Q&A with DMG's Roger Edmondson This is a transcript of the press conference held last Thursday by DMG's Roger Edmondson at Laguna Seca Raceway:
I appreciate you all being here. I certainly didn't expect to see quite so many folks. We're here to announce our schedule for 2009. The folks from the racetrack are handing them out, so all the detail is there. So I'm just going to go over things in general and tell you that we're very pleased that every single promoter of an AMA road race in 2008 has renewed their contract with us for 2009, and we're also hopeful to add two additional facilities - two new facilities - pending a visit and evaluation by the rider safety committee. In the next few days, and now that the schedule's in place, we will start to fill in the pieces, and start announcing the hiring of personnel, the addition of staff, some of the details that you're looking for, including the final class structure. We've been working with the manufacturers over the last few days. I know that's what you all want to talk about this morning. But I'm not going to talk about this morning, because that's in a very sensitive stage, and I have agreed with them that we would handle this in a mature and adult way, and that means that both sides - assuming there are still sides; I like to believe we're all coming together - but I think it's important that we not put any pressure on any of the parties, from the manufacturer group or from my group right now, to take a position. We all have the same goal, and that's a unified series that will be as strong as possible in the United States. So, with that in mind, that said, any questions?
Q Do all of the tracks have signed contracts?
A No. Typically we would not announce a schedule that did not have signed contracts, because that's been our policy at Grand-Am, and luckily over the years we've never had a cancellation. But in this case, we have letters of intent, and I have given these promoters multiple opportunities to back out, knowing that we were going to make this announcement today, and having a long-standing relationship with virtually every one of them, I'm quite comfortable that we have a schedule that we're going to keep. We expect to be at all those places.
Q Roger, are you going to read the schedule for the people who don't have copies of it?
A Sure. Sure. In fact, I'll go over it in a little bit of detail. The first event will be, obviously, as always, Daytona. And the wrinkle there is that we will run the 200 Friday night under the lights, and the Supercross race will be moving to Saturday. Two weeks later, we'll be at Auto Club Speedway. We're not sure - I can't tell you exactly what the course will be - but we are going to take a look at the potential to change the race course there. There've been problems with that front straightaway. One of the problems is that nobody sees it, because the grandstands aren't open. So we're going to take a look at the potential for where you come out onto the banking and turn left coming out of the infield, we're going to see if there's any potential to turn right, go down the back straightaway and come in where the sports cars do, and see if we can't keep the action in front of the spectators. But we don't know if that will work until we go look at it, and again, that would be something that we would want to get the riders' input.
Two weeks later, Road Atlanta. That event is moving from Labor Day to the first weekend of April. A full month later, Barber Motorsports Park. Two weeks later, Infineon Raceway. Two weeks later again, Miller Motorsports Park. We will be part of the World Superbike event. I can't tell you at this point in time which classes we will run, but I can tell you we will not attempt to run the entire program. The facility is going to bring in more of the FIM categories, and so once we know exactly what the FIM requirements are for time, we'll then pick the program we think will be most complementary, and fill it with AMA activity.
The following weekend, we have our only back-to-back, and that is at Road America on June 5 through 7. Four weeks later, we'll be back here at Mazda Raceway. Again, we will bring part of the AMA program. We're not going to attempt to bring the entire program. We have a fixed schedule for the MotoGP. We want to make sure that we bring enough activity to fill the time. We want to make sure we don't bring so much activity that people can't enjoy being here and that the paddock is overfilled.
Two weeks later, Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Two weeks later again, a new event at Heartland Park in Topeka. I don't know if any of you have been there recently, but there's been a multi-million dollar infusion of cash with the local government getting involved there, and they've done a really great job. We'll have the rider safety committee take a look at it, but we've got part of the country that's a growth area. Two weeks later again - I keep saying two weeks - Virginia International Raceway. And then three weeks later, New Jersey Motorsports Park, an event that we think has great potential. This marketplace is going to be very important to team sponsors, to series sponsors, and to the industry as a whole, being located where it is. There is potential, and I haven't put it here - there is consideration of the possibility of running one final Supersport race at Daytona International Speedway as a companion to the Moto-ST Eight Hour in October, but that decision has not been taken yet. So we'll announce that at the right time.
