Archive for September, 2009
I hope this column isn’t perceived as piling on because that’s not how it is intended. Let me say up front that I love all forms of motorcycle racing. I’ve attended countless road races, motocross and supercross events, flat tracks, hillclimbs, Speedway races, various off-road races and trials. I’ve competed in motorcycle racing since my teens. I continue to ride off-road and street bikes today with great enjoyment. I consider myself a student of motorcycle racing and have extensively studied and written about the history sport and its key players.
The bottom line is I love the sport and want to see it advance.
Under the current leadership of the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) professional racing overall as experienced its worst season in the post-World War II era. This is especially true in road racing where I’ve talked to dozens of racers, journalists, enthusiasts, team members and long-time industry insiders, in other words a large cross section of people in the sport. I have not been able to find one person that believes the DMG is doing a good job in its stewardship of the sport.
That’s really saying something. When someone with as many contacts in the industry as I have cannot find a single solitary person (outside of those directly involved with the DMG) who believes the sport is heading in the right direction under the DMG.
I should point out that there was at least one very important industry insider I’ve known and respected for years, who seemed to be on the DMG’s side for most of the season, but now even this person has changed his opinion. That person is John Ulrich, long-time racing team owner, safety advocate and editor of Roadracing World.
I must admit I was stunned when Ulrich wrote that perhaps the sport would be better off if the DMG got out of the picture and gave Pro Racing back to the AMA to run. Ulrich after all was part of the AMA board of directors who voted to sell off AMA Pro Racing to the DMG. To me it was an ill-advised decision for the AMA to give up its birthright of professional racing, the single biggest reason the AMA was formed in 1924.
If you read the WERA BBS, you’ll find that Ulrich has been quite vocal in giving the DMG the benefit of the doubt, telling people to come to the races and see for themselves if the show is better than it has been in the past. If you actually went you would have found that it wasn’t better. Yes if you compare the domination of Suzuki (specifically Ben Spies and Mat Mladin) in Superbike in recent years, that class was more competitive this year. But in terms of the overall quality of the series, I would argue the championship reached its zenith in the mid-1990s to early 2000s.
How bad was the DMG’s management of the sport? Many team insiders, who I don’t take as exactly gullible, figure the NASCAR owners of DMG wanted motorcycle racing ruined so that the ever dwindling pool of corporate sponsorship would go to NASCAR exclusively and not be diluted by a strong motorcycle racing series, that was making serious inroads in terms of fan and sponsor support during the previous decade.
I don’t buy the conspiracy theory, but it illustrates how hugely mistrusted the DMG is by those in the motorcycling industry when level-headed people truly believe it. The bottom line is the DMG is owned by car people and while there is some cross over, car people by and large are car people. Motorcycle enthusiasts are a different breed all together. Motorcycle racing people like close racing as much as anyone, but they don’t want it artificially made to be close. How much more significant would it have been for Yamaha for example if they’d been able to beat Mladin and Yoshimura Suzuki under “real” Superbike rules, versus the watered down class rules offered by the DMG? Sure Suzuki had dominated for a long time – the longest time in history – but eventually another maker would have caught them, either by hiring better riders or by working hard to make a better racing bike. And once they did it would have been truly significant.
Even one of the most neutral and well-respected voices in the recent history of motorcycle racing, none other than Dave Despain, could do nothing but scratch his head in watching the DMG blunder time and time again. I honestly can think of few people I respect more in the industry. When someone as fair, knowledgeable and measured as Despain voices his dismay at the DMG, you know something must be wrong.
I do not write this lightly, but I think it is time for Roger Edmondson to step down from the DMG and concentrate on his successful leadership of Grand Am. Jim France should step up and take a more direct leadership roll, at least in the short term, until he can find a leader respected by the motorcycling industry. I know Jim France and I know how much he cares about motorcycle racing. He’s an ex-motorcycle flat tracker who wants to see the sport succeed. That’s why I know the conspiracy theories of wrecking motorcycle racing are bunk.
