By Jody Weisel
Although many people have an urge to make the story about Glen Helen dropping off of the AMA National schedule into a classic tale of good and evil—it was for the most part a business deal that didn’t work out (and, yes, there were a lot of different points of disagreement that would have had to have been worked out).
Yet, in its simplest terms, Glen Helen wanted a long-term contract before they would commit to holding another National. You can’t blame them. It is a big investment, much larger than what the cellar dwellers on the internet could ever comprehend, and without a guarantee that he will be holding a race the following year, a promoter could lose his shirt if there was a rain storm, earthquake, tornado, wind event or other crowd killing catastrophe. If you don’t believe that, ask the promoters who held AMA Nationals in 2009 during major thunderstorms. There is even one East Coast National that failed to pay the money they owed on time.
As for facility upgrades at the track: Glen Helen has added immensely to its facility in the last few years; including a two-story sign-up building (that the AMA uses at the National); there are three separate permanent restrooms at Glen Helen (one in each of the towers and the original one near the starting gate, plus Glen Helen brings in 200 port-cans on race weekend and meets all the MX Sports requirements for water bibs and porta-cans in the pits), Glen Helen also built an elevated viewing platform, separate announcer’s tower and added a second paved road into the track from the back (which comes from a massive parking lot with free parking). Glen Helen also has eight acres of flat pits and a separate, air-conditioned building for timing and scoring. Glen Helen was also the only track to comply with MX Sports’ request to build a bike washing area for all the bikes at the National (after it was built, MX Sports said that since no one else built one that it wouldn’t be used). Glen Helen was also the only race track in the USA to
donate to the Danny "Magoo" Chandler Van Fund. Did everyone forget that Glen Helen opened its pits up for free in 2009? Other tracks charged up to $20 for a pit pass! Glen Helen also has grandstands (and two years ago moved two sets of grandstands onto the track in an L-shape to improved viewing). Additionally, Glen Helen builds a new racetrack every year and fences it on both sides to allow the fans to get as close to the action as possible (this costs Glen Helen $50,000 and few if any tracks on the National circuit redesign their tracks every year).
What is true is that Glen Helen fought hard not to knuckle under to the AMA’s Steve Whitelock’s or MX Sports’ John Ayers’ “smooth track” concept (and every AMA National track owner should continue to fight against this stupid idea). And although harsh words were spoken every year, especially last year when John Ayers, and John Ayers alone, decided to put a Monster Arch on the landing ramp of a jump, the track was not a factor in the contract talks. Davey Coombs said on Thursday, “It had nothing to do with the track– Jody builds a very dynamic, spectacular track, and I asked him before about building some more in the future. Losing the race course itself is the most regrettable part of this development.”
So, the real issues on the demise of Glen Helen’s National program really boiled down to the length of the contract. Many other AMA National tracks had four-year deals. Glen Helen only had a deal for 2010, with no guarantee for 2011 or beyond. With another SoCal racetrack telling everyone who would listen that they were getting the Glen Helen date in 2011, it became obvious to Glen Helen owner Dr. Bud Feldkamp that MX Sports had no intention of renewing the contract after May 29th, 2010. Thus, Glen Helen pushed for a long-term deal. As an AMA National and FIM Grand Prix track (and the track that donated its use to save what was left of the ill-fated Competition Park MXDN in San Jacinto; honoring every MXDN ticket and holding the World Cup event so that teams that were stranded in America could have a race), Glen Helen felt that being the only National on the circuit not to have a long-term contract was a slap in the face.
Davey Coombs said on Thursday, in answering an email, “...for what it's worth, the one-year extension was the same one that a track in Pennsylvania got.” This is true, but actually false. MX Sports runs the track in Pennsylvania in question (Mt. Morris) and has already decided to drop Mt. Morris off the 2011 schedule because of disputes with the land owner. Thus, the one-year extension at Mt. Morris is not comparable to the one-year extension at Glen Helen.
So, when MX Sports refused to extend Glen Helen’s National contract, Glen Helen assumed that MX Sports had already committed, at least in principle, to the other track in question for 2011 (Pala).
"This was a difficult decision, but ultimately, we simply were not able to come to contractual terms with Glen Helen Raceway," said Davey Coombs. "By moving the date to September 11, we will have time to find a suitable venue. Riders, teams and fans are making travel plans now and we want them to feel secure that we will have an exceptional venue ready in Southern California. We apologize for any inconvenience caused by this change."
Leading up to the eventual outcome, Glen Helen, Hangtown and Washougal sought legal counsel (together) to resolve issues with MX Sports. The Hangtown group is not a favorite of MX Sports (nor vice versa), but it is reported that they got some of what they were asking for. Washougal, on the other hand, felt that they were on the chopping block for 2011—thus, they joined with Glen Helen and Hangtown as a group. Hangtown, for its part, did not stick with the group, but instead took the MX Sports compromise deal and dropped out of their “one-for-all, all-for-one” agreement with the other two tracks. It wasn’t the bravura move that you would expect from the Dirt Digger MC, but it happened. As for Washougal, that deal hasn't been decided yet. But Washougal feels that its days are numbered with MX Sports (and talk of more Nationals at automobile tracks in the future signaled the Huffman family that Washougal would be replaced), they wanted to fight now instead of getting the axe later (and alone). Perhaps, Glen Helen dropping out will get them a contract extension. We'll see, but let's not get misty about all of this because in next few years there will be a sea change: Glen Helen is gone, Mt. Morris is next, Washougal thinks they are in danger, Southwick has serious issues, Budds Creek is iffy, there is talk about car tracks getting races and Ricky Carmichael is in line for a "good buddy" deal.
