Terry O’Neill talks ASBK FX 2015 | Part 2
Introduction: Last week we ran the first part of a three part interview with Terry O’Neill, discussing the past, present and future of ASBK and FX Superbikes in Australia.
It is quite verbose, and we could have edited a lot more out, but to really portray the true nature of the conversation we decided to leave it full length to give the full story, so to speak.
MCNews.com.au: Okay, so if the insurance wasn’t a major issue and that had been agreed to numerous times, 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 side of the fence that you think MA wouldn’t want to come to agreement on; 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?
Terry: “Oh, this is the 64 million dollar question, Trevor. Look, I think M.A. more likely need to go through another year of pain, there’s new people at the helm and from what I can see they think they know more than the old people and they think they’re going to do a better job than the last mob. And I think they need to go through another year of figuring out what they can and can’t do, and what’s possible and what’s not. It’s not a case of me figuring out what the two things are, the reality is if they really wanted to seriously try and work something out, they would have spoken to us, they would have either picked up the phone, or I would have gotten a different reception to the phone call I made when I rang the CEO. And I know right now, because I deal with the tracks, they’re ringing around, trying to book the tracks for themselves. So they plan to run their own series. I think everyone out there… well, not everyone, because there’s a lot of people actually coming to me saying…”
MCNews.com.au: Could they not be booking tracks in regards to perhaps coming to you on a later day, and perhaps trying to use their dates and proposed plans as a bargaining chip, to show that they have the ability to run their own championship, so they come to the table with you from-
Terry: “A position of strength.”
MCNews.com.au: Probably not those words I was going to use, but in essence that’s what I’m getting at.
Terry: “A position of strength. Look, you know what? I’m sick of playing games, either they want to do a deal or they don’t. If they don’t want to do a deal, then just announce it to the world, so people can get off my back. Because if they don’t want to do it, just say so. Stand up, stop hiding behind doors, stop hiding behind phone calls, stand up and say, ‘No, we’re going to do our own thing.’ And let’s just get on with it. I’m quite happy to stay where I am, seriously, I’m quite happy to stay where I am. And this is the whole thing, how can you have confidence in an organisation who can’t even talk straight to you? And history shows that they haven’t really spoken straight to anyone on many occasions. Look, you tell me the industry are ringing or emailing you saying that they don’t want two series next year, well they’re obviously just as much in the dark as everyone else, they don’t know what MA is doing. And you know what? I’ll be quite blunt, it might upset a few people, but I don’t think MA knows what it’s doing, I don’t think they’ve got a freakin’ clue between them. In all seriousness, I think they’re stumbling around in the dark, they’ve got half an idea, they know what they really want to achieve, they’re not sure how to do it, Peter Doyle’s going to get lumbered with it and I tell you what, if he’s running it and then in two years time it fails, what will end up happening is Peter Doyle will get the blame for it. Because everyone who takes on their series, and if it doesn’t work really well, guess what, that person gets the blame for it. So if Peter is the bloke who ends up running it, guess what, I bet you in the next couple of years they won’t be saying, ‘Oh, wait on, he got shoehorned into it because no one else would touch it.’”
MCnews.com.au: Well, Peter’s told me that’s not his end game and he doesn’t want to be running it.
Terry: “Well, they’ve got no one else to run it. They’re talking about giving it to the clubs, well, good luck, you know? Clubs used to run the ASC, but I tell you what-”
MCnews.com.au: And, look, I have broached that subject with them before, in regards to going back to the club days and the advantages and disadvantes of going down that route, because as far as I can see there’s very, very few people still around the sport that was around in the day when the clubs did run the events.
Terry: “Club racing is not the same now as it was 15 years ago.”
MCNews.com.au: And I was around the sport then and there’s very few people that I see involved in the sport today, that were involved in superbike events back when the clubs did run it in conjunction with Shell. Denise Stronach was at the ASBK round at Phillip Island recently, she’s probably the only face I remember from those days that is still involved in the administration of the sport at any level, so she’s probably the only one-
Terry: “She’s a good operator, Denise.”
