Davey Coombs in many ways is American motocross.
Not only does Davey promote the US National motocross series and Lorretta Lynns, he also runs the biggest motocross magazine in the world with Racer X Illustrated. He used to be the ESPN pit reporter for a number of years at the SX/MX events in the 90s and was even a pretty handy racer himself!
From racing, to promoting, to the media, he has been there and done that and has every angle covered in theUSpro racing scene. He even follows GP motocross and is a regular visitor to the Motocross Des Nations every year.
So with the highly anticipatedUSmotocross series about to get underway we thought it would be a good idea to get Davey’s thoughts on the upcoming series.
Kind enough to give MX Vice some of his time in the busy week leading up to the first round at Hangtown, Davey gives us his take on the favourites and what it takes to create a good motocross series in theUSA.
Some people might not know that you used to be a promising rider in your time! Who did you grow up racing against and how far did you get?
I grew up in a racing family, and my brother actually did pretty well as a pro in the 500 Nationals in the mid-eighties. My success was limited to an 85cc AMA National title and then a top supercross finish of 9th at Daytona in 1985. By then it was obvious that college would be a better choice for me, as the guys I had grown up racing with – Eddie Warren, Keith Bowen and later on Ron Lechien – became factory riders and race winners while I was still trying to win amateur titles at Loretta Lynn’s! But I really enjoyed racing and traveling, and that kind of morphed into my career as a journalist, and then a promoter.
It’s only a few days to go to the start of the ama nationals. Most of the big hitters are there in both classes. It promises to be a fantastic year -maybe one of the best ever. As promoter you must be excited!
Extremely excited. It’s been awhile since the classes were this stacked. The season is very long inAmerica, with 17 supercross races before we even start outdoors, so the attrition rate can be high. This time the SX tour ended with everyone relatively healthy, though we will certainly miss Davi Millsaps… And in the 250 class, I can’t wait to see what happens between the Red Bull KTM guys, the GEICO Honda team and of course Pro Circuit Kawasaki. From Ken Roczen and Marvin Musquin to Adam Cianciarulo, and of course the champion I think there are ten guys that can win in that class alone.
Which Ryan starts as favourite in the 450s? The recently crowned supercross champ or the defending national champion? And what does Stewart do if he stays healthy?
Momentum seems to be with Villopoto, but Dungey has the #1 plate and that comes with a lot of confidence. I honestly think it’s a split between these two—Dungey won two of the last three outdoor titles, but RV wasn’t there either time. Now is his chance to prove he’s better, though I am sure Villopoto has the same idea!
Stewart will always be the wild card. I believe he still has the fastest pure speed in the world, but it’s offset by crashes and injuries, which is unfortunate. When he’s on, and he’s healthy, he’s still incredible to watch.
And don’t count out guys like Chad Reed, Mike Alessi, Dean Wilson, and even Tyla Rattray if they get off to good starts.
In the 250s there is an international battle for supremacy. But also interesting is the team battles with Pro circuit, Geico Honda and KTM it must be good to gave other teams challenge pro circuit in terms of competitive excitement and an extra storyline.
Pro Circuit changed the whole sport when they came on, and it’s taken awhile for other brands to build out their programs in a way that rivals Mitch Payton’s juggernaut. But now it’s a three-horse race between them and the two teams you mentioned, and if supercross is any indication, it’s really up in the air for all of them. It just seems like Pro Circuit has had a lot of bad luck lately, and they are due for a turnaround…
You have seen Adam Cianciarulo race since he was on 50s. He has had help from the best and huge hype but can he live up to it? Can he win races this year or could the other rookie Cooper Webb outshine him?
