Author: site admin
Category: AMA Superbikes
So the motorcycle press has been buzzing lately about the AMA losing some tracks off the 2005 calendar. The Brainerd International Raceway has definitely been cancelled because of the impending sale of the track (and sadly its likely future as a golf course) so that double header round is definitely off the schedule. Additionally, it seems that the AMA and Virginia International Raceway are having trouble coming to an agreement about a race date there (tentatively shown on the AMA schedule as Sept 17-18) so it may be cut as well. If so, that will only leave nine tracks for this season. Fortunately, seven of those events would be double header events, so there would still be 16 separate superbike races. What would be hurt are the support classes, especially Formula Extreme since it isn’t scheduled to race as one of the Laguna Seca MotoGP support races. The FX title may be determined by only eight races. Yikes!
Anyway, I don’t think a nine round series is necessarily a problem. Sure, it doesn’t indicate any growth in the AMA Superbike series but it also doesn’t mean the series will go the way of Formula USA’s road race series either. What I do think is a problem are the tracks themselves. Its the old quality versus quantity issues. While there are nine tracks on the series this year three of those circuits are actually NASCAR oval’s with infield tracks. I think these infield tracks have a few major problems while offering relatively few advantages. First and foremost is always safety. The length of these tracks is often an issue, with all three now being shorter than three miles in length. Finally, these tracks often end up with slower chicanes in place to bleed off the speeds from the bankings and that makes for stop and go racing, rather than high speed dicing which characterizes road racing.
In terms of safety, 2000 lb race cars going 200 mph need to be contained when there is an accident and that means hard walls. Safety at Daytona has gotten its fair share of press already this year but California Speedway and Pikes Peak International Raceway aren’t much better. In fact, turn 2 at PPIR may be the worst of them, given the huge mid-corner bump over the access tunnel and the concrete wall on the outside of the turn. PPIR has been lucky not to have a serious injury over the past eight years, particularly given the turn one chicane that was used during the Formula USA and AMA races the first year bikes raced there. Not only is PPIR unsafe through the turns coming onto and off the banking, it is also an amazingly short track at only 1.3 miles in length. With sub-one minute lap times, back-markers are a huge problem which just compounds the safety issues.
California Speedway seems like the only one of the three NASCAR ovals with a relatively safe infield course. This is because the track is so large (a two mile oval, where PPIR is a one mile oval) and that means nearly twice the track length at 2.4 miles. It also packs 21 turns which keeps speeds lower, making that maze of concrete walls and steel guardrail a bit safer at the expensive of tight racing.
Of the tracks on the 2005 schedule that aren’t NASCAR oval infields the worst of them in terms of safety is still Mid-Ohio. The track is a beautiful 2.5 miles long classic road course and there aren’t many off-track obstacles, so all would seem great right? Well, the problem with Mid-Ohio for the past decade has been the track surface. Because Mid-Ohio’s main income is from sports car racing, they use concrete pads in the corners to keep the pavement from being rippled due to the lateral force of the aerodynamic cars. This concrete works great for the cars but has always caused problems with the bikes. The seams between asphalt and concrete raise (no pun intended) hell with bikes that are heeled over at max lean angle mid-corner. Last year they tried to solve this by grinding down the concrete pads to level out the tops but this resulted in an ultra-slick surface which caused more accidents than the uneven concrete edges. Every fan of AMA motorcycle racing hopes they will finally get the repaving job it needs to be a top rated motorcycle track.
To give credit where credit is due, four of the tracks on the AMA circuit have been making major changes which greatly benefit motorcycle racing. Road Atlanta, Infineon Raceway, Barber Motorsports Park and Laguna Seca are all tracks which are improving every year. What makes this particularly exciting is that motorcycles rarely fill the coffers of the tracks who instead make their money of some form of car racing. It is basically impossible for the AMA to leverage increased earnings as a motivation for track owners to make their tracks safer for bikes because bike races don’t bring in very many spectators. The tracks that are making these changes are doing so either because they hope to bring in International racing which requires greater safety (Laguna Seca and Barber) or are making these changes just to make the tracks safer (Road Atlanta and Infineon). Either way, these tracks deserve some added attention from motorcycle racing fans in return for their efforts. If you’re near one of them, be sure to buy tickets to this years AMA Superbike race. If that starts to happen, maybe more tracks will pony up the bucks necessary to provide a safer venue for our sport.
[image from Pikes Peak International Raceway web site.]