The Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship is on hold, with the announced round-one date of July 18 postponed. MX Sports Pro Racing, a sister company to Racer X, has said it has hopes of instead starting the series in August. For more info on why racing in July won’t happen, Jason Weigandt called Davey Coombs, who is the founder of Racer X and also the VP of MX Sports Pro Racing. The interview was conducted last Thursday, July 2.
Jason Weigandt: News came out this week, and not news I personally want to hear, and probably you either, that the series is now delayed to possibly August. I’m sure there are plenty of reasons that go into a decision like this.
Davey Coombs: There’s obviously a lot that goes into a decision like this. No one wants to delay or postpone any more than we have to, but given the circumstances of what’s going on around the country, specifically in California, in Florida, in Texas, where a lot of our athletes and race teams are based down south, we literally gathered all the teams together on a call and said, “What do you think?” I don’t want to get into someone’s personal health or personal business, but what no one is talking about, because no one is saying it, is that in our industry, some of our race teams, at this moment, are dealing with these breakouts. They are quarantined, because, for whatever reason, they came back from Salt Lake City, things opened up, they get on with their lives, and boom, we started hearing about positive tests. We called the specific teams, and they confirmed it. So, to start racing in Indiana, which is the one state and the one current national track that we could actually have a race on, but after that, everything else is up in the air, is not something they wanted to do. We’ve been hearing about what’s been going on in Michigan, for RedBud, you’ve been hearing about the governor New York, for Unadilla, we know that there’s a big breakout and things have been closing in Florida, which deals with WW Ranch, let alone what’s going on out in California, where they have been getting back to stay-at-home rules. It’s impossible, not to mention irresponsible, to ask those teams to get on planes, or get in their big rigs, to go to Indiana, for what would effectively be one sure race. In Indiana. We thought we had two, with WW Ranch, but then, if you watch the news, and I don’t care what news you watch, it’s obvious that there are problems in Florida right now. It’s our hope that when we do start racing, and we really hope it’s in mid-August, when hopefully everything is tempered down a little bit and everyone has a better grasp on everything, we hope we can get in a full series. We’ve spoken with the teams, and we agree with them, that there needs to be a minimum of six races for this to be a real, 2020 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. But honestly, right now, we’re looking at only one track that could do it.
We had a few people say, “What about Pala, that’s an Indian reservation?” I know that. But the rest of California is having a real concerning outbreak, and they’re dealing with closing things back up, and we’re stuck in the middle of that.
Everyone saw what happened with supercross. The Salt Lake City deal, I thought that was a wonderful concept, and a real, bold risk by Feld Entertainment, and they pulled it off. But they had to end a series that was in limbo going back to Indianapolis in March. They wanted to finish their series. No one wants to have the last six races cancelled, especially when you have such a compelling championship battle. So, they made a decision to race with no fans, lots of safety protocols, and literally race just for TV. It works for them because they were trying to find a good, safe way to end the series. We’re looking for good, safe way to start a series. We don’t want to be like MXGP, they unfortunately got two races in, and they’re still waiting to go. MXGP has nothing to do with the politics of America, that’s an entirely different thing. But they’re dealing with all these nations with all these different rules and regulations. We’re dealing with all these states with different rules and regulations. But we’re also dealing with the race teams, the race staffs, our staff, and there are real concerns that no one wants to travel now that this recent outbreak has just hit.
So, we had a conference call with 23 different entities. It was like a who's who of American motocross. Not one representative of a team, of an OEM, or even any of the privateer teams that were on the call, none of them want to start racing until we have a better hold on what the rest of the series will look like, and what’s going on with health and the pandemic in America right now. I want to go racing worse than anyone. We have a magazine and website, so we want races to cover. We want to sell tickets and let fans come and enjoy our sport. But we don’t want a bunch of people who are already dealing with the situation in California or Florida to come out of there and go back to there, because we don’t have a second, third, fourth, fifth or sixth race to run.
