Five Ques­tions

This Bri­tish-born MBA ar­rested the long, slow de­cline of flat-track rac­ing in Amer­ica

Motorcyclist - - Contents - BY MATTHEW MILES

I knew un­wind­ing that down­ward spi­ral of less money equals less talent equals less money would be a chal­lenge.

Flat-track rac­ing is on the up­swing, and no one has done more to se­cure the fu­ture of this uniquely Amer­i­can form of com­pe­ti­tion than Michael Lock. It’s taken all of the Bri­tish­born MBA’S ex­pe­ri­ence and mar­ket­ing savvy to es­tab­lish a new course for the sport by ne­go­ti­at­ing tele­vi­sion deals and set­ting the stage for greater man­u­fac­turer in­volve­ment. In his two years as CEO of AMA Pro Rac­ing, Lock has faced many chal­lenges, chiefly loss of life on the race­track. He has ad­dressed all head on while bring­ing a seem­ingly in­ex­haustible en­ergy to the sport.

Flat-track rac­ing ap­pears to have more eyes on it than ever be­fore. What are the num­bers like?

We re­cently passed 1.5 mil­lion view­ers on NBCSN. The au­di­ence on Face­book Live, which was new for us last year, is counted in the mil­lions. The au­di­ence for Fan­ is up 47 per­cent in vol­ume and 70 per­cent in du­ra­tion. All the data is go­ing the right way.

Ticket sales were up at every sin­gle event that pre­vi­ously ex­isted, and all the new events were sell­outs, but the old days of sell­ing 20,000 tick­ets and ev­ery­body makes money is over. It’s too risky, par­tic­u­larly when mo­tor­cy­cle events are still largely walk-up traf­fic.

You need other rev­enue streams to un­der­write the event and raise the qual­ity. So I need spon­sor­ship part­ners, which this sport has been starved of for nearly 20 years. The rac­ing is great, but it’s al­ways been great. And guess what? That didn’t sell the sport.

in­dian rid­ers won 14 of 17 main events this past sea­son. how do you see the Twins class evolv­ing?

The In­dian FTR750 set a new stan­dard, but if Jared Mees was still rid­ing his Kenny Tol­bert Har­ley-david­son and if Bryan Smith was still rid­ing his Ricky How­er­ton Kawasaki, I don’t know what it would look like. So that does guide my think­ing.

We’ve looked at some tech­ni­cal reg­u­la­tions that, on pa­per, fa­vored race-only bikes this year over pro­duc­tion bikes. The 2018 rule­book will fine-tune some ar­eas, such as throt­tle bod­ies, that al­low par­ity be­tween rac­ers and non-rac­ers. Third thing is,

Flat track has al­ways had tragedies, but peo­ple have less and less tol­er­ance for tragedies, which is a re­al­ity.

Shayna Tex­ter won five Sin­gles main events last sea­son and was in con­tention for the ti­tle. Is Shayna an anom­aly, or is flat track fair game for both sexes?

there are new street­bike engines com­ing to mar­ket that are more ad­vanced than any­thing we’ve seen—more com­pact, more flex­i­ble, eas­ier to tune. Some will be com­ing in 2018, some in ’19. I don’t see an era of com­plete and ut­ter dom­i­na­tion by In­dian.

We have no fe­male class; we have flat-track rac­ing. I’ve watched Shayna Tex­ter race every round this past year, and the races she won have been run on race craft. She has no equip­ment ad­van­tage.

Shayna has pro­vided ex­tra­or­di­nary inspiration to not only girls and women but guys. I was at Texas Mo­tor Speed­way, which is about as red-blooded a part of the coun­try as you can get, and when Shayna took the lead in the main event, the whole grand­stand stood up.

She has in­spired peo­ple be­cause she is chal­leng­ing what we un­con­sciously be­lieve to be true. There is noth­ing more in­ter­est­ing than that. I’d like to see any­one of talent come through in flat track. Shayna con­founds ex­pec­ta­tions, and peo­ple nat­u­rally grav­i­tate to that.

What is the great­est chal­lenge you’ve faced at AMA Pro Rac­ing?

Lack of re­source was the ma­jor chal­lenge. And it wasn’t just lack of re­source in 2014 or ’15. It was lack of re­source since 1987. I knew un­wind­ing that down­ward spi­ral of less money equals less talent equals less money would be a chal­lenge.

What com­pounded the chal­lenge was peo­ple are im­pa­tient. New guy comes in. What’s he go­ing to do? Why hasn’t he done it al­ready? Ev­ery­body in the pad­dock and grand­stands is say­ing, “You’re mess­ing with our sport, and we don’t see the im­prove­ment yet.”

The chal­lenge has been try­ing to effect change that looks clear and ob­vi­ous. But you can’t do it by your­self. You need teams and rid­ers. One by one, you need to de­liver an ad­van­tage they can see so two weeks later they say, “I was a skep­tic but I can see what you’re try­ing to do.”

What can Amer­i­can Flat Track do to keep rid­ers safer in the fu­ture?

Flat track has al­ways had tragedies, but peo­ple have less and less tol­er­ance for tragedies, which is a re­al­ity. We’ve got to be seen as not only is that un­ac­cept­able but to be pro­fes­sional in chang­ing it. There is no way around this. We an­nounced an ini­tia­tive at the awards ban­quet called “The Route to the Top” to start get­ting some nor­mal­iza­tion of rules, the lan­guage and pro­cesses, and how we run events much ear­lier in younger rid­ers’ con­scious­ness.

Some ques­tions can be an­swered quickly; some are go­ing to need a deep dive and soul search­ing. What we have to de­liver long term is not a guar­an­tee of safety but a prom­ise of con­tin­ual im­prove­ment based on ex­pe­ri­ence and ap­pli­ca­tion of tech­nol­ogy.

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