Tooele • When John Ulrich saw the American Motorcycle Association’s 2014 pro road racing schedule, he knew something had to be done.
The AMA authorized only five races — all at tracks east of the Mississippi River — and Ulrich knew such a short season would be disastrous in a business where surviving financially was already a difficult proposition.
O What » The GEICO Motorcycle Superbike Shootout presented by Yamaha and the Utah Sport Bike Association’s Vortex Masters of the Mountain series.
Where » Miller Motorsports Park
When » Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 8 a.m.
Tickets » $6 (children under 12 admitted free)
More information » millermotorsportspark.com
"I told them they were going to put guys out of business," Ulrich recalled. "I said, ‘This is not going to work for a professional team. People are going to lose their jobs."
The fallout from the short schedule started quickly. Major sponsors like the National Guard, the Motorcycle Superstore and Geico Motorcycle Insurance jumped ship.
More shocking, perhaps, was the fact former NBA star, Charlotte Bobcat owner and motorcycle race team owner Michael Jordan closed shop.
"They ran off Michael Jordan," Ulrich said. "How do you run off Michael Jordan? That’s really an accomplishment. ... But they didn’t seem very concerned about the impact this was going to have on teams and riders — the whole sport, actually."
Even though the AMA eventually added a sixth race to its schedule, Ulrich knew something still had to be done. So to fill an 11-week gap between sanctioned races, he organized a three-race series — complete with new sponsors and a TV deal — that makes a stop at Miller Motorsports Park this weekend.
The first two events were held at Sonoma and Fontana in California.
According to Ulrich, the longtime publisher of Roadracing World magazine who has been involved in the sport since 1973, the response to his efforts has been gratifying. At Daytona in March, he was walking through the pit area when he got the first inkling of the significant impact his new mini-series would have on others’ lives.
"Guys came running up to me — literally," Ulrich said. "They shook my hand, thanking me for doing this. That’s just not something you encounter in racing. But they understood the deal and, obviously, their sport is important to them."
Three-time AMA Superbike champion Josh Hayes is one of those benefiting from Ulrich’s non-sanctioned series.
"It’s a basic necessity, really," Hayes said. "It was desperately needed and the riders are thankful for it."
Without Ulrich’s mini-series, Hayes knows he would have been sitting at home. Not competing. Not making any money for his sponsors or himself. Not doing what he loves.
"The way the [sanctioned] schedule turned out," he said, "you wouldn’t have had much time on your motorcycle. ... To be able to spend time on your motorcycle in a competitive atmosphere is what we’re all in this for."
Hayes, who scored a "breakthrough" win that provided great momentum to his career at Miller Motorsports Park in 2006, looks forward to this weekend.
"Miller has always been a great track for me," he said. "... It holds a special place in my heart."
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