Yesterday I wrote about the precarious position American Superbike seems to be in at the moment. Following on the heels of one of the poorest attended Mid-Ohio Superbike weekends, VIR announced it was canceling its August 12-14 American Superbike date. The VIR development was especially shocking considering how successful that event has been in years past. The series had already lost Fontana and Road Atlanta, so we’re frustratingly looking at what appears to be rapidly diminishing prospects for what has been one of the world’s premier motorcycle racing championships.
In today’s File POV I’ll look at what steps American Superbike might take to bring the series back to full health. Road racing fans need to look no further than our motocross brethren to find a couple of racing series that are more than holding their own in this down economy. The ability of AMA Supercross and Motocross to thrive in this environment holds clues to what road racing might do to not only weather the storm, but even grow in spite of the downturn.
The first thing road racing can learn from SX/MX is focus. These expansive three-day doubleheader road races came about in the booming economy of the 1990s and simply don’t make sense in today’s environment. One of the first things DMG should do is scale back the weekends to strengthen them and bring more focus to a single day. Road races should be made two-day events and the main events should run on Sunday. Use Saturday as a qualifying day and perhaps run one of the support classes, but make it so fans can come on Sunday and not feel like they are missing half the event. Personally for Superbike I would go to a Saturday Heat race qualifying format and one race on Sunday.
Another thing I would try to do would be to partner with club racing organizations like WERA and AFM and run a club event on Friday before the national. You would not only give club racers a chance to run on a pro weekend, but they might stick around and race or at least be spectators on the pro weekend. I think this could be a win-win situation for the DMG and the club racing organizations. I envision a club racing national championship awarding points from these Friday events and holding the finale at the WERA GNF bringing riders from across the country together for the race as happened in the heyday of the old Suzuki Cup days.
With less expensive two-day pro events the teams might be able to afford a series with a greater number of races. I would love to see a 12-event schedule, perhaps even more so that there aren’t huge gaps in the schedule during the racing season.
The next step is the DMG needs to make the events more affordable for the promoters in order to have more venues. In turn promoters should lower ticket prices to make the races accessible to more fans. That’s one thing that SX/MX promoters have figured out. People want entertainment , and even in this economy they will go, but they are going to find less expensive options. MX/SX has very inexpensive tickets and road racing should do the same. Why not have a $15 or even $10 ticket? Fans will bring their families and spend money once they’re at the race and they will come in droves with this kind of pricing.
Tighten the schedule. On Sunday have one final before lunch, say 11:00, start the main events at 1:00 pm and be done by 4:00pm. Also consider making the Superbike race longer and include a pit stop. That will add excitement and a new element to the races.
Finally the racers need to be made stars. In the past the old AMA did a great deal to help the promoters raise the visibility of the racers. It coordinated pre-event media tours and worked with national news services to give the events national coverage. With the DMG that job has been left primarily to the tracks and quiet frankly, many of them don’t have the expertise to promote the riders like the sanctioning body could. Who knows the riders better? Who is better able to direct continuity in a promotional plan? To me that responsibility falls more naturally to the sanctioning body, the experts of the series if you will.
Josh Hayes has a great story – a rider who was overlooked in the premier class for years who proved his worth when he got the chance. The same for Blake Young and Tommy Hayden. Young, working his way up the ladder only to have injury halt his climb and then his comeback. Hayden the eldest of the today’s first family of road racing. And it just goes on and on. Every rider has a story that could and should be told to the general media. Also feature local riders in media tours to generate a local hero to area fans.
In terms of direction, find people within the industry who live, eat and breath motorcycles to be the leaders of the DMG. No one can sell something unless they themselves are completely passionate about the product.
I think if road racing takes these ideas, which have been implemented well in Supercross and motocross, then the series can get back to a growth mode. The DMG has already done many things to improve the product. The racing has never been better thanks to the new rules, and things like fan walks are perfect to help grow the fan base. Manufacturers like BMW, KTM, Triumph and EBR are bringing great variety to the championship. The product on the track is awesome.
The show is there in Superbike racing. The time is ripe for the DMG to make it more affordable, more frequent, more focused and more visible to the general public.