HomePerson of the WeekPerson of the Week : Nobby Clark / Dave Despain, Part 2

Person of the Week : Nobby Clark / Dave Despain, Part 2

Vol. 4, Issue 30

Person of the Week: Nobby Clark / Dave Despain, Part 2
By Keith S. Kizer

Clark Nobby
This week’s story is an extension of last week’s story, which covered a brief introduction of the fallout at the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame. POTW – Dave Despain It was the story found on former AMA President, Ed Youngblood’s Motohistory.net website that covered the shocking story of Dave Despain resigning from the Motorcycle Hall of Fame (HoF’s). This was a result of the HoF’s, or should I say the dictators of the HoF’s, decision to strip legendary motorcycle crew chief, Nobby Clark of his nomination into this year’s HoF. Most of you may have never heard of Nobby Clark if you weren’t into roadracing but it’s the fallout of his deselecting that showed the world the real colors of the leaders of the AMA. The favoritism or pressure of media or politics have now cost the sport some of our heroes like Kenny Roberts, Dick Mann, Jeff Smith, and Ed Youngblood, to name just a few, from being forever remembered through the museum.

This ugly ordeal has little, if anything, to do with the Hall of Fame staff or volunteers, so don’t blame them or hate the HoF. Since the overthrow of the AMA five years ago by the current dictatorship, the HoF staff and committees are just a façade for the kingpin’s wanted list of new friends who can shore up or influence their lifestyles.

As most who read this column know, I co-founded and eventually owned AMA/Prostar starting back in 1989. I had a long and great standing relationship with the AMA administration and frequented their offices regularly. In 2004 I was invited to attend the FIM annual summit in Geneva Switzerland and pitch a proposal to form a world championship for drag racing. Then president of the AMA, Rob Rasor accompanied my wife and I on the trip, as did AMA legal council Tim Owens. This was at a time when retired Kawasaki executive John Hoover was working with the AMA. After the trip to Geneva began a more frequent dialog between AMA staff and myself regarding their interest in me working for them. In July of 2006 my wife Debbie and I were on our way home from a conference in Maryland, when I received a call from the CEO of AMA, Patti DiPetro offering me a job as a Pro Racing Director. After only a day I accepted the offer because it was my life goal of working at this level for the AMA. I had been a member since the age of eleven from back in my flat track days in Texas. I asked Patti if I could have until November so I could finish out the Prostar season and give me time to figure out who was going to take over my position for drag racing. To make a long story short, four days later I was at my first road race and press conference at AMA’s next event in Mid-Ohio and introduced as the Director of AMA Pro Racing.

It was apparent to everyone that I was not hired for my extensive knowledge of road racing, but rather my seventeen year success of running Prostar. Certain divisions of AMA Pro Racing were in need of a fresh approach and reorganization. Without going into details on this site as to what happened with Prostar (Dragbike.com readers already know that story), I have to say that my move to Columbus and my start with AMA was a dream come true. I was having the time of my life and positive change was making the AMA a more media, racer, and staff friendlier place. After I hired Morgan Broadhead away from Suzuki in October of 2006 things really began to take off. Morgan and I made a great team along with great staff members of AMA Pro Racing such as Doug Neubauer, Ken Rogers, Jim Wardell, Kerry Graeber, Kevin Crowther, along with the rest of the Columbus team and event staff.

That winter it was announced that the AMA was hiring a new president to replace Rob Rasor, who was moving up and on to more FIM involvement since his election as Vice-President of the FIM the year prior. That did not register as a problem because past presidents’ involvement with the AMA dealt largely with the government and road riding issues of the AMA and not directly with racing. A former AMA government staffer Rob Dingman was hired as the new President of AMA. Dingman answered, or so we thought, to Patti DiPetro so all was fine. As a new staff in the road racing division we took off to Daytona in March of 2007 for our big debut. Following the previous year’s debacle with a pace car, all eyes were on the new AMA Pro Racing staff to see how we would perform. It was a huge success with a standing ovation from the VIP box with AMA CEO and board members. We were off to a great start.

What happened prior to or during the trip back to Pickerington, Ohio is still a mystery, but Patti never returned. She turned in her resignation after a quarter century with the AMA and Rob Dingman was solely in charge. As the next couple of months unfolded the new position of Senior VP of AMA Pro Racing arose and it came down to my boss, Doug Neubauer, and myself. In the eleventh hour Doug withdrew his application saying I was more experienced and he would rather work for me. During this time, Rob Dingman asked that I set up a meeting with Jim France, of Daytona and NASCAR. I did and the two of us set off to Daytona to meet Mr. France. Dingman said he wanted to meet Mr. France, for reasons unknown to me at the time. I also looked at this trip as a final interview with Dingman for the Senior VP spot.