I simply believe France is loyal to a fault and would be hard-pressed to replace his long-time friend Edmondson, even though deep down he may know it is the right thing to do. But if Roger is honest with himself he will recognize his leadership of the DMG has been troubled from the start. Even his own generals have largely lost faith in him. While Edmondson may believe that he can rally and get things turned around (Roger has been counted out before and come back strong), the fact remains it would take years of flawless decision making for the industry to gain trust in Edmondson. If Roger truly wants to see the sport go forward quickly surely even he can see it might be best to step aside and let someone else take the reins.
As for the AMA taking back over racing, I say no, at least not under the current administration. AMA CEO Rob Dingman has stated that he sees Pro Racing as something that generates controversy, so why would he want it back? I’ve exhaustively studied the history of AMA leaders from A.B. Coffman to E.C. Smith, from Lin Kuchler to Ed Youngblood (there were other leaders that were short-lived in the position and not as significant) and as a historian I submit that under Dingman the AMA has become more insular than ever. During his brief tenure the AMA has already lost 40,000 members! Dingman was nearly booed off the stage at the Indy Mile. That gives you an idea what the everyday rider and racing fan think of him. Many of the leaders I’ve talked to in the industry have little respect for Dingman and to trust him with Pro Racing I believe would be a major mistake.
For now fans of AMA Pro Racing can only hope that France will reposition Edmondson to focus on Grand Am and bring in a new and respected leader to run the DMG.
Tim O’Kennedy pushes the Team Hammer Suzuki back to the pits after the bike quit running during a WERA National Endurance race at Pocono in June of 1985. O’Kennedy went on to become a superstar in the advertising world. He was involved in coming up with Nike’s slogan “Just Do It”.
British rider Alan Carter (2) leads Thomas Stevens (5) and Daniel Coe (7) in the AMA 250 Grand Prix race at Road America in 1988. The naturally talented Carter was expected to be a certain Grand Prix star after winning the first Grand Prix he competed in in 1983 when he was 18. Carter raced in the U.S. through 1989 and then went back to Europe and raced in various championships including World Superbike. Stevens went on to win the AMA Superbike Championship in 1991. Coe remains in the industry today as a magazine test rider. I’m told by a photographer who shoots a lot of intros that Coes is still wickedly fast.
This was the way Scott Russell looked in 1988. He won his very first AMA national road race that year in AMA 750 Supersport at his home track of Road Atlanta. Russell would go on to become one of the greatest road racers America ever produced, winning the Daytona 200 a record five times, becoming AMA and World Superbike Champion and Suzuka 8 Hour winner.
Doug Brauneck races the beautiful Dr. John Wittner-built Moto Guzzi LeMans at Road America in 1988. Brauneck won the AMA Battle of the Twins Championship on the shaft-driven Guzzi in 1987. Dr. John rode Moto Guzzi machines in American endurance races before building this bike with direct support from the Moto Guzzi factory.
This motorcycle modified more than any superbike of today using a warehouse-load of trick magnesium parts many designed by Dr. John with assistance from the Guzzi factory.
Doug Polen’s club racing career was best remembered by his exploits in the Suzuki GSXR Cup Series. Lesser known was his success in the Honda Interceptor Series in 1986. Polen won the Honda Interceptor final in ‘86 (after battling with a novice rider by the name of Scott Zampach) and took home a good chuck of money from Honda along the way. This photo is from an Honda 500 Interceptor race at Little Talladega where he won by a half lap in an eight-lap spring race over a loaded field of riders. Polen rode the wheels off the Honda, literally squeling tires on the little Honda in the turns similar to what you hear in Supermoto racing today. But at time those kinds of sounds coming from road racing bikes was unheard of.
Wisconsin racer Frank Brotz always showed up with the trickest bikes on the grid at WERA races in the 1980s. Here’s Frank (father of current day AMA po road racer Clint Brotz) racing a sweet handling Yamaha FZR400 at Road Atlanta in 1988. Today Frank is closely involved with Buell’s AMA road racing program.
A snapshot taken in the press room at Phoenix International Raceway in 1998. Then AMA Superbike Media Manager (me) interviewing (from left to right) Aaron Yates, Anthony Gobert and Mat Mladin after the Superbike race, which Gobert won. The tension in those press conferences with Gobert and Mladin was palpable. To say the two Aussies didn’t like each other would be a supreme understatement.