MOTOAMERICA 101

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO...

  • MotoAmerica is the fastest motorcycle racing in North America featuring 190+ mph Superbikes on America’s greatest road racing courses.
  • MotoAmerica events feature multiple classes of road racing over one weekend including Superbikes, Supersport, Stock 1000, Twins Cup, Junior Cup, Mini Cup, Baggers Invitational and Heritage Cup.
  • MotoAmerica events are family friendly outdoor “festivals” with VIP packages, Camping, Kid Zones with FREE carnival games & riders, Stunt shows, vendor area and more

We use the term “Superbike” almost synonymously with any high-performance sportbike these days. Today, Superbike road racing takes place around the world, but the source of popularity of the name can be traced directly back to 1976. Appropriately enough the American Bicentennial was the year the AMA Superbike Championship, which would later become MotoAmerica Superbike, was founded.

Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover,” Hall & Oates “Sara Smile” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen was playing on the radio while Reg Pridmore was racing a Butler & Smith BMW R90S against guys like Steve McLaughlin (BMW), Mike Baldwin (Moto-Guzzi), Keith Code (Kawasaki), and Cook Neilson (Ducati) en route to winning that year’s inaugural AMA Superbike title.

Little did anyone know at the time, but the Superbike Production support class of AMA national road races, would catch the attention of road racing fans and within a couple of years surpass the popularity of all other road racing classes in America. It would also produce some of the elite riders in all of motorcycle racing. By the mid-1980s no one could deny it, AMA Superbike and its racing stars were what fans were coming to see. Just a little over a decade after its founding Superbike racing had spread so wide and fast around the world that the FIM designated a World Superbike Championship in 1988. Fittingly that first Superbike World Championship was won by American racing hero, Fred Merkel.

In The Beginning

Superbike sprang up organically from the increasingly popular production racing movement at club events in the early-to-mid 1970s. Motorcycles like the Honda CB750, the Kawasaki Z1, the Norton Commando, the Triumph Bonneville, the BMW R90S, the Ducati 750SS as well as the two-stroke Yamahas, Kawasakis and Suzukis were coming out of the factory better handling and had so much power that you couldn’t begin to tap their potential on the street. As a result, more and more Baby Boomers, who were coming of age, safety wired and put number plates on their street bikes and took to the track in record numbers.

Critical mass was reached by 1973 and race promoters Gavin Trippe and Bruce Cox saw an opportunity and invited the rapid growing cadre of production racers to Laguna Seca Raceway in July of 1973 to participate in the AMA National Road Race weekend. The Heavyweight Production class was won by Yvon DuHamel over Steve McLaughlin; both on a Kawasaki Z1s. Mike Clarke won the Lightweight Production class on a Yamaha RD350. The race proved to be very popular with fans, so Laguna held the race alongside the AMA Road Race National again in 1974. That year the production race was featured on the cover of Cycle News and the headline read: “Superbike National.” A class was born.

By 1975 Daytona and Ontario added Superbike Production racing to their schedules and the AMA could no longer ignore the growing popularity of the class.

It should be noted, the extensive coverage of AMA Superbike races in Cycle magazine, and the exploits of racer/editor Cook Neilson and tuner/editor Phil Schilling, were hugely instrumental in fostering a massive fan base for the new road racing class.

Europe Versus Japan

The earliest Japanese big-bore, multi-cylinder production bikes were known for brute power, but not so much for handling. That’s where the less powerful, but stable European mounts like the BMW R90S, Ducati SS and Moto Guzzi 850 Le Mans had an advantage in cornering. It was an interesting contest on the track, the duel between power and handling. European bikes won every race in 1976 and all the races in the first half of 1977. But then Reg Pridmore, on the high banks of Pocono in August of 1977, rode a Pierre des Roches-tuned Racecrafters Kawasaki KZ1000 to victory and the tide began to turn in favor of the Japanese multis.

