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Nov 8, 2002

Erik Buell Expands On Pro Thunder Comments



Copyright 2002, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.

Interview by David Swarts

On November 1, Roadracingworld.com posted an interview with Buell American Motorcycles' President and Chief Technical Officer Erik Buell. In that interview, Buell reacted to the news that a round of the BMW Boxer Cup series would replace the now-discontinued Buell-sponsored Pro Thunder class at the 2003 Daytona AMA National.

Buell later decided that his original comments expressed his feelings too strongly, and asked Roadracingworld.com if he could add to his statement. What he said on November 7 follows:

"I just had a thought about this and after reading back through it, I thought that I should say a few things a little differently. This is not a prepared statement, not as a company or anything like that. Same as before when you asked me how do you feel. So it's kind of a personal, raw emotional thing.

"I'm a pretty passionate guy. That's one of the reasons for my success, I think. But I feel bad because I have many friends at the AMA Pro Racing, and I've developed a close relationship with several of them. Maybe even that closeness was one of the catalysts for me being extra upset because I kind of felt betrayed at that time, you know?

"The last three years, I kind of took a very professional approach to AMA Pro Racing and have supported all of their decisions and said so to many people. I made my support real clear. Sometimes that got me grief from competitors and stuff. Sometimes I supported their decisions even though sometimes I disagreed with them. The reason I did that was based on an understanding from them of what their mission and values were. Usually when you understand that, you can agree to disagree kind of thing and say, ‘OK, we know where you're headed. I'm not quite sure the method's right.'

"And when I read about that new race replacing Pro Thunder, I was just really stunned because it went against one of the core values I felt that I had been believing was behind their decisions - that they wanted to see fair competition between all the brands and no dominance by any one brand and a place for people to grow through the organization. And I just went, ‘What the heck was that all about?'

"Of course, I had also started hearing from a number of competitors, not as many as you did, but I got a lot of calls. They all were irate, and some were asking me…why had I betrayed them, ‘Erik, you let Pro Thunder die' and ‘you told us why it was happening.' The emotions of a young racer are still in me, you know, under the old surface. So when I was handed that note to call Roadracing World, I had just hung up from a call from one of the irate racer guys. I didn't take the time to calm myself and wait a day, but I picked up the phone and spoke right from that level of emotion, kind of the young racer betrayed by friends kind of feeling.

"So you're able to lift the curtain briefly on those of us who are out here and normally very corporately correct and doing a lot of stuff from emotion but having it under control. So the curtain was up there a little bit.

"I do still strongly support the AMA, and there's real good folks at AMA Pro Racing, and I think I'll be friends with the folks there forever. A couple of them may want to kick me in the rear end before we sit down for a drink, but I think they know me and they know where my heart is and will understand the fact that I was over the top that day. But I have to say, I still don't understand what happened with the situation at Daytona. I don't think it's right, I don't know why, and I don't understand it.

"I also feel it's unfortunate there are so many sport motorcycles and brands out there that don't have a class to run in. I think that's too bad. I don't know, maybe improvements will come out of a bad deal here. I guess that's the way it is.

"In the words of one of my favorite Blues singers, a guy named Tommy Castro, he's got a song that says, ‘I'm just a man, I ain't no Superman.' Well, maybe that's me. It got to me that day, but I think we need to work through why there's so much emotion around this stuff. I hoped to work with AMA in the future, but somebody's got to figure out and get some kind of understanding of the mission statement of that kind of thing because I've kind of lost it.

"That's what I was basing it on. When they would say, ‘Here is what we want to do, and here's what we want to do,' and like the 600s, ‘We don't want to have anyone in with them.' And we would say, ‘In Europe, the Ducati 748s run with them, and they can't even beat them. Why would they go against the 750s?' And their answer was, ‘Well, you know, it would confuse the class. We want it to be simpler. And we already have enough brands in there, and we have somewhere for these other bikes to run.'

"But some of those things, I'm just confused about. I just wish there was a lot more clarity about what they're trying to do because it makes it difficult to plan and to tell people what's going on at a core value. Because there's a lot of emotional guys out there, a lot of dealers and stuff, who want things to happen, who use some of us in the industry as lightning rods. When you have confusion and misunderstanding, it just adds to their excitement.

"I don't want anyone to think AMA Pro Racing is the devil or anything else like that. You know, the emotions run deep there. Sometimes people forget that. They think that everyone's just a corporate frozen mouthpiece, but we all have emotions. We all love the sport, and sometimes those get away from us. It should've been a more calm description of it.

"I have a good relationship (with AMA Pro Racing). I didn't make any comments toward who, where the problem is there, who it is specifically. I don't know. I don't know why these things are happening. I've had a great relationship with Merrill Vanderslice, talking through issues and stuff. I've talked once or twice with Scott Hollingsworth, Rob King. What just tipped me over was this whole betrayal feeling.

"I feel bad about it, but the emotions are strong. We want racing to succeed; we want it to be fair. I think it's important that we all understand what's going on, those of us that are involved and have something to base what we plan for on. Hopefully, that adds a little calming effect to it, and we'll gain some understanding out of this.

"Racing's a very passionate business, a very emotional business. It's a business where you see multi-million-dollar-paid guys in NASCAR punching each other on TV. (laughs) You see Roger Penske throw something sometimes. Racing is very exciting, and when you have confusion to what's going on, that's what comes out. Those of us who sometimes appear as these well-trained, cultured, corporate spokespeople, we have a heart and we have passion, too. Sometimes we talk a little out of turn. Mostly, it's under control, but the passion's still there. The passion to do what's right is in a lot of us. Like I said, if I hadn't just hung up the phone with somebody telling me that I had betrayed them and I felt that way, I would've had a little more time to be calm about how I phrased it, but I still don't get it. I still don't understand what they're doing and what their rationale is now.

"Should I have yelled so much? Yeah, probably not. So this is maybe a more appropriate description of it, but like I said, the passion's still there. I mean, you hear it in everybody's voices. I've been there, too. When you're racing, and those of us who have raced professionally at a high level, you are on the ragged edge of emotion because you are in survival mode. Racing is an intense sport. There are very few sports more intense where your life is on the line. I still have that in me even though I don't race anymore. In that kind of world, you want things to be black and white, you want to know if someone is going to pop the damn yellow flag or the oil flag, if there's going to be oil in the corner. If you don't do it, you're going to get hurt. You want to know that the guy beside you is going to do the right thing. So with my racing background and having just talked to a racer, that's what came to the front. Sometimes you have to balance it a little bit, but underneath it's good to know that that core is there. Sometimes you have to compromise. Shooting off your mouth doesn't get you to the truth, but the fire to get to the truth gets you there.

"Again, within AMA Pro Racing, there's a lot of good people. I just don't understand what's going on, whether it changed, how it is, why one thing one time would change and become something else. It's confusing. It's a tough business. There will always be some kind of controversy, but it would be nice if there were a little less. You know what I'm saying?"