Between the  Motos: Xavier Audouard

Between the Motos Xavier Audouard

November 20, 2013 11:30am
For 31 years, Xavier Audouard has been making the Bercy Supercross happen. A journalist for Moto Verte magazine, Audouard was a pioneer in the long line of French journalists and photographers coming to America to document the sport. He then took on the challenge of a supercross in France, and the rest is history.

But in case you don’t know that history, I grabbed some time with Xavier to get the full story. It’s long, but this is the comprehensive history of the Bercy SX.

Racer X: You’ve been involved in Bercy since 1984. Do you still get excited? Is the shine wearing off a bit?
Xavier Audouard: No. I’m older but I’m just as excited as ever. This is something I’ve done for so long for sure, but I just don’t feel any wear or anything because it’s a challenge. It’s not my own business. I’m a worker and I’m trying as hard as I can for the people who pay me. But my passion for the sport is just on top of that, and that’s the real reason, the real drive for that comes from here.

Do you feel the pressure every year to make it bigger and better?
Yeah, we’ve got to keep our eyes open. I know that you are in the middle of that debate and I’m reading all you stuff about supercross being the same forever. But it’s a championship thing. Feld does an incredible job, and it’s difficult to change [rules in] a championship. We are not a championship, and it’s actually part of the problem sometimes. The riders won’t show up by themselves because it’s not on their schedule. So this is obviously the worst part of it, but the good part is that we are not tied up with the format or with anything like that.

American stars Trey Canard (left), Justin Barcia (middle), Andrew Short (right) and more showed up for Bercy this year.
Ray Archer photo

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When Eric Perronard started the US Open in 1998, he took ideas from the Bercy race he had been involved with.
Yes, the concept was so popular at the time everybody from America would say, “Wow, if only we could have something like that happening in America.” I’ve been to the US Open and it was a very nice event and everything but I think it kind of faded after a while. That’s because I guess Paris is Paris and Vegas is Vegas. I’ve watched the success of the Monster Cup, which is different than the one they originally wanted, by the way. They wanted, hey, let’s do motocross and let’s get some European riders here. That didn’t work, but they found something else and they adapted and I think it’s an incredible event now. So that’s the same thing for us. We adapted to many different things, including the riders being, like, thirty-five times more expensive now than they used to be! We used to have the [AMA Supercross] champion every year and now we don’t. We’ve got to adapt. I tried the three main events and I think it worked great here as well as at the Monster Cup.

And you put in a Joker Lane this year!
I watched last year’s Monster Cup, and I said, ‘Hey, that joker lane thing is good.’ Maybe it’s not going to work here, I don’t know. But at least we tried it. The pressure comes from trying to bring something new every year. And not only in the race, but obviously Bercy’s trademark is the opening ceremonies. There were no opening ceremonies in the USA when we started in 1984, and even later, like when Bradshaw was coming up, I remember those guys would be lined up behind the gate and that was the opening ceremonies.

Now the U.S. introduction is looking really good. And they put a lot of effort in that, just like we do.

Was the race sold out in those early years?
More than ever. The first year was two nights. Tuesday night, Wednesday night in the middle of the week. We actually had two magazines, Moto Revue and Moto Verte. We are leaders in our segment, the ambassadors of U.S. motocross and supercross. As a young reporter in 1979, I saw the L.A. Coliseum and it was like a huge shock to me. I’d been writing in the magazines that the American riders are going to dominate the world. There was so much excitement in the sport at that the time. There was a lot more sales and everything was brighter. I was really pushing the American look my articles and my stories. Look at the guys how they looked in Europe at the time, you could tell the guy was Euro just by his gear. And we were all into JT Racing and Bell helmets and Scott Boots.

I was just a young, Americanized reporter and all excited about that. When the Bercy stadium was built in 1983, the guy in charge of programming the sports there said to my boss, “Hey, you are the owner of the magazines and you are the motorcycle guy. What can we do?” and we all said let’s do a supercross! And we’ve been sold out almost every night, every year since.

Xavier Audouard (right) has been the man behind Bercy for more than thirty years.
Ray Archer photo

How did you get O’Mara, Johnson, Glover and Bailey for the first one?
Those guys loved me because I was giving them more exposure than the U.S. magazines were giving them. Why? Because Moto Revue was a weekly magazine. I could bring those guys an issue two weeks after doing a story at their house, I could bring them 16-page stories with color photos, where other magazines back then were mostly black and white at the time.

