Paul Carruthers has always been a busy man, even since he was a kid. For the last 30 years at Cycle News (the last 21 of them as Editor), Carruthers was at just about every AMA National roadrace, usually with notebook and tape recorder in hand, and every Wednesday there Cycle News would be in your mailbox, packed with great race reports along with an information-dense news section up front that launched many a feature story.
When he wasn’t at the races, Pablo was doing all the things the other magazine people did, only four times as often: attending bike launches and press conferences, riding around like a maniac on pavement and dirt, and since 2013 he’s been hosting The Bike Week Radio Show. Before any of that, he was riding around in a caravan (that would be “small camper” to us) on the European GP circuit with his 1969 250cc World Champ dad Kel and the rest of the family. He’s an extroverted, high-energy character and a genuinely Nice Guy, but with the ability to instantly deflate stuffed shirts with a single smiling rapier quip. When KRAVE named Carruthers its new Communication Director, it was a really good indication that maybe these guys are on the right track. I got the chance to ask him a few questions about KRAVE and the future of AMA roadracing last week.
JB: I’d say you are uniquely qualified to know what the problems were with AMA roadracing, since I think you were at every AMA National for like the last 25 years, not to mention the 25 before that hanging out with your dad since you were a little kid.
Paul Carruthers: My background in motorcycle racing goes back to when I was born. Unless I completely didn’t pay attention for 50 years, I had to learn something. Going to all those races for all those years and seeing how different people do things … I don’t want to throw the old guys [DMG] under the bus, because it’s always easy to look at it from the outside and criticize. As we go along, we find that some of those problems they faced are complex. Lots of other stuff seems like common sense. Communicating and treating the teams and riders as your partners, along with the sponsors, and getting their opinions, is a much better approach than the Us vs. Them mentality.
JB: What key people and policies are you bringing forward from DMG?
We’re pretty much starting over from scratch. Obviously with the classes, we tweaked them a little, didn’t reinvent the wheel. The deal with DMG got done a little late. I know Wayne [Rainey] wanted to look into Moto2 as one of the classes but the time just wasn’t there. We realize we have to walk before we can run. I think the classes make sense: 1000cc Superstock will run with Superbike and be scored separately. They’ll have different colored numberplates. The response we’ve had from the Superstock guys has been huge. I think we’re going to have packed grids. I think it makes a lot of sense; you can get a young kid who’s never ridden a 1000, riding a bike that’s a lot cheaper, and he’s racing in Superbike.
JB: I wonder how much Mat Mladin would’ve liked that if he were still around?
PC: Yeah, you’re right. But I think a young Mat Mladin would’ve appreciated the chance to ride a 1000 on slicks, amongst the good guys. Plus I think you might be surprised. A good kid on a 1000cc Superstock bike might do really well. A lot of times I think you find, as kids progress through the ranks and get onto a Superbike, there’s so much fiddling around to be done to the bike, you often see them regress a little bit. They forget what got them there – wringing the neck of the motorcycle. I think it’s going to be a great way for them to transition into Superbike.
JB: It’s a cool idea to get kids on KTM RC390s also.
PC: I was most excited when we were able to announce that class. That’s a thing U.S. racing has needed for a long time. Can you imagine being 14 years old and getting the chance to ride those bikes at a national event? We’ve gotten tons of feedback about that too. The perfect scenario to me is the kid gets his dad involved, and his local KTM dealer. It’s going to create a great presence in the pits, all the KTM orange, and HMC does a great job with their sponsorship, they’ll be helping all the kids out in the pits.
JB: Do you think if that works out, it’ll expand to include other brands? Ninja 300s, the new Yamaha R3?
Ultimately, I could see us having some sort of 300 or 400cc class that’s open to everybody. I see World Superbike is now trying to incorporate that. It makes perfect sense. One of the biggest problems we’ve had in the U.S. is there’s nothing for kids to race until they’re big enough for a 600.
Yeah, I think that’s what happens. Kids go into motocross at 14 because that’s all there is, and wind up staying there; there are really no other options. Now you’ll be able, at 14, to race in the MotoAmerica paddock, in front of all those teams and people. I hope. From there, it should be a pretty natural progression to 600 Superstock, 600 Supersport, on up the line.
