Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sorry, Santa Claus, there's no such thing as Virginia

Over the last week we've seen a few press releases -- first from AMA Pro Racing and then from Virginia International Raceway -- presenting different versions of the news that the VIR Superbike round was canceled just weeks before it was scheduled to come off. Although I'm not privy to any inside information on this, the news has made interesting reading.

 In a press release dated July 11, AMA Pro wrote...

It is with deep regret that AMA Pro Racing is forced to announce VIR's cancellation of the Suzuki White Lightening Nationals, Round 8 on the AMA Pro Road Racing season calendar. Despite AMA Pro Racing's efforts to preserve the originally scheduled August 12-14 event, VIR staff notified AMA Pro Racing late Monday, July 11, of its final decision not to host or promote the race weekend.

"AMA Pro Racing has made VIR a part of its season calendar for the past decade," said AMA Pro Racing COO and Managing Member David Atlas, "and I am gravely disappointed by the impact this will have on our paddock, fans, and other series participants. I assure all of those involved parties that a significant effort was made to negotiate an arrangement that would have preserved the event."

At first blush, it seemed that AMA Pro Racing was taken aback by VIR's decision to cancel the event -- a cancellation that AMA Pro seemed to suggest was a unilateral decision made by VIR. Then yesterday, VIR released this missive...

"VIR has received a number of inquiries and expressions of disappointment regarding the lack of a 2011 AMA Pro Racing event at VIR. As with any disagreement, there are two sides to every story. We want to make it clear that the decision was not one-sided, as David Atlas' remarks have implied, and that VIR made numerous proposals to AMA Pro Racing to keep this event on schedule. Due to our 10 year history with this premiere event, we are as disappointed by this outcome as most of those we have heard from.

VIR has worked hard to bring the event to fruition for months. Despite requests by VIR beginning in December 2010, AMA Pro Racing did not deliver its proposed contract for the 2011 event to VIR until early June 2011. Resulting discussions made it apparent that insufficient time remained to negotiate the new terms in the proposed contract and, if agreement were reached, to plan, promote and conduct the event in a professional manner.

In an effort to preserve the date, VIR went to extraordinary lengths to reach an alternative agreement with AMA Pro Racing, which AMA Pro Racing chose to reject. Given these circumstances, we had no choice but to take the date off the calendar and notify the public promptly."

Meow. Hiss. Pffthtt!

I think I raced in the first or second year of that ten-year run of AMA road race nationals at Virginia International Raceway, back in the days of the late and unlamented Pro Thunder class. At the time, it struck me as a great track for motorcycle racing, with a beautiful flowing layout; safe enough -- but that it was situated in way too isolated a spot for a National. (Calling it 'International' was a real stretch, unless the locals regret that the Confederacy lost the Civil War, and thus wish the South was, in fact, a different country. In that case, Danville would have been fairly close to the border.)

Back around that time, a Denver-based company called M1 Entertainment took over the promotion of the Road Atlanta round, and called it The Big Kahuna Nationals or some such thing. There was no logical connection between Road Atlanta and that Hawaiian theme, but M1 seemed to do a pretty good job with the Atlanta event. After a few years of putting on the Big Kahuna in Braselton GA, M1 lost it's contract with Road Atlanta.

Without really skipping a beat, M1 announced that it would move the event to Danville. I don't really know how much harder it was to draw a crowd to VIR, but it had to be a heck of a lot harder than drawing a crowd to Road Atlanta. I figure if you draw a 500-mile circle around Danville VA, you encompass a very large population base including the Washington DC metro. That's a large catchment area from which you can draw a minuscule percentage of avid Superbike racing fans. But casual fans will only drive about 50 miles, and if you draw a 50-mile circle around Danville, the population's sparse; the 50-mile circle around Road Atlanta encloses pretty much all of Atlanta.

That aside, last year the VIR race was not The Big Kahuna, it was the White Lightning Nationals. The name change was prompted by the fact that the track (shades of Road Atlanta) had decided to stop doing business with M1 Entertainment. (I have no reason to think that this is because of anything M1 did to cheese them off. I suspect it was just a situation in which the track owners thought, 'OK, we've seen how they do this, now we can do it ourselves.') Some people who were there last year reported that attendance was sparse compared to the M1-promoted events, but let's face it, the last few years have sucked in the motorcycle business.

I think AMA Pro Racing wanted to have a 10-event national championship, and the cancellation of the VIR round will leave them with eight rounds in the 2011 series. When AMA came to VIR a decade ago, it had just 'lost' the Loudon NH race, and the lack of a Superbike race anywhere in the Northeast was conspicuous. How could the AMA really claim it even had a 'national' championship without rounds catering to fans from New York, Washington, or Boston? Although VIR was in the boonies, it was the only dot they could put anywhere near the upper-right-hand corner of the map. Now that New Jersey Motorsports Park hosts an AMA National and solves that problem for AMA Pro Racing.

I think a few racers will miss that gorgeous VIR layout; it was a great track to race a motorcycle around. But frankly,  every team contesting the series is going to lose money this year. I doubt that many team principals are losing sleep over the absence of a round at Virginia International Raceway.


  1. Well put, Mark. I had emailed / posted questions on the why and wherefore, but only received one side's answer. And, having a kid, I know there's another side :) Thanks for helping pull back the drapes a bit.

    Best regards,
    Steve D
    Fair Oaks, CA

  2. Thanks Mark... and in the crossfire is the TTXGP. I'm waiting to get the official response from them, but I've been assured they're going to find another venue.

  3. Yes Ted, good point. I sort of blurted that out this morning and posted it before remembering that it was a TTXGP venue, too. I suppose you might rate VIR high for TTXGP as it's close to DC and the electric vehicle scene's highly politicized. While TTXGP's presence at the Laguna Seca event's very significant for a number of reasons, being associated with the AMA is not one of them, IMHO.

    I don't think TTXGP 'needs' VIR any more than AMA Pro does; nor does TTXGP need to be associated with the top national series for ICE bikes. A round as part of the LRRS series near Boston would put TTXGP in a very tech-savvy market; I'm sure many entrants would also like a round near Detroit.