Paul Carruthers worked for 30 years with Cycle News before becoming the Communications Manager for the new American motorcycle road racing series, MotoAmerica.
Disillusioned fans of American road racing got a silver lining back in September 2014, when the AMA and FIM announced sanctioning for a new series, MotoAmerica, in 2015.
The AMA paired with KRAVE Group LLC to acquire sanctioning, operational, promotional and commercial rights for professional road racing in America from Daytona Motorsports Group. The FIM is involved as well, giving the new series full North American sanctioning, opening the possibility of including stops in Canada and Mexico should the series choose to expand in this direction. KRAVE Group LLC, headed by three-time MotoGP champion Wayne Rainey, owns the commercial rights to MotoAmerica and is in charge of putting the series together.
The AMA, FIM, KRAVE trifecta immediately set to work building the new series, from developing new rules, classes and calendar to securing a TV deal and sponsors. In the months following the announcement, many of these issues have been settled, a remarkable achievement and testament to the tireless work of everyone involved in getting the series off the ground.
We were curious, though, about some of the announced decisions and wanted to get a better overall sense of some of the backend work going into MotoAmerica. So we got ahold of our good buddy and former boss, Paul Carruthers, the new MotoAmerica Communications Manager, for some answers.
It had been a while since we chatted with Carruthers, he’s been a busy man since leaving his post as Editor of Cycle News, and so we started with some catch-up.
How are you liking your new role?
“It’s been really good. It’s obviously a lot different than the job I had before because it’s coming at this whole thing from the other side. Now I write press releases and I talk to the press whereas before, for those 30 years at Cycle News, I was on the other side of that. Working with these guys has been a pleasure and we’ve got lots to do and are just checking things off to be all set for our first race in April.”
Was it a difficult decision to leave a profession you’d been in for 30 years?
“After spending 30 years at basically the same company, I felt like I was Cycle News. So it was a difficult decision for me to make, but when it came down to it was also an easy one to make, if that makes sense. I’d been talking with Wayne for a while leading up to it and he was telling me what his plans and goals were with this series and it just all kind of made sense to me.
“To tell you the truth I’m not sure I would have done this if it wasn’t with Chuck (Aksland) and Wayne and the KRAVE group. I didn’t know the rest of the group until I sat down and spoke with them, but they’re good guys, they’re really enthusiastic and they want to do this for the right reasons. Sure every business wants to make money, but these guys know that there’s not money to be made initially and they want to do it anyway and want to do it right. Wayne’s got a good plan in place and I think we’re going to see some good results. But leaving Cycle News was very difficult because I loved that job. There’s parts of it now I miss, there’s parts of it that I don’t miss. I had a great career there, but I honestly felt like I wanted to try and do something else. Then this came along and I think it’s a good opportunity to make a difference. I’ve been around road racing my entire life and now it’s going to be cool if we can make motorcycle road racing in the United States mean something again.”
What’s your workload like now as Communications Manager for MotoAmerica?
“We’ve been meeting with various people, from manufacturers to other sponsors, so I’m involved with a lot of those meetings. A lot of the meetings I know the people from my time at Cycle News, so it’s kind of nice to sit down and talk to them about some different things. So there’s been a lot of meetings both internally and externally, trying to set up sponsorships and things like that.
“I’m also in charge of doing anything press release related leaving MotoAmerica. I’m also involved in the TV package, so I’ve been working with those guys a little bit and we’ve got a preview show planned that we’re trying to put together some feature stuff for. I’m also working on our new website, which will hopefully be up and running in a few weeks. We’re also doing an event program, like a fan guide, which will be available at all the races. So the job is just a little bit of everything, actually a lot of everything and its good. Every day is different and like I said we’ve got a big list of stuff and we’re just checking things off one at a time.”
Could you talk a little about the MotoAmerica class structure, primarily the decision to create a blend of former AMA regulations and World Superbike rules? Also, why run a separately-scored Superbike class alongside the Superstock 1000 class?
“One of the main reasons of running the class that way is that we don’t have a lot of Superbike participation at this point, so it allows us to have a full grid for that class. It also gives young guys an opportunity to ride a 1000cc motorcycle without having to ride a full-blown Superbike version. This way they can get out, ride a 1000cc and do so for a bit cheaper and still experience riding a literbike on slicks. The classes will be scored separately, so in other words, a guy can make a name for himself, or at least show that he’s the fastest guy on the Superstock bike. And we have a feeling that there’s going to be some of those guys on the Superstock bikes that will be able to mix it up with the Superbikes. I think it’s a good opportunity for a guy to learn how to ride a 1000 without having the spend or the technology to worry about with riding a full-blown Superbike. I think a lot of young riders or riders moving up maybe struggle a little bit when there’s so many different things they can to do the motorcycle in terms of set-up, and maybe some of them get a little bit lost. This would give them an entry point into riding a 1000cc where they maybe don’t have as many of those things to worry about and can concentrate on just learning how to ride the bike.
