Top Motorcycle News of 2009
Harley-Davidson made the shocking announcement Oct. 15 it would discontinue Buell Motorcycles. Though Harley-Davidson’s financial struggles weren’t a surprise, the decision to shut down Buell was. The news was so sudden, Buell’s PR agency didn’t even hear the news until one of our advertising reps called to say it was nice working with them.
Erik Buell’s emotional address was difficult for many to watch, but in the weeks afterward, he announced a new venture with a return to where it all started: racing. E rik Buell Racing will provide track-only bikes based on the 1125R, as well as a “Euro-spec” 1190RR. We’ll find out more about the 1190RR and Erik Buell Racing in the coming few weeks and months.
Italian manufacturer MV Agusta came back in 2009 with two updates to its Brutale line, the Brutale 990R and the Brutale 1090RR. Things were looking up for MV Agusta and the team at the Cagiva Research Centre, especially with an updated F4 ready to debut at the EICMA Show in Milan.
And then came the Oct. 15 announcement from parent company Harley-Davidson of the plan to sell MV Agusta. Harley-Davidson’s acquisition of MV Agusta was one of the top stories in last year’s news recap, and the quick decision to divest itself of the brand may prove the acquisition was a mistake. But at least we had a chance to see three models come out from MV Agusta’s “Harley-Davidson Era”. It remains to be seen who will step up and buy MV Agusta.
The phenom from Longview, Texas took the international racing world by storm in 2009 by winning the World Superbike Championship in his rookie season. Ben Spies won Yamaha its first WSBK title with a come-from-behind final round to erase a 15-point deficit to Ducati’s Noriyuki Haga.
Along the way, Spies earned a record 11 pole positions in a single season and won a stunning 14 of 28 races. The 14 wins put Spies tied for 12th overall in career WSBK victories with John Kocinski and Scott Russell. And all of this was achieved on the brand-new Yamaha R1, with a new race team, and on mostly unfamiliar race tracks.
Bravo, Ben, and good luck in 2010 with the Tech 3 Yamaha MotoGP team!
While Ben Spies’ triumph was the most positive news for American motorcycle racing fans, the series of PR blunders by AMA Pro Racing had to be the most negative. Nothing seemed to go right in 2009 for AMA Pro Racing and new promoters DMG. The year began on a negative note with the cancellation of the U.S. Rookies Cup in January, but grew worse at the season-opening Daytona 200. As Kevin Duke reported, the Daytona 200 was “convoluted, confusing and dragged on for hours.”
When you hold a race “under the lights”, the worse thing you could imagine happening was the lights failing. For DMG however, that was the least of the problems. Yamaha’s Tommy Aquino crashed trying to avoid the ironically-named safety car, drawing a red flag that stopped the race for a long stretch. After racing resumed, a second crash occurred and the safety car driver seemed confused about who the race leader was. When the race finally ended, Ben Bostrom was named winner, though AMA Pro Racing had to issue several revised scoresheets before deciding on the official results.
You could give DMG a break for the Daytona 200. Yes, it was embarrassing for the series’ most famous race, but the safety car was a brand new rule and people still weren’t used to it yet. That good will could not save DMG at its next high profile race, when it shared the world stage with MotoGP at the Laguna Seca round. The safety car caused further confusion when racers failed to see the yellow flag. The leaders sprinted up a hill before having to slam on the brakes to avoid the safety car. All of this happened in front of the international racing press, in town for the MotoGP, who could do little but shake their heads and snicker. Racing legend Kevin Schwantz reportedly walked out of a press conference as Colin Fraser, AMA director of competition, tried to explain what happened.
Other embarrassing incidents for DMG (and to be fair, not all of this was within DMG’s control):
- The AMA U.S. Rookies Cup is canceled after the withdrawal of a key sponsor.
- AMA Pro Racing had the chance to avoid the Laguna Seca fiasco. A month before the race, DMG announced the safety car would be replaced by safety bikes. The plan was for the switch to happen at the Mid-Ohio round, the round immediately AFTER Laguna Seca.
- At Mid-Ohio, AMA Technical Director of Competition Al Ludington was caught on tape berating racer Johnny Rock Page for blocking. Ludington’s unprofessional behavior earned him an indefinite suspension.
- AMA Pro Racing indefinitely suspended Daytona Sportbike contender Jamie Hacking for his behavior at a press conference, before quickly deciding to suspend the suspension.
- Hacking and American Superbike points-leader Mat Mladin opted not to race at the Heartland Park Topeka round as they felt the circuit, making its AMA Pro Racing debut in 2009, was unsafe for racing.
- A new program on SPEED, AMA Pro Prime Time was proudly announced and then cancelled midway through the season after SPEED realized fans didn’t want to watch a race two weeks after it happened.
- AMA Pro Racing ignores its homologation rules by allowing the racing-only Buell 1125RR to race in the Daytona Sportbike class.
- Minimum weight regulations were changed a month into the season after AMA Pro Racing deemed the Buell 1125R had a technical advantage over the 600cc inline-fours it competed against.
- Danny Eslick wins the 2009 AMA Daytona Sportbike Championship on the Buell 1125R. Buell gets discontinued a month later.
- Yamaha, Honda and Kawasaki each pull their factory AMA Pro Racing efforts.
To top things off, Roger Edmondson is leaving his position chairman, managing member and chief executive officer of AMA Pro Racing effective January 1, 2010. A pioneer in motorcycle racing and one of the original managing members of the AMA Pro Racing organization, Edmondson is leaving to deal with some unforeseen health issues. A sad ending to a very trying year for AMA Pro Racing.
Rob Barber won the world’s first clean emission eGrandPrix race at the Isle of Man in . The TTXGP’s event proved to be a success, leading the International Motorcycling Federation to announce a new electric racing series with the TTXGP.
Fast forward five months to the FIM’s announcement of the e-Power International Championship for electric motorcycles, to be run without the TTXGP. The FIM’s announcement splintered the electric racing movement into two competing series.
More by Dennis Chung