Terry O’Neill talks ASBK FX and 2015
MCNews.com.au: I’m here with Terry O’Neill, at a very cold Winton Raceway, temperature just nudging six-degrees as riders negotiate first practice.
We’re in a room here in the tower, and the last time you were interviewed in this room Terry it was 2008 I believe and Greg Rust from Channel Ten was actually interviewing you about the parlous state of Australian Road Racing, essentially the ongoing battle between Australian Superbike and Formula Xtreme.
Now we seem to be in a semi parlous state again, perhaps on a precipice, where there’s negotiations perhaps happening, perhaps not happening, but at this stage it seems as in 2015, from where I’m sitting it seems highly likely we’ll have two series again in 2015, which is something I don’t think many people want. I’ve had e-mails as recently as this morning from national level distributors saying how much they don’t want there to be two series again, and how hard it makes for them to be involved in the sport, and even just from a media perspective, trying to cover the sport and trying to give the sport promotion, it’s harder to split that support and limited resource across two, rather than one.
Terry, I understand you’ve had the briefest of chats with Motorcycling Australia in regards to 2015. As I understand it, Motorcycling Australia still haven’t decided what they’re going to do, they’ve got more meetings this month. As we all know, there’s been new personnel in there and as far as I know, everything’s far from being decided which way forward they’re going to go, but there is lots of talk that we’ll still have two series.
How do you see that unfolding from your perspective? Have you had any negotiations with them as such, and are you going to put an arm out to try and further any negotiations, to try and have a meeting of the minds for 2015?
Terry: “Well, Trevor, several months ago I was approached by various people inside MA, Peter Doyle was one of them, and he asked me if I was prepared to talk to MA regarding the future of road racing and potentially having one series, and I said yes I was. Braxton Laine, when he soon after became the new president, called me and said he wanted to meet me and do all this and do all that, and the two things that were at the top of his list was Barrabool and the ASBK, and he wanted to try and figure out how there could be a meeting of the minds, and he was going to come and see me within ten days. Well, that never happened.
“I’ve since met Braxton up at Queensland Raceway when he came to our Swann Australasian FX Superbike Championship event, he was more interested in asking me about how he could make his series viable, both financially and some other concerns, which I found quite amazing that he kept on asking me my advice on how he should fix his series, and I said to him at the time, ‘This is counter-productive, I thought you were coming to see me about discussing moving forward potentially together.’ But that wasn’t really ever discussed. So that was up in Queensland and I spoke to Peter Doyle a couple of weeks ago, I speak to Peter on a regular basis, because as far as I’m concerned he’s the only one that’s switched on in the joint, that I know actually knows anything about motorcycle racing, and he asked me to ring the new CEO, because I had no contact from the CEO, which I must admit I resisted initially, but he asked me a couple of times and I eventually decided the only way this is going to happen is if I eat humble pie, and I ring him up and talk to him.
“So I actually did ring up the CEO, much to his surprise, and I came away after about 15 minutes of talking to him with the direct impression that as far as they were concerned, nothing was going to happen, ‘cause I had to actually tell him the reason why I was ringing up, to talk about the ASBK, and he told me that they’d been inundated with phone calls and people showing interest in the event and also in running the event, and as I said to him at the time, I said, ‘Well, if you’ve got so many people to talk to, then more likely you’ve got it covered.’ I didn’t come away with any confidence whatsoever that they actually intended to call me to discuss this, he told me I was on his list of people to ring, but you know he’s been on the job for.”
MCNews.com.au: All of a couple of weeks really…
Terry: “No, he’s been in there for one and a half months, two months now.
“So the reality is if this is high on their list of priorities, then I would have thought that maybe a phone call would have happened, or maybe that’s why Peter was pushing me to ring them, because obviously something got lost in the translation somewhere. But anyway, everything that’s transpired over the last few months says to me 100 per cent that there will be two series next year, they have no interest in talking to me, because if they did, I wouldn’t have received the response I got from either Braxton Laine up in Queensland and / or the new CEO, who showed very little interest in wanting to really talk about it.”
MCNews.com.au: Now from what I can ascertain there’s a few more meetings that will be – as we understand – it’s not somebody in MA head office that sort of gets to dictate policy and exactly what’s to happen, it’s more sort of the tail wagging the dog, and the states that seem to actually control what is going to happen and whatever will happen in the end. Is that the way you see it?
Terry: “No. In actual fact though, unless something’s dramatically changed, the states really have no say in whatever Motorcycling Australia used to do, I was in partnership with them for five years and I know that the states have no say in it whatsoever. It comes down to the board and the CEO, everyone knows the history of David, David White, and MA was definitely 100 per cent run by the board and the states really if anything had very little say in it, apart from maybe donating money to keeping the doors open.”
