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Aug 1, 2009

The World According To AMA Pro Racing President Roger Edmondson: Part Four

Roadracing World: Are you trying to turn motorcycle road racing into NASCAR racing or sports car racing?

Roger Edmondson: (laughs) No, not at all. I laugh every time I see people talking about waiting for us to bring out the 'Bike of Tomorrow.' I think the FIM's doing that with their Moto2 and all the other stuff they're talking about.

Absolutely not. When I had the opportunity to start Grand Am I was able to institute into sports car racing some things that we did as a matter of course in motorcycle racing, such as the sighting lap and the two-wave start and some other aspects of it. And now I'm back in motorcycle racing. Some of the things we started doing in Grand Am was the fan walk and the autograph sessions. About the only thing I know of that we have brought to the racing part of AMA Pro is the rolling start, which I said we are experimenting with, and the fact that we are attempting to run multiple configurations of motorcycles with performance balancing in the way that will allow for more manufacturers to compete. You know, not everybody rides an inline four-cylinder. And we need to reach out to the fans of those other configurations and give them a reason to come back, buy a ticket and cheer on their favorite brand.

So if trying to be commercially successful, trying to make sure that our riders are earning what they ought to earn for the risks they take, trying to see to it that a team owner can build a team that's gonna have sponsorship and be a successful operation down the road then yes, I am guilty of trying to make motorcycle road racing like NASCAR. All the other attributes of NASCAR that people talk about I'm not sure exactly what they are talking about and what they're trying to say. But yes, I would like to think that some day this sport could take its place alongside of, not in the shadow of, NASCAR and the other major league sports in this country.

RW: Are you trying to destroy motorcycle road racing out of some sort of feeling of vengeance regarding your past with AMA?

RE: (laughs) Why would I have any vengeance? They did me wrong. I sued 'em. I won. They paid me. End of story. A few months ago the President of the AMA stood up and apologized. I don't know what more I could ask for. I'm 67 years old. That was 15, 16, 17 years ago. The sun came up for me every morning after all that took place, and it still does. And this idea that Jim France and myself and the others in Daytona would purchase these properties so that we could destroy it because I'm still pissed off over 1993 is just ludicrous.

RW: So why are you back in motorcycle road racing?

RE: First off, because I've always loved it. I was the kid that didn't buy Hot Rod magazine and didn't go to drag racing. I was the kid who loved road racing, both sports cars and motorcycles. Because I got the opportunity years ago to be involved with Jim France and the people of Daytona on those sports that he loves and that I love, it started a career path for me.

Frankly, when the AMA and I had our fight in the mid-1990s and I left the scene I felt there was a lot of unfinished business. I felt we had made great progress towards moving that sport down the road towards where it needed to go. And all those years that I was in exile, while I loved what I was doing with Grand Am and still do love it, I terribly missed my motorcycle friends and all the great activity of the people at the track. I've got a chance now before I hang up my hat to get this thing where it ought to be, and I guarantee you it will never happen on my watch because there's too much work to do. It will always be a work in progress. But I'm back because there's so much work to do and we've got the skill sets and the people and tools to put it all together, and I'm convinced we will.

RW: So why do you think you've been portrayed or perceived as a villain in this whole scenario?

RE: Probably one thing, as I said earlier on when we started talking, I've probably not been as careful how I put things. I believe I've been misunderstood. I'll give you a couple of examples of that.

I was quoted back last June as saying the riders have the comfort zone of a gnat. But if you go back to the original interview that I had that led to that comment you would find that I was being asked about the riders returning to Loudon, New Hampshire, and I was expressing the need for massive changes to that facility. And my quote in total was, 'that when it comes to facilities where riders have been injured or have lost their lives our participants, our riders have a comfort zone the size of a gnat and they're not eager for us to go back to those places without significant changes.'

What I said was in no way meant as criticism of the riders but to make the point that none of us are signing up for the sort of activities that took place at some of these risky racetracks in the past without every effort being made to make it possible.

So a few words out of context and you've got a completely different meaning. I know that there was a discussion one day about racing in the rain and people have quoted, I read recently that (one journalist), who loves to quote me incorrectly, made the comment that I said we were going to race in the rain at a bunch of racetracks. I never said that. What I said was that we were no longer going to characterize racetracks in advance as those that could or could not be raced in the rain. I said we would retain the right to make the decision as to whether or not the conditions were raceable and once we had made our decision we would then give it to the riders to make their own decisions on whether to race or not. That's a totally different comment than what's been attributed to me.

