World Superbike -The First 25 Years
with a Tribute to its Producers Maurizio and Paolo Flammini
and how new management DORNA unceremoniously kicked the Flammini Brothers out the Back Door
of the best motorcycle roadracing championship ever
We all received the shocking Press Release back on September 2nd 2012 stating that the private equity firm of Bridgepoint, who already owned the MotoGP World Championship under DORNA, had just purchased the sports marketing firm InFront Sports & Media AG, who had themselves become the owners of the World Superbike Championship a few years earlier. The WSBK was then celebrating its 25th year of under the direction of brothers Maurizio and Paolo Flammini, who stepped in to save the fledgling production bike Championship started by ex-racer American Steve McLaughlin in 1987.
In 1990 Maurizio came in in to take over full control of World Superbike from McLaughlin's partners and struggling owners, the FG Group, and steered it forward towards world success. Brother Paolo came aboard as the Sales Manager of the Group in 1994, and then in 1999 became President of World Superbike as brother Maurizio stepped back to pursue other business ventures in sports marketing. Under their control the SBK World Championship in the next 20 years would become the most exciting motorcycle roadracing series in the world with the closest racing, most factory and private team involvement. At many European tracks it even rivaled and exceeded the attendance of the more well established FIM prototype roadracing series, MotoGP.
Troy Bayliss Race Academy School Misano & Paris by Vespa Scooter!
Join us again as Editor Jim Gianatsis takes the Troy Bayliss Academy DRE Race School aboard a Superstock 1199S Ducati Panigale Superbike at the Misano MotoGP Circuit in Italy, then caps it off with a sexy and romantic Vespa scooter trip to the City of Lights, Paris France! From the world's fastest Superbike, the world's biggest airliner to a 50cc Vespa - it was a non-stop thrill ride. CLICK HERE
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FastDates.com Pit Board Editorial Editorial
February 2013 - Update: World Superbike in America in 2013 moves from Miller Motorsports Park in Utah, back to Laguna Seca Raceway, Monterey, CA, after an 8 year absence. The race takes place on the September 27-29th weekend combiked with an AMA Pro Roadracing national weekend. The last combiked WSBK/AMA weekend at the Laguna Seca venue ended back in 2005 becuase of reduced spectator attendance. We hope it does much better for this welocme return to the West Coast of America.
Optimistic attendance numbers for sure. As a promoter myself, I took a look around the Miller facility and counted far fewer spectators.
It's not that Miller Motorsports hasn't tried their best to attract spectators. In past years they've had race team presentations media days of the steps of the State Capital in Salt Lake City and weekend Rock Concerts at the track to pull in the locals, demo rides and Manufacturer's Midways for the race fans. Plus the open AMA pits and Superbike Pit Walks fans will only find at Word Superbike races (as opposed to the Closed Pits at MotoGPs). There's an incredible on site Miller Ford Racing Museum featuring 1960s Cobras, Shelby Mustangs and LeMans World Sportscars. And for the 3rd year in a row BMW brought in World Stunt Bike champ Christian Pfeiffer and local rock bands to entertain spectators in the paddock.
But this year it was obvious the money was tight. There was no longer a Media Day in Salt Lake City, no big Sunday Night Rock Concert to help make locals aware of the race weekend, and the Manufacturer's Midway outside the paddock was gone. Not even the U.S. distributors for Ducati and BMW who have showed strong sales increases the last 2 years despite the down turned economy that has stricken the Japanese bike manufacturers hard, didn't bother coming back to Miller this year with new bike displays. The past spectator numbers didn't justify it for them.
Miller Motorsports Park is one of, if not the best road racing facility in America, and only one of 3 tracks that are FIM approved for World Championship events. Unfortunately Miller also a few significant strikes going against it, toprevent it from being a profitable venue to hold large (expensive to prodcuce) race events. The biggest of which is it is situated in the Utah wasteland, 1-2 days automobile drive from major population centers, so pulling in the general public and less than hard core race fans is next to impossible. It's 40 minutes outside Salt Lake City, the State's capital and a raging college town with a fun nightlife, but just too far to offer that weekend destination fun like Laguna Seca Raceway, CA, does by being near Monterey's Cannery Row.
