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Mar 5, 2012

FIRST PERSON/OPINION: AMA Pro Racing At A Crossroads, Part 2

Geoff May, riding a bike carrying AMA Pro Racing logos during a CCS Florida race at Miami-Homestead Speedway. According to a recent AMA Pro bulletin, he could be in trouble...
By John Ulrich

Battles over unreasonable sticker and logo requirements are nothing new to AMA Pro Racing, although the current regime under Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) control has gone farther toward the dark side than ever before.

Not only did DMG employees order teams and riders to run class-sponsor logos on short notice, they backed up the order with threats to withhold purse money and points and even deny gridding. They announced the new requirements by issuing a bulletin February 3rd, 2012 and followed up with hard-line phone calls, advising multiple leathers suppliers that running class sponsor logos on rider leathers was absolutely mandatory, no matter how late the notice, no excuses accepted, with maximum penalties to be applied to anybody who didn't comply.

The same day, February 3rd, AMA Pro Racing COO and DMG Managing Partner David Atlas told me that the class sponsor logos would not be mandatory, and that draconian penalties would not be applied to teams and riders who chose not to run them. The language softened in a February 7th bulletin, but on March 2nd of this year a new bulletin was issued, again listing harsh penalties for not running "partner" logos.

But what really makes it appear that DMG is determined to squander the paddock goodwill salvaged after the dark days of 2009 is the inclusion of this paragraph in the March 2nd bulletin:

"i. AMA Pro Racing and the other logos and trademarks shown herein are licensed trademarks of AMA Pro Racing. Participants are to use the approved logos on number plates and apparel only when participating in AMA Pro Racing events. Any further use of the marks (i.e., the AMA Pro Racing mark, and other AMA Pro Racing trademarks and logos) outside of this capacity is not permitted without a license from, or the express, written permission of AMA Pro Racing."

That language is like nothing I've ever seen before, and appears to mean that any riders who ran AMA Pro logos on their leathers and racebikes during pre-season poster and PR photo shoots are poised for potential trouble. Ditto for any mechanics wearing crew shirts during pre-season testing or photo shoots. Ditto for any teams"”Attack Kawasaki and Yoshimura Suzuki, for example--that allowed journalists to ride racebikes carrying AMA Pro Racing logos during test sessions, for the purposes of producing stories on the bike. And ditto any AMA Pro-licensed riders who participated in recent non-AMA Pro races while wearing leathers or riding bikes carrying AMA Pro Racing logos.

Of course, I'm not a lawyer. But I've got an old racing buddy"”he competed in AMA Superbike races back in the day--who is. Better still, he's served as co-counsel with David Atlas on several cases and has followed AMA Pro Racing's antics closely for decades. So I asked him what it all meant: Can Elena Myers really get in trouble for wearing leathers bearing the AMA Pro Racing logo during a photo shoot and test day she just did at Jennings GP? Is the same true of anybody who raced during the off-season with CCS Florida, WERA West and WSMC while wearing leathers or riding bikes carrying AMA Pro logos, including David Anthony, Shawn Higbee, Benny Solis, Jason DiSalvo, Dustin Dominguez, Ryan Matter, Steve Rapp, Trent Gibson, Austin Dehaven, Cory West, Geoff May and others?

The short answer is, yes.

"You can't wear those leathers at any event but an AMA Pro race," the lawyer confirmed via e-mail. "The logos are TM and the right to use the TM material is restricted. People wearing those leathers at a different venue are subject to suit, and AMA rules enforcement like points loss, etc. It's totally draconian, and gives them way too much power over the riders."

We've already seen AMA Pro Racing under DMG management engage in selective, targeted enforcement of rules as a way to punish out-of-favor riders. It was an evil practice well documented following the 2009 season, and an evil practice that David Atlas himself has admitted took place.

What we have here, based on the March 2nd bulletin, is a perfect set-up for DMG operatives to revive the policy of punishment-at-will for anybody deemed an enemy of the regime.

I've got to wonder whose idea all of this is, and what they're trying to accomplish. Is this a case of a rogue employee (or employees) with Eric Cartman Syndrome (ECS), a lack of management oversight, or something else?

My guess is that it's a case of a lack of management oversight, perhaps brought on by overwork. The way Atlas has told it on several different occasions at several different places under various circumstances, he's been working 60 to 80 hours per week for months. His workload is so severe, Atlas says, that it has ruined his personal life by causing him to lose his fiancé, and has affected his health.

During what was supposed to be a business meeting earlier this year, Atlas retold the story of his long hours and personal sacrifices, tears filling his eyes. He could barely keep from sobbing as he added that his partners don't appreciate him; Atlas said that his partners have cut his salary in half as a cost-reduction measure and unfairly kept him at 2% ownership of the company while splitting up what was Roger Edmondson's ownership percentage among themselves after Edmondson departed. He can't keep track of what his employees are doing, Atlas admitted to me, while trying to explain that it wasn't his fault that his employees continued to do something he said they wouldn't, after he told me they wouldn't.

I have no way to verify all of what Atlas has told me and others about his work situation multiple times. But on several occasions I have called Atlas at or past midnight eastern time, just to see if he really was working the long hours he claimed to be working. Every time, he answered the phone and reported that yes, he was at his desk in Daytona Beach, Florida. He's also called me back as late as 9:30 p.m. California time, or 12:30 a.m. Daytona time, to discuss business.

Why does it all matter?

Because the last thing we need now"”when the racing is great and the series is growing--is another melt-down of AMA Pro Racing officiating, another return to the multiple bouts of bad-old-days we've all suffered through in the past. There's been a repeating pattern of new guys taking over, starting to get their act together, and then reverting to the worst practices of their predecessors. The problem is, with no documentation of bad practices and no attention paid to history, we're all doomed to repeat a bad movie we've seen too often before.

Unfortunately, the DMG partners aren't interested in meeting with me to discuss any of this. Leaving me a simple choice: Do nothing, and risk watching another melt-down of series officiating take place. Or do something.

Consider this series, something.

More to follow...