United States Bicycle Motocross Association

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The United States Bicycle Association (USBA) was a short-lived Bicycle Motocross (BMX) national sanctioning body based in Tempe, Arizona. It was founded in March 1984 by five former members of the American Bicycle Association (ABA): Rich Mann, Dave Cook, Geoff Sims, Steve Schaefer and Rod Keeling, who became the USBA's first President. He was previously the ABA's former Vice President of Marketing and prior to that a pilot with the ABA's failed air charter service.[1] It was to last only for two and a half seasons before being brought by the ABA early in 1986 season (the ABA itself was by then was under new ownership). In the interim, the USBA and the ABA would have probably have the most acrimonious and bitter relationship between two rival BMX sanctioning bodies before or since. So poisoned the air was between them the possibility of one organization committing a United States Federal crime against the other existed.

Succession[edit]

Within the ABA there was a growing disaffection with the leadership of ABA. The disaffected ABA members believed that Merl Mennenga, the founder and president of the ABA, led the ABA into financial dire straits like the ill-fated Bicycles and Dirt magazine affair and focused too much on nationals at the expense of local districts and tracks, thereby neglecting the sport's roots and potential new members. Mr. Mennenga's treatment of employees, the departure of former ABA Vice-President, Gene Roden, the BMX Action magazine and professional boycotts of the ABA of the early 1980s and his attitude toward local track operators was the genesis of the revolt. A short interview of Rod Keeling by Bicycle Motocross Action magazine (BMX Action) in its February 1985 issue reflected this idea:

Our very first goal is to rejuvenate BMX at a local level. I believe that when the number of nationals gets too great, you take away from the local tracks. Next year (1985) we'll only have eight nationals plus a grandnational, and I don't think we'll ever have more than ten or twelve nationals.

He went on to say:

We're also going to reduce the number of double and triple points races at a local level for the same reason -- too many big races. The track operator still has to have the opportunity to hold big races, but we're not going to have nearly as many.

Some detractors, not all ABA staff members, questioned Mr. Keeling's motives and commitment to BMX since he did not have deep roots in the sport either as a former racer or a former promoter. Mr. Mennenga also claimed that Mr. Keeling and the other ABA defectors gave him poor advice and that was why the ABA was in poor fiscal condition and it was a deliberate act of sabotage.

Some believe this is not accurate to what actually happened, as Mr. Mennenga was the sole owner of the ABA at the time and directed the sanctioning body in an autocratic fashion. Mr. Mennenga filed suit against the 5 individuals for breach of a claimed employment contract in 1984. No contracts were ever produced by Mr. Mennenga and the suit was dismissed. Many believe that the lawsuit was an attempt by the ABA to crush the new competitors, and while unsuccessful, it did bleed time and resources from the USBA and engendered the destructive atmosphere that was to follow.

Of the original five founders of the USBA, Dave Cook and Geoff Sims, both commercial pilots, left the company for flying jobs shortly after its creation. Soon after the 1985 USBA Grand National in October, Mr. Keeling was forced out of the USBA by the major USBA investor group, led by Phoenix businessman, Ira Hall. This occurred while Hall was negotiating a "merger" with the potential new ABA owners and Keeling became a liability to the deal. The 1985 USBA Grand National held in the Tarrant County Civic Center in Fort Worth, Texas, could arguably be recognized as the high point for the sanctioning body. With over 200 motos, an indoor arena dirt track and most of the top riders participating, it demonstrated to Mennenga and the ABA that the USBA was for real. After Keeling's departure however, the later actions of the new USBA management brought in by Hall would lend some credence to Mr. Mennenga's earlier charges.

Charges, Counter Charges, Accusations, Broken Promises, Missteps and Cloak and Dagger[edit]

There was clear evidence of real USBA machinations, however. The USBA did use heavy-handed tactics to lure tracks away from the ABA, including track operator Gary Ellis Sr., father of pro racer Gary Ellis Jr., who ran the ABA affiliated River Valley BMX track in Sumner, Washington State, in an unsuccessful attempt to have him transfer his allegiance to the USBA from the ABA. The USBA chose the inept tactic of denouncing the ABA and warning of its supposed imminent demise without saying how joining the USBA would benefit the track operator and what the USBA could do for BMX as a whole. While many ABA track operators remained almost amazingly loyal to the ABA despite its past problems, over 160 bolted to the USBA, effectively splitting the ABA BMX racing world.[2]

It has been alleged that the USBA was not above corporate espionage. Evidence of at least one electronic telephone listening device was found in the main wiring trunk that held lines leading to the offices of Clayton John, the president of the ABA. Two countersurveillance experts, one an ex-CIA agent, the other an ex-FBI agent, swept Mr. John's office and the telephone lines for bugs. Evidence in the form of strangely stripped wires that a device was in place inside of the trunk lines and later removed by those who installed it before it was discovered (but not the device itself).[3] It has never been proved that agents from the USBA planted them, but it was noted by persons that USBA personnel seemed with unusual alacrity anticipated and countered complaints of seemingly private knowledge of points made in phone conversations, which rose suspicions of bugging in the first place.[4]