So, what are we going to do? Well, we’re going to do what’s right for everyone. Not just teams, riders, fans, racers, promoters or even NBC, that was just saying “Is there anything you can do?” Unfortunately, we can’t. Our model is not set up on racing without fans. We have a much different kind of series, a different economy of scale compared to what a big company like Feld [Entertainment] can do with supercross. We’re a series promoter that works with smaller promoters. We’re not the promoter of the Spring Creek National, or the Washougal National, or the Fox Raceway National. We do have three of the rounds that we do promote, but they’re not in states that are ready to open or have a gathering at even 50 percent capacity. So, we decided, and what all of the teams agreed, is to postpone this for one month. There’s no conspiracy, no hidden agenda, we just want to be able to finish what we start. Why don’t we wait to start to when we know we can finish? That’s’ what we’re doing.
The other thing is, this is not just your own personal take on coronavirus. This isn’t MX Sports watching the news and getting scared. Plenty of people we know well tell you not to feel the fear, and don’t fall prey to the hype. But I would think how you feel about coronavirus doesn’t even matter here. This is the decision of local governments, and teams really?
It is. First, if we’re going to have a race, we want all the teams to want to attend. I live in Morgantown, West Virginia. My mom is a cancer survivor and, how do I say this, she’s up there in years. So, I decide to wear a mask to help protect my mom. But that’s my personal responsibility I feel I have. I was at a race in Ohio shooting photos, wearing a mask, and that was my personal decision. But there were other people at this race who weren’t wearing masks. They were very spread out, and outdoors, and people were being responsible. Now, it gets even harder at to do that at a professional-level race with fans, and even harder when you consider how far people at a pro motocross race travel, and you’re asking them to get on airplanes. An athlete from Florida can’t even go to New York unless you quarantine for 14 days. You can’t go to Connecticut, which is where we all stay and fly to for Southwick. You can’t go there if you’re from California, Texas or Florida. There’s so much more at play than, “Screw it, screw the virus.”
Well, both directions. You and the MX Sports company could have extreme fear of Coronavirus, or zero fear of it at all, but it doesn’t really matter. This has never fully been in the hands of any race promoter, and that includes supercross in Salt Lake City. If Utah doesn’t say yes, if they don’t make it easy on supercross, they’re not going to hold a race. What’s scary is, it’s not under your control, anyway.
It’s not. And do not forget, the OEMs are big corporations. Like any other big corporation, they have a responsibility for the people that work for them. They do not want to put them in harm’s way. We have been working on safety protocols and guidelines since the Indianapolis supercross was cancelled. We have to make sure we do things so that a truck driver for a factory team, the team manager, the PR person for a team, they have to be able to work safely. No one is working at Kawasaki today, or at Honda today. They’re working from home. Maybe people don’t see that if you don’t live in a state that is having this level of coronavirus experience. Every state is different. Because of my mom, I take it seriously.
But again, it doesn’t matter what you think. If the State of New York says no outdoor events, Unadilla isn’t happening no matter what.
[Laughs] I wonder if the NASCAR world is dealing with this kind of rebelliousness in its reception? The NBA has 25 players in quarantine right now as they try to restart their season. They’re having a really hard time trying to restart its season, in a bubble in Orlando. And the commissioner, Adam Silver, has said if there’s an outbreak, then they are shutting the whole thing down. And everyone forgets, the NBA has already started. The real bellwether is the NFL, and college football. What are they doing? In college football, no one knows anything, because they’re all waiting to see what happens with this spike and where it lands when the season starts, which is August. No one can tell me where any of those football teams at any level are going to start practicing and playing. They have to jump through the same hoops we do, and they also have to wait and see what’s going on. The whole country has been shutdown since March. They started to come out of it and the virus reared its head again. Everyone is like “Hold on, let’s wait a second.” So that’s where we are. We have no tracks except Ironman. We thought we had Florida, but a lot has changed since then. That’s what we’re up against.
It gets even harder because now we know it will be hard predict anything that’s a few months out. Maybe back in April we thought we would have a good handle of what’s next in May. Or May to June. Now we know we might not be able to accurately plan anything long term. So does it scare you to try to put even a six-week championship together when we don’t know how anything is going to go over six weeks? You have said you won’t race past October 3rd. But to get ready for round one and say, “yes we know the next two months weeks will be clear.” Have you realized it’s almost impossible to predict six or eight weeks of anything?
