So, this week’s news that American Honda is returning to pro motorcycle road racing by backing Danny Walker’s Team Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda in MotoAmerica’s Superbike class team with rider Jake Gagne is a very welcome development.
The history of pro motorcycle road racing has been pretty convoluted over the past decade or so. I was always a “car guy,” and didn’t really have any exposure to motorcycle road racing until I took the job as PR Director for Virginia International Raceway back in 2002. The series was owned and operated by AMA Pro Racing, a division of the American Motorcyclist Association. The series wasn’t making much money and was having trouble getting sponsorships, but all the manufacturers – Honda, Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Ducati – were heavily involved with both team support and marketing, and the racing was good. Nicky Hayden won the Superbike title in ’02 on a Honda, just before taking off for Europe and eventually becoming World Champion.
Once Hayden left, it was the Suzuki era in Superbikes, and Mat Mladin and Ben Spies ruled the roost until 2010, when Yamaha took over with Josh Hayes, Josh Herrin and Cameron Beaubier.
In 2008, AMA sold the sanctioning, promotional and management rights for its AMA Pro Racing properties to the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG), which for all intents and purposes was a division of International Speedway Corporation, which owns NASCAR and many of the tracks on which it competes. DMG tried to apply NASCAR-think to motorcycle road racing, and that didn’t work so well. Once of the first things it did was to minimize the participation and influence of the manufacturers. In NASCAR, there was a time when the manufacturers tried to influence the NASCAR rulesmakers, so the manufacturers were minimized. Remember when everyone was a Ford fan, or a Chevy fan, or a MOPAR fan? NASCAR shifted the focus from the manufacturers to the drivers, so today there are Jimmie Johnson fans, or Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans, or Kyle Busch fans, etc.
Unfortunately, the manufacturers in pro motorcycle road racing played a little different role. Not only did they supply bikes, support, technology, etc., their marketing campaigns were critical to the promotion of the series.
When I arrived at what was then Miller Motorsports Park in 2007, we were a Honda track. There was Honda signage all over the place, Honda vehicles for track staff to use, hospitality at the big races, etc. Once DMG bought the series, Honda went away and so did our sponsorship deal with them. That same scenario played out at tracks all across North America. In 2009 and 2010, there were no AMA Superbike races at MMP (but we were hosting the FIM Superbike World Championship at the time). By 2013-14, the series had fallen on hard times, had no broadcast television package and there were a lot of unhappy faces in the paddock.
For 2015, the series was sold from DMG to MotoAmerica, a newly-formed group headed by three-time World Champion Wayne Rainey along with Chuck Aksland, Richard Varner and Terry Karges. The MotoAmerica crew inherited a mess, and have done a very good job trying to right the ship. The news that Honda is back indicates that the industry is validating that.
We look forward to having MotoAmerica back with us this summer, and to welcoming back all our old friends from Honda. Congratulations to everyone involved in making this happen. It’s good news for motorcycle racing, and good news for racing in general.
RELATED EVENT AT UMC
MotoAmerica (AMA/FIM) Superbike Challenge
June 23-25, 2017