What did you pay them, do you remember?
$3,000. Honda France and Yamaha France were involved in a huge ego battle. Yamaha France was very strong and actually as big as Honda, and Honda was pissed because they were the leader everywhere except in France. So the guy in charge in France was telling us when we got the race that, “I’m bringing the American riders. I’m going to ask Japan.” Bob Hannah and Johnny O’Mara, I guess, were supposed to come.

Then not even a month before the event Honda France calls back saying we can’t get the USA Honda riders. So we got Team Tamm riders Alan King and Jeff Hicks. But I knew O’Mara really good. So I was in Daytona a few days before, and I’m telling him, ‘Hey, Johnny, when we’ve been promoting the event and we’ve been announcing you because Honda France told us you were coming, and we find out that you don’t want to come?’

I remember that he had just come back from his jogging with Bailey. They were just in that motel room by the speedway in Daytona. And he’s asking Bailey if they should do the race. And Bailey said, “Yeah, sure, let’s do it.” But Bailey didn’t have the passport, so he got the passport organized in like two days. And in they were. Honda France was so embarrassed about the situation that before I left they had told me, whatever you pay these guys, we’re going to pay double

So when I got the okay from O’Mara and Bailey, Honda organized shipping same-day from Daytona straight to Honda France and by the way this is still done today that way and it’s getting very expensive! (Laughs)

So what about Johnson and Glover?
Glover was in because we had done tests with Motoverte with him. He came and raced a couple of races here in Europe and Yamaha France was involved. Jean Claude Olivier was the guru of Yamaha France at that time. He was totally into racing. So Broc knew us. Broc told us he’s bringing this young guy named Rick Johnson. And I knew him actually because I was reporting in America. He was such a huge showman that he stole the show, although he didn’t win the race. So Honda won the race but Yamaha and especially Johnson stole the show. So it was a huge success.

It went from two days and after three years it went up to three nights because it was so popular and it was sold out three months in advance. It was crazy. You had scalpers all around the place selling tickets for crazy prices before the event because it was sold out so long in advance, before we even announced who was coming.

Was that the biggest night ever when JMB won a night?
It was incredible. Jeff Leisk was the first non-American to win in Bercy, in 1989. In 1990 I think JMB was coming from a win in Japan at the supercross there but at Bercy, he didn’t win.1991 was his big year, he was King of Bercy. The next year was the year he was kind of off. But the guy was so incredible that he still managed to win his last ever race, which was the last of the three nights here. He won it by passing [Jeff] Stanton on the outside on the last turn, not the last lap, the last turn. Can you imagine the place?

Bercy is still known for its fantastic opening ceremonies.
Ray Archer photo

When I was here when (David) Vuillemin beat McGrath all three nights and it was insane. The people were losing their minds! So I can imagine what it was like back then.
JMB is obviously the originator but Vuillemin is the king of the King of Bercy’s. He won more king titles and more nights than anybody, including McGrath.

You went to 250 four-strokes for a couple of years. What was the reason?
It was kind of an obligation. Ricky Carmichael came and he broke his collarbone. His crash had nothing to do with us as a track or anything. I believe his gearbox was defective. So when he crashed, the USA teams were getting scared to send their riders. At some point he decided that he was going to focus on becoming a good supercross rider, which he was not in the first year. He was dominating the outdoors. So he just said, “No, I’m not doing anything, including Bercy.” Then he started winning supercross titles and we could not say we have the U.S. champion of supercross any more.

So you just said, screw it, we’re going to 250Fs?
I thought that the 250F bikes are going to kill it. I hated them, but I tried one and I knew that was going to be just the universal bike. And that’s what sold. The thinking behind that was that the 250F is going to be a big market, and there was no age limit or anything like that, so some big players, maybe a couple of older racers were going to probably focus on that championship. So we could still get big names.

But you ended up getting 450 guys anyway. They would drop down, like Chad Reed or Vuillemin.
We got [Sebastian] Tortelli to ride a 250F. We got [Grant] Langston, we got [Chad] Reed… So they did that and it did work okay.

But then came 2007 where finally, and secretly, Ricky Carmichael signed for doing the race. That was his last year. He had said to everyone that Motocross of Nations was going to be his last race but he actually had a contract to race Bercy. Bercy was going to be his actual last race. So that year was very key for us. When we were finally able to say it, it was like mid-July, bang, we sold out. The 250 thing was good but we had our not-as-good years. So Carmichael was coming and all of a sudden it’s totally exciting. The riders want more and more money. So what do we do? We increase the price of the tickets. I told my boss and he said, “You’re crazy.” I told him, no, you can put 15 more dollars because I’m going to sign you Ricky Carmichael, and it will work. Eric [Peronnard] was good friends with him and I was very good friends with him as well since the beginning.

