MX Sports Davey Coombs sat down with us to talk about what we can expect from the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship in 2020 with some big changes due to the whole novel coronavirus situation. Similar to motocross around the world, many days of working out what was possible and what wasn’t, and now in a month’s time, the series will begin in Indiana on July 18 at the Ironman circuit.
We also had a nice chat about the 2020 Monster Energy Supercross rounds in Salt Lake City and bad news about the Team USA attendance at the 2020 Monster Energy Motocross of Nations:it doesn’t sound like they racing the MXoN in this year’s event.
DC, we are finally racing again. You must be enjoying that?
Yes, getting to watch this bizarre and very entertaining Supercross run. With the last seven rounds, it just tells us what a strange world we live in at the moment.
Tell me about that, because I fell out of love with Supercross many years ago for different reasons and at that first one in Salt Lake City, I couldn’t wait to watch it. I watch the first full program and that’s the first time since 2005. I really enjoyed it and I can’t imagine how many people actually watched it worldwide. Do they have figures for how many people watched that race worldwide?
Well, they didn’t have the viewers they thought they would have and for several peculiar reasons. That was right when the riots started and big, big television markets like Los Angeles and Chicago pre-empted the live Supercross that Sunday afternoon when the riots all started. In some of the major markets, nobody could watch it. It was still a healthy number, but it should have been over the moon. Wednesday, I think it was rated the number one cable show in the country, so that is just the bad luck we have sometimes in motorcycle racing.
There always seems to be massive positives to come out of negatives as the world has had, or more so our sport. I saw Grant Langston mention a lot of motorcycles are being sold in USA at the moment and also parts and clothing. I have seen you have mentioned that a few times on RacerXonline. I was speaking to somebody from Kawasaki yesterday and he told me they have sold out of some bikes and can’t get enough of them.
Motorcycle sales here Geoff, are up 100%. You can’t find a mini-bike and I have heard that is nationwide. When we come into a crisis and we need to focus on the things we love and we have a lot of time, let’s go ride dirt bikes. The best social distancing is riding a motorcycle.
The guy at Kawasaki said their 110cc bike was selling well because you can ride in on the farm or if you have a big garden.
And it’s a great beginner’s bike. Maybe to your point, that silver lining is that we have seen an increased interest from new enthusiasts and also a return of the legacy enthusiasts that maybe lost touch.
Something I have enjoyed with this whole Salt Lake City thing is having racing twice a week. I mean you guys run your Supercross and motocross on a Saturday—which is Sunday morning for us in Europe—and we are usually busy with MXGP on Sunday so we don’t get to enjoy it as much as we might like. With these Wednesday races, it is a bit like Premier League football or NFL in America, where you get more than one day but a few days watching our sports.
Yes, and if you remember back in the day, they did doubleheaders—be it a Friday, Saturday or a Sunday. The majority of Supercross events in the 1980s had doubleheaders and the Pontiac double stayed around right into [Jeremy] McGrath’s reign. The riders and teams hated it. I know while everyone is really pleased with FELD for this very bold, ambitious and risky plan, they are pulling it off. We are also seeing what we wanted to see and that is a resolution to the AMA Supercross Championship. While there are no spectators there, a whole lot of people are watching it on television. The only way they could do it was to have two races a week. In a normal time, I don’t think the riders or teams would want it. I don’t think it would work during the week, because people go to work and kids go to school. It is kind of turning out the way I thought it would, although I didn’t think Ken [Roczen] would get sick. It’s been fun watching him and Cooper [Webb] chasing Eli [Tomac]. As a native of Australia, you must be loving the whole Jett Lawrence story.
I actually wanted to ask you something because, for me, there are two or three things I have really enjoyed seeing. I love Cooper Webb, but that first one—you can tell me if what I was seeing was something different—but I was watching Eli Tomac on the start of the main event sitting on the start gate and he looked so relaxed and I felt then, wow, he looks completely in a zone and confident. It seems like he has gone to a different level. I mean Lawrence, there is a little bit of [Jean-Michel] Bayle/[Christophe]Pourcel in his riding style.
I expected to see him [Lawrence] at Trentino when he was riding the EMX, but he was hurt so I didn’t get to see him race. The first time I got to see him race was at Loretta Lynn’s last year, and I was just watching him closely. To your point, he reminded me of JMB out there. His corner speed, his style, his enthusiasm, and he really wanted to be there. Everything was new, but he took it in his stride. The Geico Honda team manager Ziggy came over to me and mentioned how I was checking out Jett and he asked me what I thought. I said: “Man, he is like Bayle” and I still feel that way. He is having to learn Supercross and it’s taking him a while, but it always does. He is younger than Bayle, but Bayle was already established when he came here. You also asked about Eli, and as far as Eli goes, I think what you said is spot on. He does look more relaxed and he has grown up a lot. I don’t mean he was immature, he was just wrapped really tight. It was obvious the pressure got to him and I don’t think that is going to happen to him again and he just had a baby. Salt Lake City is his comfort zone and he has thrown three of these [Supercross titles] away. I don’t think he is going to throw this one away.
Speaking of that having a baby thing. I mentioned that to a friend that maybe that is why the pressure is gone, and he said that is disrespectful. I told the guy that when you become a parent, you really have to become a man quickly. At least for me that’s how it was. I was 32 or something, and it made me grow up really quickly.
And I remember when you lost your dad and I remember telling you in an e-mail how we are still boys until we lose our own Dad and then we become men. I think the same can be said from becoming a Dad and I think that is it for Eli. He has a great group around him and while I hope he wins it, I hope he doesn’t win it on Wednesday night, but on Sunday night, so we can get a big television audience Sunday night.
