Flattrack.com Interviews Saddlemen President (and Race Fan) Tom Seymour

Dirt Track Today
Written by Jim Grant
This interview originally appeared on Dirt Track Today on Tuesday, December 26, 2006.

Flattrack.com’s Jim Grant saddles up to seat maker Saddlemens President Tom Seymour

Hi Tom it was a pleasure to see you this past weekend at the Springfield Mile, it was definitely a tough weekend with the Saturday TT with the turn one fiasco then Sundays last lap main event crash that landed veteran pro racer Terry Poovey in the hospital in critical condition, outside of everything that happened this past weekend how has Tom been?

Well, every Spring we are quite busy, but this year it seams that even more people are aware of Saddlemen and sales of our seats and saddlebags have been keeping us pretty busy. I have to thank some of that success to the many fans of flattrack, they are some of the nicest and most loyal fans of any sport. But since you mentioned Terry, I have to say that injuries to our heroes, and every competitor, make me very sad. I guess that some of the excitement we derive from racing comes from the knowledge that even small mistakes can demand the ultimate penalty. However, I wish that our racing was less brutal and forgiving. While danger is inherent in racing, it absolutely makes me mad when spectators come to races to see accidents – those guys should stay home, even though they are paying customers. Terry is an icon in our sport, a legend deserving of our admiration, respect and support. I know that our racing community will keep him and his family in their prayers, as I will.

FT.Com: Lets get everyone up to speed on just how involved you are in the sport of flattrack racing. If anyone has ever been to the Saddlemen plant you will see “The Hallway of Flattrack Stars” it’s a hallway just to the right of Toms office. Tell us a little about that wall Tom, when did you begin it and why? Etc.

TS: The wall now has more than a hundred pictures. We have helped talented stars, up and comers, over-achievers, under-achievers and also-rans, but they all belong to that special class of people known as flattrack racers. Some notables that have sat on our seats “in anger” include the Haydens, Bostroms, Hale, Carr, Springer, King and the rest of the new HD “wrecking crew” and most of the field at this year’s Springfield.

I participate in flattrack because I am the sport’s #1 fan and have been since I saw my first race about 1963 in Middletown, New York; near where I grew up.

While I raced TT scrambles a bit as an amateur and rode lot’s of enduros – including a few nationals -in the 60’s and 70’s, I really thought that flattrack was the top form of racing. So now that my active racing days are behind me I keep involved by helping racers, especially up and coming guys and gals. In return I ask them to say thanks by sending me a signed picture to hang on the wall.

The other reason that I help is that since I make a living in the motorcycle industry, I feel that I have an obligation to put something back in to help make that industry better. Since I love racing, I choose to be at least a small part in helping that part of the industry. Like Parts Unlimited, a great customer, says, “Support the Sport!”

FT.com: It is true you have so many vintage collectable cars you have an airplane hanger to house them all in?

TS: I am a gear head and an engineer at heart. I have to keep my hand in the nuts and bolts of something and since bikes and racing dominate so much of my time, I take a break by working with my muscle cars. Cars and bikes, almost the same but different enough that I can really relax and take a break from what I do 80 hours a week.
Actually my collection is not that big, I have three cars that are “finished” and three more under construction (by the way, they are all fast!)

FT.com: What where some of your most memorable years in Flattrack, and why is that?

TS: I can’t say that any particular year stands out from the others; but certainly certain events stand out as notable; the first national win with one of the riders I helped (Will Davis at Sedalia), the first national wins of Saddlemen riders Mike Hacker and Jared Mees, my first victory lap at a national (JR Schnabel at Springfield), winning the 883 title and being the first sponsor of an up and coming rider and listening to his excitement. There are scores of highs, all of them special. I also remember hoping to get into the Daytona short track because it was sold out every year and I often forgot to order tickets ahead!

But again with Terry Poovey’s recent injuries in mind, I also recall the desperate lows of fallen and injured riders. We must always remember our responsibility to encourage riders to be safe and not to push them beyond their comfort zones. The thrill of racing is only understood by those lucky enough to be part of the racing community. To those outside, they just can’t understand how these young men and women make super human efforts and sacrifices to excel at their chosen sport.

FT.com: Tell us about what you like doing when you’re at home relaxing after a hard day at the office, any hobbies outside of collecting cars and restoring them?

TS: Those few hours outside of work I spend at the gym, riding my mountain bike, or trail or street riding on one of my motorcycles. If I can get more time off I like to go fishing. Reading is also a great way to relax and to learn or be entertained, I often fall asleep with a good book, which is the second best way to fall asleep!

FT.com: Who in your opinion feel like they do the best job in staying in contact with you and giving you after race updates, I think that is a huge factor when obtaining and keeping a sponsor, I know a phone call or a email can go a long way.

TS: I work with racers that appreciate help rather than those few that expect help. A phone call or email goes a long way to making a sponsor feel that he is part of the team and appreciated. Frankly, the marketing demographics of the current race market are relatively small compared to the cost of sponsorship. That is; many companies find it hard to justify the cost of participation in flattrack racing. Therefore many sponsors participate because although they may be successful business owners, they are also fans; racers need to remember that these guys want to be involved. Jared Mees and Babe DeMay have been excellent in this regard.