When Suzuki launched the great-handling GS series of sportbikes with Wes Cooley riding, massive horsepower was finally mated with a stable frame and suspension, and the modern Superbike was born. Gradually the European-made machines became less and less competitive. In 1979 when Rich Schlachter won Loudon on a George Vincensi-built Ducati, it marked the end of an era – the last European-built machine to win an AMA Superbike race for 13 years, all the way until 1992 when Doug Polen put a Ferracci Ducati back atop the podium at Laguna Seca.

Big H Enters The Fray

For the first four years of AMA Superbike, the class was relegated to support status to AMA Formula One. The tide began to turn, and the stakes rose considerably in 1980 when the factory Honda entered Superbike featuring a young racing phenom named Freddie Spencer. Even though Spencer ultimately never won the title, the presence of a rider of his stature and participation by Honda and its accompanying media blitz, set the stage for Superbikes supplanting Formula One’s popularity, and in relative short order becoming the premier class in AMA road racing by the mid-1980s. It was also during this era (1983) when the AMA recognized the power of the 1000cc beasts were outpacing tire technology, so the formula was changed from 1000cc motors to 750cc for multis (although Twins were still allowed 1000cc). Superbikes would be 750cc machines until 2003 when the one-liter bikes were brought back.

During the earliest years of AMA Superbike racing, the spotlight was primarily shared between BMW, Suzuki and Kawasaki. It took a few seasons for Honda to hit its stride, but the mid-1980s marked nearly total domination by Honda, with the company winning five consecutive AMA Superbike titles with Fred Merkel, Wayne Rainey and Bubba Shobert from 1984 to 1988.

In 1986 Fred Merkel became the first rider to hit the 20-win mark. Merkel would go on to solidify AMA Superbike racing’s reputation across the globe by twice winning the Superbike World Championship in 1988 and ’89. Merkel’s 20 wins was an AMA Superbike record that would stand for 12 years before Canadian Miguel Duhamel took over the all-time AMA Superbike wins in 1998. Duhamel, like Merkel, raced for Honda.

Peak Of Popularity

Prior to the mid-1990s only select AMA Superbike races were televised, but with the explosion of cable TV and channels like ESPN, TNN, and Speedvision, races were televised more and more frequently until by the mid-90s the series was on TV full time. That combined with an explosion of motorcycle sales during the late 1990s, meant that the manufacturers had plenty of money to spend. For about a 10-year period from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s AMA Superbike racing reached a peak of popularity. Factory participation reached an all-time high, likewise for fan turnout and rider salaries.

It was also a period of unprecedented parity in the sport. During this period nearly all of the manufacturers that participated enjoyed success with Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki and Suzuki winning championships. American maker Harley-Davidson even entered the fray for the first time. Harley won a pole with Chris Carr, led races with Duhamel and came close to winning several times.

Key milestones during this era included Doug Chandler tying Reg Pridmore for the most AMA Superbike Championships with three titles in 1997. Also notable were record winning streaks by Duhamel, including him becoming the all-time wins leader, the start of the Mat Mladin era of domination and future MotoGP champ Nicky Hayden becoming the youngest ever AMA Superbike Champion in 2002.

A Series Of Rivalries

AMA Superbike racing has long been marked for red-hot rivalries between riders and manufacturers. The earliest bigtime rivals were Wes Cooley, Freddie Spencer and Eddie Lawson. The 1980 season saw some epic battles between the trio. The season ended with Cooley winning the title in a controversial manner, with protests and counter-protests being filed between the Kawasaki and Suzuki Superbike teams. Cooley had to wait two months after the season to finally be awarded the championship.

The early 1980s marked a fierce competition between Kawasaki and Honda, with Kawasaki being cast as the David vs. the Honda Goliath. Amazingly Kawasaki came out on top three years in a row on the strength of the talent of Eddie Lawson and a young up-and-comer named Wayne Rainey combined with the tuning skills of Rob Muzzy.

