Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The death of bike racing in the US?

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MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


The death of bike racing in the US?

I’m at Sepang, where the pitlane reverberates to the sound of two dozen MotoGP bikes warming up for the second pre-season test of the year.

Despite criticism and the slings and arrows of the global economic crisis (which has now been going on longer than the Second World War), MotoGP isn’t in bad shape. There are more bikes on the grid than at any time since the glory days of the 990s, when the free-spending tobacco industry paid most of the bills. And there are more rounds than ever before; at least there were until the Brasilia race dropped off the calendar.

Contrast this to the fortunes of America’s AMA Superbike championship, which is in deep, deep crisis.

A few weeks ago I was in the States to interview Udo Gietl – the genius engineer behind the BMW twins that won the first US Superbike championship in 1976 – and our conversation ended with a few words on the current state of racing in his country.

“The sport is dying in America, no question about that,” said Gietl, who like all good engineers likes to get straight to the point.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Comments

Sad but true

BSB really should be a model for AMA. It is producing good racing and good talent. Riders like Cameron Beaubier need to get OUT before they've wasted their best development years in AMA. Herrin hopefully will improve in Moto2 to bring more interest to American riders and hopefully PJ Jacobsen can have more luck going forward in WSS. Tough for Herrin learning new tracks and a new bike, but Zarco is a great teammate to look up to and Caterham seem to be a good place to start with some enthusiasm. Someone save AMA... please. 5 races?!?! FIVE?!?!

Total votes: 18

Racing is good but...

The actual racing part of the AMA Series is not the problem, it's the poor promotion by the sanctioning body and tracks. Our kids grow up playing stick and ball games. If the manufacturers and local shops would do things to create interest for the very young they would get the "fever" and grow up to be racing/motorcycling fans and customers.

The Honda Grom is a huge step in the right direction. We need more bikes like that.

Total votes: 16

You can't ignore U.S. culture

You can't ignore U.S. culture and the credit crunch. We're taught from Day One here that motorcycles are death machines and that only thugs and outlaws ride them. Does any other country make a hit series out of something like Sons of Anarchy?

Combine that with plummeting bike sales in general, an increasingly crowded television environment making it difficult to get airtime, competition for advertising dollars from non-traditional media and plummeting sportbike sales in particular, and you can promote it all you want, make all kinds of good business decisions, and the racing will still suffer.

We need a new model for road racing in the U.S. And I think it starts with building an audience among not the general public, but among motorcyclists and racers.

Total votes: 24

Problem in the US: Lawsuits and Environmentalists.

It is constantly discussed in racing forums how the Spaniards and Italians have such a large number of young kids getting into racing at an early age. Try that in the US. Some unused land? A father can ask a company to allow him to use a bulldozer and make a track. Nope, company will get sued if someone breaks a tooth. Federal land trails to take a 50cc on with your child? Sorry, environmentalists allow horses to tear up trails, but fight to the tooth to keep any motorized vehicles out. You often have to drive two hours to get to an isolated spot for your kid to ride in the back of your ATV. It's only going to get worse.

Total votes: 36

It is wut it is

Thing is that it's hard to be a motorcycle racer in America ,,, if they would make a series that would be affordable and easy to join they would have a lot more riders...Also our parents see motorcycles and racing as death wish waiting to happen, some people can only get a bike when their adults and can buy it on their own and still our parents tell us to give up on bikes that's another main reason why we don't start young,,, There is a lot of good riders that don't get a chance to prove their skills to anyone so they just stick to riding on the streets.. They need a series like the red bull rookies or Asia talent cup or the Spanish series... Something like making monthly payments to ride and if I have money u can improve ur ride ect or u can find a business to sponsor.. And get more publication on the American public eye and on tv.. Here in America I never seen any sportbike commercials or anything that would spark that interest. I became a big fan of motogp after watching a race back in 2010. ever since then been watching every day and have a lot of interest I'm 22 if I had a chance to be a rider I would drop everything and head to Europe Asia or whereever.. But I guess people in the us are all into American football even though I think that sport is overrated. Oh well I'll just ride my cbr on the streets cause here In America there's no chance ,, maybe unless ur dirty rich and can buy urself a ride , like Karel Abraham

