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