I'll give you another one. People talk about how we cut the purse. No, what happened was we had to reduce the purse from the purse we intended to pay at the beginning of the year. But I'll use the best example I can. The Formula Xtreme, which is the class that now became Daytona SportBike, we pay five times the money today than Formula Xtreme ever paid. Road racing purses in the United States have never been higher than they are today, but if you ask people out there today from what they read on these various websites and stuff we cut the prize money and took the money away from the riders, which is totally untrue.

So how do I get so misunderstood? It's my own fault, I guess, and I have to say I am human like everybody else. My performance has not been perfect in any way, shape or form. But I can tell you that every one of us on our team are working hard to make this all it can be, and I wish people would just simply ask me directly than taking for granted what some of these propagandists want to say.

RW: So where should people send their questions and comments to?

RE:, and they are guaranteed I will read every one and they should not be surprised if they get a response. Also, I'm pretty visible at the track. I'm probably the oldest guy walking around, and I'm more than happy to discuss any issues that come up with any fan at any time.

One other thing we're going to do in the near future is we're going to start setting up interview zones where several times a day there's going to be interviews with various riders, various team owners, various officials, even myself when time will allow, and the fans will have the opportunity to ask questions to get the feedback from straight from the horse's mouth, sort of speak. So I think this will all help to reduce some of the tension.

I find that people are completely different than when they sit down behind a keyboard and write things and send them off in an e-mail than when they're looking you right in the eye. They find out that there's a human connection, and I think I can connect with these people given the chance.

I want to clarify one more thing that you didn't ask about. We had some meetings with our team owners earlier in the year, because this is something new now dealing with the team owner as compared to dealing straight with the rider. And in that first meeting at Barber Motorsports Park, at that time I told our team owners that the AMA Pro Prime Time program (which was the tape-delayed shows that we had, which were brand new at that time. There had only been four broadcasts, plus Daytona.) that the ratings were up over what they had been in prior years.

Well, a month later, I met with a different group of team owners, we split the group right down the middle, I met the rest of them at Infineon, and at Infineon I told them that the ratings were down. Well, they were, because over the [previous] four-week period what had been a trend upwards had turned and gone in the other direction.

I read...that I lied to these team owners, either one way or the other, that I was apparently so incompetent that I couldn't remember my stories to keep my stories straight, because one group I told the ratings were up and one group I told the ratings were down. In the same article, Rick Minor [Vice President of Programming] of SPEED Channel, said at the beginning the ratings were up and as time went by the ratings were down. That was considered gospel, but when I said it, it was considered somehow a sign of dishonesty and lack of credibility.

So it's quite clear that either I am not credible or there are those people who would have you believe I'm not credible. But I will say this to you, most of those people who would have you believe that, are the ones who don't ask me the questions. They simply draw conclusions from what they've heard from others, and that's not a safe way to be a real journalist.

RW: The situation with the TV ratings, that's when the Road Atlanta race weekend was strung out over four weeks worth of shows, right?

RE: That's correct.

RW: And the ratings went down each week?

RE: Right. The further we got from the race, the worse the ratings went. And that's understandable. This is a passionate sport. Those of us who are in it are passionate. Those who watch it are passionate. And that means we're probably not real patient when it comes to waiting to see it.

I have to say this: I've watched every broadcast, both those that were tape-delayed for four weeks and those that were shown much closer now in the recent weeks. And the thing is very photogenic. The racing is terrific. We have athletes on the track second to none, and it's a shame, back where we started this interview, it's a shame that they are not the story. Because they are the ones who are risking lives, risking careers and putting on this incredible entertainment for the people out there. And I apologize, I personally apologize to every one of them for every inch of column space and every moment of their time that my actions or my team's actions have taken away from them, because that's a terrible, terrible way for things to be.

RW: Is there anything else you would like to add?

RE: We are now in the process of starting to reach out to create the commissions that I had promised we would do in the beginning. We're at the point now where we want to establish a commission that has a representative from every manufacturer who has a motorcycle homologated with us as an advisory board. We want to hear from them how what we are doing is beneficial to their sales and their marketing efforts, we want to hear from them how what we're doing does not work for them and work with them for long-term planning. We want to do the same thing by creating a commission of team owners, of entrants for the same purposes. And we also want to do the same thing with sponsors who are in the sport and see if we can't find ways to maximize their return on investment.

So we're starting that process of formalizing input from the outside, but it's going to be over the next few weeks that we get nominations from various companies and various entities who would be on the commissions and then we'll start having meetings with those people in the fourth quarter and see if we can't end up having a better understanding of how our decisions affect people who are working within our environment.

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