Q You say rider safety committee. Do you know yet who's going to be on it?
A I do not.
Q Any idea what the status of the television deal is at the moment?
A Yeah. The television deal is on my desk. We have a disagreement over part of it, and when we solve that disagreement, we'll execute it. But it will be with Speed.
Q Is the problem who's paying for the HD truck?
A No. No. That's up to them to pay for the HD truck.
Q You met with the tire companies last week. When will you have a decision on your control tire?
A I believe that we'll be able to announce that within two weeks. What do you think, Al? Do you think -
[unknown] I think two weeks.
EDMONDSON: Yeah. We had three very good proposals. It's really gratifying to see that the three companies saw this very much the same way, but each of them have their own unique character, both in terms of their goals and how they presented it to us, and it's going to be a strong program no matter which one of the three we choose.
Q What about suppliers, and people who have to homologate parts and things like that? Has that process started?
A That process has started in that we have begun designing the forms, and Bill Syfan will be heading that up for us.
Let me pause it there for a minute, because there's a lot of stories out there that homologation fees for this are going to be extremely expensive. I've seen some of them on the air. Actually, the homologation fees are going to be less than these companies pay to participate in WERA and CCS and the other club race programs. Our goal, and all of these homologation programs, is in two primary areas. One is to make sure, where needed, we have the parts and the ability to prove that what is in tech after a race or after qualifying is exactly what is supposed to be used; in other words, that the bike and the equipment matches what we've approved. And the second is to raise funds for the teams. Our business plan does not rely on homologation fees for us to buy the baby new shoes at Christmas time. So all those rumors of big homologation fees and so forth are exactly that.
Q What's going to be your involvement with the Grand-Am car series next year?
A I am the President and Chief Executive Officer of Grand-Am, and until Jim France changes his mind about that, I intend to stay there.
Q Is it day-to-day? Will you be at every round?
A The question is will I be at every round of the sports car series, or every round of the motorcycle series?
A Probably not at every round of either one.
Q Any concepts of cross-pollination? A couple years ago we had a Supermoto and Champ Car event at Road America. Anything pending possibly between this series and -
A And Grand-Am? At this point in time, there's not been any serious consideration given to it. I think that the attempts we've made with Moto-ST to run with the sports cars have proven there's some interest there, some capability there. The promoters who've done it have felt that it was beneficial. But the AMA national championship is such a significant product on its own that I don't think it makes sense for us to take bits and pieces of it and try to put it into the Rolex Series. So I would say right now it's not likely. It's not likely.
Q When will the teams have a complete set of technical rules so they can start building motorcycles?
A Yeah. In the next few days we'll be releasing the class structure and the rules one by one. They do know the general rules, the ones that say you have to safety wire this and have to have a kill switch and all that stuff, we're not going to worry about that for the moment. Those will all stay as they are. But the specific rules for the classes will be released in short order, and I know everybody feels it's very late in the season, but I don't believe there's anything in these rules that would keep a competent team from being able to field a bike in two or three weeks.
Q Are there any changes that you have to announce concerning the race weekend, like qualifying format or anything like that?
A Right now, it's my intention to have timed practice as in the past, with Superpole for the top ten from timed practice in every category except one. And again, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but this will all be self-evident when the class structure is released. I will give you a little preview. We are going to add a class that nobody is aware of, or has been aware of, and there's been no discussion. We will be adding a class for entry-level riders. They will have a license and an age limit that is below the typical classes that you're used to, but is above the Red Bull Rookies' program, and that is a category that will not be subjected to Superpole or that type of pressure.
Q Will that be called Sportbike?
A It will. Good. [Laughter]
Q Is there an age limit on this?
