Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2004 08 18

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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Page 105 of 106

By CHICANERY HENNY RAY ABRAMS Mending Fences " W h a t we 've got here is... failure to communicate." The memorable line was delivered by prison capta in Strother Martin to Paul Newman, the recalcitrant Luke in the 1967 classic Cool Hand Luke. The relevance today is in how AMA Pro Racing inte racts with the .road race paddock. As you'll read in the .seco nd part of our round table discussion with the AMA Pro Racing, there is dis• agreement on whether the riders, crew . chiefs, team managers, etc ., have a say in the decisions that govern the ir livelihood. Road race manager Ron Barrick admits that he'd like to have the time to get the pulse of the paddock, but , given his responsibilities, it's undeniable that he simply doesn 't . Gary Mathers was the man for the job. The most successful team manager in the history of motorcycle racing, the universally respected former Honda and Kawasaki team boss wo rked as a consultant before taking a full time job. Former adversaries welcomed him for his equanimity and fairness. Finallythey had so meone w ho spoke their language , who understood their concerns. The re wasn't then , nor is there now, a mo re qualified individual to wo rk as a liaison among the teams , the AMA. the tracks and the pro moters . Smart and experienced , he won titles in the widest variety of disciplines imaginable - road racing , dirt trac k, motocross, supercross, off-road, desert racing, snowmobile, and others I've prob ably forgotten . What Mathers has done all his life is build things. Whether its race teams or crown molding, he knows how things go together. And it wasn't long before he realized that the system curre ntly in place in road racing didn't work, .and he graciously went back into retirement. Ever since, there's been a vacuum . The teams, and especially the riders, feel ignored ; the AMA feels the opposite just as strongly. Progress cannot, and has not , been made under such an umbrella of antipathy. What isn't in dispute is that the AMA and the teams and ride rs want many of the same things. They both want safe racetracks. They want a set of technical rules that foste rs close racing. They want to see the sport grow so that everyone can benefit. They want to keep the costs of racing reasona ble so that the factories continue to be interested, while maintaining a quality field of privateers. They want to continue to see growt h in crowds, both at the races and in television viewing. They want the AMA Chevrolet Superbi ke Championship to be among the preeminent series in the world . It's how they go about it that differs. T hat may very well be changing. Safety is the number o ne issue among riders . Increasing speeds coup led w ith mar ginal safe ty improvem e nts at too many tracks has proven a toxic mix. Some probl ems are structural, some are institutional. Few are insurmountable. What the riders want is to know that something is being done, because it is. The problem is that they 've been left out of the loo p. Mid-Ohio is the best example . The tra ck came unde r withering attack by the top riders in a round table discussion at Pikes Peak International Raceway. It wasn't long before the track owner put in what must have bee n a fevered call to AMA Pro Racing, wondering 'Why the contempt? Whe re 's the love?' Work was ongoing. The worst of what the riders felt was being add ressed. The track had a plan, after all. "What we've got he re is... failure to communicate... Infineon Raceway is the prototype for ride r-t rack co mmuni cat ion s. Seve ral years ago , the AMA suggested in the strongest possible language that changes had to be made. And they were . The original cap ital improvem e nt budget of $35 million has since doubled and work continues. When it came time to add ress the needs of the ride rs, the ride rs were summoned. Their op inions ranged from the pract ical to the wh imsical. In the end , the trac k took the best ideas from the riders and the AMA's Barrick and did the best they could with the space they had. Work is ongo ing. Next year's track will be better than this year's tra ck. Driving the project is track president Steve Page, a former executive with the Oakland A's, and John Cardinale, the track media manager. Page made sure the work got done, Cardina le made sure everyone knew about it. From the first shovelful of dirt , the riders were kept informed and included. The track is far from perfect, but the efforts so far, the communication and the good intentions are what is appreciated. Mid-Ohio moved a wall that the riders felt was the most dangerous on the track. They also tried to redu ce the irregularities in the transition between the rectangular concrete patches in the corners - a holdover from the Indy Car days - to the asphalt. It didn't exactly work out, but they deserve credit for trying. Dunlop and Michelin organized the first-ever MidOh io test prior to Laguna Seca , a move that e nsured that there would be no surprises when they arrived a few weeks later. Would they race in the rain? That' s -c :I: § ~ '" ]J ~ z - _... § for anothe r day. The difference between Mid-Ohio and Infineon Raceway is communication. One knows how to do it, the other hasn't a clue. That will change . The AMA, in an effort to improve communications, agreed to meet with the riders on a regular effort. The details are yet to be worked out, but the salient point is that a select group of riders will have the chance to meet with Barrick, and hopefully a track representative, prior to the race weekend . The purpos e will be twofold . Firstly, they 'll address the immed iate needs of the weekend; where the hay bales and air fence are and where they should be. Secondl y, they can hear firsthand what the trac ks have in mind. What they 're planning. What they can do , what they can't . Imagine the difference if this had bee n done at Mid-Ohio a year ago. No longer a failure in communication. "I wou ldn't be opposed to putting together some formal process to accomplish that," Barrick said during the AMA round tab le, adding, "I'd rather it was just a handful of riders that would come to a unified decision . But I'd be happy to gather a group of two or three of the top riders if they're willing to take the time at a specified point in the weekend." It's a start , and a welcome one at that. Maybe they're calling the riders' bluff, thinking they won't organize, won't take the time. Maybe they want the riders to see how difficult it is to co nvince track owne rs of the need for se rious changes . It doesn't matter. The two riders I contacted , bot h Superbike champions, wanted in. As will oth ers. My belief is that it will be hard to choose among the qualified . The AMA has done the right thing by com ing around to the view that the ride rs need to be involved. Now it' s up to the riders . C YC LE N EWS • AUGUST 18, 2004 103

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