no longer a single entity to represent the US in international discussions. The moves by Youthstream and Ippolito are opening volleys in the war to fill the gap in this new world.

In the same issue of Cycle News Henny Ray Abrams’ “Chicanery” column lays out a doomsday scenario. Abrams is a firebrand, a muckraker, a hyperbolic prophet of doom who is unhappy no matter what the AMA does. He’s excoriated Rob Dingman since he took the helm of the AMA. In spite of this, or maybe because of it, I like to read his stuff. In Abrams’ vision LiveNation/AMA/FIM expand the SX World Championship to the point it sucks so many dollars, riders, and dates from the US Nationals the series collapses. The relevant quote from Ippolito is this:

The FIM is interested in having events outside of North America. If we have a World Championship, it must be a real World Championship. We have to push in this direction, and LiveNation agrees that this is important. They understand and are very interested to help have rounds outside of North America.

Abrams is right about a lot of things. Add 4 or 5 dates to the SX series, throw in the extra travel time to Asia and Australia, and you could have a real conflict with current MX National dates. At the very least you create a really long season. Now consider the Youthstream move, which has the following stated goal:

Youthstream USA has been formed to expand Youthstream’s worldwide operations and bring world-class events to the USA and other markets. This includes future Motocross and SuperMoto Grand Prix events and the prestigious Red Bull Motocross of Nations.

Do we not have world-class events here already? Do we not have the fastest motocross and Supercross riders in the world? How many former World Champions come here to test their metal after winning the FIM’s European “World” Championship? Again, from Ippolito:

In the Supercross World Championship we have 90-percent American riders, and in the Motocross World Championship we have 90-percent European riders. The problem is, Where are the American riders in the World Motocross Championship? Where are the European riders in the World Supercross Championship? Are these World Championships, or not? In MotoGP and World Superbike it is more universal.

And that is the problem. There’s no incentive for American riders to go to Europe, especially since the world’s largest, fastest motocross market (that would be us for those of you keeping score) is not included. Bringing 1 or 2 GP rounds to North America is not likely to solve this problem. We’re Americans. We don’t like eating a different ethnic food every week. We don’t like dealing with customs and passports for a bunch of little countries when over here we would just call them states and be done with it. It’s all quite fun as a vacation, but as a lifestyle, or as a way to make a living, it grows tiresome.

To get a handle on this the FIM and Youthstream need a piece of the US market. They need a way to change the perception of the MX Nationals in the US and the World, and to bring the MX Nationals underneath the “World Championships” in a way that is palatable to US fans. That’s why they bid on the MX Nationals series. And that’s why it’s a good thing Rob Dingman didn’t sell it to them.

We are looking at the opening rounds of a battle for world domination. The old status quo, where both sides muddled around in their own way, is falling. The US is the battleground — LiveNation/AMA/FIM on one side, AMA Pro Racing/MXSports on the other. My guess is that a truce will be formed. If the FIM push too far they will lose. There is no historical evidence that a European-based motorsports championship can dominate an American market. AMA Pro Racing/MXSports know this. But it would also be very cool to have some GP rounds and big international races here. Both side know this, too.

What is likely is a growing chasm between SX and MX, with more and more riders choosing one or the other. Arenacross is an attempt to create a grassroots version of SX, and there is a lot of territory in the US where small, indoor facilities are very popular for large parts of the year. Lots of little mini riders are growing up practicing on small SX tracks. Sooner or later motocross will be forced to abandon its younger American sibling and go head-to-head for riders and fans. If it is to survive it must have dedicated resources across the business spectrum – not merely become a stepchild of larger, Supercross-focused organizations.

To this end, Dingman’s decision may ultimately prove to be the right one, but we’re likely to see a lot of bloodshed in the meantime.

I just created a Google/Blogger version of MuddyWatersMX. It’s an abbreviated version, just teasers really, with links back here. I created it because several of the blogs where I like to post comments (including Sarah Smile and EternalTwoStroke) are hosted on Blogger, and when I post it’s easiest to use my GoogleID, which is just a link to my Google profile. But my Google profile was blank, so I needed to put something there. My solution was to put up a skeleton version of this blog so people could get a sense of what’s here.

It’s a bit of a hassle to manually add all the posts to it, so I doubt I’ll add everything. Probably just links to the more popular posts. But we’ll see.

eternaltwostroke2If you’re at all interested in the modern MX scene take a break from the mind-boggling drivel that passes for writing in the two-wheeled internet world and visit EternalTwoStroke.com. I meant to post this a couple of weeks ago when I found it but I forgot.

I was searching around for some decent two-wheeled blogs to read. There aren’t very many – as in nearly 0. If you want to read junk from people who’s thinking and communication skills are about 4th-grade level, there’s lots of that in the forums, blogs, etc.

If you want to feel like your having a conversation with a grownup, or at least someone who respects your time, you have to look long and hard. Derek Harris over at EternalTwoStroke won’t disappoint you.

He’s got some of the more interesting stuff on modern MX that I’ve seen. He asks interesting and uncommon questions, poses good answers, and throws in little thought-provoking twists now and then that make you go, “Hmmm.” Notice I said thought-provoking — that’s different from provocative or inflammatory. It requires some effort. I like that. Maybe you will, too.

b8fdeb69-fcc2-4012-9b0a-1d0e0f25ec2cI saw this announcement FIM Motocross and Supermoto Live Online in ’09 on RacerXIll.com today. I haven’t really kept up with the World GP scene and so wasn’t aware that freecaster.tv already have video highlights of all the GPs on online. According to the release:

The FIM Motocross World Championship promoter Youthstream and the online broadcaster Freecaster.tv have reached an important agreement to broadcast the series for free live and delayed on www.freecaster.tv from 2009.

There’s no press release on either the FIM or Youthstream web sites so I don’t know where it came from, but RacerX is a pretty reliable source.

There are a lot of changes in store for American MX in 2009 and beyond. It would be cool if a similar webcast arrangement was one of them.

This 2007 article from Medical News Today, Impact Sports Increase Bone Strength In Senior Athletes, reports on a study conducted on 298 athletes at the 2005 Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh. Findings were reported at the 74th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

The study used a health-history questionnaire and ultrasound Bone Mass Density scans to measure the athlete’s bone density and correct for statistical factors. The findings indicate that participation in impact sports such as running and basketball – as opposed to low-impact sports like cycling and swimming – are a significant factor in maintaining good bone health. Athletes ranged in age from 50 to 93.

This finding supports other studies which show that lifting heavy weights, as in Olympic-style lifting, increase bone density. Bone tissue is not static – it is living tissue that is constantly growing and resorbing into the body, even as we age.

All of this points to the need to include activities and work-out routines that apply the proper kind of stress to our bones in order to remain healthy, particularly if you engage in a sport like motocross that occasionally tosses you to the ground in an uncomplimentary fashion. So for all of you VMX enthusiasts out there, find time to hit the weight room or the basketball court on a regular basis and reduce the chances or wearing a cast for six weeks next time you take a soil sample.