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Jan 15, 2014

Editorial: Ignoring The Naysayers And Making Something Happen With Three Independent Superbike Weekends

Superbikes At Daytona in March, 2013. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

FIRST PERSON/OPINION

By John Ulrich

Five event weekends aren't enough for professional motorcycle road racing in the United States, the birthplace of Superbike racing as we know it. Back in the mid-1970s, Steve McLaughlin had an idea, I wrote it up in a proposal, McLaughlin and Hurley Wilvert submitted it to the AMA, and the end result was AMA Superbike. Steve saw a need, ignored the naysayers, enlisted Hurley’s support, signed me up to write the proposal and made something happen.

A little over a decade ago, I looked around and realized that rider safety needed more attention. The guys running AMA Pro Racing at the time weren't doing enough and too many riders were getting hurt after crashing and hitting walls. I started talking about soft barriers, basically pre-inflated airbags made by Airfence and Alpina. AMA Pro officials claimed they had their own plan to deploy Airfence but that it was impossible to get any soft barriers before the end of the then-current racing season.

That wasn’t a good enough answer. So I wrote and posted an editorial on roadracingworld.com and kicked off a fund-raising drive for what later became known as the Roadracing World Action Fund. Five weeks later there were 20 30-foot soft barriers deployed for an AMA Pro National at Road Atlanta, and a couple weeks after that there were 35 deployed at Road America. It turned out later that AMA Pro never had a plan and the claim was pure BS, but we made something happen anyway. The rest is history, with the Roadracing World Action Fund raising over $1 million for deployment of Airfence for road racing and dirt track use and continuing its good work today.

Now, I look around and realize that every professional motorcycle road racing team--including mine, which has been racing continuously for 34 consecutive season--risks the same fate as befell the Michael Jordan Motorsports program unless somebody does something to come up with more televised event weekends to supplement AMA Pro Racing's five confirmed race weekends. We need to get a lot closer to the recent-history average of 10 televised event weekends*.

Which is why I am working on a new project, putting together people and companies to create an independent, three-event series that fits into the gap between AMA Pro Racing's Daytona event in mid-March and AMA Pro Racing's second event at the end-of-May/beginning-of-June. The current plan calls for dropping a single Superbike race and a single Sportbike race into three already scheduled regional race weekends within a four-week period. Both the Superbike race and the Sportbike race will run on Sunday of each event weekend, each covered in its own tape-delayed TV show.

It is a start.

I'm meeting later this week with people experienced in motorcycle event promotion and TV packaging. In the meantime, I have been talking to people from interested racing organizations, racetracks and TV networks as well as assorted race teams, racers, sponsors and businesses involved in the motorcycle industry. There is a lot of enthusiasm for this project. There are also a lot of details to work out, questions to answer and work to do.

That work includes coming up with commercial support for the events, the series and the associated TV shows. I am sure there are people out there with a million reasons why it can’t possibly be done.

But back in the day people who hated the idea of AMA Superbike races had a million reasons why it couldn’t possibly work. Steve McLaughlin and Hurley Wilvert and I ignored the naysayers then, and that’s why we have AMA Superbike now.

A little over a decade ago there were people who had a million reasons why it wasn’t possible to deploy a fleet of soft barriers (think, Airfence) at AMA Pro events. Hundreds of racers, ex-racers, relatives of racers, fans, enthusiasts and businessmen joined me in ignoring the naysayers, and that’s why the Roadracing World Action Fund was able to supply an average of 130 sections of Airfence soft barriers (worth about $600,000 at current replacement prices) for deployment at AMA Pro road racing and dirt track events, year after year after year.

I’m going to ignore the naysayers again now, and continue to work on a solution for the problem at hand: Not enough televised road races for the surviving teams running in the AMA Pro Road Racing Series.

I hope you’ll join me.

Details to follow.

* Recent-history televised AMA Pro Road Racing event weekends

In 2003, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 18 Superbike races.
In 2004, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 18 Superbike races.
In 2005, there were 10 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 17 Superbike races.
In 2006, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 19 Superbike races.
In 2007, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 19 Superbike races.
In 2008, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 19 Superbike races.
In 2009, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 20 Superbike races.
In 2010, there were 10 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 19 Superbike races.
In 2011, there were 8 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 14 Superbike races.
In 2012, there were 11 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 20 Superbike races.
In 2013, there were 8 AMA Pro road race event weekends that included a total of 14 Superbike races.

From 2003 to 2013, there were an average of 10.6 AMA Pro road race event weekends per season and an average of 17.9 AMA Pro Superbike races per season. Far more than the five (maybe six) AMA Pro road race event weekends and 10 (maybe 11) AMA Pro Superbike races announced for the 2014 season.

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