With the AMA Nationals beginning this weekend at the famous Hangtown circuit in north California, we thought it might be a good idea to speak to MXSports Pro Racing President Davey Coombs about the 2019 season.
Having been involved in the sport since he was just a little kid, Coombs has a passion for the AMA Motocross Championship and continues to try and find ways to fight off the monster which is the AMA Supercross Championship.
With supercross running 17 rounds from January until May, the preservation of AMA motocross is always a battle, as riders and teams find the hard grind of supercross more and more demanding.
Having attended his first AMA Nationals way back in 1974, which he attended with his father Dave Coombs Sr it is easy to see that it isn’t red blood that flows through the veins of the younger generation Coombs, but dirt, dust, and mud.
Dave Coombs Sr was a racer, entertainer and businessman who pioneered the organization and promotion of AMA motocross and off-road racing series back in the 1970s, and Davey Coombs has done his best to keep the family business as successful as possible as the sport that pioneered in America continued to try and fight out of the shadow of supercross.
Davey, we have had a very good AMA Supercross championship with Cooper Webb getting the title. Does it make for the perfect entry into the Outdoor season with Eli Tomas as the champion and possibly those two battling for the title?
Yes, we had, fortunately, all three classes in AMA Supercross went down to the last night and as a fan or promoter, we like that type of drama. There isn’t a person on either side of the ocean thought Cooper Webb would be supercross champion now, and we already know he is probably just as good outdoors, be it in a 250, or on a 450 when he stepped up for Team USA at the Motocross des Nations. I expect him to be right up there with Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen and the other guys.
I think this year the 250 class seems like it is an open book, with the GP guys Hunter Lawrence, Dylan Ferrandis and Thomas Covington going up against a bunch of young American riders?
I do think it is wide open, with guys like Cooper Webb, Zach Osborne, Aaron Plessinger, and Joey Savatgy moving up and Jeremy Martin being hurt, it leaves that class wide open. We have three guys with GP experience, with the guys you mentioned, and I think all three have won a GP, so that will be exciting and we have a whole bunch of American kids, Cianciarulo, Chase Sexton, Colt Nicholls and I will say, if Austin Forkner he would probably be my favorite, because how I have seen him go in the past, but unfortunately when he lost his supercross title, he also lost the summer.
Tell me, can you remember your first AMA National as a kid?
Well, actually, my first AMA race was the Trans-AMA, that was the old series and it was in the fall of 1972, at Honda Hills in Ohio and Heikki Mikkola won, and instantly became my favorite rider throughout my childhood.
That was before the Nationals had even started, I would imagine?
The Nationals had started in the same year, but that was the first AMA race my dad took me to. The first AMA National I attended was in 1974 and it was won by Pierre Karsmakers. I have a really good memory from going to races and just growing up around the sport.
I know you have a great memory. Tell me, that era of the 1970s, we are roughly the same age and for me that era was just amazing, and I was a big Marty Smith fan That era, with Marty Smith, Bob Hannah, Tony DiStefano, Brad Lackey, and so many great riders, how could you compare that era to now?
You know Geoff, how can I put this. The movie On Any Sunday was the catalyst for the boom of motocross in the early 1970s. Torsten Hallman had already brought motocross here in the mid-60s what became the Inter-Am series. America was a different place back in that time. California had a lot of lands, where all the Japanese manufacturers set up shop, and motorcycles were really cheap. You didn’t have problems with insurance, land issues and environmentalists like we do now. There was literally a motocross track at the end of the Los Angeles Airport runway, called Elephant Hills. The idea of a motocross track in Los Angeles now is just ridiculous, you are two hours from there now. That changed the balance of where the industry lived, and it moved from that base. There was a time when Marty Smith, Marty Tripes, Marty Moates, Ricky Johnson, Broc Glover, Ron Lechien, Scott Burnworth, all lived in the same area, that San Diego area, where you could ride anywhere, and now you can’t ride anywhere out there. It has changed a lot, and it’s the way our country has changed, and it has affected the places you can ride and kids getting involved in racing.
How important is the amateur system in America, because kids are not riding everywhere because of the closing of tracks. Has that changed a lot over the years?
