Holding Out for a Hero by dean adams
Friday, September 05, 2014
What follows are my opinions and observations, nothing more, nothing less.
Since July of 2013, I have looked him in the eye and shook Wayne Rainey's hand three times. As a three-time world champion and two-time AMA Superbike champion, Rainey and his accomplishments deem respect. However, I think with Rainey, the way he has faced almost unimaginable adversity with a quiet, selfless resilience since September of 1993 means that he is perhaps the most respected man in all of motorcycling. I don't know anyone, from Valentino Rossi to the president of Honda to Marc Marquez to Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, who, if they got a message stating that Wayne Rainey needed something of them, would not immediately stop what they were doing, turn off the world, call Rainey directly, and say "What can I do for you, Wayne?".
This is the level of respect that Wayne Rainey has in the motorcycle industry. And in Europe. And Japan.
I actually do not know Wayne Rainey very well on a personal level. As a fan I saw him race many times in the 1980s until his career ended in 1993. I do, however, know a lot of his friends. One of them told me a story, which I believe to be true. The story is that six months or more ago Rainey confided to him that he was going to buy or acquire the rights to racing in America and run the series.
What? Our mutual friend crouched down next to Rainey's wheelchair, took a deep breath and asked, 'Hey, you sure you want to do that?' He told Wayne that his life is very good right now--he and his wife Shae live a nice life in Monterey and his son Rex is enrolled at Pepperdine University. 'You sure that you want to try and save racing, now, at this point in your life?'
Rainey, our friend said, looked at him emphatically and said yes, he was sure he wanted to do this. Rainey's response was unequivocal: we need to save racing in America; we need to ensure a path for young riders to get to MotoGP; we need to do this.
I think Rainey going to the manufacturers and other industry sponsors for funding is going to be much different from what transpired with DMG. This is not a group of men unknown to most of us asking the motorcycle industry to spend serious money on a billionaire's pet series. This is Wayne Rainey asking the motorcycle industry to help him resurrect US roadracing, to help get American riders into MotoGP.
That said, I think MotoAmerica will need all of Rainey's clout to pull this off. There certainly is still enough business left in the US motorcycling industry to support a roadracing series, but attracting the big supporters who felt burned by DMG won't be easy, at all. For example, consider Kawasaki, a near 30 year supporter of Superbike racing in the US, an iconic brand synonymous with Superbike racing from nearly the first days of the class. Kawasaki has, without putting too fine a point on it, moved on. Kawasaki, today, has a very distant relationship with roadracing in the US, at best. What, I think, the DMG fiasco illustrated to Kawasaki is that they didn't actually have to go Superbike or even Supersport racing in America in order to sell or even develop Kawasaki sport bikes. Instead, they sent a bunch of agency hippies, a camera crew and a bike to the Isle of Man. Instead they sponsored bikes in the Pikes Peak Hillclimb event, and they capitalized on the presence of the Kawasaki WSBK team when they introduced a new Ninja, based on the iconic 900 Ninja, last July. Maybe it will be an easy phone call when Rainey--who won the 1983 AMA Superbike championship while riding for Kawasaki--calls Kawi' USA and asks them for their support.
Honda? American Honda has long wanted basically what is rumored to be Rainey's new class structure--Superbike with Moto2 and Moto3-style support classes. Racing is still very important to Honda. To illustrate, they spent considerable money supporting Nick Hayden's RCV1000 this year in MotoGP. My bet is that Honda will be on board with Rainey.
Yamaha? Rainey is Yamaha and Yamaha is Rainey.
Suzuki? Ducati? Unknown.
Chuck Aksland, also a member of the team that owns MotoAmerica, is a longtime Rainey/Team Roberts insider. He's been around racing his entire life and at one time was actually teamed with Rainey when they were both young roadracers. In the '80s, Rainey and "Chuckie" rode 250s here in the US, although Chuck had the perhaps unenviable role of beingsimultaneouslyWayne Rainey's teammate on the team and also of being Wayne Rainey's mechanic on the team.