Another strike against Miller Motorsports Park is that the track itself, despite its great amenities like shaded grandstands, nice clean restrooms and food concessions, paved roads and paddock, incredible pit garages, media center and VIP suites, the Alan Wilson designed track just sucks for spectating. The closest people can get to the track is about 100 feet, and you just can't see much of it or the racing because of its long expansive layout, despite it being laid in a bare treeless desert. Wilson never designed the track to bring much of the action in front of the spectators. There's a reason why NASCAR oval track racing is so popular, and roadrace track designers need to keep this in mind. For roadracing fans these days, it's an easier decision to stay home and watch all the racing and pit action up close on television.
The final strike against Miller is the weather. Their traditional Memorial Day WSBK on the final weekend of the month of May might find great weather on most other areas of America, but in Utah these still the chance of sub 70 defree weather, rain, snow and high winds. Their race date needs to be moved more into the summer months to assure better weather.
We still need to give a strong thanks to Miller Motorsports Park for bringing World Superbike back to America these past 4 years despite the huge financail investment it took. Track founder Larry Miller was a huge motorsports enhtusiast and his big chain of car dealerships helped pay the bills. But with the passing away of Larry 2 years ago, and the tighter economy now, his family many not have the same passion to loose money at the track.
Miller Motrsports Park could survive as a World Superbike Round if they could bring in a big title sponsor, a TV advertiser like GEICO or Progressive Insurance who is only interested in targeting the TV audience, anyway. But the race would need to be broadcast on a major national TV network with an audience of 1 million plus. With less than 100,000 people watching motorcycle racing on SpeedTV, that can't justify the marketing cost for a major title sponsor to pick up the cost of the race.
The big loss for all roadracing enthusiasts, though, not just us Americans, is that World Superbike provides the best show and spectator experience in World Championship roadracing. There's more manufactures involved, more front line riders cabable of winning, the racing is closer and more exciting, there's 2 featured races compared to MotoGP's just one race, the team pits and riders and bikes are more accessable to the race fans. And these days, the MotoGP bikes are hardly any more technically advanced than Superbikes. I'd much rather watch World Superbikes any day, than MotoGP.
Our two other FIM approved American tracks and races, the Yamaha MotoGP at Laguna Seca Raceway , and the Red Bull MotoGP at Indianapolis Motor Speedway aren't doing much better these days. Their big 1st year races probably pulled-in near break-even crowds around 30,000 spectators, but by this past year the thrill had worn off, together with the economy, and attendance has dropped considerably, possibly in half. Without their major title sponsorship from Yamaha and Red Bull, the MotoGPs at Laguna and Indy wouldn't be happening. And as hard hit as Yamaha has been by the decline in Japanese motorcycle sales the past few years, I would not expect Yamaha to renew its sponsorship at Laguna once it expires. Knowing it costs over a Million Dollars to bring in an FIM World Championship race and promote it, when you only have 15,000 spectates paying $25-$50 each that's just $125,000 - $250,00 in gate receipts. The numbers just don't come close.
If we do loose World Superbike at Miller in Utah, just remember, we previously had World Superbike at Lagua Seca Raceway in Monterey for 10 years, held in conjunction with AMA roadrace nationals, an ideal location for weekend entertainment and drawing spectators from major population areas. But spectator attendance also dropped over time at Laguna to around 15,000 people (where MotoGP attendance is going now), and the track could no longer afford to keep it. Laguna Seca's only major flaw is spectator / traffic access and capacity, which limits it to around 30,000 people max. Only Yamaha USA's sponsorship money is keeping the MotoGP at Laguna for the present.
The bright ray of light in all this darkness for motorcycle roadracing in America is the new Circuit of the Americas track in Austin, Texas that will open this fall with a new U.S. round the of Formula One World Championship. And any FIA approved track should easily be sanctionable for FIM motorcycle races. Austin is an ideal city for a top racing facility as it is an upscale University town and has a huge night life party and music scene. And within 2 hours of Austin are three other major metropolitan cents to draw spectators from: Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonino. We don't know how good Circuit of the Americas will be as a spectator track, but we need to get a World Superbike race there, as soon as 2013 if a title sponsor can be found.
While talking about the decline of World Championship motorcycle roadracing in America, we can't end this discussion without mentioning Daytona International Speedway. Once the meca of international roadracing in the 1960s-80s, the Speedway allowed itself to fall into a decline and essentially kill off professional motorcycle (and possibly sports car) roadracing in America. The AMA Pro Nationals held there have descended into a farce featuring 600cc superstock bikes on a junk, unsafe track, with almost no spectators and confusing TV and media coverage amid the mired of Daytona Motorsports Group designed classes. Daytona could have remained great with the evolving of the sport, it could have upgraded to an FIA/FIM approved track like Indianapolis Motor Speedway did, It just never cared to do so. It could have drawn on the huge 250,000 visitor Haley V-twin crowd that comes Daytona every year for bike week. It just never really tired to do it.