A You've been reading my mail. Yes. [Laughter] Or maybe Sarah Palin's, too. No, I'm not going to go into those details, but it will certainly be a program that's not designed as a playground for the factories. It's designed to allow young people to come into our sport, learn the ropes, and be ready to move on with a professional career if that's what they want. Very much like Supersport was originally designed to do back in the '80s when we first brought it in.
Q Do you have a commitment from the Red Bull Rookies' Cup for next year?
A I do.
Q And that commitment?
A They would like to have a separate announcement, and I'm not going to steal their thunder. But we may very well be doing that later today or tomorrow.
Q What about Moto-ST? How many races will that take part in?
A We do not. The Moto-ST schedule will be between six and eight races. That's what I promised the teams that we would deliver, and that's about what they can afford to do. And that is an optional category for each of our AMA promoters, and where it fits, where it makes sense, that's where we'll put it. But we will continue to open the season with a three-hour Moto-ST race at Daytona, and close it with an eight-hour every year.
Q We've heard some rumors about condensing the days. Do you have any news on that?
A Well, all the days will still have 24 hours. [Laughter] And we will have official activity Friday through Sunday on a typical weekend. The amount of time devoted to each category will be semi-equal, except for the Sportbike category.
Q Mostly I was looking at are we still moving in on Wednesdays and promoter practice on Thursdays?
A We're still - I don't know yet. We're wrestling with various concepts on testing. We have a problem in all motorsports with the rich just getting richer. And that means in some cases, of course, the poor just get poorer. And I think we need to come up with a test system that makes sense, but at the same time, we're trying to control runaway spending. We have to remember that many of our track promoters rely on some of those test days for revenue. We found when we cut the testing out of Grand-Am, that we were costing each of our tracks about $100,000 a year, and that's not easily made up in additional hot dog sales or spectator sales. And so, that's something we have to consider. I don't believe it hurt the racing a bit. When everybody gets the same amount of opportunity, they make the best of it, and they go out and put on a show. And I believe that our teams are capable of doing exactly that same thing. But we do want to come up with a program that makes sense. We're going to take a look at some of the stuff that they're doing in Europe, as well as talk to some of the other sanctioning bodies, and the promoters. But there will be some control imposed on testing, and the reason I bring it up in this context is you're obviously talking about the Thursday promoter test day. That's obviously the perfect chance for everybody to be there together, but it does add an additional night or two to the teams' travel budget. And that may be the most effective way to do it, because it's not like getting in the truck and driving to the track and coming back just for testing. But we'll see. We're about to.
Q Roger, I don't see the current Laguna Seca event on the schedule. Are you not doing it?
A This event has been billed as the end of an era, and I guess that would be true. There's no plan to run a freestanding Superbike race next year at this facility.
GILL CAMPBELL: And to address that, too, there never was a plan. This was a trial, a deal for us to run a standalone event, and it has not been the most successful. We've realized we should put all of our efforts and energies into the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix. So there was never a plan this year at all, or after this year.
EDMONDSON: To add to what Gill's said, I've never seen it work either, in sports cars or in motorcycles. When you have an event of the magnitude of a MotoGP race or a World Superbike race, it pretty well takes the motorcycle road racing money out of the budget in that area, and if you try to get them motivated to come back for a national event - as proud as we are of our national championship, that's what it is. It's a national championship. It's not an FIM World Championship. It's hard to make that pay off, because you've still got all the same expenses.
Q I think when you met in private with the teams at Mid-Ohio, the belief was you weren't going to race during the MotoGP weekend. What changed your mind?
A Gill did. [Laughter]
CAMPBELL: The powers of female persuasion. [Laughter]
EDMONDSON: She can be very persuasive. No, it just made sense to do it the way we're talking about doing it, which is partial. Trying to put ten pounds in a five-pound bag did not make sense, and it didn't work for the track or for the teams or anybody else. And when you run, again, at a World Championship event, whatever pounds the FIM's entitled to, they're going to get. That leaves precious little. So we're going to work very closely with her team to make sure that we bring in enough AMA activity to be proper entertainment to them, and for the spectators. I think probably what really turned it for me was not necessarily Gill, but it was one of the people that one of you interviewed later, who commented that while we were trying to look after the feelings of our teams and our team owners and the riders, who really were in a second-class state, no matter how we did it, they still have sponsors. And to not give them the opportunity to put those sponsors in front of a huge crowd was probably short-sighted thinking. So I'll take the heat for that one, and I've had a change of heart.