MCNews.com.au: Now from what I’m hearing MA are still at the data collection point with the new CEO getting as many different viewpoints as he can, and as many different possible strategies of the way to go, and they were hoping I believe to have made the decision some time ago, but I believe no decision has yet been made and things are going to be put on the table to the board this month some time, the various possible strategies moving forward. But from my point of view, sitting here, if you haven’t had any lengthy discussions as yet…
Terry: “Not many…”
MCNews.com.au: With Motorcycling Australia, then perhaps…
Terry: “It’s not an option.”
MCNews.com.au: It doesn’t seem to be an option, perhaps.
Terry: “No, I don’t believe it is. I believe it’s all lip service. If they were really serious about exploring the option, then obviously they would have wanted to sit down with us.”
MCNews.com.au: And from your point of view, where you’re sitting now, do you believe you’ve done what you should have done and could have done in the interests of racing altogether, and everyone involved in racing, to get the meeting of the minds, to get the two series together once again or do you consider that you’ve made the initial advance and was rebuffed, thus there’s no more point of you wasting any more energies going down that track?
Terry: “Look, Trevor, I’ve done everything I can to open a dialogue with these people, including ringing them. And it was made quite obvious to me that I had made the phone call. So apart from filling out an application form…. I don’t see any point, really. Seriously, if these people wanted to talk to us. They said I’m on the list to ring. Well, if they wanted to have one series, if they were really serious about exploring that option, and I’m not saying it would have worked necessarily anyway, but if they were really serious about exploring that option, then they would have been speaking to us by now. And if the board is going to make a decision about the future, without actually speaking to us, then they’ve already made that decision. They’re just saying these things to get everyone off their backs, because how can they make a decision if they haven’t spoken to us? If they are seriously contemplating us as an option. But the CEO did say one thing to me, he did have a problem, one problem with us, which I was quite amazed by, he told me that he’d heard that we wanted a long contract, if we were going to come back and run their series again. And I said, ‘That’s correct,’ and he said, ‘At M.A. we only want to do five-year contracts.’”
MCNews.com.au: And initially you were after a 20-year contract?
Terry: “No, well… whatever, I’m not going to say what the period of time was, but the thing is it was a lot longer than five years, because previously I ran… MA approached me in 2003 to run their failing series, it was failing financially big time and it was failing on a number of fronts. So they approached me to join together the two series, which I was happy to consider. And in the end we came to a deal, it took me three years to turn around this incredibly bad business, because you have to treat it as a business. It’s my passion, I love motorcycle racing, but if I don’t treat it as a business then I’ll go the way of every other promoter before me and even the recent one, if you don’t treat it like a business, eventually you end up broke, and that does no one any good. So I turned it around in three years and the last two years it ran at a break even slash modest profit, from a massive amount of money, it was over a half a million dollars they told me they’d lost in 2003. And as soon as I got to a point of getting out of the black, or getting out of the red into the black, they turned around and they broke the contract and gave it to another promoter, Yarrive Konsky.”
MCNews.com.au: Now there must have been some sort of infighting there that happened as well, but do you believe the root cause of M.A. walking away from that was then, ‘Okay, we’ve broken Formula Xtreme, he can’t come back, he’s been running our series for five years, so we’ve met our objective there, there will only be one series,’ so in their minds they’ve, as far as they’re concerned, they’ve got one over you and been able to walk away, and thought that you could never come back from it.
Terry: “Oh, that was made clear to me at the time, that they thought that I was a goner and I’d run their series for five years, so there was no way that I was going to go back and rebuild Formula Xtreme back to where it is today. But you know, in all seriousness I’m going to say why would I want to walk away from this perfectly well structured, well running series, that has a massive amount of television, has good corporate support, has good rider support, has a huge public profile, to go and run a series for them for five years to get ‘them’ back on their feet and go through the same situation of at the end of five years they break the contract and give it to somebody else again, another one of their mates? So realistically, if they want me to run their series, and they are going to have to come up with a serious option, because otherwise I’ll just stay doing what I’m doing. Look, I’m quite happy, I’ve never said there needs to be one series, a lot of other people have, I’m quite happy for there to be two series and to be quite honest I’m quite happy that their mate runs the other series.”
MCNews.com.au: Do you think the interests of motorcycling racing in Australia as a whole, is best served by having two series, or one series?
Terry: “Well, look. There’s multiple clubs, multiple promoters in every state in Australia, apart from maybe WA and… look, you can see it from both perspectives. I can see… If there was one series at a national level, it would be a better thing, or altogether, if everyone was working together, it has the potential to be a very good thing. However, to do that you have to have a meeting of the minds, where you don’t have… like in the past… quite frankly, when I ran the ASBK the first time, MA came to me and said, ‘You need to do what you have to do to make this, fix it, because it’s stuffed.’ And I said, ‘Okay,’ and I laid out a complete plan of what I needed to do, what I believed was necessary, and they agreed to everything.