Roadracing tracks and promoters in America need to look at where the spectators are and what draws them to events. The biggest and youngest crowds are at downtown Stadium Supercross tracks where you can see all the action on track and hang out with your favorite teams and riders in the pits. The over 50 crowd goes to Harley events like Sturgis to vacation and party for the week, do burnouts, and listen to legendary rock bands. Miller Motorsports did both, but there just isn't a major population area near by to draw from.
I'd like to see a World Superbike round at Circuit of the America's with an open paddock and pits, Katy Perry, the Beach Boys and Grace Potter playing on stage, and a fun night in downtown Austin on 6th Street. Hopefully, the new Circuit of the Americas track in Austin can fill the void for a road racing track that will be all things for all enthusiasts and spectators. All we need now is a good race promoter backed by big sponsor money. - Jim Gianatsis
The Daytona Speedway and DMG Dinosaur
Also see our previus Editorial from 2 years ago: DMG Kills AMA Superbike!
The exciting full-on factory Superbikes could no longer be featured in the legendary 200 mile Daytona race because of their horsepower and speed, which modern race tires could no longer cope with the combination of high speeds, the race distance between pit stops, and high horsepower bikes pulling heavy G's on the Super Speedway's banking. Remember 3 years ago when it rained on the scheduled Superbike Sunday race, and because the track is too dangerous to race on in the raain, the race was postponed to the next day, Monday, loosing all its spectators who had to drive back home and go to work the next day, and the SpeedTV coverage which had to leave for another scheduled event.
But the replacement class for Superbikes, the near stock 600 Daytona Sportbike class being has proved to be as unpopular for race fans as the Daytona Speedway Associations other essentially failed roadracing race series, the Daytona Grand Am Sports Car Championship with its ugly kit car looking prototypes and production race cars. The Speedway Association has tried to duplicate its successful NASCAR racing formula, into motorcycle and sport car roadracing, but it just doesn't work. Roadracing enthusiasts are just to knowledgeable of their sports to accept less than the best equipment and drivers.
We guesstimate less more than 3,000 spectators were in attendance at the Daytona roadraces this year, while just he weekend before the Daytona Supercross at the same facility pulled a huge audience of some 50,000 race fans. The Daytona Supercross race course, being laid out in the pit front grass, is visible by everyone in the main grandstand just feet away from the action. Its all about the Show: the track, the bikes, and the stars, none of which AMA Pro Roadracing, owned and managed by the DMG, is providing.
We already know that the Super Speedway and its high speed, high G-load bankings are unsafe for big bore Superbikes and their tires. Changes to superstock spec Superbikes and shorter races didn't work when the big bikes continued to use the traditional entire Daytona oval and infield road course. Even after after cutting the balls off the AMA Superbike Class machines and shortening the races, the tires weren't holding up. Then shortened 18-lap Superbike race (down from 57 laps and 200 miles) was removed from half the Speedway banking (Turns 1 and 2) and routed on an additional road course section in the south end of the infield, even further away from spectators.
Now at this year's featured 200 Mile race the 600cc Daytona Sportbike Class, heralded by the DMG as the privateer's big chance to make motorcycle roadracing affordable and popular in America, is suffering the same dangerous results of Superbikes on the high Daytona bankings. The tires are coming apart before the first scheduled pit stops. As the spec tire manufacturer, Dunlop's Mike Buckley explained, they had tested tires with the top teams at the Speedway some two months earlier when the temperature was 20 degrees cooler and the tires seemed fine. However, come race day in March with the track conditions being 20 degrees warmer, it was all coming apart, literally. The dark black asphalt of the newly repaved Speedway, which also took place during the winter break, helped to exasperate the tire temperatures and high speed conditions even more.
In Dunlop's defense, we have to point out there's no way Dunlop can make money supplying tires to a less than successful race series, with such a small track and TV audience. Besides their huge sponsorship fee that probably cost around six figures, then have to have two big rig transporter trucks with tires and tire changing technicians on the road and payroll for a full year. Then add in the huge additional cost of testing and building special tires just for one race weekend a year at Daytona Speedway. It's a loosing proposition all around for Dunlop, which is difficult to justify in the small, struggling American sportbike market. Particularly when buyers have so many good tire brand choices for other tire manufacturers who compete in MotoGP and World Superbike.
