Coombs on USGP collaboration: “we all tried to impress each other”

Exclusive talk with the MX Sports head honcho on a first co-stewardship of the USGP

MX Sports president Davey Coombs cut a satisfied figure on Sunday at the WW Motocross Ranch for the first Grand Prix of USA; a meeting that was the result of a collation and first working project between the American promoters and MXGP rights-holders Youthstream.

The seventeenth round of the 2017 FIM Motocross World Championship has a difficult birth after the cancellation of the fixture at Charlotte Motor Speedway followed by a surprising union between the two biggest promotional bodies of motocross and then a late venue switch from Gatorback in Gainesville to the privately-owned WW site west of Jacksonville.

Despite inclement weather in the build-up to the event that left parts of the large location fighting the mud, the climate stayed dry for the weekend itself and an official crowd figure for the meeting was put at 21,000. Visually the circuit designed and built by Youtstream staff and Justin Barclay appeared to be surrounded by a larger attendance compared to the last two editions of the Grand Prix at Glen Helen in California.

We sought out the analysis of media mogul and industry figurehead Coombs on the first USGP on the east coast this century and what the combination between MX Sports and Youthstream could mean for the future…

Has the weekend and Grand Prix run as you expected or anticipated?

I think we are off to a better start than anyone anticipated. The challenges are obvious: the schedule in America, the brief time off the riders and teams get and making sure of enough American participation to make it interesting. We got the MXGP paddock here and the fans came out and enjoyed themselves. What we need is a few more AMA based riders and some better weather and it can be even bigger. I cannot remember – since the glory days of Unadilla – that we had this many people for a USGP and I think everyone working together from the AMA, FIM, Youthstream, MX Sports and WW Ranch and Unlimited Sports, which are big rivals on the Florida motocross scene, meant we all wanted this thing to work for once. We all tried to impress each other and it showed in the facility and production and the fans came out to show that there is a desire for this kind of event we just need to find the right venue and serendipitously I think we found it.

It was already a hastily arranged Grand Prix when it was announced at the start of the MXGP season but the circuit switch must have been a headache…

None of us saw the demise of Gatorback coming. We’d gone there and loved the traditional National track and everything was going according to plan and ‘boom!’ out of nowhere the track goes away. I can remember putting my head on the desk slowly and leaving it on my computer for five minutes. I then picked it up and typed a message to Giuseppe [Luongo, Youthstream President] saying ‘we’re gonna make this happen, we won’t let you down, trust me…’ and both he and David [Luongo, Vice President] wrote back and said ‘that’s what we wanted to hear, we believe in you, let’s go to Plan B: what is it?’ and then we had to come up with one! They trusted us when they could have pulled the plug with a severe financial penalty and embarrassment. We put our heads down and we came here to WW Motocross Ranch and to a nice facility that fits perfectly, so I knew then if we got a break with the weather – and we did because we could have been standing here in the middle of a hurricane – it would all work out.

Thomas Kjer Olsen gets flat at WW MX Ranch

Jeffrey Herlings’ victory in the last round of the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Nationals must have helped…

There is no amount of value you can place on what Jeffrey Herlings did by simply coming to a National. It became a giant commercial for what this event could be in a lot of people’s eyes. The world is a smaller place now and people all over and specifically in the southeast got to see what Herlings did in Indiana and thought ‘I want to see that guy…’ and it also woke Tomac up – the ‘no-pressure Tomac’. I think to see athletes from one series succeed in another – the fish out of water thing – really helps the global scene. The rising tide raises all the boats and I think everyone’s boat went up a little bit.

Now that the base has been set with Youthstream the working relationship can only be a positive thing for something like the 2018 Motocross of Nations…

We had a really nice dinner with Daniele [Rizzi, Youthstream COO], David and the rest of the Youthstream guys and we were spit-balling and throwing out ideas. We are all enthusiasts and we all want to see the biggest, best races. We still have a domestic series and Youthstream has a global series and it is cool we can bring them together. Youthstream isn’t going anywhere, MX Sports sure-as-hell isn’t going anywhere and the AMA and the FIM have wanted to work together for a long time and this was the way to do it. I think we are onto something special. I was impressed by Youthstream’s front team and production, Justin Barclay’s track work and the attention to detail. I think if they came to work at a National they would like a lot of things about the work that we do. We are a slimmer crew and we travel lighter but we work every bit as hard.

Photos by Ray Archer

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