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The Future of AMA Road Racing: Is There One?

Tuesday, May 3, 2011
Cresting the hill over Turn 6  this was one of the areas that gave me trouble early in the weekend as the bikes immense power would spin the tire excessively coming down the hill.
MotoUSA editor Steve Atlas understands first-hand what it’s like to compete in the new AMA Superbike series having tackled the ’10 Laguna Seca round of the AMA Pro National Guard American SuperBike class on board a Yoshimura-prepped Suzuki GSX-R1000.
What’s to come for AMA Pro Road Racing under the DMG regime now that we are entering its junior year? This is the question on many people’s mind as the boys from NASCAR begin their third year at the helm. With the series’ schedule shrinking year by year and fan attendance dwindling at every round, is there a future? Sure there is, as long as we can get a little help from our friends.

With a significant piece of its current business model based on making money by charging riders and teams as much as humanly possible for credentials, it will be difficult to continue with the perpetually shrinking grids we are seeing these days. Not to mention, last I checked it was the riders who make the show happen, so how the DMG thinks charging them and their teams an arm and a leg to just get into the paddock is questionable.

Secondly, when was the last time you rolled into a city hosting an upcoming AMA race and heard a single radio plug, saw a billboard or watched a TV commercial promoting the event? And they wonder why no one comes out to the races; they don’t even know they exist. This was where the all-mighty power that is DMG and its NASCAR-building genius were supposed to help us put road racing back on the map in the United States. We need the power of promotion and we understand these are trying times but World Superbike, British Superbike and MotoGP haven't let off the gas, so let's put the pedal to the metal and get some exposure for our series. This is a concept that I feel needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

2011 Daytona 200 podium  from left to right : Jake Zemke  Jason DiSalvo and Cory West.
A unique set of events unfolded at the 2011 Daytona 200 leaving Ducati rider Jason DiSalvo to win the prestigious race. This result has been met with its share of controversy.
All I’ve seen so far are some almost embarrassing “work and play” TV commercials (you know the ones I’m talking about), run solely during Speed TV’s broadcasts of the actual races, which are so amateur that they make the short films produced in my high school film class look like Oscar-worthy material. Really guys? You can make NASCAR commercials that have us salivating at the thought of watching cars go round and round in circles and this is all you got when it comes to motorcycle road racing? I could go on until I’m blue in the face here, but I think you get my point. Bring on the media blitz already guys!

They also need to bring back some of the visually trick parts to the Superbikes. This is the nation’s premiere class and it might be a cheap way to improve the look of the bikes if we open-up rules regarding the fork and swingarm. A few pieces of hand-crafted aluminum and quick-release axles would give bikes a more-trick appearance, maybe toss in an Ohlins fork here and there too. Nothing more, nothing less. This would keep costs down, as they are a drop in the bucket compared to what a team spends on traction control systems, etc, and would give the outward appearance to fans that the bikes are on par with their World Superbike counterparts. The racing would remain just as close, but at least fans could swoon over the look of these machines once again. In fact, most of the top bikes currently run gas-charged internals in the stock outer fork legs, a set-up that costs nearly the same as a full Ohlins or WP front end anyhow. The additional cost would be far less than bringing a data guy to the track for a single weekend to control the advanced electronics.

Jake Zemke - 2011 Daytona 200
With race-winners like Steve Rapp, Bobby Fong and Jamie Hacking sitting on the sidelines or riding obscure machines in strange classes you have to wonder what is going on here.
That brings up another good point. I think an outside-sourced ECU would be a great way to eliminate some of the tire-spin-robbing gizmos and dramatically reduce costs. Who doesn’t miss the days of smoking rear Dunlop slicks and riders required to learn tire management skills? Someone like Formula 1 constructor McLaren would be perfect, as they could make a unit that allowed several data and tuning parameters while also eliminating traction control, and could easily do this for all the bikes on the grid. I know this has been discussed on the MotoGP level as they go back to 1000cc machines and it’s an idea I support 100%. Maybe it’s time for the AMA to be a leader rather than a follower and give this idea a try first? What’s the worst that could happen, it might actually work?

