John Ayers – Director of Operations for the National Promoter’s Group (NPG)
Now his job is more important than ever. He’s taking the NPG into a new era with the AMA, the “New Vision” era, where the AMA steps back from the business of racing and let’s a promoter take more responsibility. His first hurdle is getting the contract, which is out for bid. The NPG is literally bidding to keep the outdoors as they are, an NPG-promoted series, and we are pleased he contacted us to talk about it in one of his first interviews as Director of Operations.
First before we talk about the NPG and the nationals, could you give us some background about yourself? How did you become Director of Operations for the NPG?
I started in outdoor motocross at the beginning, I rode the first official series back in 1974. I started as a rider and have been involved ever since. For me, this is a great opportunity to be in this new position.
How did I become the Director, 10 years and a lot of hard work. But for me, it is great. To be working with the promoters and the AMA in forming the future of motocross is very exciting and something I look forward too.
How does it feel to go from what Davey Coombs at Racer X referred to as “Utility Man”, to speaking for the series promotional group, the NPG? Do you feel like you are running for president?
No, I see this about the same, we have a lot to do and I will be involved in all. The sport has been changing and is about to make more changes. But this is what I have been training for during the past 10 years. From the beginning of the AMA/NPG’s relationship it has been evolution, whether it’s the management changes at the AMA or the sport moving forward we have always been dealing with change. We went through a lot of changes in the past 10 years and it looks like we will be going thru a lot more in the next 10 years.
The “Utility Man” part is going to be important with what’s coming about. It’s important to make change, but we need the right changes. I have been a big part of the past and want to make sure we move forward with the right steps.
How has your experience as an ex-racer mattered as you have worked at the nationals since?
For me, being an ex-racer of the motocross and Supercross series is important, I don’t think a lot has changed in the hearts of a racer in 30 years, but the sport has surely changed. For me, I love the sport and it is good to have the experience of a racer. I recently watched a copy of the 1975 Trans-Am as Sears Point. It was wild for me so see how far the sport has come.
The sport has really moved forward in a technical way, the equipment has changed, but the desire to win is the same. Back in 74′ everyone from me to Tony D wanted to win, just like today with Ricky and James, it’s all about racing. For me, I never lose track of the fact that’s it’s all about racing.
Every single moto is a very important race. Every promoter in the NPG realizes that fact and wants to do a good job. Needless to say the AMA runs the race, but the track and our organization plays a big part. We want to make sure we provide a good show for the fans, the racers and the teams.
Do you watch a battle between James and Ricky as intense as they were, and project yourself in the middle of it like you were in it?
No, I am not a person that looks back or wish’s I was somewhere else. I am a person who thinks about tomorrow, and that anything is possible with God. I don’t look back, when I started in the sport I was like 18 and had just started riding. Now, we are watching the champions that grew up racing since they were 3 or 4 years old and they are the best yet. I look at them more like a proud father, how good our riders have become, and how professional things have become, where our sport has grown, is all pretty cool. It’s good to have been here for 30 years, man I sound old.
A lot of people haven’t been that familiar with the NPG and its role in the outdoors. Why do you think that is?
We have never been a company standing in front of things. The NPG was started by Dave Coombs Sr. when Ed Youngblood was the AMA president.
It was at a time when our sport needed to move forward. Back in the 1980s, Camel cigarette money was big in our sport and supported a lot of growth. But as we moved into the 90’s things were different. Live Nation, which was PACE back then, acquired all the Supercross events and made the series much better. It was clear the AMA motocross series needed the same change, but with 12 owners that would be a considerable challenge. We did not see the AMA be able to make that change so we did.
With the creation of the NPG, the plan was to make the motocross series better. We have been a “behind the scenes entity”, working to make things better on the promoter’s side, but keeping in mind the series belongs to the AMA. I think that is why we have not been noticed or understood.
Over the years, we have faced many challenges, Hollingsworth and his group came and went. Now the AMA has a new vision and we are working our way thru the new direction of the AMA.
So what makes up the NPG then, just those 12 tracks?
Yes, the 12 tracks, Dave and I came up with the idea on a trip to Texas. He presented it to Ed Youngblood as a way to improve the sport. Ed agreed and the NPG was formed. My part was selling the sponsorship, and that is how it started. We met with the 12 tracks and they agreed to join up and make motocross better.
Twelve years ago, everyone had their own announcer, their own sponsors and their own way of doing things, little things, like what time the hates opened, what time was practice. It wasn’t a true series. Once we started, we realized there was a lot more to do than then we thought. We started with a list of much needed improvements and went to work. It was all about the promoters working together to make motocross better without changing ownership. With Dave leading the way, the Coombs family, and the rest of the promoters were creating a vision of what could be better. The first thing we did was hire a series announcer, series advertising and a $100,000 points fund. It was the first time the series had a points fund and the NPG paid for it.
