Cycle News - Archive Issues - 1980's

Cycle News 1980 05 07

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Guest Editorial o 00 MX - growing o r dying? .-4 With the coming of the 1980's. I guess we could say that motocross in America is now. officially. a decade old. It really en 16 gained its stan over here in the late sixties with Edison Dye's old Inter-Am Series and European stars like Torsten Hallman , Arne Kring and Joel Robert racing exhibition events at places like Pepperell and China Camp. But it wasn't until motocross was officially American recognized by the Motorcycle Association with the formation of the Trans·AMA Series in 1970 that it was asserted National prominence as a viable racing sport in our country. At the time the AMA wasn 't as interested in sanctioning motocross to improve it as it was trying to put Edison's outlaw Inter-Am Series out of business by running the Trans-AMA Series in conflict with it. Like the Inter-Am Series, the Trans·AMA Series was to be a European versus American challenge event which also , that first year, decided the American National Champion. Dick Burleson won the coveted first title that year finishing a distant 16th overall in the standings to give us an idea of just how many European riders were on hand and how good they were compared to the novice American riders . I've been lucky in that I've been able to follow motocross in America since almost its very beginnings. My first major assignment as a freelance editor with Cycle News was coverage of one of the original Florida Winter Series races in 1969 . During that time I was racing motocross myself and continued to do so on a local Pro level nearly every weekend for five years until racing on Sundays became too much of a conflict with my trying to earn a living as a motojournalist . Guess which paid most of the bills? For the past ten years my life has been dedicated to the sport of motocross . I've written for every major motorcycle publication in America and some in Europe. I've flown or driven up to 60.000 miles a 'year covering dust bowl locals and every major National track in the country. I've worked with every major factory team , either on a motocross professional level as a journalist/photographer or amateur level as part time truck driver of team vans and works bike mechanic. I know every factory rider on a first name basis, have slept on their motel room floors when I couldn't afford my own room , and offered my own motel room floors to privateer riders when I could. I have ridden every major brand of factory works bike, and I can tell you with almost uncanny accuracy who the winner of a National , Trans·USA or Supercross race will be before the starting gate even drops. I guess I know more about American motocross than anyone else. I look back over the way motocross has grown up in America the last ten years with mixed emotions. Right from the beginning the AMA wasn't as interested in the overall growth of motocross as it was in trying to keep control of it. The AMA's main concern then and still seems to be today is keeping Harley-Davidson competitive in flat track. When Harleys finally became uncompetitive • in American road racing. the AMA lost interest in keeping the sport alive for the other manufacturers who held a truly genuine desire to build newer and more competitive machinery. Road racing died out in America some five yea rs ago and from the look of things, flat tracking won't be around mu ch longer. either. Meanwhile , motocross continued to skyrocket in popularity during the early seventies. Established tracks sprang up around the country and along with the Trans·AMA Series. new series were added to the schedule included three National which Championship classes and Edison Dye's old Inter-Am Series which was picked up by the AMA as well . Helping to add to the excitement the new sport of motocross had participation by every major motorcycle distributor with some kind of factory sponsored team . Such a huge factory involvement had never been seen in any form of motor racing before and included teams from the big Japanese four - Honda. Yamaha. Kawasaki and Suzuki - as well as others like Husqvarna , CZ, Maico, Can-Am , Harley, Bultaco, Montesa , Ossa . KTM and Rokon. Race purses grew quickly as well . By 1973 a typical Trans-Am purse was $12,000 while National purses were in the region of $10·$12 .000 usually split $8.000/$2,000 when one National was run in conjunction with a Support race. and $6 .000 /$6 .000 when two Nationals were run on the same date at the same track. Then around 1974 after such skyrocketing growth, something strange happened . Motocross stopped growing. The crowds got no larger. The purses stayed the same. The. smaller factory teams and the numerous bad outdoor tracks across the country bega to disappear. What had happened was outdoor motocross had reached its saturation point among the enthusiasts and growth had stopped cold. The larger and more dominant motorcycle companies put the smaller ones out of business as they fought for the same limited market share. The bad tracks folded up as spectators began to start choosing which races they wanted to go to rather than attend any race track given National or Trans-AMA status. The top foreign riders stopped coming to America, not because the American riders had gotten too fast to beat, but because the purses were no longer growing and they couldn't afford to ra ce in Am eri ca . The AMA did nothing to encourage the participation of the European riders in our races other than ask the factory teams to continue to foot the bills to bring the riders over here. But the factory teams in America were already footing the bills with their own riders and race teams to keep the Nationals and Trans-AMA Series alive as a means to promote their products. They could hardly be asked to do more. Without European rider support the Inter-Am Series folded up. 1979 saw the renamed Trans·USA Series conclude with not one European entry. Spectator interest has fallen off as well. With the few extraordinary exceptions like Hangtown and Unadilla where fans turn out in the tens of thousands for what is a weekend happening, the majority of National and Trans-USA races draw less than 4,000 people each. Each year the AMA finds it increasingly difficult to find new tracks and promoters to replace the ones that have folded. The purses haven't grown in six years and remain around 510 -$12,000 despite the increase in economic inflation. If it wasn't for the fact the usual National race turnout of 3,000 spectators have to now pay $10 for a ticket to get in , there wouldn't be any Nationals breaking even