An almost complete lack of outside the industry sponsorship with the exception of Jordan and the national Guard team, as well as dwindling money from within our own industry, there are just far too many talented riders left without a viable way to make a decent living riding a motorcycle. With race-winning guys like Steve Rapp and, for that matter, Jamie Hacking are either sitting on the sidelines or riding obscure machines in strange classes just to stay active. There’s so few factory and factory-supported rides that are paying any money that it’s turning into a buy-your-ride environment. We need some help...

DMG has shown signs of life this past year though. If not for the current Speed TV deal that DMG reputedly strong-armed their way into by threatening to pull NASCAR broadcasting, AMA Pro Racing would officially be nothing more than glorified club racing and no one would be making a penny. That shows us DMG has the moxy when they want to use it. Hmm, using NASCAR as a bargaining chip to promote road racing? What a concept! Maybe now it’s time to flex those guns and get some real money and new people involved in the series. Those funky commercials hint at cross-promotion but we need to dive in head first and really push this thing over the top. No one can deny the sheer awesomeness that is top-level road racing, they just need to get the right people out to see it and the money will follow. Maybe increase the cross-promotions at NASCAR events? I'm willing to bet a few of those fans ride motorcycles too.

Yoshimura Suzuki rider Mat Mladin claimed his 64th career victory in the AMA Superbike final at Daytona.
Yoshimura Suzuki rider Mat Mladin claimed his 64th career victory in the AMA Superbike final at Daytona 2008.
Maybe we need some more personality in the mix? There have been several rumors floating around that 7-time series champion Mat Mladin is seriously thinking about making a return for 2012 - Henny Ray Abrams commented on this in detail in the latest online issue of Cycle News. Whether true or not, if you are reading this Mat, please come back. The sport needs a character like you, a personality that isn’t afraid to speak their mind and ruffle a few feathers. Blake Young has taken up the mantra somewhat, but there is still no one commanding the same level of respect that Mladin does. Taking three years off hasn’t proved well for Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, not yet at least, but then again he didn’t leave the sport while standing a top the podium with a No. 1 plate in his hand. C’mon back Mat, the sport could use you!
Despite all that is wrong with the series right now, it does have a few important things going for it. After implementing rules that very few agreed with during its early days, like a spec-tire and multi-bike configurations in DSB the end result has been some of the best racing the series has seen in the past decade. That is especially true in the Daytona Sportbike ranks. Add to that a feeder class for youngsters in the Motorcycle-Superstore.com Supersport Series and now there actually seems to be a viable route into AMA Pro Racing for new riders. If only this existed when I was spending all my family's money to race against the likes of reigning Superbike champion Josh Hayes back in the days of 750cc Superstock. Back then they then called it a “feeder” class despite the top 10-15 guys on the grid receiving healthy paychecks. What a concept, right? And with a growing group of hungry youngsters giving it their all to attract the attention of the few big teams left these days, the racing tends to be action-packed from start to finish.

Also, from a rider’s standpoint the trackside staff DMG has put in place are doing a great job at turning the internal working of race direction around – in fact, it’s a complete 180 from what it was only a few years go. Everything runs relatively smooth and they actually listen to what the riders have to say. Staggering concept, right? Despite the questionable decision to allow a team to run two engines in a single race (i.e. this year’s Daytona 200) still remains up for debate, the mood from riders has been almost entirely positive and that is a step in the right direction.

