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Opinion: On Disrespecting Kevin Schwantz

Why you should care.

 

kevin-schwantz

By: Reg Kittrelle

I’ve never met Kevin Schwantz, and if he fell over me he wouldn’t have a clue as to who I am. Despite this, I find myself jumping to his defense in the ridiculous brouhaha in which he is pitted against the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, TX. If this development somehow missed you, Schwantz has filed a lawsuit against CoTA contending that he holds the right to stage a MotoGP race at the track. According to Schwantz, while attending a mid-March test session at the track, CoTA asked that he “leave the track immediately and was not welcome at the circuit.” Unfortunately, it will probably require the court system to unravel this mess, assign blame, and in the end, place a large black, official smudge on the reputations of both parties. I take no sides with this legal issue as I sense that it will prove to be a Hydra-like issue and I have very few actual facts at hand.

So why do I care? I care because it is emblematic of not only the way business is done today, but also the way we so often treat our motorcycle icons. In the greater scheme of things, motorcycle racing rates a very tiny blip on the radar of importance. In this country, in particular, it rates far below any number of stick-and-ball games. Those of us who are close to the sport—be it as a participant or a fan—understand the talent and dedication it takes to race a motorcycle successfully. And to reach the pinnacle that Schwantz has scaled, 1993 500cc World Champion to begin with, places one in the very rarefied air of elite athletes…and then some.

“There are but three true sports—bullfighting, mountain climbing, and motor racing. The rest are merely games.” While the origin of this quote is debatable, its basic truth is not. When you race a motorcycle, as either a rank amateur or a world champion, you put it all on the line; your skill, your determination, your life. Do it poorly and you’ll either leave the sport quickly or get hurt. Do it well and acclaim awaits you …right up to the point where you no longer do it.

Kevin Schwantz has very successfully carved out a post-racing career for himself. He is a teacher, a mentor, and an inspiration. He is also an exception, as most professional racers fade—intentionally or otherwise—from the public’s consciousness. The business of racing is brutal; you either win or you pack up your helmet. And that is the way it should be. Trophies for just showing up are worthless. But unfortunately, we the fans often treat these riders the same way; lose on Sunday, get lost on Monday.

One of the more egregious examples of this is Miguel Duhamel, a hugely talented, charismatic multichampion that seemingly disappeared overnight after his last race in 2008. Ask the average race-goer today who Duhamel is, and you’ll likely get a blank stare. Personally, I believe our two-wheeled champions deserve more respect than that. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not a fan of hero-worshipping, nor do I suffer fools gladly, be they in or out of a helmet. But I am big on respect; if duly earned, it should be duly given. Kevin Schwantz has earned respect, and it is due him from the motorcycle community. And it is due from CoTA, regardless of the legal issues.

Why respect? Because respect provides continuity and credibility to our sport. Because respected champions are role models and mentors. Because respected champions are the link between the sport itself, the general public, and potential sponsors.

CoTA’s apparent decision to bar Schwantz from the track and, it also appears, the MotoGP race beginning later this week, was anything but a show of respect. It was a stupid move on any number of levels, but most assuredly from a public relations standpoint. Yes, there are the legal issues between Schwantz and the track, but smart management would have kept them under wraps. Someone internally should have said, “Hey look, we’ve got a problem with this guy, but if we bar him from the track, we’re gonna end up with egg all over our face. Let’s smile-up and let the courts navigate the legal swamp.” Instead, they let their lawyers and their egos make a bad decision. I wish no ill will toward CoTA, but this level of arrogance should not go unnoticed or unpunished.

I think it’s telling that only one of CoTA’s 12 senior managers has any motorcycle racing background. Interestingly, three of the 12 came from Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. One of these three is Julie Koenig Loignon, CoTA’s VP of Public and Media Relations. If her title is of significance this indicates that she is the driving force behind this public relations fiasco. The lone exception to the absence of motorcycle savvy is the Vice President of Motorsports Operations, Chuck Aksland. Aksland is a well-known, highly respected motorcyclist who has managed the careers of riders such as Roger Hayden and Chris Vermeulen, and was with the Kenny Roberts MotoGP team for 15 years.

