American Roadracing Is Not Dead



American Roadracing Is Not Dead

Nor is it dying. It’s only sick, plagued for the last several seasons by the disease known as Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG). That malady shrunk grids, haphazardly restructured classes, drove away manufacturers and sponsors, and raised the ire of tens of thousands of fans nationwide. Worse still, it’s endangered the lives of riders on more than one occasion, such as the infamous pace-car incident at Laguna Seca in 2009, or the more recent slick-tires-in-a-downpour debacle at Road America.

Mainstream TV coverage has evaporated, track after legendary track has disappeared from the schedule, and some rounds have been so poorly attended that the tracks themselves have lost lots of dough. These are dark days, perhaps the darkest in the history of the sport in the United States.

But DMG will not kill American Roadracing, because American Roadracing does not belong to DMG. They purchased the rights to one series, and wasted no time in running it into the ground, but racing continues on. The various amateur and semi-pro series continue to operate from coast to coast, undeterred by AMA Pro’s missteps, and only somewhat damaged by the recession that hit the overall industry with such force.

Racers have to race, and they will find ways to do it, even if what was the premier series falls to pieces. In the inexplicable vacuum of the early AMA season between Daytona and Road America, spawned John Ulrich’s brainchild, the Superbike Shootout. By all accounts, it was a huge success, enjoying the sort of attention, attendance, and sponsor support that the AMA has been wanting—some say actively alienating—for years.

Rumors have been circulating for months about a possible takeover of the AMA Pro series by an outside entity, or the creation of an entirely new series to supplant it. Dorna, the same entity that runs both MotoGP and World Superbike, along with the Spanish national championship, was one name mentioned. Another was MotorSport Vision, who runs the perennially successful British Superbike Series.

The latter may have been wishful thinking, but the Dorna angle makes sense. Dorna have been struggling to keep competitive Americans in their international championships, something crucial to the promotion of its overall brand, given the size and value of the US market. The biggest challenge to getting top-flight American talent to the world stage today is the lack of an effective feeder system, which begins with a vibrant national series here. By creating one, Dorna would be effectively helping itself on multiple levels.

There has been concern expressed in some circles that the introduction of a Dorna-run series might further divide an already small pie, but those concerns are unfounded. With how weak the AMA series is right now, it might fail in the next year anyway, Dorna or no Dorna. In the face of the marketing juggernaut from Spain, the only reasonable expectation is that DMG would shutter the AMA series, or perhaps try to cut their losses and sell the rights. Hopefully, they’d have the good sense to ask a reasonable price, since Dorna doesn’t really need the rights to the AMA series to create their own, anyway. In any case, a suitable, well-run replacement to the DMG disaster wouldn’t divide the pie any further, since it would only replace what once was.

Rumors in the paddock at the Road America AMA round centered on Wayne Rainey, former GP World Champion, as the front-man for a Dorna-backed domestic series. Given Rainey’s clout with manufacturers, particularly Yamaha (who haven’t been shy about spending money on racing in the US, even through the current crisis), such a series could get off to a flying start. If Dorna is smart, they’ll also involve Ulrich and other experienced heads in the paddock, who are currently weathering the storm, and have a good idea what it would take to make motorcycle roadracing in America the premier sport it should be.

No matter what happens, the racing will go on. In the void left by the inevitable collapse of the DMG’s failed motorcycle experiment, something will spring up. So long as there are racers and race fans, there will be a demand for a professional, national motorcycle roadracing series in the United States. To be sure, the damage to the profile of American roadracing abroad, and the attendant fortunes of our upcoming riders will take years to repair. But there is enough interest at home, and enough to be gained internationally, that all signs point to a future resurgence of American roadracing, rather than its demise.

[Photo by: Tommy Thunderclap]

  • Gonfern

    Americans don’t get World level a sport….period. The world has soccer, we made our own violent version and called it football. The world has auto racing. We dressed up family sedans like billboards and had them parade in circles and called it NASCAR. The world has motorcycle racing. We have this pathetic track day competition called AMA. Motorsport is dead in this country. Not just motorcycle racing. If there isn’t billions for Fox Sports to make off of advertising, it won’t make TV. No one will sponsor a series that isn’t on TV. Sorry to be so pessimistic but motorcycle racing is dead.

    • Berkdogg

      I agree with you on these points, and I’d also like to mention a 3rd facet which is that American citizens and companies won’t widely support a sport in which other countries routinely win. It just seems like that if a world sport is too competitive for America to dominate and not translatable to massive profits, we change the sport around to rectify those inconveniences then pretend the original sport never existed in the first place. Just how is it, the TT isn’t featured on ESPN or Speed TV? Simple, Americans don’t dominate it, you can’t stop the race for commercial breaks, and the powers that be would probably say that it would encourage street racing.