Start of the second SuperSport contest at Daytona
Who doesn’t miss the days of smoking rear Dunlop slicks and riders required to learn tire management skills?
The bottom line is this: It’s time for DMG to start making good on those big promises made when initially purchasing AMA Pro Racing. They need to figure out how to get people to come to the track and seriously boost the TV viewing audience. This hinges 100% around their ability to promote the sport. We sked for competitive racing and they gave it to us. They have the solid base for a good show these days, we just need to get it in front of the racing enthusiasts. DMG has turned NASCAR into the single biggest racing series in the United States, so what’s holding them back from doing even a fraction of that for road racing? I honestly have no idea, but let’s hope they figure it out sooner rather than later. We have to expect that the powers that be at NASCAR are in the game of racing to make money. If that doesn’t happen rather quickly here in AMA Pro Racing they will surely cut their losses, at which time our beloved series may be in a world of hurt...
2011 AMA Pro Road Racing Gallery
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AMA Superbike Rider Bios
Ben Bostrom
Ben Bostrom has truly rode his way to international stardom. After winning the hearts of American race fans, Ben took his show overseas.
Larry Pegram Bio
Larry Pegram was born in Columbus Ohio and has been racing as a professional since 1988.
Jake Zemke Bio
All the hard work paid off in 2008 when Jake won his first AMA Superbike series championship by claiming the Formula Xtreme title that has eluded him for all these years.
Mat Mladin Bio
During the past decade, Mat Mladin was the most dominant rider in the modern era of AMA Superbike racing.
Jamie Hacking Bio
Jamie Hacking is known for his aggressive on the edge riding and that gives him an edge when the opposition has to think twice about trying to pass him.
Neil Hodgson Bio
Neil Hodgson worked his way through the ranks of the European club racing series before winning the British Superbike Championship in 2000 and 2003 World Superbike Championships.
Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 Stage 3
The first half of the AMA Superbike race saw Atlas in a multi-rider battle for the tail end of the top-15.
Eight weeks ago I sat slumped over in a hospital bed, keeled over in pain with an eight-inch incision in my abdomen. Life sucked. Not only was I in agony from having two feet of my intestines removed due to an obscure digestive tract infection, I was also utterly depressed because racing the Laguna Seca round of AMA Superbike on our project MotoUSA Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 – something we had planned for months – was now surely out of the question. There was no way I could go from laid up after a major surgery to racing Superbike with the best riders in the county in less than six weeks time. Or could I?...

Read all about it in the Yoshimura Suzuki GSX-R1000 Stage 3

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Critter   May 3, 2011 02:08 PM
Steve, Nice article well written and well thought out except a couple of things. 1) DMG is not NASCAR they are not owned or operated by them. If someone was told that chock that up to a bad bridge sale. 2) Every track promotes the race themselves. DMG has told me on more than one occasion they are a sanctioning body not promoters. Each track is responsible for promoting their own event, 3) If the series is going to move forward and grow than DMG needs to rewrite the contracts with all the tracks and hire ONE company to promote the series. That is the only way forward for them.
bikerrandy   May 3, 2011 12:56 PM
I don't have a problem with the speed of the bikes. They're fast enough for me and cheaper to maintain for the racers. This last year the AMA/DMG road races have had spectacular competition. What I don't like is how you as a fan are treated at the track. Where you have to park(bad). What you have to pay for a beer(overpriced).

