Jul 29, 2009
© 2014, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.
From a press release
issued by David Swarts
AMA Pro Road Racing President Roger Edmondson agreed to an interview with Roadracingworld.com, answering every question we had in a session that lasted well over an hour. We are posting the interview in four segments.
Roadracing World: The racing has never been better on the racetrack, but it has been overshadowed by officiating mistakes and controversies. Why? What went wrong?
Roger Edmondson: I wish I could tell you. I suspect we are the party responsible. Self-inflicted wounds are never easy to admit to. We're like everybody else. We're trying to do the best job we know how. We're trying to merge a new team of players with a team of players that have been on the scene for a while. I guess I wish I knew the answer.
You and I have been at this a long time, and the sport that attracted us is the beauty of the performance of the athletes and the motorcycles on the track. But there's another sport that runs parallel to that, and it's been around since way back when, and that's the sport of criticizing the organization and officials.
It's paradoxical that we are so deeply into that sport right now and that I am the one who said so many times I didn't want us to be the story. But we have, as I said, had some self-inflicted wounds, and we are going to continue to correct the problems that come up to make sure we don't have the same problem more than once and see if we can't transfer the interest to the track. Because you're right, the racing's been terrific.
RW: So to be 100% clear, are you admitting that AMA Pro officials have made mistakes?
RE: Oh, of course we have. This is not an excuse. This is recognition that we are dealing with a very complicated process. It's not launching a man to the moon. It's just motorcycle racing, OK? But there are so many moving parts and there are so many ways that a mistake can be made that when you get together a staff of 35-40 people and you're dealing with another 100 or so people plus the riders, plus the team members and stuff it's almost inconceivable that you would have a perfect weekend. It's the mistakes that could hurt people or the mistakes that will cheat somebody out of their recognition or rewards for their performances that haunt me the most.
RW: Do you feel you tried to change too much too quickly? Is that part of the problems you're having, you think?
RE: I think that is certainly part of the problem. I think that not only did we perhaps try to change too much too quickly, but I think perhaps we had not estimated properly the challenge ahead of us in making those changes.
I did feel, before we took over and part of the attraction of taking over, was that the sport was very dysfunctional and that we could contribute to the solution. I also recognized that some of that was going to be seen as being the problem before it got better. We're on the right path, I believe, in much of what we're doing. We're learning where our earlier concepts are not bearing fruit and we're making efforts to change them, but I'm still very encouraged that this is a tremendous sport and that the on-track activity, when we get it to be the focus of everybody's attention, is going to carry the day.
RW: The Safety Car has attracted criticism from early on. Can you explain or defend your use of the Safety Car?
RE: I don't mind defending it when it's used properly. Certainly, we've given everyone who wants to criticize it reason to sharpen their knives, and that's our own fault.
A Safety Car is used in almost every major form of motorsports that has a big TV or a big audience. It's even got provisions for it in MotoGP and World Superbike. Our problem in this country is we run in a very litigious environment. We've got to make sure that riders who are down on the side of the track and the officials who are working on downed riders (and ambulance and EMTs and cornerworkers), we have to make sure that those people are totally protected.
And it's proven to be very difficult for our racers at the speeds they travel and with just two little cigarette packs of rubber contact, it's been very difficult for them to heed the flags and always see the flags. And of course Laguna Seca with FIM-approved flag stations and virtually hundreds of cornerworkers proved the point because so many people missed flags not only during our event but during the rest of the activities. It makes it very difficult to figure out how to protect those people who fall down and who are injured at the side of the track without intervention of some sort.
We tried to do it probably putting the cart ahead of the horse because we don't have the radio contact that we have in Grand Am and other forms of four-wheel sport. And of course that radio contact makes a huge difference when you've got it.
So we've gone to a new procedure that's going to allow us to stop the races as they have been in the past [with a red flag], but to restart them in a very orderly, very quickly fashion behind the Safety Bike. And I think that's going to help us a great deal to accomplish our goals in terms of having a tighter TV program, in terms of a having a better spectator experience and at the same time not put the riders at danger of running into a slower moving, big vehicle that certainly could be a sad result.
RW: Rolling starts are another point of controversy. Some say they have taken away the most exciting part of the race. Others have said they string the field out too much and put riders further back in the field at a huge disadvantage. Why have rolling starts?