Q Brainerd. I've asked Brainerd every weekend. Can you say anything on that subject?
A I've never heard from anybody at Brainerd International Raceway. I know they've made some changes there, and we always used to enjoy going up there in the old days. I'm confident that as time goes by, we're going to have a new challenge, and it's the one I'd love to have, and that's more promoters wanting to have events that we can afford to go to. And we can't afford to go to them until we attract more outside sponsorship. Right now, everybody's robbing the same trains. The Suzuki train goes by, and then the Honda train goes by, and everybody's got their hand out to the same people, trying to get the funding they need. And until we can break that cycle, which is going to take a while, it's going to be very slow growth as far as adding events.
Q Are you worried about the manufacturers, the fact that they support and sponsor most all of the races, finding somebody to replace them if they aren't involved?
Q Do you believe all the races will have event sponsors, one way or the other?
A I believe that these promoters are comfortable that we can together make this work, and we certainly hope that every manufacturer sees positive things in what we're putting forth enough to be part of it, and to continue to support it the proper way that they have. And I've made commitments to each of them to work hard to try to reduce that over time, and that means we've got to go out and get Fortune 500 companies to see the good of what we're doing here. But no. I believe that every event will have proper sponsorship next year, and I believe these promoters do to. You know, they don't do this as a hobby. And the power of my personality is not enough to get them to say, "Okay, we'll sign up for a $100,000 loss, or a quarter-million dollar loss." They've signed up because they believe we can make this work, and I hope you do to. Because we think we can.
Q Geographically speaking, you seem to have a pretty good mix across the country, with the exception of the Pacific Northwest. Is there any potential for expansion of the schedule into the Pacific Northwest.
A Yeah, once there's a promoter who wants to do it. And I think that this is something that - I'm assuming that you all know how this works, but I find in sports cars, even teams that have been there for years don't. We don't just sit in our office and decide where we want to go race, like CCS or WERA would do, because they'll go and rent the racetracks. In our case, we require that there be a racetrack that can meet the standards, and then there has to be a promoter - a person who is willing to take the financial risk to pay the sanctioning fee and the prize money and all the things that are involved, do all the advertising, buy the insurance, and do all that stuff, and we haven't found that person in Portland. Years ago it was Mike Neely, and I think he had a lesson that he didn't recover from quickly. So there hasn't been anybody in quite some time. But that's part of the country we'd like to be in. It just hasn't worked out.
Q Are you worried that the current general financial problems in the entire country are going to impact all this stuff?
A Yeah, I'm worried about it. I mean, the banks are only insured to $100 grand, so I could lose my fortune, right? No, I'm just kidding. We're all worried about it, okay? It's a serious problem, and I think it would be silly for us not to pay attention to it. Certainly going to affect us in multiple ways here. One of our sponsors is a bank, on the sports car side. They're very interested in this, but right now, not from the credit/lending standpoint. They don't want to hear about it. People who still feel rich, they want to handle their portfolios. Well, that shrinks their potential. For a lot of people who are finding the diesel fuel in a $4.50 a gallon range, that's going to shrink their ability. And that was the one thing that I was hoping for, was that we could group events on the schedule a little bit more so in a region. But we've got to remember, if you have events too close together, then you're taking the ticket buyer money out of that marketplace. So we've got some trips back and forth across the country. But this is a national championship. So people have to be prepared to travel. But I believe it's the best travel schedule we've had in a long time. One back-to-back, most of them are two weeks or four weeks apart, and that gives people an opportunity to have real lives outside of racing.
Thanks so much. I'm infringing on somebody else's time.