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. Continue reading

ama-roadracerSPEED has announced a new, weekly TV show featuring AMA Pro racing beginning March 21 at 10:00 or 11:00 pm ET.

The show is primarily road racing. It will feature flag-to-flag coverage of AMA Pro Racing’s American Superbike and Daytona Sportbike, coverage of other road racing classes, and highlights of other AMA Pro disciplines.

Supercross announcer Ralph Sheheen will host the in-studio segments, Rolex sports car announcer Leigh Diffie will handle race coverage, and former Two Wheel Tuesday host Greg White will be responsible for pit coverage. The show will feature guest interviews, expert analysis, and industry news.

This looks like a really good show. It would be nice if they’d add some Moto-X coverage, but maybe we’ll get there. The on-air talent looks good with Diffey and White supporting Sheheen. I’m softening on Sheheen. If he’s willing to put the time and effort in to really push the sport I have to give the guy props. It’s been a long time — since Dave Despain hosted Motoworld back in the ’80s — since we had a full-on moto racing show. Wish I had a Tivo.

The AMA Pro Racing-sponsored team of Jeff Ward, Scott Russell, and Jason Pridmore completed the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona in 11th place. The team suffered a near race-ending pit fire around noon on Sunday, with four hours left to complete.

“Mr. Daytona” Scott Russell had just climbed into the car when he smelled fuel. The crew lifted the deck lid and everything went up in smoke. Russell dived out of the car as a hail of fire extinguishing powder was aimed at the flaming vehicle.

The crew worked to clean up the mess and get the car back on the track, managing to complete 649 laps and cross the finish line in 11th place.

Daytona Prototype, and the equivalent American LeMans LMP1, are probably my favorite kind of four-wheel racing. For me it brings back the glory days of Can-Am McLarens, Jim Hall’s Chaparrals, the incredible Porsche 917, and the killer Ford GT40.

The late 1960s and early 1970s were a golden era orf sportscar racing, when technology and innovation came from iconic mavericks more than big corporations. Wild ideas were routinely tried on the race track, and being different was a badge of honor.

Sadly, that has all fallen away, much as has happened in motorcycling. Technology has come too far. We know the very best ways to do almost everything. And advantage is measured in milliseconds by onboard computers. But I still remember…

ama24hrdaytonaThis is pretty cool. Former AMA Champions Scott Russell, Reg Pridmore, and Jeff Ward are planning to compete in the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona sports car event later this month. Russell, known as “Mr. Daytona” for his five wins in the Daytona 200 motorcycle race, and Pridmore are competing in their first sports car race. Ward, who has extensive race car experience and finished second in the 1999 Indy 500, competed in the Daytona event in 1997.

The American Motorcyclist Association is the primary sponsor on the car. To my knowledge this is the first time the AMA has ever done such a thing and, if the car does well, it could be great exposure for the association. Former AMA champ Ricky Carmichael, known as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) was originally scheduled to drive the event but withdrew, probably to focus on his budding NASCAR Truck career.

I don’t expect these guys to have a shot at winning, but I’d sure like to see them get a Top 5 and represent the motorcycle racing community in style. Here’s wishing them good luck.

The press conference this morning revealed the big changes coming for the 2009 season. 2009 is the first year that MX Sports will own the series. The big hitters are:

  • New class names — 250 and 450. Imagine that. Somebody actually listens to Jody Weisel.
  • Tracks — all the same tracks as 2008.
  • Races — still two 30+2 motos, folks. 450 class will run first.
  • TV — 3 live races on SPEED. All others broadcast same day at 10:00pm ET. 250 races on the following Tues. First motos, both classes, live and free on the internets.
  • No. 1 plates — If you’re a defending champ you have to run the Numero Uno. That’s the way it should be.
  • No Side plates — side numbers no longer required. Transponders have rendered them unnecessary and you can’t read them anyway. So the riders are now free to add more “bold new graphics”.

