Features 15 Oct 2020

Industry: Australian Motocross Group’s Craig Dack

CDR Yamaha Monster Energy owner on the formation of AMG partnership.

It’s safe to say that the new era of the Australian Motocross Championship launched by Motorcycling Australia was underwhelming this week, branded ProMX and being met with its share of criticism online. But elsewhere, working behind the scenes to elevate the professionalism of our sport, the Australian Motocross Group (AMG) that has been introduced by Craig Dack, Yarrive Konsky, Gavin Eales and Mark Luksich aims to address any arising issue and, most importantly, is aiming to assist the sport’s governing body in making national motocross great again. With the old promoters gone and a promising opportunities on the horizon with fresh new beginnings – collectively with the rise of the Australian Supercross Championship under AUS SX Holdings – MotoOnline spoke to Dack about the purpose and structure of this bold, but exciting new group of professionals who are looking to revitalise the sport once and for all.

Image: Supplied.

Just to start with, obviously AMG has been launched, the Australian Motocross Group, so tell us about how it came to be formed.

Well, it was Mark Luksich’s fault, actually [laughs]. When COVID hit and then the announcement that the motocross series was off for this year, Mark Luksich and I… We’ve spoken about these things over the last 30 years many times and tried actually many times to try and formalise some sort of a group like this. And because there was no racing this year, I then made it my project to get all the group together, including Mark and Yarrive and Gavin. We had a lot of discussion with Peter Doyle from Motorcycling Australia (MA) and after a few weeks it all seemed to make sense, like why wouldn’t we try and make this happen? And after several months of putting a lot of effort and a lot of work into this, it’s now just about… I mean, the group’s formalised, it’s been registered as a non-profit company with its own constitution. It’s formally recognised at MA through a heads of agreement which is still being developed and it seems to be on our way.

As obvious stakeholders in the sport with a very large interest in championship-winning teams, and then also Mark who’s been around for many decades and also owned a race team just recently, what would you say the primary purpose is of AMG’s existence?

Its primary objective is to be closely aligned with Motorcycling Australia, to work together to gain information from all parties, whether it’s manufacturers, wholesalers, privateers, teams, whoever you can think of, people like yourself who are an important part of our sport with industry press, to try and work together. See, in anything you do in life you’re better in numbers, you know? And with the team at Motorcycling Australia and the group at AMG acting like a big sponge to gain as much information as we can, and to try and help as much as we can, we’re going to end up being a larger mass all pulling in the right, which has never happened in our sport. So, over the years, you’ve had Vince Tesoriero, who ran Mr Motocross and did a fantastic job in the ’70s and ’80s – pretty much one of the reason I got a job in this industry was him and Phil Christensen. Then in the ’80s and ’90s, Phil had come along and ran the Supercross Masters and did a great job, then in recent years you had Kevin Williams from WEM, but what happens, they’re all individual people. When they leave the sport, part of the sport goes away and it’s fair to say supercross still hasn’t really got back on his feet since the Supercross Masters days. Motorcycling Australia picking up the national motocross championship, ProMX, well that is a really good thing, because hopefully it can never go away and if we have a group like us who can work closely with our governing body and help guide the whole industry and the sport, well it can only be better. I encourage everybody in the industry to see this is a very positive move and we should all be proud that Peter Doyle and MA have seen that vision because it’s a good thing to do. This is how most sports are run these days, not by an individual person, but a committee of people, so all the vested interests are going in the same direction. I hope the industry really sees it as a positive thing and really gets behind this because it’s the way it should have been for a lot of years.

I’m assuming, naturally with you guys at the top-end of the sport, you know the sport as well or better than anybody in terms of competition in Australia, but you’re open to feedback, to ideas, to the wider competitors – your privateers, your satellite teams and those people. Are you guys receptive to all kinds of input to represent the teams and this side of the industry?

Anybody interested in our sport, come and talk to us. We want to listen to everybody, from privateers, to hopefully we can get to the point where on a Saturday at a motocross race we can meet with the people in the clubs. The president of the club or the working committee in a club, where we can get to understand what things we can do to help them, not just relying on them to help us. And what suggestions they have, what sort of things are we doing in a motocross championship round that are making it difficult for them? See if we can make it an easier way to do it. Right up to trying to influence Coca-Cola or Monster, any of these corporate people to come in to our sport to help, from the bottom end right to the top. And you never should have a closed mind, of course, but I’ve been in this game for over 30 years now, both successful racer and team owner, there’s not much I haven’t seen. Collectively between the other three guys, there’s over a 100 years of experience there. The people at MA, they’ve got some points on the board with what they’ve been doing with the road racing series and the off-road series, so that’s why I’m confident to get involved because I can see the direction they’re going in, but they’ve got their hands full so they need a bit of a hand, so that’s where we jump in. As I said, no one should feel any cynicism in this at all, it’s all done for the right reason. It’s a not-for-profit company group with a constitution, which none of us are drawing a wage from, nor do we seek to. If we can find avenues to raise income into the group, yes we will do that and we will put it back into areas, whether it’s to help clubs, whether it’s to help the privateers, whatever it may be to help out sport, that’s the whole DNA and premise of this group, AMG.