A few years later Rainey would become part of perhaps the best-known rivalry in the history of the series, when in 1987, he beat out archrival Kevin Schwantz after some of the most intense battles fans of the series ever witnessed. The normally congenial competitions between the Japanese makers were thrown out the window that year when protest and counter-protests flew back and forth between Honda and Suzuki. What made the Rainey/Schwantz rivalry even more epic was the fact that they carried it on in Grand Prix racing.

Maybe the most contentious rivalry came in the mid-2000s between Yoshimura Suzuki teammates Mat Mladin and Ben Spies. After nearly a decade of largely dominating the championship, a young Spies ended the Mladin era by winning the title in 2006. That set up an epic battle with Mladin trying unsuccessfully to win back the championship from his younger teammate for the next couple of seasons and tension was thick in the air at many of the post-race press conferences. Spies went on to win the World Superbike title, following in the footsteps of other American riders to step up and win the world title such as Merkel, Doug Polen, Scott Russell, John Kocinski and Colin Edwards. Spies often credited his trial by fire with Mladin for preparing him for the world stage.

Eras Of AMA Superbike

For most of the history of AMA Superbike racing, the series was sanctioned and managed by the American Motorcyclist Association in Ohio. In 2007 AMA Pro Racing was sold to the Daytona Motorsports Group (DMG). It proved to be a difficult period for AMA Superbike, primarily due to a dramatic downturn in the economy. While the series saw decreased factory participation and fan interest during the DMG years, the racing continued to be strong with Yamaha ace Josh Hayes emerging as the dominant rider of the first half of the 2010s.

The 2010s also marked a decade of domination for Yamaha. The company won nine of the titles in the 2010s with Hayes scoring four, Josh Herrin one, and Cameron Beaubier matching Hayes, also with four titles. The Yamaha championship streak in the 2010 was only broken one time by Toni Elias on the Yoshimura Suzuki in 2017.

MotoAmerica Takes The Reins

The 2015 season saw a new era in the history of American Superbike racing, when MotoAmerica became the series organizer sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) and the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).

MotoAmerica is run by enthusiasts and businessmen with deep roots in motorcycle racing. Most recognizable among MotoAmerica leadership is former multi-time Grand Prix and AMA Superbike Champion Wayne Rainey. Rainey is part of a strong team of leadership by the KRAVE Group, a partnership which includes three additional partners – energy sector investor and CEO Richard Varner, former vice president of motorsport operations at COTA and former managing director of Team Roberts in MotoGP Chuck Aksland, and former executive director of the Petersen Automotive Museum Terry Karges. Under the guidance of MotoAmerica the series emerged with respected leadership and began to recover from the depths of the Great Recession. MotoAmerica scored a coup in 2019, signing a national television deal Fox Sports 2. It also had a feature show on NBCSN, which has already been renewed for next year.

MotoAmerica Enters A New Decade

In 2020 Superbike racing enters its sixth decade. The start of the 2020s begins as the 2010s left off with the leading contenders being defending champ Monster Energy Attack Performance Yamaha’s Cameron Beaubier and Toni Elias of M4 ECSTAR Suzuki. The Beaubier/Elias rivalry has been fiery at times and has become one of the longest-running rivalries in the history of the series.

Beaubier’s 2019 title moved him into rarified air in terms of the history of MotoAmerica Superbike. He’d been tied with Reg Pridmore, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler, and Ben Spies with three titles apiece, now he joins his former teammate Josh Hayes with four championships, tying him in second for the most championships in the 44-year history of the series. Australian Mat Mladin, with his seven championships, leads the way, but it’s now a least conceivable that Beaubier could one day surpass the record that once was thought to be untouchable.

Beaubier and Elias have both climbed into the upper echelon on the all-time wins category. Beaubier moved to third on the all-time list and now owns an impressive 45 career Superbike victories at the midway point of the 2020 season. Elias was the fastest to the 20-win mark in the history of the series, and he is tied with Miguel Duhamel for fourth on the all-time wins list with 32.

