The most competitive non-factory Superbike team in MotoAmerica, Meen Motorsports, pulled out of the series before the Pittsburgh round, showing how hard it is for teams to afford to compete.
On August 24, as other teams were arriving at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex, Meen Motorsports posted a statement on its Facebook page saying “Meen Motorsports will not be attending round eight of the MotoAmerica series, in Pittsburgh, due to certain discrepancies between Meen Motorsports and the MotoAmerica organization.”
More than a few people in the paddock at PIRC were wondering what those “discrepancies” were.
Some assumed it had to do with penalties levied against Meen Motorsports Superbike rider Josh Herrin, who twice this year has crashed and taken out one of the championship contenders. At Virginia International Raceway in May, he crashed into Toni Elias, and at Sonoma Raceway, the round before Pittsburgh, he crashed into Elias’ Yoshimura Suzuki teammate, Roger Hayden, who was then second in the standings. In both cases, Herrin was penalized six grid spots in the subsequent race.
“We heard rumors that they weren’t going to make it here, but the press release took us by surprise, in the fact that it pointed the finger at us for whatever ‘discrepancies’,” said MotoAmerica Communications Manager Paul Carruthers. “As far as we know, there were no discrepancies. We levied the penalty and it was upheld. We don’t know what discrepancies he was talking about.”
Some people in the paddock believed that Meen was blaming MotoAmerica when the real problem was the team’s loss of sponsorship and resulting financial problems. I asked Carruthers if he felt MotoAmerica was being made a scapegoat.
“I don’t really want to say that, but … maybe,” he replied.
I asked team owner Ameen Sajjadi to explain what he meant by “discrepancies” and he responded by e-mail, saying the issue was not the penalty imposed on Herrin.
“We respect the right of race direction to make the final call on any incident as they see fit and have no problem honoring that sanction on a rider, as was done by the team at Sonoma,” Sajjadi wrote. “Thus, in terms of ‘discrepancies,’ they are in reference to matters we do not wish to disclose and [will] only discuss with the organization.”
In response to the question about whether finances were to blame, Sajjadi stated: “I have been doing this for the last seven years of my life and have invested a lot in order to support the sport and the many riders I have believed in. After taking all factors into consideration, although it was a very hard decision to make, I felt that I needed to take a step back at this time.”
The absence of Herrin and the Meen Motorsports team makes the Superbike field less competitive. Other than the four riders for the two dominant factory teams, Herrin and Superstock rider Bobby Fong have been the only riders to finish on an overall podium this season in the combined Motul Superbike and Bazzazz Superstock 1000 races.
Herrin was at the Pittsburgh round as a spectator but declined to comment on the situation. The other two Meen Motorsports riders were able to continue their seasons with new teams. Bryce Prince is still riding in the Bazzazz Superstock 1000 class with the same crew and backing from Hudson Motorcycles of Gardena, California. Norwegian racer Caroline Olsen joined TeamH35 Honda, run by Supersport racer Benny Solis and his father, to ride a Superstock 600 bike for the remainder of the season.
Though everyone in the paddock agrees that MotoAmerica has strengthened domestic Superbike racing, the abrupt departure of the most competitive privateer team shows how hard it is to find the money to be competitive.
“This is a tough business as a team owner,” said Danny Walker, who runs the Genuine Broaster Chicken Honda team. “The dynamics of being a team owner right now in this paddock, unless you are the factory, is about the dumbest business plan you could ever come up with. Why would you want to burn money like that?
“If the situation came to where you lose a sponsor and you’re spending $20,000 to $30,000 a weekend to be here and you’re not having fun, it doesn’t make sense to be here. If you need to stay home for a race or two to regroup and figure out how you can actually afford to come and do this at that level, then stay home and figure it out.
“Anybody who wants to bad-mouth him, you know what? Meen made room for you. So if you want to bring a semi in, I’ll move over. Love to have you.”
“We don’t want to lose any teams,” Carruthers added. “We feel bad for Josh Herrin. It’s really the last thing you want to see, as a series, for this to happen.”