Total votes: 19

What I see is

What I see is isolation/Nascarification killing the sport. I recall a time when AMA bikes and riders could pull up to line as wild cards in U.S. rounds of world superbike races and world superbike guys would show up for Daytona. When the AMA/DMG separated their rules from SBK they drastically limited the draw for the series. Just like Grand Am not following LeMans rules. Ask a European what a Daytona Prototype is and see what they say. Indy car at first got rid of road courses and made them selves irrelevant overnight. Even though they now are almost a carbon copy of what Champcar was (except with ugly ass cars) the damage was done. The Nascarification of all U.S. motorsports has done nothing but destroy everything we spent 100 years building.

Total votes: 26

I'll say

Ok I would say indycar is ok kinda like formula 1 but still don't understand how people can sit and watch cars go around in an oval for 500 laps that is so Fkn booring.. They gotta have 2/3 kegs Of beer to say they enjoyed that day... Idk why NASCAR has a lot of fans in the us I don't understand.. And yet they show NASCAR and drivers on tv commercials. No wonder motorcycling is dead no publication and Americans like booring motorsports

Total votes: 13

Canada

Same goes for us up here.

A friend was racing in the National nearby, and stayed at our place for the weekend. I hadn't been to one in years, since I retired from racing.

8 bike grids. 12 bike grids. Pits were half full, at best. Maybe 125 spectators. For a National situated equidistant from three major cities.

Buddy was telling me that the kids (read: like we used to be) aren't coming out. They're not taping the lights, making numbers out of electrical tape, and racing their bike.

We suspect it's because there's so few of them riding with the cost of insurance being so high. An 18 year old with a ten year old 750 will pay the value of the bike every year in insurance. So they get a civic and have wheels year round.

This doesn't even touch on management issues. Corporate ones like the 3 time reigning sbk champ getting told 2 months before the season that they're cancelling their racing program. Szoke wins that season on a privateer bike from another make, paid for with his own money.

Don't know the whatfors, can just see that we're in the same boat as our neighbours to the south.

Total votes: 11

re: I'll say

'Idk why NASCAR has a lot of fans in the us I don't understand.'

That is a long story that starts with bootlegging beer, being mostly in southern states and egos.

That said NASCAR built a solid tradidtion. The AMA had been very strong up until the late 1990s and early 2000s then almost over night DMG's new rules nearly saw the death of it. Yes, the AMA needed some tweaks but that was really all. We still had good talent, confirmed by many top international riders that came through and said, the AMA isn't a joke. Unfortunately, DMG had to go and prove them wrong, at the end of the day.

I believe Jordan Suzuki's Laguna Seca 2013 to be the first legitimate Wild Card ride in a WSB race in...eight years? Even then they used AMA spec bikes but still finished a respectable top 10 (if I recall correctly). AMA riders have had mixed results as GP wild cards in the past decade. Josh Hayes was a late bloomer but really is a world level Superbike contender. He has probably the best deal available with Yamaha so, rightly so at his age isn't going to risk that (even IF there was a WSB on the table).

Total votes: 9

US Road Racing.

I see a lot of comments about the Nascarification of America racing. But the thing that Nascar gets right is plenty of exposure through promotion. I will have to check again, but read somewhere that it is the biggest spectator sport in America. The Indianapolis Speedway can seat 237,000 people and that is not counting people on the lawns on RVs or other areas. You add the rest up and I would say a fair estimate of people on race day is 300,000, and I am rounding down. That is people in the place on one day. Not counting the other days. Promotion.

There is one form of motorcycle racing that is alive and well in the US with PLENTY of fans, (not NASCAR level). Supercross/ Motocross. Whether outdoors for motocross or at almost to completely sold out football stadium for Supercross, you see people there. It is promoted and shown as the hardest most dangerous sport IN THE WORLD (in commercials and promotions). Whole families come out. Every round is hotly anticipated and attended. Hell, a lot of Motogp Pros are fans of the series. And it is exciting to watch. The biggest difference I see between the Road Racing and Offroad is the promotion. Fans of AMA Superbike cannot even tell you when exactly a race is going to happen. But you ask anyone when, where, and what time a Supercross race is, if there a fan, they know. America has many things and attitudes the rest of the world cannot understand, (NASCAR), but, when things are promoted right, they go ballistic here. NASCAR being a prime example. It was not always the behemoth that it is now.