The one main thing I’ve got to say about Wayne Rainey is that, whatever people say, he’s doing this for the right reasons. His focus remains throughout all this: How do we develop a system that gets young Americans to world championship level. He honestly gets upset that Spanish guys are dominating motorcycle racing. Seriously, if you bring it up, you can see it in his face. He’s not happy about it. He’s one of the most competitive people I’ve ever seen, and that hasn’t changed. When he digs his heels in and focuses on a thing, he’s going to get it accomplished. If it wasn’t for him, and that group, and Chuck [Aksland], and being so dedicated and driven to succeed, I wouldn’t have left Cycle News after 30 years. I think these guys know what they’re doing.
JB: I want to say God bless Yamaha and Yoshimura Suzuki and the HMC KTM people for hanging in there. I’m sure you’re talking to the other OEM people, trying to get them re-involved.
PC: 2015 has come up too quick for those guys who don’t already have a racing presence. Wayne’s, we’ve had, conversations with Honda and Kawasaki. Wayne’s had conversations with Ducati. We may not see those guys on an official level in 2015, but I would be really surprised if we didn’t see them in 2016. I would be really surprised if we didn’t see them in the paddock in 2015 in some way, whether it’s just displaying or showing off their new bikes or supporting a privateer. Baby steps. That’s another reason the 1000 Superstock class makes sense. It allows them to get back in without spending a ton of money.
JB: I was reading about some of your other team members on your website. Roger Elliot, Tom Moser and John Church seem to have serious experience in motorsports marketing. I guess series like British Superbike do alright without factory sponsorship.
John’s our sales guy and he’s doing what sales guys do. He’s actively pursuing a title sponsor and any kind of sponsorship. Having somebody outside the industry would be great for sure. How many times can you go back to the same people and ask for money? How many times can you go back to Yamaha or Honda? Anyway, those guys have tons of experience doing this. Tom Moser keeps us in line in our meetings we have every Friday, sort of a business manager. Let’s put it this way: I’ve been in more meetings with these guys in a month or two than in my entire life at Cycle News; they’re definitely on the ball and driving forward.
JB: The key thing is that you got the big TV deal with CBS Sports already.
PC: That was Roger Elliott and Tom [Moser] and everybody in the group pitching in to put that deal together. TV isn’t cheap, but KRAVE has made the commitment to make the spend to make it all happen. That was really what had to happen first. That allows the teams and the riders to go out and sell their programs. Now they’re on TV. TV is still everything. When we got the TV deal … that was the big thing. Now we get to focus on all the smaller ones.
JB: All nine rounds will be televised?
PC: Correct … All the rounds will be televised. Not live, but prime-time on weekend afternoons – the following weekend after the races.
JB: Oh, that’s a little bit of a bummer.
PC: The shows will be really good … hiqh quality production value, lots of on-bike footage … the races will be televised the same week. For now, that’s how it has to be. Hopefully, we will have live TV in the near future.
JB: As Communications Manager, what will you be doing while those guys do all the heavy lifting?
My main job is to talk to people to get our message out there, have lunch with people like you, talk to Wayne and Chuck. There’s a lot of interview requests for Wayne. There are plenty of great magazines and websites in the U.S., and anybody we can chat with we will. At the races, I’ll run the media center, do the interviews at the press conferences. I’ll go in in advance of our events, take a rider or two and try to work with local media, newspaper and TV stuff – just try to do whatever I can to build the series.
I’m also really looking forward to working a lot with those young kids, to make a few young stars. A lot of them can be stars, they probably just don’t know it yet, you know? It only takes a little to get them out of their comfort zone I think. I mean even Wayne, sometimes he can be a little reticent … and I tell him you’re WAYNE RAINEY! The guy who’s interviewing you is twice as nervous to be talking to you as you should be talking to him, so just don’t worry about it. Once it comes race time, there’ll be tons of press releases … my dad’s pretty excited about it too, I know he wants the series to be strong again too. He always thought Cycle News was a pretty good job for me, but he likes the idea of me doing something different.