“As soon as I got to be in the position of running it, they walked away from about 90 per cent of the things that we’d agreed to. So it took me a lot longer to get the series up and running and being financially stable, because they wouldn’t allow me to do what was required, and you see I don’t have those problems anymore. And so I make decisions and I either live or die by my decisions, or our company does, I’m the CEO, the managing director of it, but I have partners as well so the reality is there’s other people that have a say in this organisation now, as well, in the past it was just me. But if there was going to be a meeting of the minds, it’s hard to see how M.A. would ever want to give me that position of being able to say, ‘This is not working, we have to change it,’ or, ‘This is the direction of the future.’ See, one of the things I’ve always believed [right or wrongly] and it might come across arrogantly, is that I tend to see what’s coming around the corner and I’m there waiting for it to arrive, in general. I don’t always get it right, but more often than not I do get it right.
“Whereas MA tends to keep on wanting to run off and keep the FIM happy, and all they were ever talking about was making more world champions. Well, I’m not about that as a primary function, the primary function of an Australian Championship should be to be the biggest, most successful championship that there can be for THIS country. World champions coming from Australia will just come and go as they always have done in the past, people tend to forget the history of the things, and this is one of the problems of it, everyone thinks this is a new challenge, but if you go back to the days of the Wayne Gardner’s and that, those guys rode around on all heaps of poo production bikes, on crappy tyres, on crappy tracks and they went to Europe and got on these hotrods that handled, on beautiful tracks, on beautiful tyres and they beat them at their own game.
“So there’s this big argument that you have to have mirror image classes in Australia so riders can go overseas. Well the Wayne Gardner’s and all of those blokes didn’t have mirror image class on their bikes, they had bikes that were built to race and make big successful racing in Australia. And M.A.’s never grasped this, they’ve forgotten their history, they forgot where their early world champions came from and they believe the same propaganda as a lot of people do, ‘We have to mirror image the FIM and do what they do.’ Let the FIM do what they do, Australia should have its own series, built for Australians, what Australian riders can afford, what appeals to them, what appeals to the public, the bikes that sell, because you have to have the industry come along and be a part of it. And they just tend to ignore all this, they blindly go off in a direction that no one can afford. And they’ve done this for 20 years and it’s been sad… I only got into being involved in this because I was so disillusioned with how this sport was being run into the ground. Seriously, I was quite happy running a plumbing business, but I got so angry at M.A. and how they were stuffing it up and yeah the old story, someone said, ‘Well, if you think you can do a better job, why don’t you?’ Well, I did, that was what happened.”
MCNews.com.au: I’m not over all the ins and outs of this issue no doubt, as 99 per cent of people involved in racing aren’t, but MA is essentially also an insurance company, while part of your group is under the auspices of AASA. So do you see that as a stumbling block of any kind if there was going to be a meeting as such for an issue to be threshed out for you to again run ASBK?
Terry: “Look, we actually came to arrangements with MA in the last couple of years, we got very close to it and I think three times in the last two years we came to a verbal agreement with MA and on three occasions..”
MCNews.com.au: In regards to insurance?
Terry: “In regards to everything.”
MCNews.com.au: Right, as in running the series.
Terry: “Yes, running the series, including insurance. And on three occasions M.A. have told us, or David White and even Stephen Foody said that, ‘Yes, we’re ready to go, this is it.’ The last time was October last year, they came and saw us, our board, and we all sat down, spent five hours in the room, sat down and worked through everything, took notes, the whole lot was all nutted out. And they came on the premise of, and I’ve got the e-mail, that they could make a decision on the day that would be binding on e-mail, I have the e-mail from David White, because I asked for that in writing guarantee, that they weren’t going to come and waste our time. And at the end of the day they stood up and shook hands with us and said, ‘We have a deal, next year there will be one series,’ blah blah blah. They walked out the door, five days later they re-announced that Konsky was running it. So this is the whole situation, we’ve been mucked around a lot and we’ve been played the fool, eventually you get sick of being played the fool. But getting back to insurance, the deal that we struck with MA was that we’d run under M.A. insurance if we took over the series and that was, there’s no secret about that, I’ve never said anything other.”
MCNews.com.au: Okay, so if that wasn’t a major issue, if you could in brief spell out what would be, for the two series to come together again, what would be the two major issues on your half that you think MA wouldn’t want to come to, and what would be the two major issues you think MA would bring to the table, that you guys wouldn’t want to agree to?
Continued in Part 2 | Link…..