Image: Foremost Media.

You mentioned and we’re aware as well that MA has formally taken AMG on-board, acknowledged that this group is playing a part in the future of the sport. Is there any danger that things that you suggest or that competitors from a wider group suggest, that MA don’t take it seriously enough?

Well, this hasn’t happened overnight, it’s been six months of negotiation and trying to get the right model. If I could tell you all the different directions this thing’s been discussed and tried and talked about, you’d be amazed. So at the moment we’ve made a formal announcement about AMG and it’s just a matter of time before there will be more announcements made. We’re still working, to be completely honest, because this is what we want this group to be as well, completely transparent on this. We’re still working through the heads of agreement. The deal’s been made in principle, but we’re still working through the details and I’ve known Peter Doyle for a long time, he’s from my vintage and a man’s word is a man’s word. He’s from that era and I’ve asked him several times about certain things, and he’s been straight up, he’s been very, very supportive. He’s been a team owner as well, before he got on MA, you’ve got to remember that, so he thinks along similar lines to me. Not always on everything, but that’s okay. I see nothing but positive vibes coming from MA about this, otherwise I wouldn’t be talking like I am now.

We’ve seen a whole bunch of changes and instability with supercross in Australia over many years, but from a motocross perspective, we’ve had a private promoter for the good part of two decades. Going into 2021, it’s all changing in terms of motocross, so is this one of the most critical times that the sport’s faced in the modern era? How important is it to get it right?

Not really, no. Supercross was a big deal. When Supercross Masters went away, you’ve got to remember that was an era where we were filling a stadium on a Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday. And the PR and the press, the exposure of the sport then, that lit up in Australia, probably more so than Mr Motocross, to be honest, because it ended up on mainstream mediums everywhere and that’s why you have people like myself and all that have such a strong name from that era. So when Christo left the Supercross Masters, as I said, it left a hell of a dent in the sport and that’s why we’re trying to make these announcements now with the ProMX and AMG, and all that sort of stuff. We’re looking at starting in March next year, potentially, which has been bandied around, and then you have Christmas in between that, so you lose a month through Christmas, so things will get away from us very quickly if we don’t get on this now. That’s why I really ask the industry to keep open ears and open eyes of this, because there’s a lot of people working on this to make this thing bigger and better than it’s ever been. You’ve got to think about what’s happened with motocross over the years, it put Jeff Leisk second overseas, almost won a world championship and was runner-up, Andrew McFarlane, I think was runner-up, Chad Reed was a runner-up in the world championship and I went to Europe in GPs. Now, at the moment you’ve got Mitch Evans and Jed Beaton, who are genuine podium guys in both MX1 and MX2 as full factory riders. Plus, then you’ve got the Lawrence brothers in America, who are podium guys all day long, so we pack a huge punch in Australia for what we do and a lot of that has been because of the people who have been running our series over the years, including WEM. We feel that we can make it even better and motocross has slid away over the last few years, there’s no doubt about that. The people, the fans and enthusiasts, are still out there because I talk to them all the time, I communicate with them. We just there to get them back and get excitement back into this thing.

One perception, I guess, is an interesting thing that I was wondering – you’re the perfect person to ask the question – is, there’s that perception that back in the day, riders in the sport earned so much and now they might not. Of course, there’s the opportunity to earn quite a lot of money, but they don’t necessarily earn it unless they’re getting results. Was it as successful back then and all the way through the ’80s into the ’90s and 2000s as what the perception is?

I think it’s more so now, mate. I think there’s more opportunity for rider to make money than there was in our day. I mean, we made money, but it wasn’t big money and stuff like that and prize money was more of a driving force for us, not so much manufacturer’s income. Manufacturer’s income was very low back in the day, before prize money. For me to win a Supercross Masters round, I won $10,000, you know? And a lot more racing, so mostly our income come from prize money, where most of the income now comes from bonuses from the manufacturers, but yes, there’s also the other bit that you’ve got to try and find the balance where a team like CDR can be the inspiration or the aspiration for a young kid to keep punching away to come into our sport. Then, if they… As I just said, you’ve got what? Five or six guys overseas at the moment, probably making a decent wage. Four of those would be on extremely good money, I would think. The two Lawrence brothers, Beaton and Evans I just saw signed a multi-year contract at HRC, I can tell you those contracts won’t be small, so there’s several ways to look at it. In my mindset, this with AMG, this is all part of that, what I’m saying, is to try and make it better for all the riders from the top right through to the bottom.

Image: Foremost Media.

From a sporting standpoint, you guys can have your input, but it’s up to the administrators of the sport in MA to really implement certain things. In your opinion, should prize money currently be higher? Can it be higher? Should we have television? Can we get away without live-stream? What are some of the things you personally think the sport could benefit from?

