Former 500cc Grand Prix world champion Kevin Schwantz had his name in the news back in September of 2012, but certainly not in a way he’d prefer. Schwantz was forced to file suit against the Circuit of the Americas (the new sprawling racetrack facility built near Austin with the intention of bringing Formula One auto racing to Texas) and its president Steve Sexton, charging that Sexton and COTA “through tortious interference and fraud…encouraged Dorna to breach and purportedly terminate” the contract that Schwantz had to promote the MotoGP race that had been planned for 2013 at the facility.
Normally I avoid reporting upon legal disputes because of their tedious nature. But what really irks me about this situation is how one party refused to do the honorable thing and assist a person whose legendary stature in the sport is only matched by his integrity and tireless efforts at giving back to the sport.
Schwantz’ situation is similar to the one where his friend Tavo Hellmund, the person behind the original vision of the COTA facility and an F1 auto race in Austin, was forced out of the negotiations to promote that race. After the announcement of the COTA and its planned F1 race to much fanfare back in April 2011, COTA’s management forced out Hellmund by not paying the F1 sanctioning fee, forcing the termination of the contract that his promotional company had with F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone. While Hellmund filed suit against COTA, track management then attempted to negotiate its own contract with Ecclestone, but it soon found out how integral Hellmund was to the original deal when it received the new agreement that was vastly different than the friendly deal (Hellmund and Ecclestone are old friends from the latter’s days running the Brabham F1 team) that had been previously signed.
Even more outrageous, however, is that Dorna apparently turned its back on Schwantz "
COTA eventually paid the $25 million F1 sanctioning fee and signed Ecclestone’s contract on the last day of an imposed deadline after attempting to play a game of brinksmanship with the experienced (and very powerful) F1 magnate. And the circuit also eventually settled Hellmund’s lawsuit out of court, reportedly with help from Ecclestone.
Schwantz unfortunately had no such friends in high places with regards to MotoGP. According to the Schwantz’s lawsuit, some preliminary talks between Sexton and Schwantz began “on numerous occasions”, with Sexton eliciting information from Schwantz on various promotional subjects such as the annual cost of promoting the event, alcoholic beverage sales, and quality control. But attempts by Schwantz to get a contract signed — which the suit contends were “circuit friendly” and “one of the cheapest MotoGP contracts in the world” — were continually stonewalled. The suit then contends that COTA encouraged Dorna to “breach and purportedly terminate its agreements and relationship” with Schwantz’s company in order to negotiate its own less expensive contract by making “outrageous and false claims to Dorna about the amounts of offers that it supposedly extended for promotion rights to MotoGP”, of which the suit claims, “COTA never made any such offers to Schwantz.”
Even more outrageous, however, is that Dorna apparently turned its back on Schwantz. Schwantz says in his lawsuit that he asked the MotoGP rightsholders several times for help in getting COTA to sign a contract, but Dorna’s only public response was to issue a statement asserting that his contract with them was nullified because he was unable to show proof that he had a contract with COTA to hold the MotoGP race. Dorna then confirmed that it had been negotiating directly with COTA, with both parties eventually announcing in early October that the circuit had been added to 2013 calendar. Dorna was basically shunning a rider who was used as a promotional tool when the original contract with him was announced in April 2011. A rider who was considered legendary enough to be the first to have his competition number retired.
People will say that “this is business”, that you must have all your legal bases covered in a situation like this, and that honor means nothing when it comes to cubic dollars. I don’t disagree there. What I do disagree with is how an organization that claimed to have “a great relationship” with Schwantz over the years — and readily took advantage of his legendary stature with the fans in addition to his promotional efforts — could so quickly ignore him in its haste to add another American race to its calendar. Shameful is too light a description in my book.