As Davey Coombs said, “Change is never easy. Glen Helen's decision to cancel their 2010 National over the length of their new contract is as surprising as it is disappointing. It leaves us no choice but to move forward and find a new facility in Southern California. I feel bad for the fans of Glen Helen, as well as the ones who have already made travels plans for Memorial Day weekend.”
The reason that few people heard about what was transpiring was because contract talks are private until a resolution of some kind is reached. There was always the possibility of some kind of agreement. And, if the media had reported on this issue a week ago, it would have said that Hangtown, Glen Helen and Washougal were all going to pullout of the 2010 AMA Nationals. That would have been inaccurate—because negotiation take many twists and turns. Thus, nobody involved said anything in hopes that it would all work out. It should be noted that several leaks caused rumors to spread that actually impacted the contract talks—it is obvious that the rumors tainted the opinion of Glen Helen against the true intent of MX Sports’ position.
No one conspired to ruin the sport. MX Sports and Glen Helen had a difference of opinion, and based on the available evidence, they negotiated with their ultimate goals in mind. It didn’t work out.
This is also not about a battle between MXA and Racer X. Apart from the fact that I design the Glen Helen National track and have for 15 years, MXA has nothing to do with the management of Glen Helen (although we do race there all the time)...and I have never taken any money for my work on the National track. Davey and I meet often to discuss issues of interest about the Nationals (we just had lunch two months ago). I am often at odds with Davey (particularly on the smooth track concept, moto length, track length, timed qualifying and limiting pro rider entries), but we normally state our opinions, agree to meet again when he’s in town and move forward. I don’t see how either magazine benefits from the AMA National series getting a black-eye.
On a side note: It is refreshing that neither Glen Helen nor MX Sports are attempting to trash each other in their press releases. The Nationals will continue and Glen Helen will most likely find another high-profile event for their facility.
DAVEY COOMBS RESPONDS AND STATES HIS CASE
By Davey Coombs
I can't argue with Jody's bottom line on this whole conundrum: it was a difference in length of the term, that neither side could get past. I continue to respect and appreciate what he does for the sport, and I hope we will continue to work together (though admittedly sometimes in different directions) to help the sport grow. I count on his opinion, his knowledge and his passion for motocross.
There are a couple of things that have been posted (on internet chat rooms) that are not accurate, or at least there's more to explain....
Both Pennsylvania tracks got one-year deals; I just did not make that clear in the earlier post. And yes, the plan is to move one to the Southeast in 2011. The other one has some work to do if it's going to remain.
There are no automobile tracks on the schedule, and there will never be one with more than 35,000 seats because that makes it a Supercross, as defined by the AMA's contract with the Supercross series. But a place like Barber Motorsports in Alabama would be a great location (and it's a motorcycle track, first and foremost).
"Proximity to Los Angeles" doesn't have a thing to do with TV production or budgets. Speed is located in Charlotte, NC, NBC is in New York City, and the folks who film the races are from all over the map. The cost is the same -- many, many times more expensive than I ever thought it would be.
As far as smoother tracks go, we're always damned if we do, damned if we don't. People get hurt, and everyone complains the tracks are too rough and dangerous. Smooth it out, people complain the tracks are too fast and dangerous. Bikes are so much different and more powerful than they used to be, and the stakes much higher for today's top riders. There is a sweet spot in there somewhere -- Thunder Valley was too smooth for the first motos, perfect for the second. Jake Weimer said Red Bud was rougher than he's ever seen it, and he won (that was the race where Ryan Dungey somehow endoed on a banked turn). Anyone who's ridden Loretta Lynn's knows how well a track that is both rough and groomed can be for racing....
And for the record, there is no deal with Pala Raceway or anyone else at this time. I have never stayed at Pala Resort, I have never gambled there, and I have never ridden there, but I have been there twice. It has a lot of potential, just like Glen Helen, Honey Lake, Competitive Edge and a few other California tracks. (And if you're keeping score at home, in the two years I have also been to Barber, three different tracks in Georgia, two ski resorts in Utah, a large park in North Carolina, Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, CA, Arizona Cycle Park, and I am headed to Camp Woodward in central Pennsylvania soon, as well as another place in North Carolina and one in South Carolina).
From here, we have to move on. We have a series coming up and a lot of very good tracks and riders, not to mention the fans and our industry, expect a quality championship. I plan to deliver. And for anyone who doesn't think I put the sport of motocross first and foremost, come out to the races and work alongside me for the weekend. If that doesn't change your mind, nothing will. But at least you will see a good race, and I will have someone to help us get the job done.