JB: Speaking of your dad, was the Cycle News job total nepotism? Did he pull strings?
Probably a lot of people think that, actually it was the fact that I was always around the paddock anyway, and I got to know John Ulrich, who was the Editor of CN at the time. And then when John found out I was a journalism student at San Diego State, you could see a little light bulb go off in his head. But I had no intention of going to work as a motojournalist, I just didn’t. I wanted to work for Sports Illustrated or the LA Times or San Diego Union. When I graduated I did go to work for a small newspaper in north [San Diego] county. That’s what I was doing, and one day John called me out of the blue and said, ‘Hey, could you cover…,’ I think the first one I did was a kid’s motocross event in Texas. I said, ‘John, I’ve never done this,’ and he said ‘you’ll be fine’. The next thing I know, he’s calling me to do the Sears Point National in maybe ′85, which is funny because Wayne Rainey won like two classes that day. Then a job opened and he called me, and it wasn’t a ton of money but it was a ton compared to what I was making at that little newspaper. So, I said what the hell, and then from the time I got in there I decided, I’m going to be the Editor of Cycle News. It took a while but I did. I always thought that job was perfect for me, based on my upbringing and all that. I liked to write and I already had a pretty good idea about motorcycles and motorcycle racers. And that’s why I think this new job is perfect for me too. I mean, I’ve got some experience and I’ve been dealing with motorcycle racers my whole life.
JB: Do those guys share any particular trait, or are they as varied as the general population?
Not really. I think if you look at the really successful ones, you see a common trait, that they’re just driven, they can’t stand losing, and they’re willing to put everything else in their life aside. It’s almost a selfishness, which I think you have to be to be the best at anything. Your family and friends have to understand that’s your main focus. You’d have to be really good to wake up in the morning, if you take it more casually, to beat the guy who wakes up and motorcycle racing is all he’s thinking about. And that’s Wayne’s deal. From the time he opened his eyes till the time he closed them, it was how he was going to win more championships and more races. There are other guys you see who have equal talent, maybe more, but don’t take it as seriously.
You could take two guys in some accounting firm, one takes it more seriously and winds up being the CEO, but he’s there late every night, while the other guy’s happy to just balance peoples’ books and have a beer at five. Who’s to say which is better? I think motorcycle racers are the same as the rest of us, they’re just obviously a little nuttier.
JB: Well, let’s just hope KRAVE hatches some fresh nuts for all of us to enjoy.
There’s a lot of stuff that has to be done. Wayne and Chuck actually went to AMA HQ in Ohio, met with a bunch of roadracing clubs from around the country, folks from all around the country, and listened to what people had to say – which I don’t think has ever been done. Guess what, we need to have the same rules, make it so a guy can race our series one weekend and then race a club event the next weekend and not need a different bike. All those things working together will build it from the bottom up, which is where you’re going to get your next guy. There just needs to be a progression a person can take, and now I think we’re on the way to providing that.
We’re going to make mistakes, I’ve already made a couple. I think the big thing is we want to do the right thing, and they’re into it. These guys are not at all casual observers, they’re determined to make it work.
JB: Are the kids our kids’ age, [early 20s] as speed-crazed as we were?
Maybe not as many, but I think they still exist. They’re probably kids who aren’t like ours – who grew up around it and chose something else. But maybe there’s some kid whose dad’s a farmer, and that’s all he thinks about, riding his motorcycle. It’s like Wayne says, there’s another Marc Marquez wandering around somewhere, we’ve just gotta find him and give him a chance to ride a motorcycle at least similar to what he might end up racing.
First, we just need to get the AMA series back to where it means something again. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t mean much anymore in an international context, or even to people in the industry. We’re probably never going to get to where Supercross is, but if we can get some of that feeling back, like when the Goberts and Mladins and Corsers came here to further their careers, when Agostini and Hailwood came here to race, that’s what we have to do. And that’s Wayne’s number-one deal, to fix this system and show that the U.S. can still produce world champions.