Reason for Being

May 6, 2008 2:54pm

Last summer the American Motorcyclist Association, led by new president Rob Dingman, embarked on a bold new strategy to reinvent the association as a membership-oriented entity, getting away from the racing oversight responsibilities that had become an albatross around the its neck. Racing was a PR nightmare for the AMA, especially in the decade since the organization lost a lawsuit to road racing promoter Roger Edmondson. After building a profitable road racing series, it was pulled out from under him by the AMA’s new for-profit subsidiary, Paradama, which would also come to be known as AMA Pro Racing.

In the years since, there has been one embarrassing debacle after another—the Clear Channel-Jam Sports fiasco of a few years back, which involved who would be AMA’s new promotional partner in AMA supercross, really stands out. Since then there have been too many setbacks to list, from the unleaded-fuel issues (a direct result of the Jam Sports fiasco) to the overturning of decisions and penalties (Kevin Windham’s ten-point takeout of David Vuillemin at Phoenix ’04 and Ricky Carmichael’s fuel penalty in 2006 come to mind). And that was just in AMA supercross; all of the other disciplines of pro racing were also struggling with inconsistencies and errors. Meanwhile, membership was stagnant and the association itself seemed to be on shaky ground.
That’s when Dingman took the drastic step—with the full support of his board of directors—of selling off all AMA Pro Racing assets, be it as a whole or in pieces. The decision had been made to make a clean break from the baggage that had accumulated over the years. Dingman’s hope was to become more like AAA, the auto union that once oversaw car racing in America before stepping away in the 1950s and focusing on membership—now numbering more than 40 million. The only thing that was not up for grabs in this open RFP (request for proposals) process was AMA supercross and arenacross, which are already under contract with Live Nation for the next ten years.
Of course, things began getting heated between the National Promoters Group and Youthstream, which decided to throw its hat in the ring for a shot at adding AMA Toyota Motocross to its stranglehold on FIM Grand Prix Motocross in Europe. The NPG promoters, some of whom have been involved in AMA motocross since 1970, felt that it was their turn to finally manage the series, while Youthstream’s backers wanted their side to win. Some folks even went out of their way to make the NPG look bad, possibly to position themselves as Youthstream’s new U.S. liaisons, as their agents here were telling anyone who would listen that the deal was done and they would be taking over here in 2009.
In the end, however, as the AMA unanimously settled on selling the entire AMA Pro Racing company to the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG), headed up by none other than Roger Edmondson—the very same road racing promoter who was wronged by the association a decade ago. And Edmondson in turn made a commitment to work with the existing promoters of the series to help propel the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship to a higher level, an opportunity the promoters had long been waiting for.
Where do we go from here? That remains to be seen, as the DMG takeover really kicks in come 2009though they immediately went to work on the championship they coveted most, AMA Superbike. Meanwhile, the motocross promoters are already hard at work making improvements to the series, both in television production, facility upgrades, and a better working environment for the media. The television package will remain the same this summer, as the existing Speed TV deal has one more year to run.
I also think it’s safe to say the motocross promoters on both sides of the Atlantic learned a great deal about one another’s abilities and overall strategies, and both have room to improve, be it in prize money or course prep, industry relationships or overall communications. Fans on either side of the divide can expect better racing environments for the riders, the teams, and themselves.
Finally, there’s Rob Dingman, who was hammered relentlessly by some members of the media, former employees who had been let go, and random online oddballs who really didn’t know what was going on in the first place. Through it all, Dingman never wavered. He held fast to his vision for a better AMA, and as a result, he can now turn his focus to growing the general membership of the AMA. Also, motorcycle racing in general has a major player at the helm in the Daytona Motorsports Group. There’s a lot of work to do on many levels, and now that the dust is settling, it’s finally time to get started.

This article is from the June 2008 issue of Racer X Illustrated