Jake Holden's chunking front tire early in the race (left) and near lap 12 (right).
Then on lap 27 Danny Eslik had the front end of his bike wash out in Turn 4 on the banking which running behind around rider. Was it the tire going bad, was it a gust of wind, was it the aerodynamics of drafting at that 170-180mph? Another possibility might be that some riders were now treating that corner of the banking as a turn to dive inside, rather than staying up high and riding the bowl in a straight line. And at that speed with a just 1-inch square front tire patch on the pavement, there just isn't any grip to turn the bike. In the TV replays it looked like Eslick was turning his bike to go below the rider in front of him and that's when the front wheel tucked under and he went down. Luckily he low sided off the crashed bike, and slid down to the bottom of the banking with nothing to hit. He was able to walk away. But it is really frightening when you crashing running wide open in a straight line and don't know why.
Eslick's crash brought out the red flag and the entire field was brought back to the starting grid in front of the pits. AMA Pro Racing Tech Inspector Al Luddington then made the correct decision that the entire race field be fitted with new front tires, both in light of the tire chunking issues and Eslick's front wheel crash. But most of the teams did not have any new front tires left to install on their bikes. So the race had to be delayed for 2 hours while Dunlop tire technicians back in the Paddock mounted new front tires for everyone.
Meantime, the race viewers at home watching the Daytona 200 Miler live on SpeedTV, had to sit though nearly the full 2 hours of red flag delay as the scheduled time slot for the broadcast clicked down the minutes. Then before we could see the race restart, SpeedTV cut it off to the next scheduled program, NASCAR Truck Race qualifying at Bristol Speedway. Most viewers had no way of knowing the restart and finish of the motorcycle race would be broadcast at 1 am Eastern/10pm Pacific in the Saturday night time slot originally schedule for delayed Daytona Superbike Race 1 broadcast. With the Superbike race push back to play after the Daytona Sportbikes.
When the Daytona 200 mile Supersport race did restart, it was shorted by Luddington to a 15-lap sprint race to the finish so the front tires would last. The traditional 200 Miler now become a 27 lap + 15 lap = 42 lap, 147 mile race. Again the race leaders would be grouped tightly in a pack of 8 bikes as they shared and used the draft on the banking to pass and re pass each other. It looked scary as hell because motorcycle roadracers have no side or rear vision, so you don't know who is coming past you and where. You just knew something bad was going to happen, and it did.
In NASCAR racing on the Super Speedways, including Daytona, all the car race teams have "spotters", a guy up on top of the grandstands and watching in full-time radio communication with their driver, constantly relaying to them where the other cars are next to them, which cars are attempting to pass and from which side, and where their driver can move his car on the banking without hitting anyone.
Plus in NASCAR you have a 2,600 pound race car designed for crashing safely with a full steel roll cage, safety seat, harness and belts, restraints and a Hans device around your neck. An AMA Pro roadracer gets none of this protection for the same racing on a Super Speedway. Just a .125 inch piece of cow hide you pray won't wear through when you stop sliding and tumbling from 180mph!
What we all feared, happened, as we watched the shorted Daytona 200 come to a very dramatic conclusion at the Start/Finish Line. The lead group of seven riders was five-wide and headed for the finish line, everyone chasing West. DiSalvo launched into third ahead of the final banking then slingshot into the lead, shuffling West and Zemke into second and third, respectively. As the podium finishers crossed the line, Knapp and Westby went down right behind them in a gasp-inducing crash—West having had his brake lever hit after contact with Herrin, and Knapp going down with nowhere else to go. It was one of the worst high speed race crashes we had every seen. It as a miracle everyone was able to slide, not tumble, and walk away from it.
What this year's AMA Daytona Supersport 200 race proved once again, after so many years of trying to fix what is broke, is that modern roadracing motorcycles have no business being on a high speed banked Super speedway. with concrete walls, blind drafting and minimal safety protection for the riders. On any size bike, at any speed, the tires can't be engineered to be safe. And the riders will never be safe in drafting and crashing at such high speeds.
What continues to amaze us is that Daytona Speedway and DMG won't spend the money to invest in the sport to build an FIM / FIA approved safe infield roadrace course, and design it so it is as exciting and comfortable for spectators as going to a Supercross. Indianapolis Motor Speedway did it and they have reaped the rewards by hosting World Championship races. Why Daytona Speedway wants to continue to promote and sanction low profit, unsafe club level quality roadracing for motorcycles and sports cars, we don't know. Other than pure ego and selfishness. While their lack of regard for safe motorcycle racing borders both on moral disregard.