MCNews.com.au: Yes Denise is probably in a good position talking from experience to actually perhaps even advise M.A. the advantages and disadvantages of going down that route again. But if we could go back to a few things that you just said then, when you were quite harsh in your criticism of M.A. and the seeming initial attitude from the new CEO, do you really think that with that in mind, when they read this,… that’s again probably going to get their backs up, and make it even more unlikely that the olive branch would come out and that we would…
Terry: “I don’t believe the olive branch is coming out no matter what. If I really did think there was half an opportunity… I’ve bitten my lip for the last four our five months waiting to see what was going to happen with this new CEO and it came out of the blue, a new presence, no one expected [Stephen] Foody to get voted out like he did. But I’ve bitten my lip and I just sat there and kept quiet, I’ve let practically everyone else have an opinion on it and I’ve played a straight bat as much as I could, and just fended it off, waiting to see what’s going to happen. But to me… have I been harsh? No, I’ve passed on the observations of what I’ve experienced. Now if that’s considered to be harsh, so be it. But reality is they’ve already made up their mind. They haven’t quite made up their mind how they’re going to do it, or how it’s going to operate, or how they’re going to pay for it, or who’s going to turn up and even race in it. Those are the things they don’t know, I would hazard a guess. But, they want to go their own way, because if they were serious about trying to make one series, honestly, we would have had meetings by now. But guess what? It’s August… it’s August, and this is what always happens with these people, it gets to October and they say, ‘We want to do something for next year.’ Well, guess what, I’ve already got my dates booked, I’ve already got my classes sorted, more often than not I’ve got most of my sponsors sorted out by then. And then they want to come and talk to me about taking over the series. They need to be talking to us back in March, and that was what we always used to say to [David] White in the past. When he would come at the end of the year, every time there was a disaster happening in the ASBK he’d come knocking on the door, normally around November, going, ‘Oh, we have to fix this, we have to find a way out of this.’ And we’d say, ‘Okay, we’ll sit down and talk to you, but we need to sort it out by March, April, so we can plan properly for the next year.’ And next thing we’d be sitting around the table and it’d be bloody August all over again. And you know what? It gets tiring. They waste so much of your time. If they want to act like a professional organisation, they keep on saying they’re professional, well then they should get professionals to run the thing and they should give them instructions on what they want to achieve. But right now it seems like they’re all running around in circles and they haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. And you know what? If that’s harsh, well guess what, somebody has to stand up and say it the way everyone sees it. People don’t want to talk about these guys because they think M.A. is all-powerful. M.A. is not all-powerful, they’re just a sanctioning body with an insurance policy. Well, guess what, the insurance is easy to get, there’s many organisations now running motorsport in Australia, insurance isn’t that hard to get and there’s other sanctioning bodies. They used to be a monopoly, they’re no longer. And one day they’ll wake up and realise that they’ve squandered a lot of opportunities to do great things for this sport, because they were too busy trying to figure out which way was up and which way was down. I’m not sure that they can figure it out.”
MCNews.com.au: You can still run a viable business and series without the factory teams, you’ve proven that. But at the end of the day the series with the most interest from the sporting side of the fence, from the spectator side of the fence, etcetera, they want to see the best riders in the one series. Now you know some of the teams are already saying that they won’t run in a non FIM affiliated series in 2015, I don’t know if it’s been put up as a smokescreen or something like that, but they want to be running the FIM sanctioned series, because it’s something that comes down from Japan or whatever.
Terry: “You’re talking about Honda, but, yeah.”
MCNews.com.au: So if at the end of the day, do you see that there’s anything you need to do from your side of the fence or anything you could do to try and keep strong teams like Honda, the strongest team in Australian racing, in your series, as they are a huge asset and drawcard to have?