“The other classes we have are fairly basic. There’s the KTM RC Cup which will be using their 390s, the little race bikes, and that’s for ages 14-22. That’s kind of our entry level point. From there, if you were going to progress through, you’d go into Superstock 600, which would be the entry level 600 class. Then we have the Supersport, which is what Daytona Sportbike used to be, the full blown 600s and those guys will race on slick tires, which Wayne feels strongly about. He feels if you’re going to move on in motorcycle racing on a world level then you’ll race on slick tires, so he believes that you should be racing on slick tires now. So we have the KTM, Superstock 600, Supersport and the two 1000cc classes, which will run together but be scored separately.”
Was there any consideration of a class structure more closely aligned with what riders face in the World Championship?
“I know when Wayne started this there was a lot of talk about having a Moto2 class, but the bottom line was it took a little longer to get the deal done with the DMG group than what Wayne had initially hoped. So I think he kind of ran short on time. And then there was a concern that we wouldn’t be able to get as many Moto2 bikes as we would need to have to actually field a class. That’s when I think the decision was made to go more along the lines of what was already in place with AMA Pro Racing and then take those rules and move them closer to what they have on the world level with World Superbike and World Supersport. But I know he definitely wants to continue to look at those MotoGP type support classes for the future. He knows that if a kid wants to leave here and go race Moto2 that its difficult enough to go over there with new race tracks, new everything but it makes it even more difficult to go over there and ride a motorcycle you don’t have any experience with.”
The RC390 Cup is one we’re particularly excited about. How did that deal come together?
“Chuck Aksland handled most of that and KTM has been great. I’m not sure anyone else could have put this program together as quickly as KTM did because we were running short on time. But you know they’re a racing company and want to go racing. It came together nicely and I’m totally excited about that class. It was one of the most exciting things I think we’ve been able to announce so far because I think it’s the one thing we’ve been missing in AMA racing. There was nothing to get a young kid involved in road racing other than jumping on a 600. Well a 600 is quite a motorcycle, even for a 16 year-old to get on, and this allows us to start at an even younger age.
“They’re low horsepower motorcycles and I think you’ll see some good racing. It’s a good opportunity for a kid with a lot of talent to show his talent to those other teams. And then if the system works the way we want it to, those kids progress from KTMs to Superstock 600 and then to Supersport and up on through to Superbike and eventually move on to an international racing series. But the KTM class is going to be really cool. KTM’s presence in the paddock will be nice. They’re going to have Orange Transporter and those HMC guys do a great job and they’ll be able to help those kids a lot. We also have Chris Fillmore, who’s returning to ride the KTM Superbike, and he’ll be able to mentor those kids a bit and show them the ropes; to be someone to turn to with questions, because for a lot of them this is going to be a first-time deal and I think it’s going to be great. I can’t think of anything better than being a 14-, 15- or 16-year-old kid and being able to show up and race those bikes.
“I also like the fact that the engines are sealed, which means the dad doesn’t have to be some great tuner to give his kid the edge. All the kids will show up and all the bikes will basically be the same and then we’ll just see which kid has talent and which kids don’t. But I think it’s a great opportunity for them.”
MotoAmerica has Dorna’s support and FIM North American sanctioning rights. Can you explain the importance of these relationships?
“I think that having Dorna involved is probably the number one thing that Wayne thought was going to allow us to go forward with this. Having Dorna in our corner is a huge asset. For starters, we get to have three of our races at their events. We’ll race two of our classes at Circuit of the Americas and two of our classes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway with MotoGP and we’ll run our full program of races with World Superbike at Laguna Seca. So we instantly had three marquee events as part of Dorna events, which I think is huge. Our guys will get to race in front of large crowds, the infrastructure will be set up and I just think Dorna does a wonderful job with their events, so it’s nice to be able to piggy-back with them. They’ve helped us in a lot of ways, Wayne talks to them all the time. He has a great relationship with Carmelo and its nothing but beneficial for us to have those guys involved.
“The FIM thing, the FIM and AMA, the AMA in Ohio, gives us stability as far as sanctioning goes. They can monitor the rules, they can enforce the rules we’re going to have technical direction from the World Superbike championship. It just made it easy to go with the World Superbike rules, go with World Supersport-like rules so that it’s closer to a universal rule package. For so long you couldn’t even think about racing your AMA Superbike in a World Superbike event, because it would cost you so much to make the changes necessary, and we really wanted those rules to be aligned. It was just a natural fit to have the AMA and FIM on board.
“It’s also nice to have a North American sanction because there may come a time in the not-so-distant future when it would allow us to expand and have some races in Canada and Mexico, and truly make this a North American championship. Once we get up to speed, where we’re running instead of walking, who knows what the future will hold but we could definitely expand like that.”
The official licensing application process opened late January. Is the grid filling up?