Amazingly, the motorcycle industry itself seems afraid to speak out and demand changes. The DMG is the only promoter left in America interested in putting on a national series. It does so primarily because it wants to have more races at the tracks the Daytona Speedway Organization owns, without having to invest additional money to make those tracks suitable for motorcycle roadracing. No one in the motorcycle industry wants to talk about it - the manufacturers, the media, the teams and racers - particularly during the current economic crises which has devastated the motorcycle industry. This includes one TV network and two major motorcycle publications who have factory sponsored race teams in AMA Pro Roadracing. If DMG gets raked over the coals, it could just as easily decide to close down AMA Pro Roadracing as unprofitable and too much hassle.
Devastating Motorcycle Industry Statistics!
Those are two of the findings of J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. Motorcycle Competitive Information Study, which includes responses from close to 8,500 owners who purchased a new 2009 or 2010 model-year on-road or dual-sport motorcycle between September 2009 and May 2010.The study, now in its 13th year, measures owner satisfaction with new motorcycles by examining six major factors of the overall ownership experience: product, build quality, cost of ownership, sales, service and warranty.
This is a devastating statistic for the world motorcycle industry, and America in particular. With the median age of motorcycle buyers (and hence riders) going up by 1 year of age, in each of the last 9 years. That essentially means no young new riders are coming into the sport, and sales are dropping at a devastating rate of 5-10% per year, no matter what the economy does to improve. If this trend continues, in just 10-20 years when the median rider age reaches 60-70 years old and riders die off/stopping buying motorcycles, there will be effectively no new motorcycles sold in America.
New motorcycle sales in America have dropped some 70-30% among manufacturers in the last 3 years because of the economic collapse in America. Motorcycles are a luxury recreational toy for most Americans, not a transportation necessity as in Europe and Asia. So the American motorcycle market was probably hit harder than any other recreational sport in our country when the down turned economy caused people to stop spending on non -essential big ticket items. This new riders Median Age statistic report means that even if the U.S. economy improves 5-10% per year in the coming years, new motorcycle and product sales will never increase from where they have fallen today.
We don't see that happening with TV shows like Stunt Rider on The Speed Channel serving as the only street bike role model for kids, and with the statistic that motorcyclists are 7-times more likely to killed in a road accident compared to automobile drivers.
That and the fact many teens don't care about owning their own motorcycles or car any more, and working an after school job like we did as kids to help pay for them. Today's kids would rather stay home, and spend their time and what money they have on electronic gadgetry, games, cell phones and computers. If they need to get somewhere they can hitch a ride with friends or their parents.
We have all helped to kill off the entry level motorcycle market. It's all our fault and the industry is coming down around us because of it.
Not since the "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda" ad campaign of the 1960's has a motorcycle manufacturer really targeted the entry level / new rider market.
And all of us in the Motorcycle Media our guilty of perpetuating this decline in new riders, because we only feature high end and middleweight motorcycles that only affluent older riders can afford to buy. When is the last time a U.S. Motorcycle Publication ran a cover feature story on motor scooters and practical 125cc street bikes that a high school/college kid could afford to buy? Never.
The only way to turn this around is to sell affordably priced, financed, and insured entry level motorcycles and scooters to teen angers with their parent's blessing. Motorcycle and scooters that are as cheap and easy to purchase, insure and operate as $2,000 used car.
Like many of you I was at the annual International Motorcycle Show, my local venue being in Long Beach Show, CA,this past month. I think I remember seeing about (5) twenty something year olds the day i was there. No one under 20 years. Mostly everyone was 35 years and older.
Teen riders can no longer afford, or qualify to finance and insure a motorcycle in the pubic banking and insurance markets.
The only solution I might suggest at this point is, the major motorcycle manufacturers and distributors in America must pool together to form their own banking institutions or credit unions, and their own insurance company to finance and insure the motorcycles they sell. If they can eliminate the profit margins earned by big banks and insurance companies and their stock holders, eliminate billion dollar marketing campaigns, the finance and insurance rates would come down for first time, young motorcycle buyers.