While Beaubier and Elias headline the leading Superbike contestants, there are a host of other topnotch riders on the grid. Beaubier’s Yamaha teammate Jake Gagne is a former MotoAmerica Superstock 1000 Champion and former World Superbike competitor. Gagne and Elias’ Suzuki teammate Bobby Fong, last year’s MotoAmerica Supersport Champion, are among the leading challengers to Beaubier and Elias.

Other top riders to watch in 2020 include former series champ Josh Herrin, who is aboard the Scheibe Racing BMW. South African Mathew Scholtz is one of the few non-factory riders in the history of the series to win races. He is back again in 2020 with Westby Racing. Former World Superbike and World Supersport standout PJ Jacobsen is making an impact on the Celtic HSBK Racing Ducati as is another Ducati squad, KWR Ducati Team with team owner/racer Kyle Wyman.

In addition to these established stars of the series, MotoAmerica Superbike in 2020 features a host of up-and-coming riders such as Travis Wyman (brother of Kyle Wyman); second-generation MotoAmerica Superbike racer Ashton Yates, son of Aaron Yates; the returning Corey Alexander and Cameron Petersen, whose father was also a leading AMA 250 Grand Prix rider in the 1980s and 90s.

The American Motorcyclist Association (AMA), located in Pickerington, Ohio, is the world’s premier member-driven motorcycling organization whose mission is to promote the motorcycling lifestyle and protect the future of motorcycling. From the street, to the track, to the trail, millions of Americans enjoy motorcycling. Some ride to work every day. Others ride for pleasure on weekends. Many ride off-road, or journey to places near and far. Still more seek the thrill of competition.

Since 1924, the AMA has protected the future of motorcycling and promoted the motorcycle lifestyle. AMA members come from all walks of life, and they navigate many different routes on their journey to the same destination: freedom on two wheels. As the world’s largest motorcycling organization, the AMA advocates for motorcyclists’ interests in the halls of local, state and federal government, the committees of international governing organizations and the court of public opinion.

Through member clubs, promoters and partners, the AMA sanctions more motorsports competition and motorcycle recreational events than any other organization in the world. Through its Motorcycle Hall of Fame, the AMA preserves the heritage of motorcycling for future generations. AMA members receive money saving discounts from dozens of well-known suppliers of motorcycle services, gear and apparel, bike rental, transport, hotel stays and more. The AMA is everything motorcycle. 

Please visit www.americanmotorcyclist.com for information on how to join.

AMA American Motorcyclist Association.

CC Cubic centimeters in reference to engine displacement.

CREW Mechanics and/or team assistants.

CREW CHIEF – The team’s technical leader and the person who communicates directly with the rider.

DISPLACEMENT The space covered or volume swept out by the engine piston at each stroke.

DISQUALIFICATION – Unless otherwise specified, the forfeiture of all points, awards, and prizes earned during a particular race.

CORNERWORKER – Workers stationed at various points around the track to advise riders of track conditions by using various color flags and lights. Also known as “track marshals.”

HIGHSIDE A crash where the motorcycle generally loses traction on the rear tire and the rider goes over the top of the bike, as opposed to laying it down, or a “lowside.”

HOLESHOT  Having the race lead going into the first turn of a race.

HOMOLOGATION The process of acquiring eligibility for a motorcycle to be entered in competition. Homologation rules are formulated to create parity among race bikes, and to maintain a level playing field for all competitors.

LAPTOP – The amount of time it takes a rider to circulate one lap of the race course.

LOWSIDE  A crash where the motorcycle generally loses traction on the front tire and lays it down.

OEM Original Equipment Manufacturer.

PADDOCK Area primarily designated for the preparation and maintenance of race equipment. May also include parking for transporters and other support vehicles.

POLESITTER The fastest rider in timed qualifying, who starts in first position on the starting grid.

PRIVATEER – A racer competing without benefit of a factory contract or major sponsor support.

PROGRAM The predetermined outline of events that make up a race.

RACE LINE The fastest way around the track, or through a particular part of the track. Can vary with changing course conditions.