Funny thing is though, and to keep in mind, you can only do so much with someone else’s property. When Hollingsworth was in charge, our work became a challenge for ownership of the series. Not in our minds, but in his. We had to go slowly and be the “behind the scenes” company that we talked about. Once we win the RFP process, we hope to really show what the promoters and the NPG are able to do.
Do you like to read the message boards on the internet where one guys posts “What would you like to see better about the nationals?” and people write “change this” and “change that?”
You know, I do like reading those and we do pick things up. But, I have been a student of the events for years. I have walked into crowds and asked about bleachers and bathrooms and just gathered info. I think a lot of posts are personal agendas and not very accurate.
There is a lot to understand, for instance, I once went into a porta-john once and there was a 6-ft snake in it! It was dead, someone had thrown it in. The lesson here is that we need the fans to help too, if you throw a 6 foot snake into the porta-john, the girl who comes in next gets a real thrill, but the promoter gets accused of not doing his job.
I’ve spent a lot of time talking to the race teams, the riders, and the spectators, I hear all different answers, just like on the message boards, one guy asked a simple question and someone will jump all over him and then 3-4 will gang up on that guy. In the end, everyone has a an opinion, we try to do our best and hopefully most will be happy.
I think what happened in the last 10 years in outdoor motocross has been very positive and very strong. We have great sponsors, great attendance, and every single year the racing is better. We have witnessed the GOAT (Ricky Carmichael) go 24-0, some great RC vs James battles and growth in all areas.
Do I feel we are exactly where we need to be? No. There are a lot of things that could be better and we would like to make those improvements. Once the RFP (Request for Proposal) process is over, I think you will see those come about.
Are there things in the news, or on the internet about the nationals that you hear or read that you really want to comment on?
Yes, I think a lot of the buzz on the internet about the coming of Youthstream or others taking over the nationals. We are in America, and it’s a wonderful country. We have big motor homes, concept haulers, factory semis and even privateers in semis. Our fans like to camp, our riders lik to ride and their families like to be part of it all. A very different situation than any other series in the world.
That is just a testament to the great series we have, and how strong motocross is. There are posts stating we have 52% of the worlds market. I think there is a lot to that. We have a great amateur program. You don’t see an amateur program in Europe, you don’t see a real Supercross series anywhere but here. We have Loretta’s and a pro-Am series. We are in America, it’s a different country and a different way of life and our motocross maybe different too.
One thing I believe is this, you reap what you sew. If you invest in an area, you re-coup in that area. If you invest in press, you get a lot of press. If you invest in motocross you get a lot of motocross. I think we have invested in Motocross and I think Youthstream has invested in press. They have great press facilities and we have great riders and great events.
I don’t think we have invested as much in press as Youthstream, but we have invested in motocross much more. That is why we have 52% of the market and why we have riders like Villopoto that are hands-down the fastest riders in the world. We have invested in our amateur programs, and in our facilities. We have grown these riders and given them a place to race since age 3.
When I look at the GP series, they go to a different country and make facility for the weekend. Don’t get me wrong, I think Youthstream does a great job. I was part of the Motocross of Nations. I worked well with the guys. I enjoyed it all. Their job is a little different than ours. They go into a country, race, pack up and on the road again.
One the other hand, we have consistent tracks, real facilities where riders can grow. Riders like Villopoto grew up riding Loretta’s and the national tracks. I remember when Damon Bradshaw was driving from North Carolina to High Point just to get on a good racetrack. This is what builds motocross, real facilities for riders to grow. If you are not investing in the infrastructure of motocross, you are never going to build champions the way we have. I think that is why the European riders come to America, to race the best series in the world.
Do we have the best press conferences? Maybe not. Does that mean our series is bad – no! We have the biggest series in the world, we have the biggest crowds, we have the best racers and when we went to the Motocross of Nations we left very proud of motocross and our coutry.
Something else that I see as different, I will use Villopoto as an example – Ryan was there, his cousin, his sister, his mom, dad, grandma, his grandpa – they attend every one of our events. You don’t get that anywhere in the world. They bring motor homes, they camp, they enjoy motocross. I think that is what makes us different, we are a real series and we build motocross.
There were some high-level people leaving the AMA just in the news recently and its clear there was some tension associated with it. What does it mean to the public when they are on the outside looking in and see things like this? Does this affect the NPG too?
The AMA is going through serious change. Right now Rob Dingman is in control, he is knowledgeable, intelligent and has a plan. From what I understand, they reviewed their racing programs and will be stepping out of series promotions. They are not blaming the NPG, or any other promoters involved. From what I read, they feel they are in over their heads and need to make a change.