      On a side note, soccer is just doomed here in this country. You can’t have commercial breaks every change of possession to satisfy sponsors, and the best players often come from countries we routinely piss on and exploit- nationalism and American exceptionalism are not served.

      • roma258

        Stop, just stop the stupid. Soccer has grown tremendously in the US over the last decade. The world cup games had better ratings than the NBA finals. The domestic league is still in its infancy but growing every year. Motorcycling is down, but Americans dominated the sport in the 1980s and 1990s. These things have an eb and flow to them that doesn’t lend itself to knee jerk generalizations about ‘Murica! Take a minute and look at the bigger picture before starting with the self-flagellation.

        • Berkdogg

          NBA viewership and game attendance has fallen by about 50% in the last ten years. So saying that soccer is doing better than that isn’t saying much. Americans may have dominated motorcycling in the past, but we are saying it won’t dominate today due to corporate interference and the long climb for Americans to make it to the top.

          How many MLS games have you attended by the way?

      • TechGuy5489

        Soccer is doomed because a lot of people, myself included, don’t find it to be a very entertaining sport to watch. Oh and overtime please. Shootouts are stupid. That goes for hockey too. And college football. Play the REAL game to decide the winner and not some contrived to produce score(s) in a short amount of time version of it.

    • Pete Hitzeman

      I think we need to be careful not to try and make motorcycle racing in the US something that it’s not. It may never eclipse the main ball and stick sports, but that’s fine. Honestly, that’s not the sort of media attention we probably want our sport to have anyway, because then it won’t be the approachable, accessible community that it presently is. Instead we should focus on what it can become, which is a vibrant second-tier sport with a devoted and avid following, flourishing with proper media coverage and an engaging schedule. These are things that can happen, and might, if the rumors I’m hearing come to fruition.

      • Gonfern

        Let’s hope what you are hearing is right. This industry desperately needs it.

      • Justin McClintock

        Agreed. Look at the NHRA, it’s success, and how accessible it is. That’s the kinda of attention and accessibility that motorcycle racing in the US used to have, but no longer does (at least on the attention side of things). Is it going to be as big as the NFL? No. But that’s alright.

  • RyYYZ

    It’s certainly sad what has become of the AMA Superbike, Supersport, and 600 SS series. I remember back in the late 90s to early ’00s when the Daytona 200 was required viewing for sporting motorcycle enthusiasts, and the Superbike series in general was of great interest and a lot of fun to watch. Probably helped that that was when “Speedvision” was really devoted to covering motorsports and hadn’t yet become the (mostly) NASCAR channel. And now even that’s gone.

  • Jordan

    Something needs to happen to get road racing where it belongs. I wouldn’t mind if Dorna or whoever came in with another series, but I would hope they could buy the rights to promote something under the AMA banner. I know it sounds old fashioned, but it’s kind of synonymous with top level racing here in the United States and it might be a hard sell to fans if they didn’t have that brand recognition right off the bat. We’ve got a lot of talent breeding here in the states due to the popularity of flat track and motocross which both wave the AMA banner, so to not have it under road racing would appear dis-jointed especially when you see individuals from each series participation overlap. JD Beach is a good example of this along with all the pro road racers that associate with flat track schools like Colin Edwards and Josh Hayes.

    • Pete Hitzeman

      I wonder if the AMA Roadracing brand is so sullied by the last half decade, that it might be better to abandon it. Hard to say, I guess.

      • Jordan

        I thought about that too, but you could probably say the same thing about the entire AMA organization as a whole and it’s relationship to the common rider.
        We really need some kind of revitalization of the riding scene as whole in the US and it will enhance support for all disciplines of motorcycle competition. We’ve got the talent and we’ve got the cash to burn, all that’s needed is some competent leadership from people who really ‘get it’.

        • Gonfern

          We need the AMA to disappear or do a complete 180 in the public eye. Motorcycles are seen by the public as toys for crazy people (AMA’s rabbid pursuit of helmet laws do nothing for that image) what we need is an organization that makes motorcycling sound like the responsible, enjoyable and family friendly transportation that it is and a fun pastime for the kids to get into.

          • Jordan

            I totally agree. The fact that motorcycle dealerships don’t have their bored/incompetent/useless salesmen waving giant signs that scream ’60 MPG! We’ll show you how to ride!’ by the side of the road illustrates all of what’s wrong with biking in the US. It’s like they expect people just to fall from the sky wanting to finance a $15k liter bike/chopper or have a justifiable excuse to buy a $9k motocross bike and that’s all they need to keep their business open.

