Rival Road Race Series Coming

Henny Ray Abrams | August 19, 2008

BROOKLYN, NY, AUG 29: Standing atop the victory rostrum on Sunday at Virginia International Raceway, Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Mat Mladin told the crowd that he’d be racing a Superbike in the U.S. next season. But where? It won’t be in the AMA Superbike Championship, run by the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG). Instead, he’ll be one of the riders in a rival road race championship that could be announced as early as Wednesday.

“It was supposed to be announced last week before (Friday’s) DMG (Daytona Motorsports Group) announcement” not to include the Factory Superbike class, a source familiar with the new series said, adding that the series will have four classes. The plan is to adopt World Superbike rules for the premier class in 2010. A second source said that the series had the support of the parent companies of the American distributors of the Japanese brands.

DMG CEO Roger Edmondson said on Friday he wouldn’t include Factory Superbike in the 2009 AMA Superbike Championship. He said there wasn’t a single response to his query. The timing of Edmondson’s decision and the new series announcement was coincidental. One of the sources said that the idea had been in the works for more than two years, ever since then AMA CEO Patti Dipietro dismissed AMA Pro Racing CEO Scott Hollingsworth and dissolved the AMA Pro Racing board.

“Yeah, sounds like we’re going to be racing Superbikes again, so that’s good,” Mladin said after the podium celebrations. When asked where he’d be racing he was non-committal, saying, “I don’t know.” American Suzuki vice president Mel Harris said on Saturday that his company wouldn’t race in the DMG-run AMA Superbike Championship.

Harris, a persistent critic of the DMG, said he had the blessing of Suzuki Japan to find an alternative series, “so at this point, we’re going to be looking at any avenue that might open up in the future and if there is another series or an alternative that we can race, we’re going to really consider that and see where that goes. But at this point we’re out of DMG’s racing.”

The Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), a non-profit industry group, was involved in the most recent talks with the DMG and has been mentioned as the umbrella under which the factories could form a breakaway series.

“Well, I think that the MIC has come up an awful lot because all the manufacturers are members of the MIC,” Harris said. “So it might be something that might be fostered by the MIC or it might be a series by the MIC. They have that alternative if it’s something they want to do. But I think that the manufacturers being all members there, that’s something natural that everyone’s looking at.”

Where would the new series race? DMG’s Edmondson is hopeful of releasing a 2009 AMA Superbike Championship schedule shortly. On Friday, he’ll meet with the Road Race Industry Council, a group composed of the current race promoters. Reached Monday, one RRIC member admitted having heard nothing about a breakaway series, nor had several of his colleagues. As one source pointed out, there’s nothing to stop both series from racing on the same circuits. Edmondson’s Grand-Am series races on some of the same tracks as the rival American Le Mans series, including Miller Motorsports Park, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.

Rumors about an alternative series picked up speed at Virginia International Raceway when it was revealed that Suzuki was offering two-year contracts to some of its key personnel. Harris confirmed the contract offers and added that only Mladin is under contract for next year. Neither Ben Spies nor Tommy Hayden have 2009 deals. Spies’ management is actively pursuing a MotoGP ride. And it isn’t just riders who will be affected.

“There are no support teams under contract or anything,” Harris said. “We’ve told them when the decision comes down to where we’re going to be racing or where there’s going to be opportunities to race, that we would be back in touch, but for nobody to do anything crazy and go out and do something, because we’re looking at every avenue. Hopefully, there’ll be some decisions made if there is another avenue or another series to go in within a short period of time. But at this point, there’s still a lot of things up in the air.”

If Suzuki, or any other company that backs the new series, chooses not to provide or homologate machinery, or pay contingency money, it could eliminate those brands from the AMA Superbike Championship grid. Suzuki will certainly be joined by Honda in the alternative series, with Kawasaki a possible ally, though not Yamaha.

“At this point, we’re committed to racing,” Kawasaki’s marketing director Bruce Stjernstrom said at Spring Creek in Millville, Minnesota, where Monster Kawasaki’s James Stewart was winning his first ever AMA Motocross Championship. “We’re not polarized to any group or any specific group whether it be MIC or DMG. We just want to race. We’re trying to keep it a little simpler so people can make good decisions. Our goal is to race Superbike next year. That’s what we want to do.”

Stjernstrom wants “to get all the good guys in one class instead of it being split up,” adding Kawasaki was “fine with the rules; we just said we need to have one class so everybody can be in one class and we’ll have a good race, because that’s really what everyone wants or should want, I would think.”

Yamaha race boss Keith McCarty said he didn’t know anything about an alternative series.

“Again, I think we are looking at the options to go racing as far as I know… I think number one, DMG is the only one who has really contacted us in regards to going anywhere and doing anything,” he said. Yamaha met separately with DMG principals and wasn’t represented when the DMG met with the other American distributors and the MIC in Los Angeles last month. “The assumption is that they are picking up where the AMA left off – the same tracks and the things that are involved for 2009. We are going on the assumption that all of that is true. If any of those things are not the way it is going to happen, then certainly we would have to reevaluate what we’re thinking.”

McCarty said Yamaha had sent a letter to Edmondson with some concerns and “those are the same issues that we knew before. We want to race and right now this seems to be the only thing that is available.”

The horsepower/weight restriction for the Daytona Superbike class is something Yamaha would like to see changed. On Friday evening, Edmondson reiterated the DMG position that the restrictions would remain in place.

“There will be a dyno,” he said. McCarty said he didn’t know if that was “the main contention, but it’s one concern. There are several that we outlined in there. I don’t really want to get into all of those details. The bottom line is that all we can do… it’s really no different than with the AMA and the rules committee. We voice our opinion and give them some reasons for why we are thinking what we are thinking and there’s usually a vote and sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. I view this the same way. No matter how much I disagree with this, my vote is my vote and whatever the outcome of it is, that’s what it is. That’s how we’ve tried to approach this. We’ve never controlled anything. We’ve had an opinion along with any other opinions. That is where this is at. Are there some things we’d like to see different? Absolutely. But, again, we have products that we want to put out there in front of the public and this is how we think we are going to do it.”

The pending split is reminiscent of the 1996 fracture between CART and the Indy Racing League that killed open wheel racing in the U.S. and raised the profile of NASCAR. It was only this year that the series reunified.

Having two championships might be a boon for riders who could compete in both championships as long as the dates didn’t conflict and their machinery was compatible with the rules. American Superbike, one of two classes in the DMG series, isn’t far off from the current Superstock. Some Daytona Superbike, with their weight/horsepower restrictions, might not be far off Supersport.

Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor

Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.