Now why I really wanted to chat with you about is obviously the AMA Nationals. You have announced two rounds: the first two and one will be in August at Loretta Lynn’s. Having some contact with Infront [Formerly Youthstream] for the MXGP championship, it is a daily situation and while they have to deal with the whole world, I am guessing America is like 50 different countries with all your different state rules and regulations. Some states might be not as bad with the virus as others, but how difficult is it dealing with the different states?
Well, it [the virus] is everywhere but to your point, the testing isn’t really equal. In America, most cities are on the coast and many are blue, which is democratic or liberal. The middle of the country and the southern part of the country which is more rural, tend to be red or Republican or conservative. Because of the nature of the virus, it happens more in cities, so it became a wedge issue from the beginning. As you know, we have an incredibly polarized political climate here. The virus is touching everyone, but it is being received in different ways. The further south they are more relaxed and open, but if you go north, to Michigan, or New York it is really locked down. So that has put some of our major races in doubt. Redbud is in Michigan, Unadilla is in New York so we are uncertain if those ones happen. In the south like Florida and Tennessee, it is open for business. Indiana is a red rural state and we will open there on July 18th. We are all affected by this thing, but there are 50 different ways of receiving it. Some states are doing everything to prevent the spread and others are saying, oh, what are we going to do.
So, will you have spectators?
The first thing we did, we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We knew this was real and serious and we knew it would be hard work to get the races opened up again. Here is the difference to us and Infront, and I think David [Luongo] and his crew do an amazing job. I don’t know how they do it, because they have to deal with 15 or 20 countries. All the rules, and regulations. At least here, there is a general understanding and everyone speaks the same language. Nobody is going to throw a surprise at you, but I can’t imagine the difference between what is going on in Latvia, or London, or Argentina, so their challenge is a big one. We still have to navigate each state differently and I can tell you there won’t be a National in California. They are blue and they have had high numbers and they are taking it very seriously. They might not even have NFL football with crowds and in America, as football [soccer] is in Europe, that is king. If football isn’t happening, then you will have some really angry people.
Well, it better happen, because the Bengals have signed up some really good players and I am a Bengals fan.
Man, you would be a Bengals fan (laughing). They have the Heisman Trophy winner as the quarterback and he is an Ohio boy so everyone in the state loves him. Anyway, so what we are trying to do and no different to what Infront is trying to navigate. The first thing we did was formed a “Safe to Race Task Force” and we have a big notebook with protocols and best practices and things we need to do for social distancing. We wrote all that on to each state’s rules and regulations that have racing and we made it also available to Nascar and Indy car—we got help from those people also and also Supercross. Now we are seeing daylight like the Lorretta Lynn Regionals have started, GNCC has started. We are seeing big numbers of entries—massive numbers—but also large, healthy spectator turnouts, and they are doing what we ask. It is like herding cats sometimes, but some races will be 50% capacity and some less, some more. Motocross is on a great big piece of land, so social distancing isn’t that difficult.
You have announced three rounds, the first two and the one at Lorretta Lynns. How many more are locked in to start?
At the moment, eight and a real possibility for nine. We do have a problem with some teams, and this goes back to your point of the sales of motorcycles. In America, the 450 teams, for the most part, are funded by the OEM’s, so Yamaha, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Husqvarna and so forth. The 250 teams are not funded entirely by bike sales but funded by sponsors and a lot of 250 teams lost sponsors when we went into lockdown. What we have is a tug of war, because the 450 teams want to see a full schedule and the 250 teams want to see a half schedule. We are trying to split the difference and trying to find the right schedule that works for both sides. If let’s say Michigan says we can race, then hell yes we are going to run Redbud because that is the capital of American motocross. We won’t seek out four new tracks that will allow it, we understand the challenges the teams have.
We have spoken about it before and you gave a clear answer about the Motocross of Nations. I am guessing you guys will probably have a race that weekend, but what is your answer now?
If it is still scheduled for September 27 and 28, I am almost certain we will have a race that weekend. It isn’t just that, you have to remember coming back to America means quarantine. That is a concern as well and where we will be in this whole thing. I mean I understand everyone wants to have that event, but these guys race for championships, and once a year they race for their country. It belongs at the end of the season.
Ok, what about if Thomas Covington, Mitchell Harrison and somebody else said we want to race for Team USA, could that happen?
No, there is no way that will happen. The AMA will not allow that to happen and if we are not sending a team of just anyone, they need to be American based or at least our three best American riders. We won’t just grab three guys to race and no offense to Thomas or Mitchell, but that isn’t representing American Motocross or Supercross and I don’t see that happening. I know the AMA has already had that conversation and they don’t want it.
So, it is nearly 100% or 100% that Team USA won’t be at the Motocross of Nations in 2020?
You would have to ask Roger De Coster, as he is the team manager. Roger will probably be at a National that weekend. It sucks, but we are running out of time in both America and Europe to maintain the integrity of our championships. In Europe, they are pushed into what November?
They are actually talking about running in early December now.
And that is okay. We are talking about going into October and the Monster Cup is almost certainly gone. Hangtown is done and if the Nations goes ahead, they will more than likely run without any riders from this side of the Ocean. That said, we will be back in 2021 and just like MXGP we will have a full schedule and we will return to our traditional tracks and we will be back at the Motocross des Nations and I hope it’s at Ernee.
Last question: Loretta Lynn’s, if that is a big success, will that stay on the calendar?
That is there because we simply can’t get the amount of races and we will all be at Loretta Lynns anyway. If there was a time to have a homecoming [most of the AMA riders grew up at LL], it is this year. It is only there because we can’t get races in other places. It should be fun, and it would be neat to see Marvin Musquin ride Loretta Lynn’s because he never got to race there as a kid. It’s the same as what I am reading on MXLarge about the double Grand Prix idea, which is good for this year. Anything and everything should be on the table and I know we feel the same way.