  • Scheffy

    I for one hope Dorna takes over, though I fully realize how bad the situation has gotten when we’re all saying things like that. While they may not be a racing organization per-se, they definitely know how to market and broadcast a race. I think that was one of the downfalls of American motorcycle racing – not that the racing was bad, but the races were poorly promoted, the commentary was at a 4th grade level, and almost fully half of the actual (live!) races were commercials. I remember attempting to watch a somewhat uneventful MotoGP round at Laguna live on Fox a few years back and it was infuriating. I had to torrent a BBC version and rewatch it afterward because the only time there were any passes were during commercial breaks, and the passes were then only explained to me in fluent Hilljack once the commercial breaks ended. Watch any MotoGP race broadcast on BT Sport these days and it’s an entirely different experience. Only a few commercial breaks (and only during pre- and post-race), recent ex-racers and current racers doing commentary and in-depth interviews, interesting/informative graphics and data on screen, and just generally excellent production value.
    Top-tier motorcycle racing in this country is effectively just DMG trying to shoehorn a motorcycle-shaped peg into a NASCAR-shaped hole. NASCAR fans want spectacle, so that’s what DMG gives them. Motorcycle racing fans want… well, racing, but that’s not what DMG specializes in. It’s much easier for them to say there’s no interest and let the series die instead of changing their business model to suit a fan base who have very different expectations of what race coverage is.
    It’s clear now that DMG won’t change, so the only solution is a foreign company that already has a workable motorcycle-specific formula to swoop in. And at this point I don’t think anybody in the US cares whether they do that by rebooting AMA Pro or giving legs to this new televised WERA deal or even starting their own series as a feeder to the Euro circuit.

    • Gonfern

      ^This! I bought GP access pass for that reason. Motorcycle racing is an amazing ballet of fitness and performance and in America they dumb down the announcer to the level of “yehaaawww look at em goo!” It’s insulting. Explain to your audience why what they are witnessing is so amazing! I would love Dorna to come into this country and do what they did in Spain. Set up good live coverage of pros and set up solid affordable avenues of progress for youngsters getting into the sport. Motocross seems to do it well (even if the coverage is crap as well) but it would be a good model. Help make it accessible, and help make it big (er) forget no helmet laws, that does nothing for our sport.

    • Ty Schwab

      Ehhhh be careful what you wish for with Dorna. You might end up paying $200+ for an online subscription service (like MotoGP) because I highly doubt any serious television provider will host these races until marked enthusiasm raises. If they were intelligent they would buy FansChoice.TV as well because while it hasn’t been the best service, it’s free. Keep it free (or cheap) for a few years then implement a heavier subscription service when a TV package becomes available.

    • Mbust

      I fully agree that high quality commentary is essential. After I moved to Madrid a few years ago I began to experience how Spain does sport broadcasts. The commentary during MotoGP races as well as commentary during Soccer World Cup games made my wife (of all people, my wife!!) a fan of both sports (BTW, she is a great person to use as an example, as she is–or rather, was– no sport fan at all, and now will be at the edge of her seat following MotoGP and asking when the regular soccer season begins in Spain). The commentary was the key to her interest. Then I watch ESPN doing a World Cup game and the difference is pathetic. There needs to be energetic, knowledgeable commentators doing the broadcast or the audience will find the event really boring, as ESPN soccer games are, which explains the lack of interest in televised soccer in the US. By contrast Spanish broadcasts of MotoGP are all about the race (not the spills); the commercial breaks take up half the screen and all the sound, while the actual race continues silently on the other half of the screen. It is a very effective formula.

  • Gonfern
    • Pete Hitzeman

      I do. That the AMA series is in its death throes is well established. And frankly, we should all hope that that’s true, because the sooner it dies off, the sooner its (inevitably better) replacement can follow. But my point is that American Roadracing is not limited to the fates and failures of a single series.

      • Gonfern

        I will agree, however road racing in America will never be competitive (on the world stage) until our attitude toward the sport changes. Our media coverage is disgusting because if it’s an athletic sport it has to be covered like football and if it’s a Motorsport, it has to be covered like Nascar. Networks make more money off of endless pre-pre-pre race and post after the fact of the post race nascar shows…why would they stop that on a Sunday to show a few guys race motorcycles? The AMA is crap in everything they do, but I don’t see what replaces it being any better without taking a Dorna style “breed the kids into racers” tactics.

  • Muhammad Edwan Shaharir

    off topic but:
    where are the motorcycle reviews? :(

  • Jack Meoph

    DMG doesn’t know anything about motorsports. It just knows how to sell visual garbage to brain dead hillbillys.

  • Randy Darino

    best read on the current state of motorcycle racing in the usa so far.DMG has totally ruined the sport.We can only hope dorna steps in and saves it.

  • Robert Horn

    What about the WERA Pro series for next year? We don’t need AMA or Dorna.

  • susannaschick

    Actually, I wish ASA Entertainment would take it over. They’ve made Supercross massive, I suspect they understand American audiences far better than Dorna ever could.