Yeah, it's going to be one of those articles.
Before I get started, this is not an attack on MotoAmerica. MotoAmerica inherited a steaming pile from the Daytona Motorsports Group, and they had to rebuild more than one bridge to get the series where it is now. For those of you that don't remember DMG, they tried to make motorcycle racing more like NASCAR and much like when the XFL tried to make football more like a bar fight, it failed. Hard. They have put forth extra efforts to attract fans season after season, so again, this is not about what MotoAmerica is doing. Granted I am still on the fence about the recently announced Bagger class, but like I said the effort to grow the sport is appreciated.
This is about their sanctioning body, the American Motorcyclist Association, whose mission statement is "to promote the motorcycle lifestyle and protect the future of motorcycling."
As the sanctioning body for MotoAmerica, the AMA is mostly reasonable. They require that all MotoAmerica participants be AMA members in addition to having a MotoAmerica license. They have their own rules in addition to those in the MotoAmerica rulebook.
I have absolutely no issues with any of that.
Racing clubs all around the world have their own rules, and many require that you are a member in order to participate. It is very important that people running on the ragged edge in close proximity be on the same page when it comes to safety. Nobody likes a squid (or a cheater) at the track. Most racing clubs also have what is known as a reciprocity list. This list consists of other clubs that have proven to have rules and safety requirements in-line with the host organization. Racers visiting other clubs just have to show their home license in order to participate in the event. After a riders meeting to clarify any differences in rules or flags, everyone is on the same page, and then racers go racing.
While MotoAmerica does not have a reciprocity list, they are, and should be, picky about where their riders come from. This is, after all, the pinnacle of American road racing. It should be the fastest riders and those riders should come from clubs that have some history with fast riders. But is that what is actually happening? Not if the AMA has anything to say about the situation. Finally, I get to the point. In 2015, those looking to get a license to race in the professional MotoAmerica series could gather their points from 15 approved clubs: American Federation of Motorcyclists (AFM) Arroyo Seco Motorcyclist Association (ASMA) American Sportbike Racing Association (ASRA) Championship Cup Series (CCS) Central Motorcycle Roadracing Association (CMRA) Central Roadracing Association Inc. (CRA) Loudon Road Racing Series (LRRS) Motorcycle Riders Association (MRA) Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association (OMRRA) Team Pro-Motion GP Moto Elite Sandia Motorcycle Roadracing Inc. (SMRI) Utah Sportbike Association (USBA) Chuckwalla Valley Motorcycle Association (CVMA) WERA Motorcycle Roadracing (WERA) Washington Motorcycle Road Racing Association (WMRRA) MotoWest Grand Prix (MWGP) .
This rule later changed to requiring racers to go through an AMA sanctioned club for 50% of the points needed to be eligible for a MA license. Unfortunately for the 2020 season that list was reduced to only seven approved clubs: ASRA, CCS, CMRA, MRA, SMRI, USBA, or WERA.
So what happened to the other clubs? Did they all disband? Did the other eight clubs suddenly become unfair or unsafe? Nope.
Besides MWGP, the rest of the clubs are still around, still fair, and still as safe as motorcycle racing can be.
"Oh, that's good!", I hear you exclaiming from the bathroom stall at your office, "I've got it! Road racing in America is so popular that MotoAmerica must have wait lists for their grids?"
Last season the MotoAmerica Superbike class had a total of 23 participants. If all 23 bikes were on the grid for the entire season, that isn't too bad of a show. The problem is that Superbikes are the premier class of American Road racing, and in 2019 they averaged 14.35 entries per race, and of that an average of 12 bikes finished those races. Compare that to the 17.57 average finishers from the premier class of one of the no-longer-accepted- for-points clubs, the American Federation of Motorcyclists, and we still don't have an answer. (For reference, MotoGP has 22 full time riders on their grid, plus the expected one-off and fill in participators.)
"Well then", I hear you whisper under your breath in a meeting that could have been an email, "it must be that those clubs produce slow riders. That's gotta be it..."