Prize money is an economy of scale. That’s like rider’s salaries from manufacturers and is all determined on where the market is at a certain time, so that works itself out, but the short answer is no, I’m never against riders making more and more money. They are the stars of the show, therefore not forget this. Sometimes that gets forgotten within governing bodies, within teams, within the industry. The riders are the act. They’re the act and they are the star of the show, so they needed to be looked after, but we do need… And ProMX is Motorcycling Australia’s series, then they will contract events out, whether it’s promoters to run a round or clubs to run a round, which mostly will be clubs. So, it’s their series – they’re the administrators, not AMG. But we’re there also, let’s keep all niceties to one side, but we’re also there not only to help MA with the series, but to help drive them as well. If we don’t think it’s good enough, we will certainly let them know and discuss that in of course a professional manner, but I’m sure it’s not going to be all nice smelling roses all the time, you know? There’s got to be time where we’re going to have to… There’s going to be disagreements and there’s going to be pressure, there’s going to be all sorts of bits and pieces, but collectively with AMG, there’s 10 people involved in this before it even gets to the clubs or promoters. If we can’t all pull our heads in and get this right, well, none of us should have a job. Firstly, we need television, we 100 percent need television, we need the industry support and we need everybody pulling in this right direction and have a positive vibe and get on board with this and support it.

Another thing I wanted to address is, we’re all privileged to different sorts of information, but I think one thing that’s going to be really critical is that AMG will probably learn of things and have things bounced off of them quite soon in the piece, such as schedules or calendars or different plans. To me, it’s going to be pretty important for MA to relay information out or as quickly as possible, so the wider competitors and privateers or associated partners can actually get an idea of where it’s heading.

You’re 100 percent right in that and, again, thank you for raising that point, because that is one of the key things of the group is communication, which has been lacking over the years. We want this group to be completely transparent and, at the moment, we’ve got some ideas to develop some streams of revenue because we’re going to need income if we’re going to try and help things. We might need to fly someone up to Sydney to have a meeting with a sponsor to help MA, so we’re going to need income to do certain things. And one of the things – you’ve got to remember the four people in AMG have all got their own businesses and very busy people and doing this as a voluntary thing for now – we’ve got ideas to create a stream of income that goes, as I said, into the non-for-profit company, and that income hopefully can be used to hire a person that can drive AMG, that can dedicate a lot more time because these things are only as good as the amount of time you’ve got to put into it, right? And so if we can get someone like a general manager that runs AMG for us, they can continuously put out information as well. If Motorcycling Australia and AMG have a meeting and we say, ‘okay, in another six months we’re going to make a change’, well we can put that out to the industry so people can get ready for that the media can be well-informed. All of those things, yes, that all has been considered, but it’s just got to take as much as the most important thing at the moment. We need to get the industry on side to get their support back and let them know that we’re all in this together and we’re going to make this happen. Once we get things moving along, then we can start working on all those peripherals.

You make a lot of good points there. At the moment there’s varying levels of manufacturer support, CDR is obviously the official Yamaha MX1 team, Yarrive has the Honda program and Gavin has his Yamaha program in the 250s. Now, the ideal situation is, we want to see the KTMs, Husqvarnas, Kawasakis and Suzukis continue to evolve and to increase their involvement domestically. I know they support teams at differing levels at the moment, but that’s probably a critical part as well, to ensure that the people within those manufacturers, they know that this is an opportunity for everybody – it’s a lifting tide raises everybody type of thing and it’s collectively important.

Yeah, I’m sure KTM will be back, they’ve just been through a fairly big situation over the last couple of years and Yamaha went through this in ’70s or the ’80s, I think, the same thing happened to them where they were having a readjustment of what they were doing. I’m sure they each will be back… They’ve all got their own reasons by what they do things, but if they’re judging their reasoning of lowering their program going racing based on what that series and the sport has been, I get that, but I wouldn’t suggest or to expect that to continue. As Supercross is on the up again, AMG will be there with Supercross as well. This is not just for motocross, but we’ll be there to help Adam Bailey and that side of the sport. Mostly, we will – and are – going to get motocross back up and I’m a pretty determined person by nature, this is one of my priorities at the moment. I haven’t failed yet in this industry, and I’m not about to fail now – I want this to work and I want our sport to be back where it should be. I want to get all those people who are sitting at home, who are still fans of motocross and watching AMA, love MXGP, I want them back at the track and we want to have the excitement back there and we want to build out sport up here again. I mean, motorcycle sales have been unprecedented in the last six months, so they’re still there, everybody. Let’s go get them and bring them back and tell them how fun our sport is and how good it is. After that, I’m sure Suzuki, Kawasaki and KTM, although they’re not as big in as they have been in the past, they’ll see what we’re doing, they’ll be back and they’ll be proud to be back.