And speaking of insurance companies - particularly those big names like GEIKO and Progressive Insurance that are targeting the motorcycle market. They're the ones sponsoring the Progressive Insurance International Motorcycle Show, the GEICO motorcycle racing team, and the only paid ads left to support our streetbike magazines like Cycle World and Motorcyclist. They are the ones running expensive non stop prime time TV ads on every station we watch at a cost of Millions of dollar a day, Billions of dollars a year! How much do you think those insurance agencies have to increase their insurance prices rate to pay for that adverting to reach us, the motorcyclists?
Well friends and teens, the insurance rates of GEIKO and Progressive Insurance are about 1/3rd more than the insurance companies who don't advertise heavily or have independent agents to support. Low profit insurance agencies like AAA are where you need to go. Rates at AAA can be 50% less if you insure your motorcycle with your family's car and home policy. I also finance my motorcycle purchases on low interest rate Credit Union charge cards and Checks. That way you don't have to buy damage/loss/collision insurance for your bike if you can't afford it, since the credit card purchase is a cash loan that does gives you the title of the bike, not the bank or finance company which requires full replacement insurance.
If I crash my bike I fix it myself for the cost of parts. Whereas the insurance company might write off downed bike a toal loss, uppring your rates even more. I have not had collission / loss insurance on any of my motorcycles, ever. These are two great ways to reduce motorcycle insurance costs most people don't think of. - Jim Gianatsis, Editor
Update :State of the Motorcycle Market in America
2007 was the industry's last up year. Sales of motorcycles, ATVs and scooters reached about 1.5 million units. And according to MIC ststics there were in 2008, 13,300 retail outlets in the US split between authorized new vehicle dealers, and independent service and accessory outlet.
According to the most recent MIC static, 2012 retail sales of motorcycles, ATVs and scooter were at 677,630 - a drop of about 54% from peak. At the same time the US dealer base dropped from an increased of 14,127 dealers in 2008 (still riding the crest of the wave) to 8,985 in 2012 - a decrease of 36% percent.
The Medin Age of a new motorcycle buyers in America is now around 52 years old, and continues to grow about 1 year older per year, signifying no new riders are coming into the sport and the Amerian motorcycle market will end as the Baby Boomers die out.
And unlike Europe and Asia where mototcycling is surviving and growing because of traditionally high fuel prices and crowded cities, in America we have become to attahed to our automobiles, so much so that motorcyles will never become a replacement for them. You'll always be able to buy and run and insure a cheap used car at a price lower than a nice used motorcycle.
This is not to say Motorccyle Racing will not continue as a spectator sport, as evidenced by the popularity of Supercross at sold-out stadium events across America. But how many people actually buy and ride/race dirt/mx bikes any more? This middle class sport is disappearing with the American middle class as fewer people can afford a truck to haul their expensive dirt bike to a riding area or track, or own a house with a garage to store and work on them. To a lessor extent, the streetbike market is affected similarly. These days kids in high school have little interestor the money in own or drive a cool car, let alone a street bike. - Editor
Daytona Motorsports Group: the Final Death Blow for AMA Superbike!
When Ron Dingmans, newly appointed CEO of the American Motorcycle Association announced last fall that the AMA would no longer be involved in promoting professional motorcycle racing, but instead, would concede control over to the best available management group, everyone in America who loved motorcycle racing breathed a collectable, but cautious sigh of relief. In the last 10 years professional motorcycle racing in America, effectively the AMA Superbike Championship, has seen a huge downward spiral in popularity, sponsor involvement and spectator attendance from the highs of the mid 1990s where and Superbike Nationals regularly drew 20,000 - 30,000 spectators, and title sponsors included major brands like Camel cigarettes and Chevy Trucks.
Today there are no significant outside sponsors in AMA Superbike, and spectator attendance at major race venues like California Speedway in the heart of Southern California, America’s largest motorcycle market, is a dismal 1,000 paid spectators on race day at best. If it weren’t for American Suzuki sponsoring the race weekend and picking up the tab, it wouldn’t take place. Still, CA Speedway doesn’t bother opening the track’s main grandstands to spectators, as they can’t afford to pay the staff to operate and clean it afterwards. Spectators are relegated to the infield grass of a makeshift road course, one of the worst road courses in America for both riders and spectators.
Not much farther behind CA Speedway in spectator appeal and accommodations these days, as well as track design and safety, is legendary Daytona International Speedway. Once it held the most popular motorcycle race in the world, the renown Daytona 200 which attracted tens of thousands of spectators, race teams and riders from around the world for the coveted Daytona 200 Miler.