Th USBA was not the only suspect in the possible tapping. The ABA had many creditors, some of them with substantial funds at risk that may have been involved. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) was cited as a suspect since they had ongoing legal actions against them. Indeed, it was pressure from them that made the ABA file Chapter 11 even though the new owners were trying to avoid it. IRS agents were on hand observing the 1985 ABA Grand National in Oklahoma. It was very clear that they were under investigation. However, it is believed that the IRS could and did get information in the form of court documents and other public records, particularly after the ABA filed for Chapter 11. The IRS had easy access to the ABA's Bank records. Unless they had a court order, bugging a telephone line would be an illegal and unnecessary risk with little to gain.[5]

In ill-advised move, the new USBA management had business dealings with disgraced promoter Renny Roker. This promoter who gained so much respect with his JAG World Championship series held from 1978–1982 lost all that respect with his ill-fated 1983 ESPN Pro Spectacular Series, culminating in the defaulting of the professional racer's winnings in the last race in Burbank, California, including series champion Greg Hill. His and other pro racer's checks "bounced" when they attempted to redeem them. For that and other infractions had made Renny Roker a pariah in the BMX World.

Thus it was a surprise for USBA who knew of Mr. Roker's soiled reputation to have dealings with him in any fashion. As much as it was ill-advised, they had an agreement with Mr. Roker that he would tape for broadcast on cable TV by the Nickelodeon network the USBA's San Diego National held in early 1986. The USBA promoted heavily in advertising that that event would be broad cast by the cable network. Many of the top BMX bicycle manufactures including Murry, Redline, GT, CW et al. sent their factory teams to that race in the hope of TV exposure for their products. Not only was that San Diego national was a typical low turnout USBA event, Mr. Roker did not appear to tape the nations for the promised TV coverage. The USBA blamed Renny Roker for making false promises to them while many suspected that the USBA used the ruse of promised national television coverage to boost their attendance levels. Whatever the truth it left many manufactures embittered toward the USBA for the rest of its existence.[6]

The ending of that existence was not long in coming.

After a shaky first two years of operations, it met with financial problems during 1986 which was the result of low sign ups for its nationals that plagued it from the beginning. Factors that fed this apathy by racers were poor track construction; delays in running of races; equipment failure, holding their nationals which coincided with those of the ABA and NBL. For instance during the low amateur sign up (the professionals attended in mass) Pro Series No.3 held near Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1986 the electronic starting gate broke and starts had to look back to an earlier era of BMX and manually drop the gate. This was on top of race delays and a poorly constructed, maintained and dusty track.

In early 1986 to obtain more members, the USBA brought the freestyle BMX National Freestyle Association (NFA) sanctioning body in early 1986 from Hutch Hi-Performance BMX, a bicycle company that had created the NFA originally in 1985. Within a couple of months the USBA itself would be bought out.

Ironically, the USBA approached the ABA with an offer of a buyout despite its own financial difficulties. The ABA itself was in financial dire straits and was in Chapter 11 financial reorganization. As it turned out, the USBA turned out to be in worse financial health and it was the ABA who would make a counter offer to buy the USBA. While the ABA was in Chapter 11, it could not buy any part the USBA or merge with it under the law as a company. However, two new stockholders of the ABA corporation at the time, Jamie Vargas and Bernie Anderson brought a 60% controlling shares of USBA stock as individuals from USBA investor Ira Hall. Bernie Anderson and Jamie Vargas had jointly bought controlling shares of stock in the struggling ABA in April 1985 from its founder and president Merl Mennenga and took control of the USBA on April 1, 1986.[7] By all accounts were turning it around financially. They allowed the USBA to run as a separate sanctioning body for the rest of the 1986 racing season.

The two sanctioning bodies formally merged in 1987 after the ABA cleared Chapter 11. It inherited all of the USBA's 136 tracks and membership.

The last USBA sanctioned (but under ABA management) race, the 1986 Grand Nationals was held in Ft. Worth, Texas, on October 26, 1986, at the famed Cowtown track, an ABA affiliated race course. This was a next to last minute change of venue when the previously chosen site proved unsuitable. Approximately 700 racers attended in 116 motos, very well attended by USBA standards. It was by all accounts a well run race on a well received track. The short, inglorious days of United States Bicycle Association ended on an up note.

Vital statistics[edit]

Milestone Event Details
Founded: March 23, 1984[8]
Motto(s)/Slogan(s):
Years of operation: 1984–1986
Original Headquarters: Tempe, Arizona
Last Headquarters: Same
Original Owner(s): Rich Mann, Dave Cook, Geoff Sims, Steve Schaefer and Rod Keeling
Last Owner: Jamie Vargas & Barnard Anderson
Original President: Rodney E. Keeling (1984–1985)
Last President: Clayton John (1986)
Original Vice President:
Last Vice President:
Employees (peak):
First track: The first tracks opened in May 1984. By August 1984 at the time of its first National, there were 46 tracks.[9]
Peak claimed number of tracks: 136.[10]
Number of original members:
Peak claimed number of members:
Racing Season: January to late October or early November.
First sanctioned race:
First National: The Rocky Mountain Nationals in Ogden, Utah, on August 18 & 19, 1984.[9]
Number of nationals per year: 13 (including Grand National) 1986.[11]
First Grand National: Ft. Worth, Texas, on November 18, 1984.
Last Grand National: Cowtown Track, Ft. Worth, Texas, on October 26, 1986.
In house newspaper: None
In house magazine: USBA Racer
Span: National in 26 states plus the Bahamas.[10]

