The American motocross scene is in a state of transformation right now. When the old AMA Pro Racing department disbanded and the powers that be decided to sell a lot of their main properties off to the highest bidder, there was a sense of bewilderment by many who follow the sport. Who would be awarded the reigns and hopefully bring outdoor motocross (the form of off-road motorcycling we almost all started on) back out of its recent doldrums and into the new millennium?
When the dust cleared, it was the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG) that was awarded the rights to promote the AMA national series (remember, the supercross was not up for bid, Feld Entertainment had an existing contract to be the series promoter) but DMG immediately turned around and leased it to MX Sports, an existing promoter of two of the AMA nationals as well as the GNCC off-road series, Loretta Lynn’s Amateur National Motocross Championships and many other two-wheeled races across the country. The passion of the MX Sports people was certainly not to be questioned, they lived and breathed the sport and was generally accepted as the right people to lead the series.
The 2009 season was the first one under the umbrella of the Morgantown, WV based and there were some sweeping changes made right out of the gate. Changes that many in the racing business felt were long overdue. The schedule was compressed to a one-day format and moved from Sundays to Saturdays, the teams were not required to run regular size side number plates, the motos were mixed around to sometimes have the 450’s first and probably most importantly, MX Sports partnered up with NBC TV owned Alli Entertainment to provide some live coverage of second motos and next day airings of the 450’s on SPEED TV, the home of the supercross series. As well, all first motos were live on the internet for fans all over the world to catch the fever of American motocross.
When the exciting series ended, it was generally felt by all that most of the changes worked and the series was definitely reenergized from years past. It didn’t hurt that there was some great racing as well with a ton of first time winners and an exciting title chase that went down to the wire in both classes. The series had enough drama, intrigue and wild moments for any Hollywood screenwriter.
So with that impact made and the hopes of many that soon the supercross only contracts that some of the stars and teams have (James Stewart, Kevin Windham, Hart & Huntington , etc) the news that the Southern California round held at Glen Helen was in danger was met with some skepticism. After all, the facility is ground zero for the teams and the OEM’s. It’s a track that has spectacular views and for the last few years had always kicked the series off in dramatic fashion. Maybe when the 2010 schedule was released and the honor of being the opener was switched to a track eight hours north of Glen Helen in Sacramento, we all should have paid closer attention.
Last summers AMA nationals were the best in years, both on and off the track. Photo by Stone
On March 29th, it was announced that Glen Helen was off the 2010 AMA National Motocross schedule. With April Fools right around the corner, many people wondered if this was an elaborate prank cooked up by someone, somewhere. It was such a bombshell announcement that most people thought it was a joke. After all, Glen Helen was the only race for all for the die-hard motocross fans of Southern California to hit and, as stated above, it was close to just about every prominent OEM and aftermarket motocross company in the USA.
Then the aftershock hit a few days later when it was announced that the British Grand Prix was cancelled and replaced by an FIM World Championship round at…wait for it…Glen Helen! It was an abrupt turn of events that left the fans and the industry stunned. What happened? When did it happen? And who was behind all of this?
As quoted from the official press release announcing the race:
“Today is a fantastic day for the whole Motocross world,” Mr. Giuseppe Luongo, President of Youthstream, said. “I want to really thank Mr. Bud Feldkamp for his trust and enthusiasm towards us so that the FIM Motocross can return to this great venue in the USA. Being near the industry’s and teams’ bases the location of the Glen Helen Raceway couldn’t be better. We are sure that together we will build a fantastic and stable event for those who come to the event and for those who will follow it via internet and television.
“Naturally all the top World Championship MX1 and MX2 riders will be participating and all the top American riders are very welcome, altogether we will make the ‘Race of the Century’.
“We don’t have much time to organize everything for the 2010 Grand Prix, but we trust in the experience of the Glen Helen Raceway staff, FIM, AMA, the Youthstream staff and all our partners to organize the travel and to promote the event.”
Mr. Bud Feldkamp, President of Glen Helen Raceway, added: “I am very excited and enthusiastic to have this world class event at Glen Helen Raceway. It has been a life-long dream of mine and the staff to have this extraordinary World Championship event at Glen Helen. This will give motocross fans across the US an opportunity to see our top American riders compete against MX champions from around the world on US soil.
“Working with Mr. Giuseppe Luongo has been a pleasure and productive from the first moment we spoke. I am confident this is the launch of a long and beneficial relationship with FIM Motocross World Championships".
