Eventual winner Mark Kowalski leads Bruce Baldus on the final lap of a WERA B Production race coming onto the front straight at Indianapolis Raceway Park. Kowalski, from Kitchener, Ontario, was good enough to win a Canadian Superbike National at Atlantic Motorsport Park in 1996.
The announcement today by the DMG that Roger Edmondson “will be leaving his position as Chairman, Managing Member and Chief Executive Officer of AMA Pro Racing” as of January 1st, means that Edmondson’s involvement in professional motorcycle racing is likely over.
The DMG release states that Edmondson is leaving to deal with unforeseen health issues.
The first thing I would like to say is that I hope that Roger has a full recovery and lives a healthy and long life. No matter what one might think about Edmondson and what has happened to AMA Pro Racing in the last year, the fact remains Roger is a motorcycle enthusiast, a former racer and I’m certain he had the best intentions when he took the reins. That he made wrong moves and as a result the DMG’s best laid plans went awry simply means that things didn’t go as Edmondson had envisioned. No more, no less.
I will never forget March 7, 2008, the day the announcement was made at Daytona International Speedway that the AMA was selling Pro Racing to the DMG. I also clearly remember the mood of the journalists and industry people on hand. It seemed that I was one of the very few that viewed the announcement with trepidation. Most thought that Edmondson, with the financial backing of the Jim France and the DMG, was just what AMA racing needed to rise to the next level. Even Cycle News columnist Henny Ray Abrams, who would later become the DMG’s harshest critic, viewed the move in its early days as a potentially positive one for racing.
Edmondson had a good track record of running racing. The AMA/CCS Series was a success story in the 1980s. Teaming with the AMA helped usher in much needed greater participation in AMA Professional Road Racing. During the 1980s Edmondson was viewed as a strong leader, sometimes bordering on dictatorial in his decision-making process.
In spite of heavy-handed approach to dealing with riders, specifically when it came to safety issues, the overall trend of racing during his leadership of the AMA professional road racing was a positive one. Plus Edmondson had the backing of the promoters. He generally took their side when a disagreement arose and as a result, when he and the AMA split in the mid-1990s, it looked for a time like Edmondson’s North American Sport Bike Series might become the primary motorcycle road racing series. The tradition-bound factories stuck by the AMA and NASB gradually withered on the vine.
Edmondson won a settlement in the resulting lawsuit between the AMA and himself and he then helped launch the Grand American sport car series. At that point Edmondson’s legacy looked to be one of a man who fought the establishment and came out on top.
Act Two of Edmondson’s involvement in professional motorcycle racing started off well enough. He assembled a talented group of industry insiders to help him run the show, but it wasn’t long before the missteps began. Instead of coming in slowly and establishing the respect of the paddock before making wholesale changes, Edmondson’s old tendency towards heavy-handed management style came back to haunt him. The changes were too quick and not favorably received by the factories, promoters or fans. Class structures were drastically altered; long established motorcycling traditions were sloughed off like so much dust in favor of car racing traditions; promoters were forced to dig deeper financially to host AMA races in a time when sponsorship money was drying up and as far as safety was concerned Edmondson publicly said that motorcycle racers had “the comfort zone of a gnat.”
And it got worse. The formerly respected staff Edmondson put together mystifyingly made mistake after head-scratching mistake. To me there was no worse sin than that of one high-level staffer, who had been chiefly responsible in healing relations with riders in AMA Supercross a decade earlier, who seemingly forgot all the lessons he learned then and made what was supposed to be a DMG field staff rallying speech at Mid-Ohio where he basically said “F#*K the riders.” With the adversarial tone set another staffer, seemingly inspired by the speech, went ballistic on a rider and it was caught on video.
In the end DMG staffers who I’d known for years were throwing Edmondson under the bus when talking off the record, not just to me, but to other journalists and factory team representatives as well.
When John Ulrich, race team owner, AMA board member and editor/owner of the most popular publication in road racing, who carried water for the DMG all year, turned against them, there was not a single important voice left in support of America’s new managers of motorcycle racing.
The handwriting was on the wall. Even the extremely loyal Jim France could no longer ignore the chorus of discontent. Edmondson’s days at the helm of the DMG were numbered.
To be fair no one could have predicted just how quickly the bottom would fall out of the economy after the DMG took over racing. It’s highly likely that the decrease in racing activity would have happened regardless of who was at the helm.
As poorly as Edmondson’s return turned out, I can’t help but feel some sympathy for the man. At times you can talk to Roger Edmondson and he has a way of making you feel like the most important person in the world. At last year’s AMA Congress while the current AMA leadership was so enthusiastically telling delegates how bad the old AMA was, it was Edmondson who amiably reminded the crowd that it was in fact the old AMA who’d given him the opportunity to become involved in Pro Racing in the first place.
In spite of the lawsuit and the ugly way things ended, Edmondson showed the capacity to forgive and see the good in people.
In return that’s how I’ll try to remember Roger Edmondson and his overall leadership of motorcycle racing. I’ll balance the reality of today’s racing state of affairs by remembering the good Edmondson did for the sport, the rapid growth it experienced under his leadership in the 1980s and early 1990s, the passion he brought to his work and his optimistic outlook for the future of the sport.
A photo of just part of Jack Morris’ eclectic and well-kept motorcycle collection. Jack instantly became one of my favorite persons this year after I discovered his book on Akron, Ohio’s motorcycle history and then had the chance to meet him in person.
Here’s a multimedia presentation (my very first) I did on my visit with Jack earlier this month.