Before I am condemned for blasphemy, many companies can justify sponsorship based upon return from exposure and goodwill with the racers and fans, but many companies that are involved do not. Many sponsoring companies just want to be involved and riders that realize this will be rewarded with longer term relationships.

FT.com: In the very near future what do you think needs to be done for our sport to thrive and be more prosperous and attractive to fans and potential sponsors, don’t hold back on this one lol.

TS: For flattracking to grow and prosper it needs to be promoted. Promotion means money and a change in the way things are currently being handled. We can talk about rules and such, and they are critical, but the races have to be presented to the public in a more orderly and professional manner. They have to be interesting and easily available. Along with some easy format changes, this means money, lots of money, and not the kind of money that many of the current sponsors have to spend on their own, in unison perhaps, but not singlely.

There are few ways this can come about and in my view either the AMA or one of the OEM manufacturers has to step up and be the catalyst. An owners group, or outside promoter could do it, but in my opinion they need the help of the AMA and OEM’s. Right now HD wants flattrack to grow and I believe that they are willing to invest in a program that will mesh with their marketing goals. This is a good thing, not something to be avoided. I also believe that the other OEM’s would be willing to invest if they were presented with a plan that would promote their goals. What I think is that HD might be willing to be a catalyst to make this happen, but I don’t see the other OEM’s ready to take a leadership position right now.

The AMA must be willing to let a promoter take do their job. I think the AMA should be a sanctioning body, but they should not be, or limit, the promoter. The AMA needs to be willing to grow the sport by letting the promoter make money. As I understand things now, the AMA “bite” is such that promoters are lucky to survive.

The IMDA obviously knows how to promote, but the reason for their existence is really the Illinois dealer, not flattracking in general. We have to be thankful for the wonderful work of the IMDA, because they have almost single-handedly preserved our sport.

For a promoter or promoters to be successful, I believe that coordinated national promotion is necessary. This might dictate a single promoter, or at best a few large promoters working closely together, but I don’t believe the AMA sees this as the path. Before I am depicted as an AMA basher, I want all to know that I am an AMA life member and support the AMA, I just think that with flattrack they have not served the sport’s best interests.

Obviously, for OEM’s to be interested, they need bikes in the racing program. I believe that big bikes are more interesting for the current flattrack fan, but that 450’s can also be very exciting. We can not please current fans at the expense of growth of the sport. However, we do need to keep the current fans, and the largest flattrack supporter – HD, as part of the program.

FT.com: How many Springfield Mile races have you missed in the past 5 years? I know of one because of a High School reunion.

TS: I think I have made all but one of the Springfield races during the past six or seven years.

FT.com: What’s in the future for Saddlemen Seats? How the business doing?

TS: Saddlemen continues to grow. I am lucky to both be in an industry that I love and one that has been blessed with constant growth for more the past decade. That is why I am so happy to put something back into the industry through flattrack, an area about which I am passionate.

By the way, Saddlemen is a lot more than seats; we also are one of the industry’s largest supplier of saddlebags and other motorcycle luggage. Plus, we sell to several OEM manufacturers for their accessory divisions – lot’s of our bags and seats have someone else’s name on them.

FT.com: Will Chris Carr and Kenny Tolbert win the Championship again in 2006? If not who do you think will?

TS: This year’s championship will be won, like in years past, by a combination of raw talent, determination, experience, preparation and luck. Without a doubt Chris’ team has a lot of that going, but the variable of luck can not be predicted other than to say that those that are prepared seem to have the best luck. The safest bet right now is Chris and Kenny, but with HD support Coolbeth is going to be tough, Kopp is always strong and I expect that Jared Mees with Johnny Goad and Saddlemen will make a strong showing. I believe that Jared is on his way to be one of the sport’s stars. Don’t count Schnabel out either; did you see his spectacular first lap save avoiding Jake and Wiles and his late race pass of Kopp at the Springfield TT?

FT.com: Is there anything you would like to conclude in this interview before we wind it down? Got anything on your mind you would like to have fans, racers, owners know about?

TS: I mention that the sport needs a catalyst to make it leap forward, but remember each and every fan can help in some small way. Attending a race with a friend that has never seen a race helps the sport; giving a young rider across town some help gives him tremendous encouragement to go ahead; and of course letting companies know that you recognize their support by using their products and thanking them for their support will keep them coming back.

Also, to all of you aspiring racers looking for sponsorship, remember to ask other enthusiasts for help and reward them by making them feel part of the program. Many are ex racers and the chance to be involved again gives them motivation to help financially. It isn’t just big companies with big ad budgets that will help, (big companies are probably looking for a star, not the next star) it is the ex-racer or enthusiast that said hello to you at the last race.

FT.com: Thanks Tom, and I personally want to thank you for being a long time sponsor of mine and always being there. Thank you very much!