Billed as the AMA Superbike Finale at Laguna Seca, the last event of the season had an ominous feeling from its beginning early Saturday Morning. As I walked through the paddock I kept thinking of that Doors song, The End, as it plays over the beginning of Apocalypse Now; the dominant theme there in Monterey was that we were seeing not only the final race of the season, but the final appearance of AMA Superbike as we know it.
An end to Suzuki’s domination of the Superbike class might be a good thing for American road racing, only time will tell. But without a clear picture of what, exactly, we’re going to have instead, the paddock was noticeably on edge due to the fact that so many people do not yet have jobs for next season. It seemed that nearly every rider who got on the PA system for an interview made some comment that revealed the general frustration of still having no rules or class details, and no idea which, if any, manufacturers are going to be participating in 2009.
One positive step in the right direction was a press conference held by Roger Edmondson of the Daytona Motorsports Group, the man in charge of putting the future of AMA road racing together. Edmonson released a list of next year’s schedule, which includes all of last year’s tracks plus two new facilities, saying he had commitments from each venue for the 2009 season. He wouldn’t comment on what the new classes would be, or on the level of factory involvement, but apparently the rules will be revealed soon. If we’re going to go racing in March, and do any testing before then, some rules would certainly be useful.
One man in the paddock seemed very much at ease among all the uncertainty and frustration. The dominant rumor regarding Ben Spies is that he will soon announce a deal with Yamaha’s WSBK team, thereby avoiding the current DMG/AMA mess and moving his career to the next phase. Having locked up his third AMA Superbike Championship at the previous round at Road Atlanta, Spies had one more race to complete to finish his time on the Suzuki GSXR. Usually one to remain behind closed doors until the next track session, this weekend Spies moved through the paddock talking and joking around with other riders who seemed not entirely to share his bonhomie, even though they did seem pleased to be visited by the 3-time champ. I got the strong feeling Spies was saying goodbye to this stage in his career in the way only a man going out on top can.
Spies isn’t the only AMA rider looking at a far continent and smiling. Matt Lynn has recently been filling in for injured American Jason Pridmore on the Italian Alto Evolution SBK team alongside Shuhei Aoyama. Lynn’s first ride was at the soaking wet Donington Park round. He raced again in Vallelunga and is scheduled to rejoin the SBK team for the penultimate round at Magny Cours.
Josh Hayes joined Lynn at Vallelunga as another AMA rider in SBK by participating in the Supersport race for Parkalgar Honda. You may remember that British Parkalgar rider Craig Jones was killed at Brands Hatch in August, and Hayes is set to finish the season for this team. Hayes was interviewed about the experience on Superbike Planet.
The real future of American road racing may be the AMA Red Bull Rookies Cup. One again, AMA fans were treated to a great race by the youngsters on matching KTM 125s. Benny Solis placed fifth but wrapped up the championship. Perhaps drawn toward the general feeling of optimism, I spent a fair amount of time watching the rookies, and will post more photos and comments on this wonderful series soon.
Until then, here are some more photos from the weekend.
Appropriately, 6-time AMA Superbike champion Mat Mladin won the last race of the season, and of the era.
Geoff May, on the Michael Jordan Suzuki
Red Bull Rookie, Cameron Gish, 13 years old
Ben Bostrom won his first championship in nine years, bringing the 600 Supersport title to Yamaha
Ben’s brother, Eric, on the Yamaha superbike
Maybe Red Bull should take over AMA racing…
Neil Hodgson on his Honda superbike
Geoff May in Turn 3
Can you guess Hayden Gillem’s favorite rider?
Aaron Yates going low
Jake Zemke has been rumored to be talking to Ducati's SBK people--he likes red
It was great to see Kevin Schwanz led his kids around the track on Saturday
But as for next season, like Aaron Yates we're waiting to see what happens...