It was on the Daytona trip that my dream of a productive career with the AMA took a turn for the worse. After meeting with Mr. France as a group, Dingman and France had a private meeting. Then Dingman and I had dinner at a beach tavern. It was there he asked a question that was the turning point in my career at AMA. As we were discussing the future and direction of the AMA he said, “Are you going to be loyal to the AMA or to me?” I was an AMA loyalist and always had been. It was like Fidel Castro asking his general before the overthrow of Cuba if he was going to be faithful to the country or to the soon to be malevolent dictator’s march to communism. The pause in my reply sealed my fate. I said, “I will be loyal to you as long as you are loyal to the AMA.” That was not the answer he was looking for.

This is where my original story takes a big turn. For legal reasons I had to carve out three pages of my five page story. Without exposing the entire ugly truth of what happened in the months leading up to AMA selling off Pro Racing I can at least express some of the public details and my opinion.

Not long after our return to Pickerington, Dingman announced he was hiring an outsider as the new VP of Pro Racing. It was that day that marked the change. No longer did Dingman make visits to staff offices, basically cutting off daily communication with staff. His open door policy was now closed and never again did any of the staff have access to him. He was in hiding and it stayed that way.

Although we had proven with the new team that AMA Pro Racing was stronger than ever, we were being belittled and discredited bit by bit from the new boss. He said he was restructuring the department because of management credibility issues. But within a month of his hire, he in a weak moment admitted that there where bigger plans for the AMA that did not include this campus. They wanted to sell off racing, outsource the magazine, sell off the museum and merge the AMA with AAA, with multiple branches across the country with the main office being in Washington, D.C.

Soon they started getting rid of senior staff starting with the ones who had been with the AMA for 25 years or more. All remaining AMA staff were given a gag order forbidding us to talk to the media or AMA Board of Directors.

Micromanagement became the rule. No decision was made without a full report. All communication with teams was to be in writing, no phone calls.

We were told to start gathering data on each discipline so we could put out a Request For Proposal to sell commercial rights to each branch of Pro Racing. A “commercial partner” was the soft pedal words used to try and convince us. There was no question that this was a farce only to gather information for a potential new buyer. This is when my stomach started turning knowing the end was near. Obviously I was concerned for all my staff knowing if Pro Racing was sold off it would bring an end to eighty some odd of years of racing heritage. My immediate terror was the fact that I was about to lose everything Debbie and I had worked twenty-five years for. The AMA came after me, not the other way around. I cheerfully sold my business and relocating my family to Ohio. Every decision made was based on the belief we would retire in Ohio. Even though Patti DiPietro could not give me a contract, I was reassured that I would always have a job at the AMA. With her departure so went my security blanket.

When I started working for AMA I used my own personal computer because I needed all my Prostar data since we were originally running Prostar out of the AMA until the Prostar sale went through. Prior to leaving for Daytona, I knew the end was near and suspected they would fire all of us while we were in Daytona. So I requisitioned a used laptop from the IT department, transferred my AMA files to it and took my computer home. While at Daytona they made the big announcement that Roger Edmondson and the Daytona Motorsports Group had purchased all of AMA Pro Racing. Upon returning from Daytona dozens of us were escorted out of the building like criminals.

Before I could complete this story an announcement was released that the HoF is considering reinstating Nobby Clark anyway. That’s great for Nobby, and he should absolutely be put in after all the AMA has put him through in the last month, but it’s too late to assume that they have done the right thing. The damage is done. What happens then to the list of legendary motorcyclists who returned their medals? What happens to the damage done to the entire HoF? I don’t see the overlords of the AMA giving anything back. Each brave honoree who has tossed back their medals into the face of the AMA President and Board Chairman have shunned them, called them out, and have been honest and critical in the media towards their inability to run the AMA and asked for their resignations. I’ve been on that side of the defense line and once you have been blacklisted there is no coming back.

The above opinion is just that: my opinion based on my limited access to the facts. Only the top players in the AMA really know the truth as to how AMA Pro Racing was wrestled away from those who cared the most and were 100% loyal to the AMA. I am a life member of the AMA and have not cancelled my membership only in hope of the truth being exposed and the AMA being handed back over to true motorcyclist, not posers. I am a true supporter of the Motorcycle Hall of Fame and in no way hold any officer or committee member responsible for the mismanagement regardless of how much they are taking the blame.

There is only one solution to restore the heritage of motorcycling to its once honored status and protect the future of its purpose. The AMA members need to rise up and demand the resignation of the AMA’s president and board chairman. End the underhanded, closed-door mismanagement that has stolen the true AMA and return it to its rightful owners, the members of the AMA. Then and only then will the great ex-recipients of the HoF medals have them returned.

If you are interested in being featured as person of the week, contact Keith Kizer

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