Also cannot forget, they need quit changing rules and nitpicking so damn much. Do like BSB and get onboard with the rest of the world and focus on improving the show.

Total votes: 21

For sure...

Bingo. Well said.

Total votes: 8

Not exactly...

NASCAR is not the biggest spectator sport in the USA. NFL Football is.

NASCAR however is probably the biggest spectator motorsport series in the US. And even they have issues with attendance at some tracks. Last year some tracks removed or reconfigured seating because attendance numbers were down from previous years to the point that when the races aired on TV, it looked like the races were half empty.

AS for the AMA, it's a mix of the economy, poor management by DMG and ridiculous rule changes all coming together in the perfect storm that are killing the series as we know it. There is already talk of another standalone Triple Crown event separate from AMA/DMG to try to get off the ground, hopefully with a TV package in place.

Total votes: 16

What To Do

1. Remove DMG from running the series. (I think they're trying to kill it.)
2. Adopt a less expensive format of lower cost, stock underclasses that emphasizes rider skill and close racing.
3.Adopt a format that has 3 classes including Superbike, Stock 1000's and Stock 600's. Superbikes follow WSBK rules for modifications with open choice for tires. Stock series can change only tires, but no slicks.
4. Adopt a similar format to MotoGP for practice, qualifying and racing.

Total votes: 17

Again...

As I said before, it's mostly about poor promotion. Just look at what happened to the Virginia track when they dropped the company that promoted the race. They went from a huge success to nothing. They had to do an about face to save it.

Also,the manufacturers (all of them, including Harley) have to start spending some money to introduce kids to the sport. I mean starting at 6 years old, not 16.

Honda did it right 50 years ago with their "you meet the nicest people on a Honda" and their Cub machines.

Total votes: 15

If the France family...

... ever even cared a single ounce about motorcycle racing & it's fans, they should sell the rights to the series to someone who does truly care.

I really didn't think anyone could manage the series worse than the AMA as lead by Ron Dingman & associates, but holy crap, don't think I've ever been more wrong about ANYTHING in my life.

I'm a believer in the build it and they will come theory. Motorcycle racing was never & will never be as big as the stick & ball sports, nor will it ever be anything approaching the popularity of NASCAR, but it doesn't have to be! If the series is put on a healthy footing the riders & manufacturers will come, so will a respectable TV package. The series is definitely on life support, but it can most certainly be resurrected!

I mean 20 years ago, if anyone had told me skate & snowboarding would have more air time than motorcycle racing I would've said, drop the crack pipe! Just look how well Motocross has done over the years under the Live Nation umbrella. No reason Superbikes (Supersport et al.) can't do the same...

Total votes: 17

Club Racing Has Exploded

I don't ride on the street, I don't even have my motorcycle street license, but I do have expert status race license. While the AMA has all but flopped over dead, the club racing scene has seemingly exploded over on the West Coast. I've continued racing through the economic crisis and I have watched total race day attendances go from 30 riders over all of the classes, to 160 riders over all of the classes this past weekend. And the new/amateur racers have been a huge part of that spike. So, I would say the sport is having a resurgence. The problem is that the promotional body for DMG superbike series has failed to capture ANYONE's attention. This season the clubs that I race with are having more rounds than the AMA national series! And that is supposed to be the premiere series in this country! What we need is some major restructuring because right now the AMA is not on any road map for any world stage aspiring riders. The consensus here is, "get overseas now." And when you can race against the AMA pros at a club race, you start to look at the AMA as simply the most expensive club racing series in the US.

Total votes: 18

I get what you're saying, but

I get what you're saying, but there's a difference between a club racer like me paying for the privilege of going racing and a race team, rider or series trying to get a track to pay them to show up and perform.

I think you might be right, and we're going to wind up with a semi-pro series, where the series organizers rent the tracks, put on the races, and charge competitors to race, with the competitors and teams taking on the financial risk of promotion (and a few factory-backed teams competing for advertising and branding purposes).