Also, the WMA gets a lot more coverage in 2009 with 8 National events, SPEED and internet coverage. You can infer from this announcement that two-stroke and four-stroke bikes of equal displacement will have to compete against each other. We’ll have to see what this means in practice. Will there even be any two-strokes since all the MX manufacturers have pretty much given in to Honda’s marketing assassination of the ring-dingers? We can hope.

Given all the wild rumors floating around about what would, and would not, happen I’d say this is a great start for rebirth of MX. I give Davey Coombs and the entire MX Sports organization an A+ for their first foray in the Pro Motocross management role.

Late last week NASCAR announced it is acquiring the Grand-Am sports car racing series. This matters to professional motorcycle racing because Grand-Am is the racing series owned by Roger Edmondson and Jim France, the President and Chairman respectively of Daytona Motorsports Group which now owns AMA Pro Racing.

Last night Dave Despain had Edmondson on Wind Tunnel. The interview was via telephone and fairly short, as it was the last call of the program. Despain asked Edmondson two questions, the first about the NASCAR purchase, the second was (paraphrased), “Am I wrong to think the situation in professional motorcycle road racing is a disaster?”

Edmondson’s response was a rather terse, “Yes, you are.” He then went on to explain, without specifics, that AMA Pro Racing is continuing to work behind the scenes to get the factories on board for 2009 and beyond, and that AMA Pro Racing is doing everything it can to let the factories know they are welcomed, wanted, and an important part of the future of professional road racing.

Edmondson’s response was less than convincing. Despain asked specifically about Honda and Edmondson was noncommittal. He did say that two of the factories are on board, but he would not go any further. Despain did not appear convinced, either. Here’s my amateur analysis of the situation.

I’ve said before that Edmondson is likely under pressure because of the goat rodeo road racing has become. While it’s probably not unprecedented, it’s certainly rare to see a reasonably successful business fall apart this badly, this fast.

Edmondson went on record in some of the early press conferences saying that this is his last hurrah, his last attempt at establishing a legacy. He wants this to work. At this point it clearly is not. His demeanor on the call was not friendly — not quite combative, but certainly not the jovial nature of someone who is feeling good about a program. It’s clear that he is feeling pressure about the situation.

There are several possible meanings we can read into the NASCAR/Grand-Am deal. Some, all, or none of them may be true.

From the Grand-Am perspective, this move serves to divorce the series from the chaos and bad PR that has hounded DMG since the AMA Pro Racing purchase. Grand-Am is a reasonably successful series. Though they do not have major manufacturer teams involved like their competitor ALMS (e.g. Audi), they have attracted some major teams like Ganassi and Penske. The series is on a very slow-growth path. At nine years old, the series is at a critical juncture. Having the management bogged down with the AMA debacle can only harm them.

NASCAR has a heavy investment in Grand-Am, and likely does not want anything to muck that up. So taking the series directly into the NASCAR fold stops potential sponsors and participants from getting sidetracked on issues of bad management.

Edmondson stated that Grand-Am and NASCAR had discussed the sale for some time. I think there’s a reason the sale happened now — to insulate Grand-Am from fallout.

Second, I suspect Edmondson is under pressure from the France family to get this train back on track, and relieving him of Grand-Am is the fastest way to clear his plate and make sure he is totally focused on the AMA Pro Racing problem. The France family is a significant investor in DMG, and no one wants to see their investment thrown away. The great thing about business is that it has a clear failure indicator. Losing money is failure. Losing it as fast and furiously as Edmondson seems to be doing is like shooting up a dozen rescue flairs and signaling SOS through the tornado sirens.

The last scenario is more ominous. Getting rid of Grand-Am makes AMA Pro racing a standalone entity, which makes it much easier to sell. If Edmondson can’t get this right, quickly, we may see the whole company put on the block. Potentially at a fire-sale price.