In outdoor motocross, we are under contract for the next three years, well, six tracks 2 years, six tracks 3 years. We don’t plan on quitting or going away. We believe this will work out with the AMA and we will continue for a long time to come. After promoting races for 30 years, I do not see the NPG tracks going anywhere, no matter what the AMA does.
You spent some time working the pits talking to the riders and teams this year about the tracks. What are some of the things you came up with?
For 2007 we improved our relationships with the teams. In fact, we improved a lot, we added hospitality, cleaned up credentialing, improved track preparation and more.
One of our challenges has been the four strokes. The riders don’t ride like they used to, they have engine compression and like wider lines. Riding a 450 on an outdoor track is a high speed trip. One day James Stewart called to discuss the tracks, he really helped us understand what is was like to ride a 450 wide open. Since that time, I have spent many hours with Stewart, Langston, Millsap’s, Villopoto, Alessi and a few others. The result was a great improvement to the tracks in 2007. I think for 2008, we will deliver trace track made for the 4 stroke world.
In 2008 we have new goals, better tracks, lots of bumps, good lines and a track that flows well for today’s riding styles. I think RC and James are the only riders that ride a 4 stroke 450 like a 2 stroke and that is because they grew up on two strokes. Villopoto rides a 4 stroke like a 4 stroke and it really works for him. I have learned from him and Danny what we need in a race track. I think as we move forward, racing will improve from this knowledge.
For 2008, we will also be adding a Press VIP area, our own portable satellite system, a finish line structure, a paddock structure and the list goes on. We have always looked ahead to improve things.
When I look back, I remember when our goal was to improve the semi parking, it took 2 hours when I started and 15 minutes now.
What’s is like trying to support the AMA when your company has to adapt every time they go through changes?
Our goal at the NPG has always been to support the AMA. When I look back over the years there have been a lot of changes. I remember when the promoters received Fed Ex letters that cancelled their contracts. Wow, that was a rush. It took a while, but all worked it out and we continue racing.
What is your own reaction to Youthstream, and what they have been saying about American motocross?
We are proud of what motocross is in America and when they put us down, you have to ask what is the real agenda. Our goal is to build the sport of motocross, not travel around the world with it. There is more to our series than TV or press conferences. I think our series and our riders speak for themselves. We have great factory support, a great amateur program and a great MX National series. Look at our events, take Washougal, 2,500 amateurs and 30,000 fans all in one weekend. You do not see that at a Youthstream event.
We believe that is the backbone of our sport and our industry. In America, we participate, that is why we are the biggest and the best. Our riders learned on national tracks and it shows when we race the world. Think about it, you do not need to buy a motorcycle to watch it on TV, we want people to race.
It would be easy for us to fire back at Youthstream or anyone else, why does America have 52% of the world’s market, more of the market than the rest of the world put together? I assure you a great motocross series is a large part of it.
When we went to the Motocross of Nations I think it showed what American motocross has produced. Villopoto spanked the world on a Lites machine. It is a great testament to our motocross program, in fact, it was what, 3 years ago Villopoto was racing Loretta’s.
What do you think of ‘Supercross only’ contracts?
I feel bad for the riders but I understand. I think one rider put it best: “John I love the outdoors, man, motocross is where I started racing and I still love the outdoors. But after 16 Supercross races I am tired, we are all tired. If we had to race SX after MX, I do not think I would make it. It is just a bummer that you follow the series so close, we need a break.”
The riders like motocross, we do not take it personally, it is just a tough season. Watch them when they have time off, what do they ride, they ride motocross, they love it, but it is a job and they have to make the best career move possible.
This is the reason we worked so hard to change the schedule for ’08, we gave the riders a schedule that will allow much more time off. We still get beat up on the message boards on the drive from Unadilla to Washougal, but there is a lot people do not understand. Washougal and Unadilla both have unique issues to deal with and we would change if we could. In fact, I think you will see that fixed one day.
There was a message board question where one fan asked “why is everyone making lists on what to make better, why change?”
Why change? Times are changing, let’s face it. The world has changed, now we have broadband internet and a 100 channels. We have new sports to compete with, freestyle exploded years ago. Mad Mike Jones is a good personal friend of mine. It was great for him. At the same time, motocross has grown and we want it to keep growing. We don’t want it to be the best sport that used to be, we want it to continue to be the leading edge. Think about it, Supercross came from motocross. Freestyle came from motocross, but Motocross is the lifestyle. We want to keep it current, we want to expand our content. We need a better TV package, we need to be on the net, RacerX films on Motocross.com was a great start, but we can do more.
We have a lot to do, because of the investment and hard work of the promoters and the AMA we have a great series, but we can and will be netter in the years to come.
We will close with that and thanks for your time John and good luck.
John Ayers – Director of Operations for the National Promoter’s Group (NPG)