Notably, this situation has not raised much dust among the followers of motorcycle racing. The exception is that current bellwether of social interaction, Facebook. There has been a bit of a firestorm of interest lit on that platform, resulting in a “Free Kevin” T-shirt, planned get-togethers, and an outpouring of anti-CoTA feelings. By the way, the proceeds from the sale of T-shirts go to the Marco Simoncelli Foundation. What are mostly missing are the opinions of race teams, racers, and sponsors. Unfortunately, this is understandable as I’ll bet the farm that most all have given, or have been given, standing orders to not comment. I, for one, would be very interested in what Texan—and man of many opinions—Colin Edwards would have to say.

CoTA lips remained zipped. They’ve probably employed a hunker down strategy that believes this tempest in a teapot will go away. And it probably will, unfortunately. Schwantz will be denied his rightful place at the GP, and there will be a smattering of T-shirts highlighting his absence. At the GP’s end, CoTA will high-five itself, and begin planning for their next event, with a parting comment approximating “Schwantz who?”

The real battle will take place in a courtroom. And while I began this piece stating, “I take no sides with this legal issue,” I am compelled to support Schwantz based upon a document he recently released. It is from Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO Managing Director of Dorna Sports, S.L. Dorna who holds the exclusive commercial and television rights, and has since 1992, for MotoGP events, among others. The letter is dated February 2, 2011 and states,

 

Dear Mr. Schwantz,

This letter hereby confirms our agreement that 3fourTexas MGP, LLC is the sole rights holder for MotoGP in the state of Texas for the years 2013-2022

Kindest regards,

(signed by Carmelo Ezpeleta)

 

(3fourTexas MGP, LLC is the promotion company that Schwantz manages)

 

This issue is both a complicated and simple one. It is complicated because the lawyers have deemed it so. It is simple because the above letter is very clear. It is devoid of conditions, and it notes no attachments, amendments, referenced documents, or possible mitigating circumstances. It will probably be the smoking gun used by the plaintiff (Schwantz), and thoroughly disregarded by the defendant (CoTA).

There was a time where a word and a handshake was a contract and was, in effect, the law of the land. This was the same time that accomplishment received its due respect. Not today.

The thing is, this could be settled if the right people—absent the lawyers—sat down over a beer or two and some Texas barbecue.

Categories: Editorial  
 

COMMENTS:

  1. Dennis Taylor
    Posted on: April 24, 2013 11:01 am

    I am dismayed at Kevin’s treatment; as a one-time amateur racer and long-time rider, I find Kevin a real ambasador for our sport. One thing CoTA will never see is my money or positive reaction to anything they are involved in, and they had better hope that I don’t end up on their jury trial.

    What a low class act. CoTA deserves to go bankrupt, and hopefully, real motorcycle enthusiasts will take over.
    Wingman

  2. John Butrus
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 6:12 pm

    I love motorcycling and motor sports exactly because they take me away from the senseless bile and consternation I see every day as a practicing attorney. I know nothing about the lawsuit’s merits, however, CoTA lost my business when they kicked Mr. Schwantz off the property. Those responsible for that decision know nothing about sportsmanship, the entertainment industry, or manners. I choose not to give my disposable income to cowardly bullies who hide behind their attorneys. Although CoTA is only a 3 hour ride from my home, I will skip this week’s championship and go for a ride with my friends instead.

    • Robert Pandya
      Posted on: April 17, 2013 8:44 pm

      John – please feel free to come and watch the race with us at the Gypsy Lounge on East 6th St in Austin. We support GP racing, and we know that there are MANY like-minded people who wish to see what has already started as an epic season continue on our home soil. Enjoy the race with friends at a Texas local bar and club. Who knows – you might even find a riding partner for off- GP weekends!