Terry: “Look, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done, and that is I’ll put on the best series I can with the best rules, with the best classes, with the most affordable, sustainable calendar there is, with the highest level of television and exposure that no one else gets. You know, you look at our series, we get more electronic exposure, through television, through pay TV, free-to-air TV, via the Internet than all other motorcycling racing in Australia combined, be it on-road or off-road, seriously. We dwarf everyone combined. Now if that’s something that a manufacturer doesn’t value, then what else can you do? You can only put on a show, you can only put on the best product you can, and either they want to be involved in it or they don’t. And if they don’t, that’s their choice. So they really need to go and race in the series that they think best suits them. And that’s anyone, and that’s not just distributors, that’s privateers, everyone should be able to race where they want to race or where they think it best suits them. And we’ll just put on the best series we can and let’s see what happens at the end of it. Because you know what? This year, between pay TV, free-to-air and the live streaming, I think it’s over 80 hours of coverage, over 80 hours. No one else has got that, and realistically distributors are there for one reason only, and that’s not to collect trophies, it’s to sell motorbikes. So if they’re serious about selling motorbikes, okay, we’re where the major exposure is and the opportunity is. If it’s about keeping the FIM happy, well, so be it, you know? If that’s where they think they should be, then that’s where they should go.”
MCnews.com.au: Why do you think people put some credence in running under the auspices of the FIM? We saw that scenario earlier in the year where one of the Yamaha riders was offered a World Supersport ride at Phillip Island on a factory backed YZF-R6 as a wildcard, but then… it’s only hearsay on my part, but Motorcycling Australia declined to give him the required permits to race in that Wold Supersport round, because he hadn’t raced in their series. Which if true, is nothing but sheer bastardry by some of the people that were running M.A. at the time.
Terry: “Because he’d ran under AASA. Well, I’ve spoken to Yamaha and from what I’m told, that’s correct. Now four years ago when we started running under the AASA, it was four and a half years ago, there was a lot of talk, officials were told they’d get kicked out, they would never be able to be officials again, riders were told they would lose their licenses, they were told there was no insurance, they were told one story after another story. And it was really to try and scare people off from being involved in racing in our series. And it all turned out to be just a pack of lies, and it was. Do I think it was an officially M.A. sanctioned thing that these stories were being spread? No, I don’t, I just think there was a lot of little people running around, trying to cause big trouble. But it was all these stories that if you raced in our series instead of the MA series, that you wouldn’t be able to ride overseas. The reality was anyone who wants to go overseas, no one cares if you raced in an MA series, an AASA series or a billy-kart series. All they care about is have you got the talent, are you the rider, are you the right size and do you bring enough money? And it all comes down to that. It’s got to do more with money than anything else. So all this talk about riders not being able to race or get a ride overseas because of talent well Broc Parkes won our championship last year. He’s the only rider, Australian rider and Moto GP at the GP one level, at the top level. Now if someone, if the FIM was going to say, ‘Oh, woe is me, he didn’t race in the M.A. series,’ then why would they allow him to race in their premium category? And the joke of it all was all these stories about how MA was the only one recognised around there world, the largest headline congratulating Broc Parkes for winning the Australian FX-Superbike Championship was on the World Superbike website with the FIM branding and logo over the top of it. So I don’t believe this story that’s passed around by some M.A. people that riders are going to somehow go overseas and be ignored, because history has shown that that’s not correct, this is just more scuttlebutt and scare tactics that try and stop people from racing where they want to. And the reality is people should be able to race where they want to, they should be able to race any series. And I shouldn’t have the say of who can come or you know, I shouldn’t try and be forcing people to race my series, they shouldn’t be trying to force people to race in their series. If they’d been smarter all those years ago, instead of clashing dates with us, which they did every year, including moving their dates to cause clashes, they would have tried to figure out how to space it out evenly so both series might have prospered. And the reality is when we started the Australian FX-Superbike Championship, we were just running our own series, we weren’t trying to be in competition with MA. Once they started clashing dates with us, then we were in competition, we had no other way out of it other than to compete against them, because they clashed the dates. If they hadn’t clash the dates, both series might have prospered, we’ll never know. But they had their opportunity and they’ve just tried to force people to go to their series. And it’s backfired on them, so you look at them, you say, ‘Isn’t it woeful that the Australian Superbike Championship can get down to average 70 competitors?’ And that’s where the ASBK has ended up. The last round they ended up with 90 odd, but if you take out the cross entries it was like 70, and that was considered to be some great success. When I ran the ASC in 2008, because I keep all these numbers, I keep all the averages, we averaged 165 competitors per round and I considered that to be maybe a little bit weak at the time, and now over the last few years the ASBK… and Yarrive Konsky was running M.A.’s series, he wasn’t running Yarrive Konksy’s or IEG’s series, he was running the series they [M.A.] wanted. And they ended up averaging… each year it went down, and they ended up averaging like 70 competitors per round and that’s just, seriously, that’s bad. That’s actually, that’s not good for anyone, that’s not good for the sport and I think unfortunately there’s been a lot of damage done to a lot of riders, a lot of riders left the sport because of the way they were treated and how they saw how M.A. responded to their complaints. We lost a lot of riders over the last few years and I don’t know that M.A. really understands how much anger there is out there towards them for how they’ve treated people, and how they’ve allowed riders to be treated over the last few years. And that’s a crying shame because that’s harmed the whole sport, and if they really want to say that they’re there for the riders then they should have been covering their riders backs and not their promoters backs.”