Honestly, that's not too far from the BSB model, which has a huge advantage in that the series does not have to convince tracks to pay a sanctioning fee; the tracks, via MSV, actually operate the series as a track promotional tool. And the rider salaries there - well, let's say that other than the front six or so, they stretch the definition of professional.

Having mentioned U.S. culture, bike sales, etc., I did want to echo the comments of some above who talked about the ineptitude of those running the show. Some of the decisions they've made, public and private, have been akin to shooting themselves in the foot, realizing they've got one good foot left, and reaching for more ammo ...

Total votes: 12

My friends and I used to go

My friends and I used to go to the MotoGP at Laguna Seca for a number of years, but stopped going 3 years back as after the GP was over there was an AMA superbike race which we stayed to watch. Unfortunately someone fell off - nothing life threatening but the race was red flagged for 30 minutes, when the race re-started almost immediately another racer fell off - and another red flag. That's when we headed back to the motel. We had expensive seats in the stands and there was a family behind us that obviously had reserved their seats for the 3 days but only turned up for the MotoGP and talked incessantly about their shopping and the teenaged brat kept blowing his airhorn all the time - we have never been back since. Thought about going to Austin but it would be a longer ride (more expensive) so checked out the cost of flying. Guess what - by the time the dust settles - it costs no more to go to a European round and that is what we now do.
Poor organization and then the cut Laguna - Jeeze!!

Total votes: 11

Central Booming too

Lots of great action at the club levels and will continue to increase. Need to organize a championship playoff series east/west/central/south. The contingency payouts could be big enough to make it worth while.

Total votes: 1

5 rounds in the AMA? That's huge compared to ASBK

3.

Whole.

Rounds.

http://www.bikesales.com.au/news/revised-asbk-calendar-41595

And the reigning champ didn't have a ride until recently either. But, at least that's because the ASC has 6 rounds and has been pulling all the riders. But even then 6 rounds is pretty miserable as well.

Total votes: 11

Roadracing World

In This month's edition of RW, Chris Ulrich's column indicated his family is organizing an additional 3 to 5 rounds (I don't remember) to keep the racers busy and sponsors happy. Does anyone know more about this? Is this is how a new series starts?We need to support Chris and John's idea as best we can and hope it happens and is done well. Maybe another series is born.

As for popularity of SuperCross, their promoters do an amazing job and should be tapped as a partner to salvage the AMA train wreck.

Total votes: 11

Beating a Dead Horse

The MIC shot AMA SBK full of holes, and then put it on life-support by purchasing live television time. DMG were supposed to save the series, but they beat it mercilessly and desecrated its corpse. If blame must be assigned, and sentences must be handed down by the court of public opinion, it is important to separate the murders from the necrophiliacs. DMG is the latter. MIC/AMA is the former.

I don't find it ironic or undesirable that a Brit might save the AMA. Brits are about the only forward-thinking people in motorsport, excluding the aerodynamics working group in F1 (who were forward-thinking about 4 decades ago). Colin Chapman and Keith Duckworth pitched the fuel-flow limiting concept used in F1 today. Bernie Ecclestone invented the modern funding model for international motorsport. Max Mosley was about the only person to show signs of intelligent life regarding the impact of the regulatory environment on the competitive environment. Ben Bowlby created the Delta Wing concept and pitched open-source racing. Jonathan Palmer is about the only person with the testicular fortitude to publicly explain why SBK is so competitive.

If motorsports experiences a renaissance, Brits will probably be at the forefront. AMA Pro Racing would be lucky to have MSVR/MCRCB at the helm.

Total votes: 3

And now no Daytona on TV

Can't say I blame the TV networks. I'm a die hard motorcycle racing fan and I haven't been interested in the Daytona 200 in years. In fact, I didn't even realize the race was coming up soon.

This year there will be no television coverage – broadcast or cable, live or tape delayed – at all.

http://www.superbikeplanet.com/2014/Mar/140304nodaytona200tv.htm

Total votes: 1

Besides ceasing to exist entirely...

... this has to be rock bottom for AMA/DMG.

Mr. FRANCE, PLEASE SELL!!!

Total votes: 1

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