It is. But we do know if we had started on July 18th, we had no good feeling that there would be anything other than a second round in Jacksonville, and then even that went up in the air. The Mayor of Jacksonville passed an ordinance saying you have to wear a mask through July 25th if you’re outside. So that would mean a July 25th national at Jacksonville, and every spectator would have had to wear a mask or risk getting fined. That’s impossible! So, let’s just push this to August 15th, and everyone on the call agreed. They have their own issues to deal with, their own concerns both personal and business wise. Everyone loves motocross racing—at least everyone on that call does—but they was a 100 percent unanimous decision to postpone and see where we are in August. I was ready to go to Indiana and pound stakes, with a mask on! Now, we’ll do it later.
One other thing, for anyone who is wondering about Loretta Lynn’s. It’s kind of like the GNCC races. It’s not a big public spectator gathering. It’s more of an outdoor recreational gathering with your family. We’re not asking a bunch of professional athletes and corporate teams to travel across states. We’re going to hold that race like we always do, and we’ll do everything we can to make sure everyone there gets home safely. But it’s a different duck than a pro motocross national on 12 Saturdays across the country.
Yes, I’ve heard about this in previous interviews. Whether you guys like it or not, the governments have a different view of what they consider an outdoor recreation event versus a professional sporting event.
Yes. You can go golfing, but you can’t attend a professional golf match.
Okay so the two big points I’m taking from this is, A) you don’t want to start and then stop, and B) some teams have had some internal issues and they’re a little shy on travel right now. But let’s tackle one more thing. Obviously, you watched the supercross races from Utah. People are going to say, “Why don’t you just do that?” But you’re saying the economic model is different. You can’t just hold six races in three weeks and call it good? It’s not the same?
No, you can’t. And if you could, if you were going to go to that one place, it would be in California. But the only place you could probably do it right now is at an Indian reservation [Fox Raceway at Pala]. But even with that, the teams don’t want to do it that way. They don’t want to go up against local, state and federal orders. So, we are in a holding pattern. We have every intention of starting this championship. We have no intention of doing it in a way that really goes against the way the rest of the country is suffering through and what they’re trying to get rid of.
But I want to talk about that economic model. It costs money for a race track to produce one of these events. I’m talking to water the track, the dozers, etc. I think some are assuming the big TV check comes in to pay for that. It doesn’t, correct?
No, and that is why our model is much different than Feld’s. They did what they had to do, and they did it well. It was an impressive thing. But remember, they were 11 rounds into a 17-round season. They had to get it done. We haven’t even started, and we don’t have that luxury. We wouldn’t be able to pay purse money if we didn’t have fans come through the gate. We don’t want to ask privateers or anyone to come to a place if we didn’t even know we’re going to have a second race. The fans want to see a complete championship, we don’t want a one-off race and call it the national championship. It costs so much money to build out a national track, to wire and cable it for television. When you go to a stadium, you plug into the wires that are already there. When you go to a motocross track, you lay down two miles of cable every weekend to do TV. Then you bring in the TV trucks and everything. It just doesn’t work in our type of racing, compared to a downtown modern stadium. The cost there [for supercross] is building a track, and that’s a sizeable cost, but they did it, and they mixed it up to where we saw compelling racing. We’re not the same platform, the same type of program.
And the other thing? People are still getting sick. It’s really happening. That’s also a concern. When you have that responsibility on your shoulders, we take that into consideration. This is just the weirdest year in the history of weird years. I never thought on July 2nd I wouldn’t be at RedBud with people I’ve been hanging out at the races with for 30 years. But it’s the world we’re living in, and no one’s crystal ball is working right now.
Well, I knew there were reasons beyond watching the news too much and getting scared.
I will say one more thing, Jason. I don’t understand why or how any of this became political, but that has nothing to do with motocross racing. I will steal a line from James Stewart. He used to say, “We all look the same with our helmets on.” I feel like that with our sport. This isn’t about politics. This is happening in Europe. This is happening in Asia. This is happening in South America. At the end of the day, people just want this to go away, and I get that. But we also want to be here when it goes away. To me we’re all in this together, so let’s find a way to be here when it’s over.