MCNews.com.au: To be fair though, you also have your fair share of detractors, as anybody that does anything in a public profile has, like I have my share of detractors, everybody has, people that think either better of you or worse of you. And you know for example this year I’ve had people with me saying, ‘One round allowed brake adjusters… so one round they’re not allowed brake adjusters and then the next round they are allowed brake adjusters,’ and there were some other issues I think with data logging equipment and people were going round saying, ‘Terry can just make his mind up from round to round with what he wants to allow and what he doesn’t want to allow.’ What do you say to those criticisms?
Terry: “Look, the brake adjusters hasn’t changed, that stayed exactly the same. As for data logging equipment, that stayed exactly the same as well. The only thing was at the first round we had in the rules, and the rules actually became obsolete, we had analogue data logging, analogue lap timers and it turned out that everyone in the paddock has digital lap timers, they’re all using GPS. So rather than just turning around and saying, ‘Everyone, you’re wrong.’ This, does it cause any harm? Well, no. So I allowed them to use the actual lap timers that everyone does buy now, they’re much cheaper. So the rules become obsolete in a very short period of time. As for me making decisions, yes I do make decisions and that’s a strength and a weakness. But the thing is a lot of people come and complain about how it takes six months for M.A. to make a decision about anything. Well, here if you have a problem, an issue, you go and talk to an official and more often than not we will resolve the situation very quickly and move on. And that’s the thing, we’re here, we listen, we respond, if there’s a better way of doing something and someone can prove there’s a better way or they can show that we’re doing something wrong, we’ve got it wrong, then I’ll take that on board and we’ll make necessary changes to improve the series as it goes.”
MCNews.com.au: Do you see it as a possible problem, though there is that advantage, like you say, you can make decisions and you don’t have to really consult a commission and keep notes and go through all the hurdles and all the rest of it, that does definitely have its advantages, because decisions can be made instantly, but then also it probably makes it easier for accusations to be levelled that you could be favouring someone over someone else, I’m not saying that there’s people accusing you of that this season, because I haven’t really heard those accusations myself, I’m just saying from a transparency point of view is there something that you think could be put in place or should be put in place?
Terry: “What you’re saying is 100 per cent correct, and as I said there’s a strength and a weakness to it. And there can be a perception there that rules are changed willy-nilly, well they aren’t changed willy-nilly, the thing is if there’s an interpretation asked for, we give an interpretation. However, saying that, am I going to go to having a committee of six people making up a set of rules? Well, look, M.A. has that, they have a Road Race Commission, but the Road Race Commission can’t make any decisions, they make recommendations — the M.A. board — the M.A. board decides what rules happen in all sorts of categories. I don’t know how the M.A. board is qualified to decide whether or not Period Six motorcycles in historic racing should have upside-down forks or not, I’m not sure anyone on the M.A. board has any expertise in that whatsoever. But that’s what happens and they change rules. I know that’s how it worked when I ran the ASC, and quite literally rules were written that the Commission never saw, I know that because I saw it happen.”