For Davey Coombs, as many of us, the sport of motocross isn’t just a job, it is a living. The sport is in his DNA, coming from a life-long involvement in motocross. As a boy he cleaned up garbage at his parent’s events, eventually building his own business with RacerX magazine, the leading motocross magazine in America and one of the biggest in the World.
Now President of MXsports, the company that runs the AMA Nationals and a bunch of other major motorsport events in America, Coombs knows more than anyone how important it is to make sure motocross keeps running once this coronavirus ends. Positive about the future, but concerned about the present, DC took our call yesterday and answered some of our questions.
Davey, thanks for your time. We see all the calendar changes and lockouts. It is a tough time for the industry isn’t it?
Yes, but I see companies like Troy Lee Designs, FOX and many others trying their best to make adjustments and get through to a brighter and more steady hope, but right now the hits just keep on coming.
We have been locked up for two weeks in Holland and many countries in Europe and I am always looking at the Coronavirus stats. We see a decline and then it goes up and we so see many cases. I am sure there are millions and millions of people who have had it or have it and not on record. It is a question I wanted to ask, because the Nationals were starting in May and now pushed back. Can you tell me about that?
Well, for sure, and we now start June 13, and we pushed it back as soon as we realized what was going on and we coordinated with Supercross and our promoters and it is still ambitions and every day we get less confident that we won’t be ready on June 13. We have a lot to consider with what is happening with Supercross and what the riders and teams need. Right now, nobody is getting in airplanes.
With AMA Supercross running now in September, October or maybe even November, that makes your situation difficult, because you can’t back into those dates for the Nationals. What is the worst-case scenario for the Nationals do you think?
Well, let’s start with the best-case scenario.
I guess that is starting on June 13?
Well, that was the second-best scenario. The best scenario is starting at Hangtown on May 16. You have been there before, it is close to Sacramento, which is the capital of California in a very bureaucratic and sometimes difficult place to maneuver because of all the red tape. The Hangtown Nationals is held on a state park and at the mercy of the government and the government is shutting down California. They made the decision not to race at all this year. If they can’t do it on May 16 it gets really hot in that part of the country and outdoor motocross isn’t good at that time of year. So, we realized we needed to look at the schedule and look at the off weekends we have, the same way David [Luongo] and Daniele [Rizzi] looked at their [MXGP] schedule and figured we can still get all these races in. It is going to get crowded and busy, but those are the decisions you make. You either cancel races or make them when you can. For MXGP, they can go into October and November, but for us, we have Supercross to consider. The way we approached it was back up and give them the month of May and at that time they were still considering doing Vegas and Salt Lake City and that would have given them the opportunity to finish their series. The pandemic isn’t cooperating and our next plan was to start late and also finish early. We have two off days in August, because we thought there would be an Olympics, and our television partner, NBC, is also the partner for the Olympic Games, so even before any of this was going to happen, we were not going to race on the weekends of the Olympics in August. Now the Olympics are off, NBC is asking what we have for them. We knew the industry and fans wanted to finish what has been a very compelling Supercross series. We talked to Supercross and they considered going into June, but it isn’t as easy to get stadiums available and they have to get all their people on the road. Even if we said today, “we are going racing” it would take FELD a month to get ready. The general vibe is they will start in mid-September and then do six or seven races, or whatever they can fit in and be done in October.
As you said, the situation is very unknown. My personal opinion with all the lock-outs is that we might be ready in July or August. As you said, I don’t know and nobody knows, but do you have an opinion on it and do you have a B plan if you can’t start on June 13?
Well, that is actually plan C. Fill those two dates in August. We promised FELD and we might be rivals in the public interest, but we are on the same network and we deal with the same teams, riders, sponsors, and fans. We told them we will be done on September 5, and it is the classic end of summer. Kids are back at school, and it is also the start of the NFL—both for college football and professional football. There isn’t a lot of room for dirt bike racing to get on television and we have to be done on September 5 and we need Supercross to conclude their season. If we have to cancel a couple of races, we will. One of those races we would cancel is my own race: Mount Morris. We don’t want to do that, but we understand the severity of this and the reality. In no way shape of form will we put people at risk. We have to run with the time we have and run a good series and not a risky series and do not do the wrong thing for the general public’s interest.
