Brad Scott didn’t think it would be so easy.
The general manager of New Jersey Motorsports Park thought he would have to persuade the American Historic Motorcycle Racing Association to hold an event at the Millville racetrack. After all, the association drew more than 57,000 spectators this past summer at an Alabama track.
After Scott made preliminary contact, however, AHRMA executives sent him a 16-page PowerPoint presentation about the potential for an event at the motorsports park. It was booked shortly afterward.
Scott said that’s not usually how it goes with new events, but perhaps he shouldn’t have been surprised. Less than five years after opening, the motorsports park has established itself as one of the premier motorcycle racetracks in the country.
“I don’t want to say we’re migrating (away from cars) to motorcycles,” Scott said. “(But) it happens to be more opportunity for growth.”
The park did not have a major motorcycle race during its inaugural season in 2008. But the two biggest events on the 2013 schedule feature two-wheelers, and a third could be added soon. By contrast, the park lost its biggest car race when the Grand-Am road racing series decided not to return next season.
The AMA Pro Racing motorcycle series has been the park’s biggest draw each of the past four seasons, filling the parking lots with thousands of sportbikes for one weekend each year.
It’s been such a success that Scott is trying to bring the series to Millville twice in 2013. AMA, which has not held an event at the same track twice in one season since 2009, has left a potential spring date “to be determined” on its schedule, which already includes the weekend of Sept. 13-15 at the motorsports park.
The AMA could be surpassed, however, as the park’s premier event. Scott said that title could go to AHRMA, a vintage-motorcycle festival set for Aug. 2-4 that features racing and other activities, such as a swap meet. AHRMA drew tens of thousands during three days last summer at Barber Motorsports Park in Leeds, Ala.
In its presentation, AHRMA noted that 86 percent of its more than 4,000 members spend more than six days traveling to races each season. Thirty percent spend more than 20 days.
AHRMA Executive Director David Lamberth said in a phone interview that there will be people at the Millville race from as far away as California.
“We were looking for a high-quality venue that we could work with, that our members would say, ‘You know what? I’m going for that. I’m going to ask for my days off. I’m going to get my vacation time. I’m going to that,’” Lamberth said.
The AMA and AHRMA races will take place on the motorsports park’s Thunderbolt Raceway, one of the facility’s two winding asphalt courses.
There also soon could be a motocross track, complete with dirt and jumps. Scott said the park will bring its plans to the city’s Planning Board in January and hopes to have the track built by the summer.
Scott and park owner Lee Brahin made it clear that they are not giving up on car racing. The ARCA Racing Series, which features stock cars, returns to the motorsports park July 28. Grand-Am is the only car race the track lost for 2013.
But it’s hard to ignore the shift from cars to motorcycles.
“That’s just kind of where the market is right now,” Brahin said. “I think we’re really filling in a void in this region with the sportbikes, and that’s why it is so popular, and we’re happy to host it.”
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 7,883,000 motorcycle registrations in 2009. New Jersey accounted for 157,000, Pennsylvania 409,000 and New York 345,000 — a combined 11.6 percent of the nation’s motorcycle registrations.
When it comes to real enthusiasts, the concentration is even more pronounced. AMA Pro Racing’s parent organization, the nonprofit American Motorcyclist Association, has about 221,000 members nationwide. An AMA spokesperson said 19 percent of those members are located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland.
“It’s just taken off because the track is well maintained and it’s in Jersey,” said Steven Andriopoulos, of Absolute Cycling, which has one of its three locations in Millville.
Absolute Cycling holds “track days,” in which it rents the track for its clients to use for a day.
Brahin said 40 percent of the racetrack rentals since it opened have been for sportbikes. He also said the park sold more season tickets during its Black Friday sale this year than last, despite the loss of Grand-Am.
The success of motorcycles at the park has been slightly surprising — Brahin said it has exceeded his expectations by “maybe 5 (percent) or 10 percent” — but not entirely.
“We’re in a very large sportbike market,” Brahin said. “We’re kind of the epicenter of the Northeast for that kind of activity because a number of tracks that compete with us aren’t really appropriately set up to run motorcycles.”
Indeed, besides New Jersey, the AMA and AHRMA schedules feature only tracks in the South, Midwest and West. While there are several other tracks in the Northeast, there are various reasons why they don’t have motorcycle races. Watkins Glen International in New York, for example, has guard rails that would be dangerous for motorcycles.
“For this region, the Northeast, and perhaps the East Coast, we’re the premier sportbike track,” Brahin said.
Lamberth, the executive director of AHRMA, said that from his organization’s perspective, the park’s appeal goes beyond its location. The success of the AMA races and smaller motorcycle events has given the motorsports park a strong reputation.
“What’s very important to us when we go to look for a venue is the quality and caliber of the facility,” Lamberth said. “And that’s what’s exciting to us about New Jersey Motorsports Park. The fact that it’s where it is, it’s kind of like, ‘She’s pretty and her dad has money, too.’”
As much promise as there is, plenty of work remains to be done.
A second AMA Pro Racing event is no sure thing — Scott said he anxiously checks the series’ website every day.
The motocross track still needs to be approved by the city and built.
And the advertising blitz for the AHRMA event won’t start until next month. Scott said the goal is to draw more than the 57,000 people who attended the event in Alabama this past summer.
He said there are no plans, though, to add any more motorcycle events at this point.
“I think with that on our schedule, if we add a second AMA (date), that would really fulfill the appetite for the market,” Scott said.
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