Unlikely Alliance: Saving the USGP
While the international motocross community were awaiting details on the alleged growth and expansion of supercross, the news that Youthstream and MX Sports had formed a union to bolster the stuttering U.S. Grand Prix was a move from the outskirts of the leftfield. The powers behind MXGP and the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross series allying for the first time after years of mistrust, indifference and some public barb-chucking represented something of a milestone for motocross and the potential for a new dawn on how the sport is perceived…
The story of how the two biggest promoters of the sport joined together is based on an event that initially drove a thicker wedge between the companies: the U.S. Grand Prix. Youthstream were naturally ambitious to explore and attract the vast North American market and the large wads of the industry that is based between the coasts. The controllers of MXGP since 2004 (and formerly as Action Group prior to the sale to Dorna Sports in 2000) courted curious parties like Charlotte Motor Speedway, nurtured a relationship with influential circuit owners like Glen Helen’s Bud Feldkamp, ventured the Motocross of Nations with hopeful clubs and individuals at Budds Creek and Thunder Valley and generally operated on American soil with barely a passing acknowledgement to the national federation and promoters such as the Coombs family, who, as MX Sports, were making rapid moves to both stabilise and then prosper a national series that was falling deeper into the shadow of Supercross.
The Americans vaunted their tracks, climate, all-encompassing-motocross lifestyle and allure on the back of supercross to entice some of the cream of Grand Prix (Roczen, Pourcel, Musquin to name just three) and the pedigree and competitiveness of both championships was a bench-racing topic so ingrained that it was practically part of the woodwork.
It was a complicated dynamic of rivalry that involved aspects such as calendar, salaries, machinery, tracks, prestige and career longevity. Slights were commonplace and compliments were few and far between. A political shift also created ripples that lasted for several years and Davey Coombs and Youthstream President Giuseppe Luongo were the visible faces and leaders of two groups in dispute. ‘We would always find ourselves in conflict over whose series was better, who had the support, where the top riders were going to go and all that and it became really enhanced when the AMA decided to sell off the motocross series and all the other disciplines,’ recounts Coombs. ‘They invited Youthstream to participate in that process and it became a real bloodletting. People online did not make it any better and I’ll admit that I was in there sometimes giving my two cents. In the end I think motocross in America is where it is always supposed to be and motocross in Europe has certainly grown exponentially with some of the things Giuseppe has done.’
‘Giuseppe and I go way-back,’ the journalist and RacerX mogul continues. ‘He ran the famous ’86 Nations at Maggiora and a year later my Dad got sick and I actually ran the U.S. GP at Delmont, Pennsylvania! So we have been rising up alongside one another. My role and work in America has been very different to what Giuseppe has done. We still have a history that you cannot really erase but there is fresh air. This is finally a chance to work together.’
Glen Helen in San Bernardino, California is one of U.S. racing’s classic venues and hosted MXGP in 2009 and 2010 only to founder with a lack of attendance and participation from overloaded AMA supercross and motocross teams already inundated with fixtures standing at 29 and rising to 30 with the establishment of the Monster Energy Cup in 2011. Another attempt was made in 2015 and 2016 at the same track with barely marginal gains. Last year Grand Prix made two American stops with a well-organised and alternative meeting at the Charlotte Motor Speedway that drew the riders and a crowd but was still a relative blip on the organisation’s agenda with their Drag Racing and other activities.
Exhausting options by trying tracks old and new, leaning on sponsors’ encouragement through KTM and Monster Energy and even different regions of the country, the future of the Grand Prix depended on stoking an old relationship that had cooled somewhat. ‘Giuseppe called me after the demise of the Glen Helen event last September and basically said they wanted a successful race in America and wanted to work with us for one single, good U.S event and to make an agreement together rather than working apart,’ Coombs explains. ‘We talked about old differences and how we both envisaged the race to be and we decided that we’d support it, which is something we haven’t really done in the past and [they] have never really come through the front door; a U.S. GP announcement would just pop up! We suggested having one race immediately after the end of our domestic championship – Lucas Oil Pro Motocross – and we would do our best to find the right facility, work with the U.S. based distributors and riders and teams to recruit them and then work together next year on the Motocross of Nations.’
‘That doesn’t seem like a lot’ he says, ‘but if you think about where we were ten years ago when the AMA were selling off AMA Pro Racing then it is a much different situation. I have always been a fan of FIM World Championships and MXGP and it is nice to finally work on an event. I credit Giuseppe for picking up the phone and extending that olive branch and for what it is worth the guy who told him he should do it is Roger De Coster [Red Bull KTM Team Principal] and Roger is obviously a very powerful and influential guy over here. Like everyone, he wanted to see a round of the world championship here in America but he didn’t want to see two-three or four. We became comfortable with it and said ‘let’s go find a track’.
At the heart of the movement was another Luongo. Giuseppe’s son, 29 year old David – a former professional footballer in France and Scotland and now semi-steering Youthstream after five years rising up and working behind-the-scenes (see separate interview) – is Vice President and Head of Operations and flew with CEO Daniele Rizzi to Daytona to clasp hands and back up words with actions. ‘It was a tough moment [between the firms] from 2000-2010-‘12 and now for a couple of years we have been coming a little closer together,’ he says. ‘For sure I’m bringing new blood and representing a new generation and it is a good opportunity to sit down and talk again. I had a really good feeling with Davey and Carrie Coombs. I said ‘we’re a small sport: we’re fighting each other for what exactly? You are a national championship we are a world championship, you are the best market for motocross in the world but we represent the world championship…so it would be great to have an event in the USA that would present MXGP. When we fight together we fight against motocross and when we are together then we fight against other sports…’ This was the basis of us sitting together to find a solution.’
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Photos by Ray Archer