RE: It's interesting to hear the various views on the rolling starts. I guess Scott Russell would be a good one to ask of his view of the clutch start versus the rolling start. Scott, of course, is not the only rider who has lost his career. I've know of riders who have lost their legs or lost their lives by clutch starts. I'm not aware of anybody who's done that in a rolling start. Of course, it's early in the day. We're the only ones who are trying it in motorcycle racing. I think at some point we need to make it clear that we're not afraid to try new things when we take into due consideration that the possible benefits could outweigh the negatives.
Those folks who say the clutch start is the most exciting part of the race I'm always surprised when I hear that because there are very few people who sit between the grid and the first turn. When you go to a road course most of the people are spread out all around the course, and they don't have any idea by the time the bikes get to their turn whether the bikes started in a rolling start or whether they started as a clutch start.
We've also had many incidents of people's races being ruined when their clutches were ruined in the clutch start procedure. And in the event of a red flag we've had people unable to restart because of the damage already done during the earlier clutch start. So right now we're experimenting with the rolling start.
As far as bikes being spread out I would remind you that we start people in the order in which they qualify. The competition begins the moment we put people on the clock. So the people on the front row deserve to be there, and the people on the 20th row they deserve to be there. We've had people come as far back as 11th and 12th this year and still win races. I think the jury should still be out, in all respects, on the rolling start, at least it is with us.
RW: So when you do have an experiment out there and you're considering it who do you listen to when you are judging the success or lack thereof of these experiments?
RE: I think we have to listen to everybody, but at the end of the day -- and I know this is going to come back to haunt me now as that arrogant asshole Edmondson speaks up again -- but the fact is that at the end of the day, those decisions are ours to make. I don't know exactly how to put it any other way. We certainly have to talk to the riders who are experiencing the starts. We have to talk to the fans and see what they have to say. I'm getting e-mails in both directions. And we have to make our own judgment as what we think is going to be the part of the activity that is going to lead to the most new watchers and new fans and new interest in this sport. Because quite clearly the size the sport is now is not one that can sustain the financial model that we all need for the future.
RW: Is there some sort of system in place for fans to communicate their feedback to AMA Pro Racing? It seems that now the fans' only way to communicate to AMA Pro Racing is through the media.
RE: We have an e-mail address [~], and almost everyone's got an e-mail account these days. I spend a fair amount of time every day reading comments from people who find their way to AMA Pro Racing and find their way to send us an e-mail. So I wouldn't say they have to talk through the media.
And I think that might be part of what's wrong here is that the media's role, theoretically, is to report what took place and primarily I think most people what to hear what took place out on the racetrack. But the media has been placed squarely right smack in the middle of trying to interpret what they are hearing from the spectators and at the same time what they are hearing from us. And I don't think that's what the media really wants to do. I think you'd be much happier focusing on the competition of the sport than whether or not we should starting with a clutch start or a rolling start. That's just my own view on it, and I'm prepared to be wrong about that.
RW: What did you think about Saturday's American Superbike race at Mid-Ohio and the follow-up when lapped rider Johnny Rock Page was suspended for affecting the race. How did his actions compare to what's written in the rulebook? Can you describe that situation from your point of view?
RE: I think there's an incomplete writing of the rule in the rulebook. I think it's understood when we say hold your line what we're talking about is don't do anybody any favors by suddenly trying to move out of the way. It's also clear that we expect a rider to be aware of what's happening in front of them and with the blue flags what's happening behind them and to plan accordingly.
I'm not going to comment about any individuals, but I am going to say this I was in the trailer one time at a Grand Am race when Kyle Petty came in there after having gotten into a serious discussion, for lack of a better term, with another driver, and Petty made a very succinct comment. He said, 'My daddy always taught me that when you're a lapped driver, act like one.'
That's what we expect out of our riders. I'm sorry. We need every one of you out there, but when the leaders are coming through you have an obligation to be aware of that, to be aware of where the flag stations are and to heed the flags accordingly. And some people seem to run afoul of this issue more often than others. At some point in time you have to wonder whether they are trainable or not. If not, then we have to determine whether or not it's appropriate for them to continue because somebody's going to get hurt if these flags are not heeded, particularly the blue flag.
To be continued...