I think the worry for many is the industry. I know MXSports is a very successful business, but people like me have a business to survive in the lifestyle I want but it isn’t a massive business like so many in the motocross industry. I think a lot of people just want their business to survive this.
You know Geoff, you and I are the biggest motocross fans in the World. I have no doubt about that, and we love to talk about racing and rivalry. The bench racing, the us versus them or the French winning the damn des Nations every year, but that is fun and our passion. What is going on in the World, is so big and scary and downright uncertain, it becomes a way to forget about it for a while. We need to talk about the sport at this moment, like how will the battle between Gajser and Herlings go or how will the Supercross end up, but it’s just fun stuff. In real life, FELD had to lay off 90% of its people and companies are going broke. This is big decision days and hours for people. I guess my point is, it is a frightening time to be a business person, or a parent, or a promoter, but we are all in this together and in cooperation with the old friends and new friends, it is nice to know we reach out to each other in these times. Back to the positive stuff. In putting out a schedule, Infront [MXGP] have Russia on June 7, we have a race on June 13 and people need that because even if it doesn’t happen, we are planning for a future. We know motocross is a fun passion for a lot of people and they invest their lives into this. We owe it to them to be ready to give them a place to watch and play and practice their hobbies. We will all want something positive when this is all over and for you and me, motocross is one of those things.
One of the biggest questions is we might struggle to get a full-on Motocross of Nations this year, as it will be held in the middle of the MXGP season and in the middle of when the AMA Supercross season is hoping to race their final 7 rounds, so which riders turn up? Or which riders give it 100% is also a question mark at the moment. What is your opinion on it?
None of those are decisions I have anything to do with but if I was the promoter in September, I would probably ask can I have it next September? I imagine Jeffrey [Herlings], Antonio [Cairoli], and Tim [Gajser] will be battling for a title and one of those guys is going to be closing in on Stefan’s records—now that is a big deal. If you are in America, I 100% promise that you will be focused on the Supercross and that takes all the Americans out. It also takes Roczen out, Ferrandis out, and even Chad Reed if Australia wanted to send him. The riders racing the AMA Supercross and the riders racing MXGP will be focusing on those titles. So Ernee, if they run it when it is meant to run, it won’t have the full commitment as in a normal year. This is a little like 9/11 and that year they ran it anyway [at Namur and Team France won], but it wasn’t the same. The Olympics will count the same in 2021 as it would in 2020.
The lock-up situation, for me, it doesn’t change too much. I was surprised how quickly I got over not watching sports every day. I usually work from home during the week and maybe go for a beer at my local pub on Friday night, but actually apart from missing the racing and the travel, my life doesn’t change too much. I am looking at the sky in Holland and I have never seen it so blue. You read about places like Venice never being so clean. I get the feeling we are also learning a lot again about family and loved ones. I do see some positives from all of this. How is it for you?
Oh, for me absolutely. I have two kids. My son is Vance is a senior in high school, and he will miss the school formal, the school trip, and it is his last season being in the lacrosse team. He was looking forward to that and he might not even walk down the aisle and get his diploma, but he is taking it in his stride. He is more so than any of us saying, “Dad, stay in, don’t go to the grocery store and don’t go to the office.” He is really concerned. My daughter Sloan, she lives a great big life and she can take a chalkboard and make it the Mona Lisa. So, this has been kind of cool for them. I home school them every morning and my brother lives around the corner and they also home school there and it has been a great and bonding time. The point about the sky and Venice, that is a blessing, but it is like coming back from holidays, the work has piled up and you have roll up your sleeves and get all the work done. Life has to go on. The factories will open up and the shopping malls. It is nice we gave the planet a rest and a chance to heal itself a little bit, but life will go on. The planes will fly again, the ships will sail again and the factories will open again. At some point, we will have to all work again and get the economy going again. That might change the blue skies and the blue water and I wish we could keep that, but you know the World will fire up the machinery and we will be back to normal, and I hope we are. Seeing how quickly the planet seems to be blooming, the reality as civilization is, we will start polluting again.