More importantly, Aksland has worked for Team Roberts in MotoGP and International Racers (the management house which guided Roberts, Rainey, Lawson, the Haydens and Doug Chandler's careers) and Circuit of America. Aksland remains the manager of record for both WSBK rider Jon Rea and Yoshimura's Roger Hayden, thus he brings a great deal of "current state of the industry" knowledge, contacts and expertise to his new role.
On a personal level, I take it as a matter of personal pride that the AMAOhio, not DMGsent the press release about Rainey and company taking over the former DMG to seemingly every other media entity in existence ... except Superbikeplanet.com.
Maybe it was because we have often reminded one and all of the statements made in public when DMG took over. We did this as a way of balancing what actually didn't happen, how in the biggest flop since Rossi went to Ducati, even with their vast financial resources, DMG didn't actually make motorcycle roadracing better in many reasonably significant ways, even though the biggest historical problem the championship faced--where to get the money--seemed solved, for once.
That criticism of DMG and AMA said, it could be a grave error for Rainey and the AMA to not recognize that the failure of DMG roadracing largely rests with the seemingly nameless and faceless men at the DMG executive level. A lot of the feet on the ground in DMG uniforms did, I think, commendable work in seriously unpleasant situations and environments. Two such people that spring to mind are Director of Communications and Technical Operations, Gene Crouch, and Technical Director of Competition, Al Ludington. I believe that Crouch could run a MotoGP team almost single-handedly; he basically ran DMG roadracing on so many different fronts simultaneously that it's scary. Moreover, Ludington is, I think, a pretty good police presence when every top level team in every class is pushing the rulebook to its limits. If you understand racing, then you might share my opinion that as a technical director, it's his job to be unpopular because, largely, that means he is being effective. I predict that it will cost the KRAVE Group and or the AMA literally millions of dollars to replace the existing roadracing infrastructure we now know as DMG. Big parts already work pretty well. Will they leave them as is or will the whole operation have to be scuttled?
DMG is left with licensing outdoor motorcross and Supercross to already successful entities, and sanctioning hillclimb and dirttrack events.
I don't think I have ever seen Jim France, much less spoken to him, even though I have been to his Daytona track countless times. I have been told the same stories that most know about him--he is deeply private, rides a motorcycle to work and his first love was dirt track.
Again, his first love was dirt track.
Thus, maybe the current situation is the way the sale of AMA Pro Racing should have been handled from the very start: with DMG trying to pull dirttrack into being more of the "world's center of racing", and letting people who know roadracing and the motorcycle industry take charge of roadracing. Hardcard, anyone?
Those close to Rainey suggest that he knows that this is not going to be easy, to resurrect what is left of roadracing in America. He says that he is going to need vast amounts of help and support, from friend and foe alike, and for foes to cooperate for the greater good. That's a tall order--for anyone but Wayne Rainey. With DMG, I think the question of motive loomed every day; fans, media and teams wondered how it could be that with a billionaire as an owner, the series diminished in stature every year he owned it. What was DMG's plan? No one seemed to know.
In many important ways Rainey has a better start at running a motorcycle championship than even a billionaire. This is not a nameless faceless man who never gave a single interview or even offered comment after he bought the whole of AMA Pro Racing. Rainey is a known entity--the majority of fans and motorcycle industry people probably know Rainey or assuredly know who he is, and what he has accomplished, and sacrificed.
While racing, Rainey was tenacious and relentless in chasing success; he did what many on the same motorcycle proclaimed to be impossible. After racing, Rainey has become a man so respected that friends and enemies alike would probably have no qualms if they were given a marble bust of his likeness to display in their homes. If racing has a true Statesman, it is Rainey. His integrity is unquestioned and his ability to accomplish the impossible is well-documented. Again, he is perhaps the most respected individual in all of motorcycle racing.