Q TIRE A super-soft, extra-grippy rear tire used by Superbike competitors in Superpole. A Q tire generally yields the fast laptimes, but it only lasts one or two laps before wearing out.

QUALIFY – To advance to the final race event by time trial.

STARTING GRID – The assigned spots where all riders start the race, as determined by their fastest qualifying laptimes.

STOPPIE Riding on the front wheel only, usually under hard braking.

SUPER POLE – A special, 15-minute final qualifying session for the fastest 12 Superbike riders. A Q Tire is generally eligible to be used during the session.

WHEELIE Riding on the rear wheel only, usually under hard acceleration.

WRENCH A slang word for a mechanic.

HONOS SUPERBIKE – MotoAmerica’s premier race class, HONOS Superbike showcases the top road racers aboard top-of-the-line, highly modified motorcycles capable of speeds approaching 200 miles per hour.

SUPERSPORT – MotoAmerica’s middleweight race class, supersport features the series’ rising stars competing aboard production-based motorcycles.

LIQUI MOLY JUNIOR CUP –  MotoAmerica’s entry-level race class, Liqui Moly Junior Cup presents the series’ youngest riders competing aboard small-displacement, production-based motorcycles

STOCK 1000 – A feeder class for Superbike, Stock 1000 gives MotoAmerica riders the opportunity to gain experience aboard 1,000cc motorcycles with an eye toward eventually moving up to Superbike.

TWINS CUP – Putting middleweight, twin-cylinder motorcycles in the spotlight, Twins Cup enables regional and club racers from around the country to step up to the MotoAmerica series and compete on a national level.

Mini Cup by Motul – Riders ages 6-14 years of age riding OHVAL GP bikes.  4 classes available:  110cc, 160cc, 190cc Kids & 190cc Adult.

Heritage Cup – Exhibition racing at Road America #2, Indianapolis & Laguna featuring 1986 and older superbikes and other vintage racing motorcycles.

Drag Specialties King of the Baggers Invitational – Exhibition racing featuring highly customized V-twin Baggers.

In MotoAmerica, as in most forms of motorsports racing, a system of flags and lights is utilized by Race Control to inform the riders of specific situations on the track. There are 10 individual flags used by MotoAmerica, which are described below:

GREEN – Start of race or clear track conditions. Green lights are also used.

CHECKERED – End of race, practice or qualifying session.

WHITE – Final lap of race

YELLOW – Stationary: Potentially hazardous situation on track, proceed with caution, passing allowed. Yellow lights are also used.
Waving: Serious hazardous situation on track, proceed with caution, passing not allowed. Flashing yellow lights could also be used.

BLUE – Indicates to a rider that they are about to be overtaken or lapped. These riders must allow the overtaking rider(s) to safely pass at the earliest opportunity.

BLACK – Rider has been assessed a ride-through penalty. Usually accompanied by a number board

BLACK W/ORANGE CIRCLE (MEATBALL) – Rider needs to exit race track. Usually accompanied by a number board.

RED – When displayed on track, indicates that all riders must slow and go to the pits. Also indicates pit-lane exit is closed when displayed at pit out. Red lights could also be used

YELLOW W/RED STRIPES – Indicates debris, fluid or a potentially hazardous situation on track.

WHITE W/RED CROSS – Safety vehicle on course.

ROLLED UP WHITE AND GREEN FLAGS – When crossed, indicates 1/2 total race distance is complete

Each round will have specific set times for when on track activities occure. On event weekends, a schedule can be found on the front page. Typicaly the weekend goes as follows:

FRIDAY – Practice and Qualifying for all classes

Saturday – Qualifying and Superpole in the morning followed with the first round of races in the afternoon

Sunday – Morning Warm-Up sessions, an extended lunch break with autograph and open pitlane walk, with an afternoon of Races.

Each class will have a championship with points earned based on finish position of a race. Points are earned by finishing within the top 15 positions. The rider with the most points in their class will be awarded the championship at the end of the season.