At Infineon(Sears Point) you're treated like cattle, or is that like NASCAR fans ? Right now I'm trying to decide do I want to ride 700 miles to Infineon or just watch it at home on Speed ? It will cost me hundreds of $ to go there. Why go there when I'm treated like sh!t ?
GhostRider11   May 3, 2011 12:31 PM
The AMA series has been gone for a while now, Steve, sorry to say! I remember when I was excited to hear/see AMA racing when all the factories were involved and the riders were hungry to show who was the better man each weekend! Now if you don't bring money to sponsor your own ride... you are azz-out! Starting to look like Formula 1! How sad is it that a talented rider must actually buy his spot on the grid! The AMA series is already in the toilet. Us remaining fans are hoping for something that's not going to happen! AMA is DEAD... we are witnessing ghosts on a very short racing calendar! I hope all the riders and technicians find work elsewhere soon before the plug is finally pulled!
h7gixxergary   May 3, 2011 10:48 AM
AMA/DMG need to align our road racing series with FIM World Superbike series. Same rules and run it the same way. Then when WSBK comes to the U.S. Miller Motorsports park (and hopefully Barber in the future) our top American guys can race against their top guys on the same track at the same time. This way will create a rivalry and us fans can see who is best, the europeans or the U.S. racers. I'm glad that the AMA/DMG will be back at Miller but I want to see our racers compete against theirs. And right now under the current rules we can't. A WSBK superbike is a true superbike. An AMA superbike is more a production bike and as Henny Ray Abrams once said " aren't so super anymore". There could still be two championships, but the AMA would be able to compete against WSBK when they come to the United States.
kmann   May 3, 2011 10:11 AM
I'm a big fan of the series as it's structured and the racing last year was the best I can remember in a long while. That aside, Steve is spot on- not enough events and absolutely no promotion by DMG will eventually doom the series. Just a thought, but maybe DMG's intentions are to destroy the series and eliminate a possible threat to NASCAR -just saying. Anyhow, the way things are heading now, maybe some day Johnny Rock Page can win the title with his fortune, tenacity and lack of competition.
motousa_adam   May 3, 2011 09:17 AM
steve brought up some valid points. it's time for ama to step-up to the plate and take this thing to the next level. unfortuanetly i don't think they have the ability to do this so ama road racing is pretty much doomed and destined for failure. for sure the racing is good but the bikes aren’t that cool and i’m not a fan of the structure of the classes and how a race weekend is a 3-day affair. It should be 2-days start to finish and be more condensed ala' ama motocross. shout out mx sports!
wildpig   May 3, 2011 08:36 AM
nascar can kiss my ass.
MotoFreak   May 3, 2011 06:01 AM
Great article Steve. I feel that the lack of superstars (Both riders and factory teams) is the biggest downfall for the AMA. I think back five years ago of Mladin, Spies, Hacking, Hayes, Zemke and Duhamel and remember really routing for my favorites each race weekend. I think that has been lost as of late.
noreasony   May 3, 2011 05:26 AM
i agree on the visual- idea. The few times i have gone to NJMP{ to watch AMA they bikes really dont feel like true race bikes, more like track day bikes with nice paint jobs. And like what was said, the paddocks are bustling and i almost feel bad for the riders that have to more or less do it for fun or make enough money just to keep doing. Also AMA fails or continues on this current path of oblivion, how can the US ever have successful road racing? AMA to me, like other national series, is the minor leagues to the world wide series and if the series sucks and the competition sucks we can never groom riders to be competitive on the world level. Would Spies be as successful if Mladin and him werent trading paint those years in AMA? who knows but im certain that it didnt hurt him...
VinceXB   May 3, 2011 05:17 AM
The biggest problem with the sport isn't the competition, because that's the great strength of the sport. The problem is a total lack of promotion. Last Sunday, I watched off-road truck racing on CBS. Yes, off-road trucks on a major network. Please tell me why DMG can't (or won't?) flex their NASCAR muscles and get AMA on a network like that? Why aren't they using their NASCAR fanbase as pool of fans to draw from to bolster the interest in the AMA? Another problem is that there are too few events now. Even if they could get the series on a major network once in a while, the momentum would be lost in the TWO MONTHS or so between Daytona and Miller. Can't the AMA find a circuit or two in Arizona, SoCal, or New Mexico to run during that time? NASCAR seems to do just fine running at tracks during the March-May span, why not ride on their coat tails? There are great characters in AMA. NASCAR does a brilliant job of marketing the "bad boys" of the Sprint Cup. It's almost like Pro Wrestling, and the fans eat it up. The AMA is missing out on the same opportunity. They need a hook to pull in the fringe fan, and NASCAR does that in spades. Now that the economy is turning up a bit, I can't imagine why DMG wouldn't attempt to do something like this. Lastly, the local dealers need to do their part. When an event comes to town (or in the weeks leading up to it) the local dealers NEED to put on the full court press. Market the hell out of the event, both inside the showroom and outside. That means local TV ads on something other than Speed Network. BTW, is anyone else tired of having to either stay up past midnight or program your DVR just to watch an AMA road race on Speed? They've buried it; that can't be helping things either. If it's on during the day, at least a casual race fan might wander into it on a Sunday afternoon after the NASCAR race is over.