According to the last issue of USBA Racer, which was embedded in the January/February 1987 issue of American BMXer, the last USBA sanctioned races occurred on December 14, 1986, at the Desert Downs track in Texas and the Alameda Raceway track in New Mexico.[12]

Proficiency and division class labels and advancement method[edit]

Milestone Event Details
Amateur proficiency and age levels 20 inch class: Novice:
5 & Under, then 6 to 17 & Over in one year steps.
Advanced, Expert:
6 & Under, then 7 to 17 & Over in one year steps.
Open:
6 & Under, 7–8, 9–10, 11–12, 13–14, 15–16, 17 & Over. Age classifications only.
Division Girls 20 inch: Age classifications only; Amateur only.
6 & Under, 7, then 9–14 & Over in one year steps.
Amateur Cruiser: 12 & Under, then 13 to 16 in one year steps, then 17–21, 22–30, 31 & Over.
Professional Divisions: Limited Pro, Unlimited Pro (both later changed to "B" pro and "A" pro respectively). Men only.
Pro Cruiser. Men only.
Pro Girls. Women only. (The USBA had Pro Girls class written in its rule book for the 1986 season,[13] becoming the second BMX Governing body after the National Bicycle League to establish a female pro division. However, before the first pro Girl race could be held the USBA was folded and was bought by the American Bicycle Association which didn't pursue the use of a Pro Girls division).
Qualifying system: Direct Transfer System generally, but left up to the individual tracks discretion as to use the transfer system or Moto system.

Operations[edit]

Whatever the politics and motivations, since the management were former ABA officials it is not surprising that many ABA practices carried over to the new governing body, like the use of the Direct Transfer System, in which a racer has to win just one moto or heat to transfer to the finals or Mains. In smaller races perhaps two or more racers would transfer. In larger races the rider(s) transfers not to the Main but to the semi-finals, or if necessary the quarter finals, 1/8s and 1/16.

This is different from National Bicycle League (NBL) practice of using the moto or Olympic system, which has all the racers in that class run three times and their individual places average out over a points system. Those who place first through fourth highest in average moto points would then transfer to the Main, or again if necessary to semi-finals, etc.

For the first two seasons of its existence the USBA practiced a nearly unique system of advancement in the amateur ranks called the "Bye". In a Bye, if you won your class at a national level race held a day before the Grand Nationals (called a pre-race) you did not have to race the qualifying motos in the Grand Nationals. You could go directly to the semi finals, or if the class was large, the quarter finals, 8ths, etc. This involved very complicated paperwork integrating the previous days class winners into the semis of the Grand National competitors who worked their way up in the qualifying motos. The Bye was dropped due to this complexity for the 1986 season. This system was tried before by the National Bicycle Association (NBA) in 1974 and it also failed both for its complexity and the perceived unfairness of transferring racers to the semi finals (or quarter finals, etc.) by not earning that position by racing the qualifying motos like everyone else had to during that event.[14]

On the pro level in the ABA, NBL and USBA, the Main is run three times and the winner is determined by the lowest main point average. On the amateur level in all three sanctions the Main is just run once in winner take all fashion.

The USBA like the ABA also had an overall number one amateur male and female and an overall amateur cruiser number one, again different from NBL practice of awarding number ones for separate age groups.

United States Bicycle Association list of National number ones[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle September 1986 Vol.13 No.9 p. 18
  2. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle October 1986 Vol.13 No.10 p. 23
  3. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle October 1986 Vol.13 No.10 p. 26 "Interview with Clayton John" sidebar.
  4. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle October 1986 Vol.13 No.10 "Reflections on the ABA vs. USBA Battle", pp. 26–27 "Interview with Clayton John" sidebar.
  5. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle October 1986 Vol.13 No.10 "Reflections on the ABA vs. USBA Battle", p. 27 "Interview with Clayton John" sidebar.
  6. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle October 1986 Vol.13 No.10 "Reflections on the ABA vs. USBA Battle", pp. 24–25 Bob Hadley letter to Rod Keeling.
  7. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle September 1986 Vol.13 No.9 p. 16
  8. ^ BMX Plus! August 1984 Vol.7 No.8 p. 69
  9. ^ a b BMX Plus! December 1984 Vol.7 No.12 p. 76
  10. ^ a b American BMXer, the USBA section, May 1986 Vol.7 No.4 p. 52
  11. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle July 1986 Vol.13 No.6 p. 65
  12. ^ American BMXer January/February 1987 Vol.9 No.1 p. 79 (USBA race list)
  13. ^ USBA Racer January/February 1986 Vol.3 No.1 pp.63&64
  14. ^ Super BMX & Freestyle February 1986 Vol.13 No.2 p. 63

External links[edit]