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The Great Communicator Leaves Us Scratching Our Heads

In a press release dated June 12, 2008 from Daytona Motorsports Group, Roger Edmondson began by saying “It has always been my belief that it is important that we say what we mean and mean what we say. This also requires that we exercise care in what we say and how we say it.” Hard to argue with that, but the proof is in the pudding.

Unfortunately, the pudding doesn’t taste very good, of late. Edmondson was also quoted by a sports writer for the New Hampshire Union Leader Newspaper this past weekend as having this to say about the motorcycle racers DMS will showcase as the new owners, promoters and sanctioners of AMA Pro Racing here in the United States: “There’s no more conservative group of people than motorcycle racers … they have a comfort zone the size of a gnat.” The context of this quote was a discussion about the possible return of motorcycle racing to a notoriously dangerous track (for professional motorcycle racing, at least) at Loudon, New Hampshire. In fact, the article (which you can read here) appears to have a conversation going back-and-forth (perhaps not directly, but through the sports writer) between Edmondson and multi-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin on the safety of Loudon as an AMA Pro Racing venue. Mladin is an outspoken critic of the track in its current configuration.

Leaving aside whether AMA Pro Racing would ever return to Loudon (whether in its current configuration or not), this statement by Edmondson could very easily be construed as an insult to motorcycle racers in general, and professional AMA roadracers in particular. Since we can assume from his own words that Edmondson exercises great care in what he says and how he says it, an insult is how we will interpret this statement.

The statement is not only an insult, it is absurdly false. The clear implication by Edmondson is that motorcycle racers are unreasonably risk averse (the common term might be “sissies”), but it ignores the fact that risk is a fundamental part of racing motorcycles . . . a very big part (that is bigger than the risk taken by automobile racers in many respects). If motorcycle racers have “a comfort zone the size of a gnat”, perhaps Mr. Edmondson believes that NASCAR racers have no comfort zone, whatsoever. After all, they travel at high speeds like motorcyclists, but they won’t get near an immovable object (such as a wall) without being in a cage fortified by specially designed steel structures, and strapped to a specially designed racing seat by a five-point harness. Motorcyclists don’t like walls either, but when they race near them, they face the unique possibility than an accident will allow their body to directly impact the wall without any protection whatsoever (save a helmet and a leather suit). Runoff room is the motorcycle racers substitute for the steel cage and racing seat.

Since Mr. Edmondson counts as his friends and backers the wealthy France family (owners of NASCAR), we can assume that he did not intend a back-handed insult of automobile racers, but he certainly hasn’t “exercised care in what he said and how he said it”.

Motorcycle roadracing here in the United States is a relative flop. With few exceptions (such as MotoGP racing held at Laguna Seca), domestic roadracing draws relatively tiny crowds (compared to similar European events), and the roadracers themselves who take such huge risks to put on the show are rewarded very poorly from a financial perspective (with few exceptions, most notably the factory riders). We applaud DMG’s intention to make motorcycle roadracing here in the United States more popular and professional, but down playing the criticism of experienced, professional roadracers such as Mat Mladin, and insulting those who take great risk to put on the show is not the way to accomplish those goals. Perhaps Shirley Nance, grandmother of AMA Pro Josh Herrin, had a point when she posted this comment below the article on the Union Leader web site:

I’am the grandmother of “Josh Herrin” a pro motorcycle racer – AMA racer who is on the “Yamaha Factory Racing Team” Josh just turned 18 yr old – Thank you Matt for thinking of the lives of these motorcycle racers & these kids who race! What can I do as a grandmother to make sure saftey comes first for these racers? Grandmothers & mothers can have a lot of pull, if we all speak up. Look at “Mothers against Drunk Drivers” & how these women got the laws changed regarding drunk drivers on the road! Motorcycle racers are athletes, treat them with respect Mr. Edmondson & put my grandson’s saftey first, before the bucks! God Bless you Matt, for protecting the racers!

Edmondson comes across as a blowhard in the article, boasting that “We’ll call the shots” and stating that “With all due respect to Mat Mladin, who is one of the best racers on the planet, he’s not the future.” What is the future? Racers who don’t stand up for their right to race on safe tracks? Mr. Edmondson needs to take a step back, and listen to the racers who understand and take huge, but calculated and reasonable, risks every day on every race track.

Many of the tracks raced on here in the United States would never be approved for racing by the powers that be in Europe. Valentino Rossi is no sissy, but I can guarantee you he would never race at Loudon, or at some of the tracks already on the AMA calendar. Some of our approved tracks, like Loudon, lack sufficient runoff in certain corners, and otherwise fail to do everything reasonable to protect the safety of the participants. Thank God for John Ulrich, because in my mind, he single-handedly made air fence a reality where it is most needed.

Safety is what Europe requires, and this is part of why Europe completely out-classes us here in the United States when it comes to the quality, popularity and attendance at motorcycle roadracing events. Mr. Edmondson has talked about looking to role models when deciding how to take motorcycle roadracing to the next level here in the United States. The role models are there, and they are in Europe where tracks are far safer than Loudon, for certain, and many of the other tracks routinely raced upon by AMA Pro Racing. This is what “professionalism” requires Mr. Edmondson. There are no shortcuts.