New Jersey Motorsports Park Listens To Riders

Henny Ray Abrams | July 28, 2009

Kevin Wittman took over as general manager of New Jersey Motorsports Park long after the track was built and had begun operating.The four track principals are “car guys” and the evidence is everywhere. What the AMA riders discovered at last week’s test was that there were no gravel traps and the safety margins in too many areas were too small for motorcycles. Wittman and his staff engaged the riders during the test and will shortly act on their recommendations.Ironically, what Wittman has discovered after less than a year on the job is that motorcycle groups rent the track twice as often as car clubs, which means that the improvements the AMA riders suggest would do well in serving most of their customers.”They’re not as experienced, they’re on the ragged edge and they’ll hit stuff that other people probably wouldn’t,” National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Geoff May said of the track day riders. “So we were like, ‘If you listen to us, your track will be better for everybody, because nobody wants anybody to get hurt.’ That’s the biggest issue.”May and the others were encouraged by the track management’s receptiveness. Wittman said that the track staff “decided collectively as a team that one of the important things we wanted to gather from these tests was a relationship that went beyond simply the sanctioning body. And it’s really sort of become the hallmark of how we run this facility.”I think that one thing you would find if you talked to the various people who have been here is that almost universally they recognize the fact that across our whole team, we are making a concerted effort to become connected to all the participants, not just the people who organize.”Wittman said that, in addition to a classroom gathering early Tuesday evening, he and his staff had probably 50 meetings with riders or groups of riders over the course of the test.

“The outcome of the meeting,” Wittman began, “if there was such a thing, was A, there are different opinions, and, B, that the race track has an interest in hearing from these riders and takes seriously what recommendations that they promoted and that we are going to be an active part of trying to find reasonable solutions to those concerns that they have.”Wittman was reluctant to discuss how the track would be different when the AMA series makes its first visit on Labor Day weekend. He said they were still gathering information internally and from the AMA officials on hand, “and then we’re going to synthesize it and come up with an action plan that we share with AMA and that at the end of the day will undoubtedly be a compromise of some sort. But our desire is to essentially address the highest level of concern and see how deep we can get in.”He added they they “don’t have the luxury of noodling on this very long, so I would think that (this) week we’ll be getting information from AMA and from that point we can get an internal discussion going about what we feel we can reasonably do and we’ll get on with it.”The two most prominent areas of concern were turn one and the bridge on the approach to the final turn 14, what some riders describe as the fastest corner on the calendar.Of what will change, he said, “Undoubtedly there will some kind of adjusted system for turn one. I just don’t know exactly what it is. There was a lot of different opinion about the bridge, none of which obviously manifested in themselves with a magic wand where it disappeared. Just more a matter of trying to sort out whether it’s a pit-in situation, whether it’s a concern about terminal speed through there, whatever it is, there are different ideas and we’re going to try to evaluate as many as we can.”Of gravel traps he said, “It’s been recommended by several of the people that we talked to in several different locations when people were trying to draw up kind of the optimized corrections to the track that would make some of the riders happier. We have never had a discussion about the gravel trap until this test. Once again, that’ll be on that list of things that we talk about.”Several riders said that racing in the rain would present safety challenges, especially in turn one and through the bridge and final corner.”Personally, I had no conversations about any of the riders or AMA about wet ridings, so, once again that would be someplace I couldn’t really take you,” Wittman said. “Ultimately that would be a decision for AMA to make. We do race in the rain here all the time. it’s an unfortunate consequence of having an outdoor facility.”Wittman said they were still open to more voices.

“If anybody on that side of the equation has questions, I encourage them to contact us.”

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.