That has also changed a lot yes. It came commercialized in the 1980s, with really big events, like World Mini Grand Prix, the Pocho City race and of course Loretta Lynn’s. What we have now, guys don’t race as much as they used to, they spend a lot of time practicing. I imagine you have similar things happening in Europe, where everyone sets up at Lommel and just practices and practices. A lot of our young riders, we don’t see them at the races, but we see them daily at the practice tracks. Everyone is scratching their head trying to work out how to change that. People don’t seem to have the time and patience to spend an entire day at the racetrack to do two races, they would rather spend a few hours practicing and training and then go on to the next thing. We are trying to reconfigure that because, for local promoters, people are just not showing up to race.
I was actually speaking to Austin Root, the American rider who is over here doing selected races. He rode the Grand Prix in Mantova last weekend, and he said how the system here takes so long. He said at the Nationals you turn up Friday night, race two races on Saturday and then get out of there. He said at the GPs he is tired/bored by Sunday and just feels like taking a nap because the weekend is so long. I guess as you said, the attention span is maybe less when you are used to racing less?
Well, you have to remember, and we have talked about this before. You have supercross, which occupies the first five months and literally never stops, they have one weekend off. When we get to the summer and the Outdoor series starts, a lot of guys are burnt out, a lot of guys are running out of money. It was the teams that came to us in 2008, right when the economy was starting to bottom out and said can we shorten the program, because having everyone on the road for a Saturday and Sunday event, was adding 14 days in hotels, road trips and whatever and we had guys like Windham, Reed, and Stewart who were doing supercross only. We figured we would shorten the weekend and the time away and low and behold it worked because hardly any does supercross only now. We don’t get anywhere near as much track time as we used to.
I know you did that for the teams, but do you in some ways, as a fan feel sad you had to make that move, because motocross is a family sport, sitting out camping at night, and the whole weekend thing is also how you grew up?
Yes, but remember, we have amateur racing on Thursday, Friday and Sunday. I would prefer to have the top riders there, and the team continuing on the tour then have people drop out because they couldn’t keep up with the expenses, or after 29 or 30 weekends of racing, you have just had enough. Yes, sentimentally, or as a kid, I would like to spend as much time at the racetrack, just like I did growing up. Things have changed and kids’ attention spans have changed because everyone has an iPhone now and they tend to spend more time with electronics than you and I did Geoff.
What are you most looking forward to for the Nationals?
I just hope we have good racing, safe racing in both classes. I have been watching the GPs and with Jeffrey out and a few top guys hurt, Antonio is just poetry in motion.
With him winning it has gotten a bit boring in MXGP.
No, he is so diverse and so exciting to watch. It is like watching one of the all-time greats if he is a boxer or a basketball player. You appreciate it any time he is competing, no matter how much he wins by. As for Prado, he is so dominant and so good, he is making the MX2 class a little redundant. It is also like watching Jeffrey when he was dominating and there is good to it, but by the end of summer, right around the time Jeffrey will be coming back, I think everyone’s attention span will need him to come back. I hope over here we don’t have Eli get on a roll, or somebody take off unexpectantly in the 250 titles, and it just goes down to the wire.
Speaking about Jeffrey, we had talked about it earlier in the years, and we both figured he wouldn’t go to race the Nationals, but he mentioned to me in Valkenswaard that he actually did want to race the Nationals. It appears now that wouldn’t have been a good idea, with a lack of bike time.
I think that is the thing, not only would he want to win, but he would like to come over healthy and win, and it’s obvious he isn’t 100% and I imagine KTM figured he wasn’t going to be ready anyway.
I can imagine coming into the weekend you are excited, but you will obviously miss family time being away on a regular basis. How is your mindset coming into Hangtown?
Well, unfortunately, I will be gone for two solid weeks, because the first two rounds are in California, and my kids are at school so they won’t be able to go with me. I can’t wait for them to come to a few rounds this summer, they work at all my family races, selling programs or parking cars. My daughter has a little golf cart and runs a valet business, she is so cute it is hard to so no. I imagine one day I will be working for her. I am not sure what my kids will do when they grow up, and I hope they will in the family business, but I am sure they will be coming to races for a long time and I am happy for that.