“What an opportunity to thank our fans and staff for their loyalty to motocross and Glen Helen throughout the years. The fans can be assured this event ‘Race of the Century’ will be spectacular and continue for many years to come. We look forward to seeing everyone Memorial Day Weekend at Glen Helen for a race you will always remember.”
Just replace "Barcia" with "Albertson" and here’s a preview of the Glen Helen GP! Photo by Stone
And so we have it, a five-year agreement to bring a round of the FIM World Championship to Glen Helen and after this information came out we began to find out how this happened. It seems that MX Sports and Bud Feldkamp just could not agree on a contract length for the national with MX Sports saying “Improve the track and get a long term contract” and Feldkamp saying “Give me a long term contract and I’ll improve the track” and with that, a good old-fashioned impasse was reached as was the decision by Feldkamp to decide that he couldn’t hold a national with what he felt was a proverbial gun to his head.
If any person travelled to all twelve rounds of the motocross series, you would definitely have to be a little dense to not notice that Glen Helen was always a little different from the other rounds. The credentials were often different, the sponsors were different, the VIP areas were different and it seemed that the riders and teams were not happy with the track and the conditions of the facility. There wasn’t much in the way of improvements that most of the other tracks had instituted, the amateur racing was run right in the middle of the press day and generally speaking there were many obstacles that one faced when going to the national that weren’t faced when you went to the other eleven rounds.
So it was easy to understand MX Sports not wanting someone on-board the AMA Motocross Series boat who was not going to row the right way. Whether you agree with the changes that MX Sports instituted or not, surely we all know that we all have to be in. Right or wrong, we’re all along for the ride and the difficulty of working with one facility, no matter the location, was simply not worth it for MX Sports.
How will the GP do there? Well as of press time there weren’t too many riders or teams that had committed to the race. Chad Reed, Andrew Short, JGR Racing and Ryan Dungey were already on the record as saying they were not going to race. With the strict entry guidelines to even race a GP, no one on this side of the Atlantic has any idea how many riders Youthstream was even looking for to fill the gate.
I asked long time GP journalist Geoff Meyer of mxlarge.com about the percentage of European teams and riders that plan on going over to the land of fast-food and 24-hour grocery stores.
“What I do know is that there are places on the grid for AMA riders. Mike Brown told me he wants to race it, I’ve been told Grant Langston wants to race it, for the rest who knows? Obviously Alessi and Searle are racing it for KTM” says Meyer
“I do know that teams like CCM, Aprilia, KTM, TM, can’t wait to go, they love the idea of showing off their European bikes in the biggest market in the World” adds Meyer “So with Brown, Alessi, Wey, Albertson and Osborne already America will have a nice group for the local fans to cheer for. With or without the top AMA riders this race is exciting.”
And what’s the temperature of the European racers and teams who had a GP cancelled and a long trip to America suddenly thrown at them?
“Of everyone I have spoken to probably 90% are happy with the USGP happening. Max Nagl doesn’t want to go because he had an International at his home circuit the weekend before Glen Helen, but now he misses that and he told me he doesn’t enjoy the long travel or the atmosphere in America” says Meyer “ Some teams are worried about budgets, but all I talked to said they can organize it. Apart from Max every rider was excited, and I talked to all the top riders about it. Many thought it was an April fool joke at first. Osborne and Albertson are obviously super pumped to race at home.”
I spoke to multi-time GP winner and veteran racer Josh Coppins about the Glen Helen round in a podcast last month. It was quite a shock to Coppins, it seemed that I was the guy who had first told him about the Glen Helen race!
“I’m pumped about that, some of the things about the overseas GP’s aren’t great for the teams but as a rider I’m excited to go and it’s good for Aprilla (his new team) to showcase the bikes. Southern California is the place to be and for me, I’m happy to travel and do think we should race all over the world. What’s the nationals lost is our gain I suppose.” said Coppins.
Really, politics aside, the departure of the Glen Helen National and the addition of the Glen Helen Grand Prix is a win for fans of motocross (and really, does anything else really matter? The woes of the money men make for good gossip but in the end, how many people at an actual event are worried about promoter/track wars? Some sun, some beer and some good racing is all most motocross fans care about) because they get to experience a new breed of racing. One with exotic machines, true works bikes and a look at the next generation of European riders that will no doubt be racing at Anaheim stadium in the near future. With the new and improved AMA nationals doing their thing and a five year deal to bring a GP to America one could argue that outdoor motocross over here is as strong as it’s ever been.
But where we go from here will be very interesting to those that have no stake in either series.