Jan 26, 2001
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Buell Motor Company Chairman and Chief Technical Officer Erik Buell said January 25 that he knew about proposed changes to AMA Pro Thunder rules prior to their being enacted and had ample opportunity to comment, and that riders who didn't know about the proposed changes should have called AMA officials and asked if any rule changes were pending.
Buell was an AMA racer and Harley-Davidson engineer prior to forming the company that bears his name; Harley-Davison now owns 98 percent of the company and Buell owns 2 percent.
"They notified us before they made the changes (to the Pro Thunder rules)," said Buell in a telephone interview with Roadracing World. "I make it a point to talk to them (AMA officials) and just check on things. They didn't call me on the phone. Usually about 2/3 to ¾ of the way through the season I always want to call and ask what the plans are for next year. That's when they told me they have an issue with the time schedule. The dual Superbike races were becoming a real nightmare with not enough practice time, and they were getting a lot of complaints from riders in different classes. So we had a debate over who would have to move and that it would probably be Pro Thunder. They talked to me about (taking Pro Thunder off of the National schedule) and said that they were considering that. I don't have any final results from them on what they're gonna wind up doing. I think what they do want to do is tie it into WERA more.
"I heard that there were comments from a rider about how they're being not fair and making a bunch of changes arbitrarily. I'll give you my position of the situation. I can't say that we're in agreement with the AMA all of the time, and probably no one is, but they do talk with us and they do explain their reasons. Particularly, Merrill Vanderslice (AMA Pro Racing Director of Competition) has been very good about talking and explaining in detail why they're making changes. Say five years ago or more, that wasn't the case. There was a time when I was racing, they would go, ‘That's the way it is. Shut up.' But they're not that way at all. The AMA is like a lot of professional sports organizations. They have a lot of interests to balance. It's particularly difficult to understand when you're a young racer focused on one outcome. When I was a racer, it was my success I was focused on.
"I've been around for a while, and I used to be a professional racer. I can really relate to where those guys are. One of the tough things you have to do is grow up and be more mature. There's a lot of professionalism that our sport can pick up on. For example, the racers need to communicate with the organization. I mean, it's their career, their profession. A lot of teams and riders that are successful build relationships with the organizations. Some riders think that they are going to get a call notifying them of changes, but they've got a misconception of the size of the staff available at the AMA. It just doesn't happen that way. They should be calling in. Again, not in January or February when the rulebook comes out, but the earlier the better because people need to put their program together for the following year. If you're going to get sponsorship, usually budgets from corporations are fixed by October. You need to get involved. I think that's the message. I'm sure some people are frustrated while others know what's going on. The difference is whether you talk to them or not. The worst thing you can do is vilify and get mad at the AMA or PACE or whatever organization it is, because they're people, too. There are times when organizations get out of control and do stupid things. I know you guys have done exposes on this deal that happened with the AMA a while ago. Sometimes that happens, but that's not the case here. Merrill's a pretty good guy.
"You've gotta be flexible. You've gotta understand the reason why things are happening. You've gotta push back. You've gotta try to talk to them. But when they make a decision, we have to go ahead with it. We may not be in total agreement, but I can understand that they've considered all of their stakeholders and I think they are being fair.
"(The communication problems between the riders and the AMA) is probably more the riders' fault than anyone else. These guys need to be professional and call up and ask. Could it be better? Probably. But they have a group that is willing to listen. I tell young racers, ‘Man it used to be worse. You better believe it.' There was no way that you were gonna get heard in the old days. I think the AMA's a much better organization than it was. I think they are trying to be very straight and honest.
"(Roadracing World) is the strongest voice to the riders in the country. If you guys wrote an article about how to be more professional, how not to put the burden on the AMA and say, ‘What's wrong with the AMA?' Quite frankly, and I'm going to be candid, one of the weaknesses in our sport, because it's such an intense sport, the guys who are professional racers tend to have ragged-edge personalities. I was one. It ain't an easy sport. Your life's at risk. We need to elevate this sport to a little more professional level. I think it could have a huge impact."
Buell added that he didn't believe that AMA Pro Thunder rule changes caught Ducati management off-guard, saying "I assure you that Ducati was in constant communication with them about Superbike stuff. If they didn't know, they didn't ask them. Quite frankly, if Ducati cared enough about the class--they're a lot bigger than Buell--they could've sponsored the class. The class was gonna be canceled last year. It was because Progressive Insurance pulled out. There was no one to fund the class. We came in. It's all and good to whine and moan about it, but we're the reason that it existed last year. Ducati took advantage of it and won the Championship. If they're taking a negative position on this, shame on them. They know the AMA better than that."