But as the superbikes got faster, the Speedway owners choose not to improve the track’s design to make spectating there in person, as enjoyable as sitting at home and watching it on TV. While safety became so bad for modern race bikes the track lost its FIM sanction for World Superbikes and MotoGP.
Then 5 years ago the AMA Superbikes were relegated to a 17-lap side show on Friday for safety concerns, and the current Saturday 200 Miller 600cc “Formula Extreame” bikes is not much more than a farce. Highlighted this year by the class’s major proponent American Honda using it as the only race win they can advertise these days, but with the team’s crashes, disqualifications and cheating, seeing them not even winning what should have been a sure thing.
A lot of the problems associated with the downfall of AMA Superbike racing in America can be attributed to the fact AMA Pro Racing allowed factory American Distributor teams to dictate the bike classes and the equipment rules to their own benefit, so each brand: Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki had a national class they could possibly dominate, win and advertise those wins. This came at the expense of AMA Superbike rules no longer being compatible with FIM World Superbike rules and classes.
The result of this could easily be seen at the annual AMA National and SBK World Superbike round at Laguna Seca in July, where back in the middle 1990s the races regularly drew 30,000 – 40,000 spectators because the American Superbike riders could ride as wild cards in the World Superbike races, making the racing much more exciting for American fans. But when AMA bike rules and classes went their own way and the American riders could not compete as wild cards with the rest of the World’s Best, the fans stopped coming to Laguna Seca. The last AMA / SBK round at Laguna Seca back in 2004 only drew about 4,000 spectators and the track couldn’t afford to bring the SBK Championship back the following year.
Fortunately for Laguna Seca Raceway, though, the MotoGP Word Championship pounced on the track’s loss of its World Superbike round, to make the track an affordable offer they couldn’t refuse to bring MotoGP to America, instead. The dream became a reality when American Yamaha offered up the $5 million plus it would take to upgrade the track to FIM standards. American sportbike fans returned to Laguna Seca en mass in 2005 to see Americans Colin Edwards, Nicky Hayden, Kenny Roberts Jr. et all, compete with the world’s best.
The track’s actual published spectator attendance numbers for the current MotoGPs at Laguna Seca remain highly unrealistic when they say 95,000 people attend the race weekend. You have to remember what Kenney Roberts said after producing the first MotoGP their back in the mid ‘90s and sold it out then, but still couldn’t turn a profit to return the next year. Laguna Seca’s size and layout cannot accommodate more than 35,000 people per day at best. A promoters published attendance numbers, as in the case of Laguna Seca’s usually include the number of Weekend Passes sold - say 25,000 passes multiplied times that one spectator coming all 3 days = 75,000 admissions over 3 days, plus 10,000 One-Day passes, plus all the venders, their staff, the race teams and families in the paddock, and you’ve got your 95,000 attendance number for the weekend!
Since the first MotoGP weekend at Laguna Seca in 2005, the problems with overcrowding, the heat, parking access and shuttle bus problems have probably reduced actual attendance now, down to about 20,000 – 25,000 which is pretty much a normal excellent attendance number for any roadracing track in America. Whereas in Europe, where race track facilities offer easy access and comfortable grandstand facilities, real race-day attendance figures of 60,000 to 120,000 fans is the normal.
The upcoming inaugural 2008 Indianapolis MotoGP on September 12-14th has the potential to shatter the spectator attendance numbers at Laguna Seca just because Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a proven facility. In fact, it is largest spectator sporting facility in the world, and the Indy 500 car race is the largest single-day spectator sporting event in the world, attracting some 350,000 people. There are 250,000 permanent seats, which sell out for the open wheel race, and the other 100,000 spectators watch from the infield. With major sponsorship for the Indy MotoGP motorcycle race from Red Bull, and the Motor Speedway having its own in house marketing department, we might expect Indy to draw about 50,000 spectators this first year.
This US MotoGP attendance number probably won’t be much more, based on the fact only about 100,000 viewers in America watch the MotoGP races on SpeedTV. Where for comparison, 35 million people watched the last Daytona 500 NASCAR race on Fox with a 20% market share, and the Indy 500 car race usually draws around a 10% market share with about 12 million viewers.