Also back then, the 450s were big ugly pigs at the time. But a few years after that, they looked a lot better and you could see what Stewart and Ricky were doing. So I told my boss, put more money there and we finance it that way. And we got some extra help also on the side from Suzuki at the time. Then RC goes and gets Epstein Barr or whatever and couldn’t race.

So I’m on the phone with Larry Brooks, a friend of mine, trying to get his rider Chad Reed and I’m calling Jeremy [McGrath]. He’s been a very close friend, and he was retired at the time, but he was still racing a few races and doing fairly good and he’s a hero here. So I’m telling Jeremy I need him. And then we just got Reed and Jeremy instead of Ricky. I was still thinking those guys [fans] are going to be pissed. And then we got some flaming… every conspiracy theorist is saying it was a trap [not getting Carmichael]. Why would we do that?

So the next year I’m saying, well, if people don’t believe us or are disappointed in us then I want James Stewart. We got some side help with Yamaha and Red Bull and stuff.

Having Stewart here for those two years, that was almost a bad thing as he dominated.
We needed to show that we could get the superstar. We got pretty good superstars, Reed and McGrath, but then we get Stewart and bang, this is it. You can trust us. But by doing that we killed the rest of the field because budgets were so crazy that it’s hard to afford anyone… No one could match Stewart’s appeal at that time. One of the things that I’m the most proud in my whole history with Bercy is to have James. Because James is special. He’s incredible. As a showman, you remember the videos. This kid has talent coming out of his pores. He was fantastic.

It’s too early to say, but take away Villopoto and Dungey—who will probably will be here sometime, but maybe not—you have had every single superstar here in Bercy except for Travis Pastrana, and we tried so hard to get him but he was always having surgery. I even named my kid’s middle name Travis because I was such a fan.

Bercy is held at ‪Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy‬ in Paris, France.
Ray Archer photo

Where did you get the idea to have the track race through the tunnels?
That was crazy. We had a meeting. I was late. I was riding a trail bike in Paris, Honda MTX200, and the meeting was actually happening on the floor of the stadium. The week before I had been to a famous surf bar by my place, and there’s music and stuff and there’s a Bercy video playing. And I’m watching it and I’m saying this is ridiculously slow. You watch the old videos, it’s incredible how slow they were going!

Next thing I know I’m coming here and I’m late, so I’m going through the tunnels straight to the arena to get to my meeting. I remember the Coliseum also had the part where they went up there and disappeared for a bit. Now for me as a director, I’m thinking it’s a good show. I think it spices up the show to have those guys disappear for a little bit and come back. I told the guys to time me riding as fast as I could in the tunnels, it was 15 seconds, we were having 30 second lap times so that was a 50 percent longer track.

The next thing I’m doing in the meeting is, hey, we’ve got to do that. And the stadium people say I’m crazy! They didn’t want to do it because if you go through the tunnel on the right there are some offices there. “We can’t block that for six days. It’s impossible!” And I’m saying, it’s got to be possible. And we have to get a big screen. No screens at the stadium at that time. The thing that saved the idea was at that point the manager of the stadium also had a production company on the side who wanted to produce the show. So the guy was the director, but also he was interested in the future of the supercross. Once I got him convinced, it happened.

So are you just going to drop dead one day at Bercy? You’re going to do it until… that’s it?
I’m an employee so I don’t know if I’m going to stay an employee for all of these years. But I am a sports fan. I am a sports reporter. I’m still a journalist. I write my column every month and I’m still doing stories. The only thing that doesn’t get old is sports. Yes, it’s a show, and we’ve got to make it newer and more exciting. We got to keep it as much on top as possible with a tough financial environment.

I need to keep the top riders. This group of riders is excellent. I love Roczen. I have been trying to get Roczen every year since he’s 12 years old. One year he got a broken collarbone the week before. One time he raced the Mini Olympics in Florida. One year he switched from Suzuki to KTM, and he was secretly testing KTMs so couldn’t come racing on the Suzuki, was still under contract until the end of the year. The planets have to line up with this kid but one day he’ll be here. They all come here at one point.