… And Adam could lead that turnaround! He’s absolutely untested at this level—I think he’s only done a single race on a 250F—yet he’s the best minicycle racer I’ve seen since James Stewart 15 years ago. And he starts as well as Mike Alessi does. He could be like Eli Tomac and win his first pro race, or he could crash himself out of contention quickly like Zach Bell. Either way, I bet he leads at least one race at the start! As for Cooper Webb, he’s long been in Cianciarulo’s shadow, and he’s got much more time on big bikes. He also has a lot to prove and I think he’s ready to show the world that he’s going to be a contender too.
The nationals have really grown under your leadership, there are virtually no sx only contracts and we can watch the races live outside the USA. Has it been hard to get to this point and where do you go from here – where do you want to take AMA motocross now?
It has been hard, but it’s also been clear what we had to do: Make the series more appealing for both the athletes and the fans, and that came with a shorter weekend format (moving to Saturdays and a one-day race program was huge) and a better travel pattern, and working with our partners at Alli Sports and NBC Universal to grow the TV and online package so fans all over the world could tune in and follow their favorite riders. As a fan and fellow bench racer—and you and I have had some epic debates on motocross—I think the changes have been easy on the teams, and that brought everyone back to the outdoors. When the riders are happy, the sport flourishes, and the competition is even better across the board.
You have two new tracks on the schedule in Tennesse and Utah…the latter is proving controversial as it is at a road racing venue, but do u feel it is something you have to do sometimes to help grow the sport?
It was a controversial decision, because change is never easy, but it’s the kind of facility the industry and television wants for racing at this level. We have maybe 80 semi-haulers that follow the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships, and it’s hard to fit them all into a traditional motocross track. Fortunately we have a lot of great tracks like that here inAmerica—traditional motocross with great access, space and facilities—but some places are more difficult to get into than others. We are not doing anymore road-racing courses in the near future, butMillerMotorsportsParkwas an exceptional opportunity. The funny thing is that Muddy Creek inTennesseeis one of the most popular motocross tracks in the country and not that many people are talking about it because they are all worried that we’re going road racing. We aren’t!
What is the hardest part about being a promoter that the average fan doesn’t realise?
You have to grow some very thick skin because in today’s world it’s easy to go online or on Facebook or Twitter and get your criticisms across. You can’t explain everything to everyone—there’s not enough time for a project this big—and you just have to follow your instincts, as well as be respectful of the traditions. Like I said, change is never easy, but it’s also imperative that we evolve as a sport.
Is it hard to compete against supercross in terms of exposure or does their success help you in promoting motocross.
We absolutely follow in the wake of supercross, and the people at Feld Motorsports have always been generous and helpful friends to outdoor motocross inAmerica. They have an incredible series, and we all benefit from it: athletes, journalists, industry folks, race promoters, and of course fans. We don’t compete with them because we can’t, nor do we want to. We prefer working together on smart scheduling, common rules and a general cooperation in growing the sport together. As a former racer and now a journalist and a promoter, I have always believe that motocross is more about the grassroots of the sport, while supercross is the pinnacle of it all. We had to make our series better in order to keep up with supercross, and they have helped us to do just that.
Will the Grand National champion award ever come back? That seems like a pretty good way to bring both series extra value and it is a pretty awesome title for the winner.
I am not sure how I feel about that… I understand the fans’ interest in having one big series, but I really think 29 races is too long, whether it’s for the riders’ well-being or the attention of fans. Having two distinct series is a better way of spreading the wins and the titles and giving more athletes and teams a chance to be successful.
Guissepe Loungo talked recently that he still hoped to have a combined US national and GP race in the states. Do you think that will ever be a viable option or is it the impossible dream?
I think we both have our hands full right now, not only with our respective visions of where our championships are going, but also in making racing affordable enough for the teams to continue. Having a combined race would mean a lot of work, as we have different rules, different procedures, different entry fees and prize money, different sponsors and more… The world comes together for one race a year, the Motocross of Nations, and I really think that it would be hard to duplicate that at a combined national/GP.
But then again, if we could have it at Maggiora every other year, I might be in!
Interview by Jonathan McCready