We have to give the Indianapolis Motor Speedways kudos for building an FIA automobile, and hence FIM motorcycle approved infield roadracing course in the infield of the 2.5 mile super speedway not too log ago, as a requirement to bring the automobile Formula One World Championship to Indy. In speaking to Indy Motor Speedway President Joie Cheatwood, he had an interest to bring World Superbike to Indy first, since SBK provided a larger starting field with more teams, and closer racing. But after looking at the declining attendance number of SBK at Laguna Seca in its final years there (thanks in part to the AMA class regulations touched on earlier), and looking at the attendance numbers now for MotoGP at Laguna, it was all about the ticket sales. And the Midwest with so many major cities located within a day’s drive of Indy, the potential to out draw Laguna Seca’s spectators was obvious.
Or is it? California is America’s biggest sportbike market. The Midwest is Harley-Davidson country, and we know Harley riders hate watching roadracing as evidenced every year a Daytona Bike Week (once fondly known as “Speed Week”). These days some 250,00 bikers come to Daytona Bike Week and don’t even know there’s racing at Daytona International Speedway.
Which brings us to Daytona “International” Speedway that is no longer an FIA or FIM approved track as it was back in the old days before world sports cars and superbikes got really fast. Today Daytona is only safe for 3,300 lb. NASCAR spec stock cars with full roll cages, with the horsepower, speeds and cornering grip completely regulated. A NASCAR driver can circulate the entire track at Daytona now without ever lifting off the gas. Its not racing, it’s a show, drafting in a pack of 40 cars and red neck America loves it to the tune it has made the owners, the France family fabulously rich and arrogant.
Daytona International Speedway is owned by the International Speedway Corporation (a.k.a. the France family) that currently owns 11 race tracks across America, including California Speedway (now called Auto Club Speedway) and Phoenix International. Of the 11 tracks, 10 are banked oval facilities, half of which have infield roadracing courses like Daytona, and all are not FIM approved as motorcycle safe. The only road course in the group is Watkins Glen in New York, which is not a motorcycle safe track.
Unlike Indianapolis, Laguna Seca Raceway and Miller Motorsports Park - the only 3 FIM approved race tracks in America, Daytona International Speedway and its owners International Speedway Corporation have shown through history, they have no interest whatsoever in building a world class quality, motorcycle safe racetrack within the confines of their banked ovals. If it isn’t a NASCAR race, it isn’t profitable to their thinking, so let’s don’t spend money to make it better. And for the rest of the year they are happy to rent the infield road course out to little club race events like the AMA National Championship which makes its money off the back gate fees of the riders and the factory teams, not off the spectators.
So along comes 2008 and the AMA is getting get out of professional racing. Unfortunately the only
Roger Edmondson was the founder of the CCS motorcycle racing series and currently the President of the Grand American Road Race Series LLC, and Jim France, Vice Chairman/Executive Vice President of NASCAR, DMG will assume responsibility for the AMA Superbike Series, the AMA Motocross Series, the AMA Flat Track Series, the AMA Supermoto Series, the AMA Hillclimb Series and ATV Pro Racing. The agreement in principle does not include the AMA Supercross and AMA Arenacross Series, the rights to which are held by Live Nation. Daytona Motorsports Group will license the use of the AMA name and trademarks to promote their motorcycle racing activities.
The question remains, why “license” the failed AMA Pro Racing name? Why not turn a new page with a new name and new FIM affiliation for roadracing in America? Obviously the AMA still wants to keep its hand in the cookie jar.
And will the Daytona Motorsports Group be looking after the sport’s best interests to upgrade to world class tracks and rules, so it can grow again? I don’t think so. It seems they are looking at the short term only, attempting to keep it a club level status so they can continue to run the races at their unsafe, poorly attended infield road course tracks.
Rather than invest the capital they have to build new tracks or improve current tracks for FIM approval, it seems the DMG are perfectly happy to downsize and slow the speed of current superbikes so they can race on just their tracks, and they can take over from the AMA collecting the back gate club racer fees from the AMA Nationals as well. A great way to fill the open weekends between NASCAR races, and make more money in the process without spending a penny more. Who cares if the sport grows or not?
In a perfect world, the DMG and the American based factory distributor race teams would have the intelligence and the courage to put aside their own short term special interests. They would adopt the current FIM World Superbike classes (1000cc/1200cc Superbike and Superstock, 600cc/750cc/850cc Superstock and Stock) and equipment rules. They would only race on tracks were the classes were safe to do so, rather than reduce the size and power of the bikes in other unnecessary and confusing pro classes. And International Speedway Corporation would grow the balls to spend a little of their money to build FIM approved courses like Indianapolis and Laguna Seca did.
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