I would be surprised if this happens, but it could. There’s the alternate possibility that Edmondson could be replaced, but I don’t know if anyone in NASCAR has an interest in that. I don’t know that anyone else in the whole organization feels they could successfully run a motorcycle racing series. Especially given the magnitude of Edmondson’s (apparent) failure.

My guess is that Edmondson has been given an ultimatum — get this right or get out. Fast. I don’t think there will be a lot of patience for middling attempts at reconciliation or half-baked solutions. I think NASCAR has cleared his plate for a reason. They have insulated their other investments as best they can. They have isolated AMA Pro Racing as a standalone business unit.

We can expect to hear very little from AMA Pro Racing one way or the other. But if the 2009 season starts without at least three of the four major factories on the grid I predict we will see some sort of major ownership shakeup next year. This could screw up everything else that is going well in motorcycle racing, and cut the heart out of the positive changes happening in pro motocross. Whatever happens, 2009 will be an interesting year.

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…

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.

The entire professional road racing community has been up in arms since DMG (now officially AMA Pro Racing) began making their presence felt. The complaints have been long, loud, and many. A person less magnanimous than me might even call it incessant whining. But I won’t do that. I understand what all the furor is about. The road racers were, more or less, happy with the status quo, and DMG have begun shaking that up — not always in a positive direction.

DMG may have misjudged some things. They will undoubtedly make mistakes. But they will learn — and learn fast. They will learn fast for one simple reason — they are in a market-driven situation. The new AMA Pro racing is a business and they are accountable to shareholders. The amount of money they return to shareholders is an unambiguous measuring stick of their success, and to succeed they must please two very important constituencies — the race fans and the manufacturers who support racing (at some level they have to please the racers as well, but not so much as the other two.)

This is a huge difference from the old AMA. In The Non-Profit Professional I wrote about the problems and inherent conflicts the old AMA business model presented to professional racing. The old AMA was a non-profit. They were answerable to no one, really. They ended up serving the whims of the manufacturers like a cheap hooker. The fans had no influence. The racers had no influence. They vacillated, prevaricated, and obfuscated. Flat track racing was dead. Outdoor MX was dying. And there was no one to hold the old AMA accountable.

This isn’t true for the new AMA Pro Racing. It’s a business. With profit targets and hard measures and clear goals and objectives. That’s how businesses are run. That’s how pro racing should always be run. Yes, you have to love a sport — you can’t set the same profit targets for flat track racing that you do for mega-million-dollar rock concerts. You can’t treat it like selling laundry detergent to soccer moms. You have to understand the needs and preferences of the fan base, and you have to deliver the marketing vehicle that manufacturers want.

The new AMA Pro racing has the experience of running the most successful motorsports franchise in the world. They know what it takes. They just need time to get acclimated to the new environment. But they will do it. At least that’s where I’m placing my bets.

parker1AMA Pro Racing (the new AMA Pro Racing) announced Thursday that long-time, old school flat track racer, former AMA Grand National Champion, race promoter, Motorcycle Hall of Fame member, and Texan Mike Kidd has been chosen to head the redevelopment of the national flat track program. This is good news. Kidd has been around the block more than once and knows the flat track business. He’s also seen the ups and downs of race promoting, being one of the first to bring racing to the small arenas in the mid-’80s.

I love flat track — watching those big Harley XR750s pitched completely sideways at 100mph in a mile race is awesome. The old AMA’s apathy toward flat track was exceeded only by their apathy toward outdoor MX. Flat track is a genuinely American form of competition and deserves much better. I’ve read that AMA Pro Racing’s Roger Edmondson is a big flat track fan, and this move to bring in Kidd is encouraging.

Kidd has done some very innovative things in his promotional career, but it seemed he never really had the big bucks behind him that he needed – even though he had the backing of Clear Channel for a while. It just didn’t work. But now that he’s got the backing of a group with both money and a love of the sport things could be very different. I hope so.