except for Hangtown. There are three reasons why outdoor motocross has stopped dead in its tracks, SO to speak, on the National level. The races are attended solely by motocross enthusiasts instead of th e general public. The majority of motocross tracks are nothing but burned-out facilities located so far from major population areas it takes a major expeditionary force to get there. And finally, there are no major sponsors from outside the motorcycle industry to help with promotion and defray the costs of running a major event. No wonder outdoor motocross is trying to die . The AMA . which still wants to retain a stranglehold on the sport , has to take the majority of the blame for what has happened. More often than not the AMA is fighting the promoters and professional riders it is supposed to be assistin~ . No department ex ists within the AMA to help p romoters conduct a successful event; to show them how to build a proper race track, gain sponsorship for ' their event and promote it properly. When you're working with country hicks trying to stage a National in their cornfields the farmers need all the help they can get. The AMA claims they lack the money to hire the personnel to offer such services . but as long as the AMA continues to milk the promoters for sanctioning fees and the riders for entries to operate the Professional Racing Division rather than find outside sponsorship. everyone involved will remain broke and operating in the red . The AMA hasn't been doing a hell of a lot for Pro riders either. If a rider lacks the qualifying points as a Novice to race the Nationals he might as well retire. Bill West's Florida Winter· AMA Series has remained the only viable AMA Regional Qualifier Series in the United States for years. It's the only place a privateer can go race once a year where he might earn gas money. If the rider is from outside the region he only earns half the normal qualifying points. That sure isn't looking after the AMA Pro riders across the rest of the country. Don't even ask why the AMA continues to bend. modify or suspend their own rules when necessary . usually at the expense of the privateer riders. It is very obvious that outdoor motocross on the National and TransUSA level has a very dim future. To see what it could be like one needs only look at Supercross. In the beginning the AMA didn't think Supercross would get off the ground a nd they . th ankfully, kept their hands out of it which helped contribute to its success . Mike Goodwin was a promoter who knew how to give spectators what they wanted; a good race inside a good facility. He went out and found his own sponsors from outside the sport. He went to Europe to get the name riders when he felt he needed them . He learned how to promote the race properly through the news media to the public. He paid good purses. The first Supercross was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1972 and from that point on Supercross never stopped growing. This past year Goodwin's races at the Coliseum and at Anaheim Stadium played to sell out crowds of around 60.000 people, In contrast, the last Trans·AMA race at Saddleback near Los Angeles in 1976 drew less than 3.000 and folded . Supercross is now a major National spon in this country with a huge new expanded schedule for the 1980 season. It's growing like gangbusters and even the energy crisis can't slow it down because of the Series' proximity to major population areas. In typical fashion the AMA has now jumped on the bandwagon. A major conflict arose between the Supercross promoters and the AMA two years ago when the AMA demanded a major portion of the money received by Goodwin from CBS for television rights to the Anaheim race. Goodwin had worked hard to sell the race to CBS without the AMA's help, just as he had in ga ining sponsors for all his races. The AMA had already screwed Goodwin over more than once in not giving him promised agent fees for securing Toyota trucks and Mr . PiBB as major sponsors for Supercross and National races. The other Supercross promoters backed Goodwin up over the right to keep his CBS money for Anaheim and threated to form their own Supercross sanctioning organization if the AMA withdrew its sanction from Anaheim as it said it would. Faced with being left out in the cold with nothing and realizing Supercross could get along very well without it. the AMA backed down in its demand of the television rights money for Anaheim from Goodwin. It is a shame the AMA wasn't forced out of Supercross to perhaps. hopefully, allow them more time to concentrate fully on the shambles outdoor motocross had become. That way the AMA would have had to improve outdoor racing for it to against Supercross. survive Unfortunately , after the showdown the Supercross promoters didn't want to have to fuss with running their own sanctioning organization and decided among themselves to stay with the AMA just for that fact. Right now, the only thing keeping outdoor National Championship Motocross alive in America is the participation of the four major Japanese teams. They are there to help promote their bikes and without them there would be no Nationals or TransUSA Series. As a matter of fact, it was the factory teams' threat to pull out of AMA racing and race California CMC events that caused the AMA to suspend the claiming rule last summer when Honda lost an RC works bike to privateer John Roeder. Unless drastic changes are made to the outdoor races now . they are going to die out. Here are my proposed changes which I feel need to be made immediately. The first is that the AMA needs to hire extra personnel to work with promoters in helping them to put on successful races. That means showing the promoters how to work with the local news and advertising media to get the general public out to the tracks. The past few years only myself and the editors of Cycle News have attended the outdoor Nationals and Trans·USA Series. Coverage by the local news media is non- existent and even the major motorcycle magazines have stopped attending. One of the reasons is that no facilities are set up for the press at the track where they can get complete finishing results of the race. let alone rider entry lists. biography information. or even press passes. The AMA needs to standardize and supervise press and media relations. Next. the AMA needs to find sponsors from outside the motorcycle industry to help sponsor and support racing. The motorcycle companies themselves are already providing the show and the riders and there is no reason to continue to milk them dry. We've lost too many of the small

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