  3. Scott Steves
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 2:13 pm

    Motorcyclist Mag, and Reg Kitrele,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to eloquently elevate this issue to the motorcycling public. It’s a sad state of affairs when it’s the exact opposite of what should be, is. For the inaugural MotoGP race in Texas, Texas’ ONLY Motorcycle Grand Prix champion should at the very least be the public face of Texas MotoGP to the world, when he should be taking a ceremonial victory lap to open the race, and acting as our most-valuable-vip in representing what Texas has to offer the racing world.
    Instead, he’s being treated as a pariah, a situation that has many of us in the Texas motorcycling community spitting mad. Some folks have boycotted the race, others already bought our tickets before things got to such a sorry state, and you can be darn sure that we’ll be wearing our red, white and blue FreeKevin34 t-shirts in the grandstands.
    Sincerely,
    Scott Steves

  4. chili
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 12:44 pm

    It’s insane. How can you have a US MotoGP and ban Schwantz from the track???

  5. TB Rider
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 12:14 pm

    As an avid motorcyclist, safety instructor and in my humble opinion a decent human being I find the actions of COTA reprehensible and childish. Settle your score for 3 days and let us celebrate the achievements of these wonderful athletes as adults.

  6. Lance Lau
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 11:49 am

    Huge thanks to not only Reg, but to Mark Cook and Thomas Kinzer for sticking your necks out and putting it on the line in support for Kevin Schwantz. Would that more in our industry were bold enough to speak out in support, instead of timid silence in fear of causing damage to our sport. It’s the actions of CoTA that have been most damaging: Breaking a contract with one of the greatest supporters of motorcycle roadracing in America, in favor of greedily attempting to take all of the proceeds themselves. Their lack of knowledge of the sport, as well as their lack of vision is apparent in their half-baked PR attempts and near absent coordination with the Austin, TX motorcycle community at large to make the Red Bull Gran Prix of the Americas an even bigger event than the races themselves. It is also bearing fruit in the declining attendance projections for the weekend, as well.

    Shame on you, CoTA, not only for your treatment of an American GP legend and fellow Texan, Kevin Schwantz, but for your arrogant ignorance that you have demonstrated towards motorcycle roadracing and the fans who enjoy it. Bravo to you Motorcyclist! Keep up the great work!

  7. Robert Pandya
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 11:48 am

    Look at the photo – Kevin at the Motorcyclist 100th anniversary party, and did you note his t-shirt? The CRRC is the predecessor to the popular Texas based CMRA that exists now. This was taken WAY before the COTA publicity debacle. Tell me that Kevin would not be a VOLUME promoter for the race in Texas. Try to tell me that. That is what our http://www.freekevin34.com movement is about. Show the support for a champion so loved that his NUMBER WAS RETIRED! We appreciate Motorcyclist editors posting this, and Reg for writing it. Kevin has been holding his tongue to this issue so he does not hurt his legal case – COTA’s security stance and subsequent PR silence shows their ignorance and arrogance towards the sport and the small volume of motorcycle racing enthusiasts. Let the court decide the case, but respect the champions and the fans and the track could have not been in a position they are in offering discounted tickets and dealing with negative press. I’ve lost faith in that track – but only gained it in my fellow riders, magazines and sponsors who have stepped up to respect the chamion. I hope to hear from Colin, Ben and others whose careers were touched and helped by Kevin.

  8. Bruce
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 11:02 am

    I’m not sure of the dynamics behind CoTA’s decision to ban Kevin from the track but I can certainly recognize corporate thinking (an oxymoron if there ever was one) and corporate egos hard at work.
    Common sense has been replaced by MBAs with their own agendas. It’s time for everyone to take a step back and look at “the big picture”.

    EXCELLENT commentary Reg !!

  9. Grndskpr
    Posted on: April 17, 2013 10:18 am

    Well written, well put.
    I would like to hear more from CoTA, as in how could outsiders manage to get MOTO GP with out Mr. S’s help. As i recall, it took Indy a long long time to get a Moto Gp event, and that place is an Icon in the USA. As a subscriber I would like this periodical to back an respected member of the community, I for one will not be attending this years race, I will instead attend Indy, and Texas unfortunately will not get my money.