Wrong again. MotoAmerica's Stock 1000 champion Andrew Lee, Junior Cup champion Rocco Landers, Supersport champion Bobby Fong and Superbike champion Cameron Beaubier all came through the AFM. Andrew Lee even earned the #1 plate for 2019 with the AFM and CVMA in addition to his MA hardware. Current #1 plate holder Jayson Uribe spent some time in Europe racing and has done some superbike racing with MotoAmerica. Chuck Graves decided to skip MotoAmerica in 2019 in favor of having his rig present at AFM events instead. In short, it seems that at least one of the omitted clubs still has the ability to develop fast riders.
So what is it? Why would the AMA, an organization trusted by over 200,000 people to promote the motorcycle lifestyle and protect the future of motorcycling, limit the path to becoming a professional motorcycle racer? Politics.
The AMA is thinking with their political head, not the one that wants to see road racing in America succeed. To get on this list of approved clubs, every single member must purchase an AMA membership. Not just the handful that might have the desire and skills required to compete on the national stage, but the middle-aged accountants, the should-still-be-in-"B"-group track day riders, and people outside of MA's age restrictions that race for fun a few weekends a year.
Surely, though, the compulsory AMA memberships must be of huge benefits to the racing clubs, right?
Not so much.
According to the contract drafts that I have seen, clubs that are AMA sanctioned must also use AMA approved insurance companies, even if it is more expensive or offers worse coverage than what the clubs might already have. The AMA gets to hang banners, set up booths, and otherwise recruit for the AMA at club racing events, something that they could do by simply sponsoring a class - you know, protecting the future of motorcycling via participation. Everything that the sanctioned club does has to be AMA branded, and I wouldn't hold your breath for help from the AMA in hanging the additional banners or doing the recruiting.
For the privilege of paying AMA's insurance company and doing the AMA marketing department's work for them, the club also has to whip out their checkbook before each round. That is after every single member also cuts a check to the AMA for their annual memberships, of course.
The AMA strong-arm membership drive technique has not sat well with the majority of the racers that I have spoken to. I have been contacted by racers from multiple clubs (whose names I will be leaving out, just in case someone at the AMA decides to be petty) that have had their existing licenses questioned and others that have had to argue in order to be able to use their non-sanctioned 2019 points to secure a MotoAmerica license. Other riders that I spoke to made the decision to not pursue their MotoAmerica licenses in 2020, two of which also cancelled their AMA memberships.
As I mentioned earlier, I am not trying to bash anything that MotoAmerica is doing and understand that their hands are tied by their sanctioning body. Much like how big-box retail employees have to follow the rules set by the bean-counters at corporate, getting mad at the cashier isn't going to change anything. I am choosing to respect that MotoAmerica has little say in this whole thing, and like when I am forced to shop at big-box retail, I go out of my way to make sure that the employees know they are not the problem.
That said, my dollars will not be going to the AMA this year. Instead of renewing my AMA membership I will be making a donation to the Roadracing World Action Fund, and will do my best to spin some laps with at least two of the non sanctioned clubs. While the AMA will probably not even notice my missing fifty bucks (they have not replied to the email that I sent stating why I would not be renewing this year), with any luck enough people follow suit. The AMA could use a reminder that forcing politics upon people does not always turn out the way you hope.
In a perfect world, the AMA gets the hint and takes a long, hard, look at their mission statement as it seems that they have lost focus.
The "motorcycle lifestyle" of the cruiser rider that opposes helmet laws is going to be quite different than the the motorcycle lifestyle of an ATGATT commuter, the motorcycle lifestyle of a family of dirt bike enthusiasts, or the motorcycle lifestyle of an amateur road racer. The one thing that is common within "the motorcycle lifestyle" is the motorcycle, and with it, the freedom that it symbolizes. The motorcycle lifestyle is the exact opposite of what the AMA is asking MotoAmerica to do. If anyone from the AMA stumbles upon this, please help MotoAmerica fill their grids, fill the stands, and protect the future of all aspects of motorcycling, not just the ones you need help with in on Capitol Hill.
About the Author: While Max Klein is the SF Chapter Director for the AFM, he lacks the skills, desire, or endurance to race professionally, and he really wants to see another American in MotoGP. He trusts that those who are on the path to professional motorcycle racing will get their licenses through the required steps in whatever series they choose to pursue, and will be cheering on those pros no matter what club gave them their start. These are also his opinions, and do not necessarily reflect those of the AFM.