Terry O’Neill  Interview – Part Two

Swann Superbikes / Formula Xtreme head honcho Terry O’Neill chats with Trevor Hedge

Back to Part One

In regards to 2017, can you tell us anything? Your Ninja 300 class has been your best, your most successful innovation of late, I don’t think anyone could have expected it to be as successful as it had been. So for 2017, what changes are in store?

“Quite a number, I’ve actually outlined quite extensively the number of changes we are looking at introducing next year on our closed competitor Facebook page. This includes rule changes for the superbike class, and the 600s, as Supersport is struggling – at a national level in both series. So something has to be done there. It’s a work in motion, the 600s used to be the biggest class in Australia and now it’s likely the one that is most endangered. Which is a shame as it’s a great class.

“The 300 class, FX 300 Ninja, we’ve been having discussions with Kawasaki about, we’ve got some ideas, about what I’d like to do next year, and we’ll make further announcements in the not too distant future. We are looking at, and I have made announcements about, restructuring quite a lot of the series. Because the thing is, again we had these problems arise in February, and the series had already been announced, so I was already tied in to the structure of the series, and the classes, and it was too late to change.

FX-2016-Rnd4-SMP-Ninja-2
FX 300 Ninja Cup – Sydney Motorsport Park

“Now I’ve had a whole year to work on it, and I’m talking to competitors about what they would like to see, and what I think will be of interest, so I’ve had plenty of time to work on it. We’re actually in a much stronger position for next year than we were this time last year, looking ahead to season 2017. There’s always doom and gloom everywhere, everyone thinks the end of the world is coming, but it’s not.”

Those superbike rules, there’s a few changes there, can you point us towards what you’re thinking?

“Absolutely, let’s say that the majority of new generation bikes are now stepping up the technology, but 90 per cent of bikes out there aren’t the new generation, and I don’t see a lot of people moving up to new bikes. So we’ll be rewriting the current rules for the latest (new) generation of bikes which will stay mainly the same, while we’ll allow the older generation of bikes to make some improvements, to allow it to be a more even playing field in superbike. A lot of riders are really excited about it.

Swann Australasian Superbike Championship 2016 - Queensland Raceway - Supersport
Swann Australasian Superbike Championship 2016 – Queensland Raceway – Supersport

What about Supersport?

“Supersport will stay basically the same, the actual category that is. But what I will do is start a class called Amsport 600, if you look at a lot of club level racing – the 600 class, they don’t call it Supersport – the one class that is healthy at St George MCC is their 600 class, there’s 30-odd bikes. What has happened is that 600s have become their main class, but those guys aren’t racing at a national level. I’ve been having social media discussions with a whole lot of riders about introducing an Amsport 600 class, and there’s general excitement. There will be split grids and they’ll start off at the back. I imagine we’ll see a number more 600s then.

“We just need more bikes out on the grids. If people aren’t running 600 supersport bikes, it’s not my fault, it’s not MA’s fault, or the manufacturer’s fault, but we need to find a way to reinvigorate the class.”

FX-2016-Rnd4-SMP-Supersport
FX Supersport – Sydney Motorsport Park

You did bring up the fact of limited track time available to NSW competitors. There was an update of ride day operator at Eastern Creek this year ,and they have ramped their fees up dramatically for 2017, and there’s been a fair backlash across social media. I just wonder if you can do more to try and get the track day punters in to racing. Back in the day, when track days weren’t that big, the only way to get on the track was to join a club and do club race days. Now from the trackday blokes, I’m seeing complaints about how much track days are costing. Is there a way for you, and I guess also MA, to capitalise on that. Maybe to bring those people into racing?

“It’s not so much a case of capitalising on it. This has always been the problem. Go back to the mid-‘90s when I went to Motorcycling NSW,  I was on the Road Racing committee then, and said ‘Hey guys, if you don’t do something about ride days soon, you’ll have no club level racing.’ They all told me I was full of shit and that I didn’t know what I was talking about. The reality is that ride days are incredibly successful, and conversely, club racing, as a whole, is on its knees, and has been for years. The powers that be never seem to recognise this or understand it. We ran a club level series for a number of years, the FX RRC, and because we were the only private promoter, we were the only ones running entry level race meetings. Were we making money? No, they were running at a loss. But the management of the track at the time, and ourselves, thought it was more important to provide a stepping stone for people to get into racing, and that’s why I have the Race Your Mates category.

“No one else does it, and in NSW, from what I’m told, St George have brought in quite a few hundred riders over a couple of years. We ran ride days, Race Your Mates, club level and national level. We’re the only ones who do it. It’s bizarre, as MA should be doing that. They should be doing more to bring entry level riders from ride days into racing. But they are more focussed on creating junior world champions and the next Troy Bayliss, the next Wayne Garder and the next Mick Doohan. That’s what they seem to focus on.

The FX300 Ninja Cup podium at Queensland Raceway 2015
The FX300 Ninja Cup podium at Queensland Raceway 2015

“They have forgotten the majority of people in this sport do it for fun and enjoyment. And they do it because that’s what they want to do and where they get their jollies. You know, I did it for those reasons, and it’s not all about world champions. There will always be World Champs, and Australia will always make them – well they make themselves, they are either there, or they are not. They either have a budget from their parents, or backers, or they don’t. Unfortunately the world has moved on.

“But we are doing what we can do. I’ve got a date from Eastern Creek to run an FX RRC race meeting there, at this stage, its only one in 2017, so I’ll be going back to running a Race Your Mates/club level entry in NSW again, and with it being in Sydney, the chances are it’ll be far bigger than it was at Wakefield, which catered more for the ACT riders.

“Up here in Queensland we run the QR FX race series. Most people wouldn’t know we run an entry level club series in Queensland, to try and get people into racing. We also come up here to their car sprint days, which are combined 2+4 and Race Your Mates. It would be great if other people – MA – got off their asses and tried to bring people into the sport. It’s not all about world champions, all about the next 14-year-old. That is one segment of the sport. The true segment is the thousands of people who do ride days, who get completely ignored, because MA doesn’t think they’ll ever be a world champion, so they don’t seem to care about them.”

Tom Toparis with Mark Rogers - A Ninja 300 youngster with a Ninja 300 FOB!
Tom Toparis with Mark Rogers – A Ninja 300 youngster with a Ninja 300 FOB!

You did bring up the subject of juniors. I know MA are doing a lot of work in that area now, trying to bring in two junior categories, maybe starting as low as 11. Have you got any plans in the near future to bring some of those lower competitors to your meetings, or try and get those youngers competitors onto the tarmac?

“Well, yes and no. As you say the younger competitors, this is what MA should be focusing on, growing the entry level and the juniors. They can do it from flat track though, which I can’t. I run multiple road racing series and the entry level Race Your Mates category. But we may dip our toe with juniors in the future, but right now I’d rather focus on the people who have been forgotten by the sport. And that is the ride day punters. And the club level entry riders, who I think get the raw end of the stick.

“No matter what anyone else says, you can have five top level superbike riders, do they make a series? No they make a series good, but they don’t make a series. It’s all the guys out on the grid right now that make a motorsport series successful, or not. They are the people I’ve always, from day one, always had my focus on. The normal competitor, the average competitor. To me, they are the people that I think are the most important.

“I was quoted in 1996, I think in Two Wheels back then, and the saying is the exactly the same. Look after the base of the pyramid and the top will look after itself. MA want to focus on the tip of pyramid, and I’ll look after the base. If they want to join me at the base, that would be really good. As they need to do something to grow this sport that they take a lot of money out of.”

Back to Part One

 To be continued….  Part Three of our interview with Terry O’Neill coming soon