Racing For Trouble

Drawing The Line

At the table where the high-stakes game of Superbike is played, four new players have just laid down their cards. Buell showed its 1125R and KTM called with its 1190 RC8. Aprilia and BMW then raised the stakes with the racing versions of their respective RSV4 and S1000RR. Long-term players Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, Yamaha and MV Agusta are poker-faced, but you know they're checking out the new guys. There's new talent, new money, new hardware.

So with this new wave of energy hitting Superbike racing, things appear to be great. World Superbike is a strong show that will only improve as these new competitors stir things up. So why title this article "Racing for Trouble"?

The trouble is in the U.S., where the Daytona Motorsports Group now calls the shots after the AMA decided to get out of the racing promotions game. DMG is still working on the details of its 2009 roadracing rules, but we now know the basic direction it intends to take. And as I see it, its direction and the direction that the world's manufacturers are taking with their 1000-1200cc superbikes are 180 degrees opposed. The manufacturers are turning right and the DMG is taking a hard left.

The DMG will promote a Daytona Superbike class that is an extension of the current AMA Formula Xtreme, with Japanese 600cc fours at its core. The new class will, however, be performance-rather than displacement-derived. Middleweight horsepower limits of perhaps 130 bhp (remember, the rules aren't set yet) will be a determining parameter, so that twins and triples of different specifications can also participate if their power-to-weight ratio is equivalent. The goals are intense competition among many manufacturers, close racing and absorbing entertainment that will bring in spectators and TV audiences. I won't argue with that.

The second class (and we can take that literally), with no purse, will be called Literbike, and here is where DMG departs from World Superbike and the manufacturers. The premier Daytona Superbike class may have "super" in its name, but there's nothing super about 130-bhp middleweights in a market in which stock 1000-1200cc sportbikes make 160 bhp and racing versions exceed 200.

Where did Formula Xtreme and Daytona Superbike come from? On the Daytona banking 1000cc Superbikes were destroying their tires, with obvious danger to riders, and so it was decided to run the premier 200-miler with smaller bikes-600cc was the obvious choice for fours, with other displacements for other configurations. You can't avoid seeing a pattern here: The Daytona 200 had special needs, which the DMG eventually decided should result in the Daytona Superbike class. The operative word, of course, is Daytona.

Indianapolis is another famous U.S. racetrack, which also had a problem when it came to bikes. If MotoGP was going to race at Indy, the oval obviously wouldn't do and even the Formula 1 infield/oval combo would be too dangerous. Indy solved the problem by reversing the racing direction and building a new infield section inside the oval's Turn 4. Note that the organizers did not tell the manufacturers the bikes had to be smaller and less powerful. They changed the track.

The problems that have beset U.S. roadracing have by no means been simple, and I do think that the DMG has worthy goals and is facing complex difficulties. We need more front-running competitors. We need critical safety improvements to some of the venues. We need more spectators and more TV viewers. There's nothing wrong with improving the "show," as NASCAR has done so well.

But it seems to me that the tail is wagging the dog here, and the name on the tail is Daytona. Sure, the Daytona 200 is a grand tradition. But let's not tell the motorcycle manufacturers of the world that their best bikes are second-class here. No, we can't duplicate World Superbike, even if we can host a series round. But I do think we can make a 1000-1200cc class work, perhaps by following the more Superstock-oriented rules currently in place in Australia, Canada and Great Britain. In any case, U.S. racing should avoid turning away from the direction so clearly being shown by all the new Superbikes introduced these last few months.

AMA President and CEO Rob Dingman (left) and Grand American racing series President Roger Edmondson at their Daytona press conference last March.