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]

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