“I’m actually pleasantly surprised by the interest that we’ve gotten. We’re going to have all the normal players back, but I think what you’re going to see is that we’ve had really strong requests for information and the participation level should be high for the KTM Cup and the Superstock 1000 class. Apparently Superstock 1000 is really big in British Superbike and it’s carried over to here because most of the requests we’ve been getting are in regards to STK 1000 and the KTM cup. I think people will be surprised at the amount of entries we have. And to tell you the truth, at this point that doesn’t even seem like a concern for us because I think they’re going to be there.”
You mention that you’ve been meeting with manufacturers. One of the noticeable issues with previous seasons of AMA Pro Road Racing is the absence of diverse factory support. Is there any hint that OEMs that left the series are making plans to come back?
“I think the ones that went away, like Kawasaki and Honda, are just looking for a series that makes sense to them from a marketing standpoint. I think they’re looking for more stability, they’re looking for a TV package. I think there’s a lot of things they’re looking for that we’ve been able to provide them.
“I think you’ll see them back at the racetrack in 2015. Probably not with motorcycles actually racing from a factory standpoint on a team, but you’ll see them in the paddock. You’ll see them displaying their motorcycles, you’ll see them involved in some way. They’re all very excited that we’re doing this.
“Again, the timing on our deal, since we weren’t able to get started until really late, is the one thing that will prevent them from having race teams. But I think by 2016 you’ll see a whole different series and our goal is to get all those manufacturers involved, the Aprilias, the Ducatis, the Hondas, the Kawasakis in addition to the Yamahas and Suzukis. All of us road race fans should be thankful we have the Yoshimura Suzuki and Monster Graves Yamaha teams, because those guys have never really left. They’ve been here the whole time and are still here and they’re making the spend to make it happen, so a big thanks to those guys. But I do think by 2016 you’ll start to see a lot more involvement from the factories.”
The TV package with CBS Sports Network was another big announcement that raised excitement for the new series. What will the broadcast package look like in 2015? Will there be a live streaming option like FansChoice?
“Right now, the package as it stands is not live. Obviously, we’d like it to be, but the TV thing is a big spend. To be honest, I didn’t think that it costs as much as it does when I got into this. You know you kind of take everything for granted and wonder why they don’t have live TV and everybody seems to complain about it, but it is a big financial commitment to make it happen. We’ve done a deal with CBS Sports Network and Torque TV, so the shows will air on CBS Sports Network later in the week. The timeframe and schedule haven’t been set up yet. So they are delayed, but they will be aired within a week of the race.
“As far as streaming and things like that, we’re looking into that now so we don’t have anything to announce just yet. My hope is that we end up with some sort of live streaming. Also our plan for the Torque TV and MotoAmerica websites is to have a lot of digital content. You could see, hopefully, a lot of interviews and online features, as much stuff as we can possibly put on the websites as far as digital content goes. I think there’s going to be a lot of coverage but at this time, unfortunately, we don’t have live television. It’s obviously a goal of ours in the future.”
What’s it going to take to generate more widespread interest in American road racing?
“I consider one of my main jobs to be to make sure the motorcycle people come back. Believe it or not, I didn’t think it was possible, but we did lose that hardcore fan. And to me that’s where you have to start. We have to have that guy, that girl, that kid that were AMA Superbike fans that got soured on the deal at some point and went away. But judging from reactions in emails and things like that, just making the change has brought a lot of positivity and I think many are already back on board. Now we have to make sure that those people have a good experience when they come back and want to bring more people.
“We’ve got a PR agency that’s also helping us with people outside the industry to help spread the word about motorcycle road racing in the U.S., to help reach new fans that are unfamiliar with our sport. We’ve also got Family Events who are going to help me with the local media when we go into these events. They’ll do everything from hitting the dealers hard to other local businesses, the local government. There’s a lot you can do and the group is providing me with a lot of help. Coming into this I thought, ‘man this is going to be a huge job because I’m going to be on my own’ and that’s just not the case. They want it to succeed and they’re spending the money to make sure it succeeds.
“But it starts from the bottom up. We just have to have a series that has some meat to it and that people can trust and believe in and want to come watch. We’ve got to put a good product out there. Fortunately, something we’ve always had with AMA Racing, is that the racing is good. I mean if the racing was crap, we’d be like ‘what are we going to do?’ But the product is good, it’s just getting people to know about it again.”
Any final thoughts?
“I think we’ve got a good plan in place. I think we’ve got the right people. Wayne’s enthusiastic, Chuck’s great, everybody has a full plate of work to do but everybody is attacking that job every single day to make sure what we’ve got is the best it can possibly be. I’m fully confident that people are going to see a difference and are going to be happy with what we do. At the end of the day we hope we can move these young riders through our system and maybe one day have Americans back on top in international racing, which is Wayne’s long-term goal. We’ll get there.”