Interview of the Month: The Race Maker – A chat with Eric Peronnard
We chatted with one of the most influential motorsport organizers still active on the scene today for some insight as to what make a great event.
There cannot be too many people in the motorcycling industry with more air miles than Eric Peronnard. The 55 year old US-residing Frenchman and father of two has been in the business of global sales and promotion for over thirty years and has been instrumental in the creation of some of the most memorable races and events in recent memory, and on a range of continents. Peronnard is always on the move and has an active role that involves a lot of ‘face time’ with different people and groups to make sure spectacles like the U.S. Open, Red Bull Straight Rhythm, Extreme Enduro, SuperEnduro, X Games, Supercross Paris Bercy and others run smoothly.
Tanned, healthy and impossibly gregarious, Peronnard is a charming and focussed individual who clearly expels a lot of energy and dedicates a lot of time towards chasing his passions. You can imagine there is always some sort of deal or project in the pipeline. He seems to have an envious job … so we asked for fifteen minutes of his time at a recent MXGP to talk about it.
You were over in the States recently at another Extreme Enduro event. It is a discipline you have instigated and raised to a major international level so how do you feel about it now?
“Extreme Enduro is really tough right now in the level of riders we have. Based on what I have seen in the last couple of weeks with my own two eyes you have five guys who can do everything. After that, the drop in level is unbelievable. I think with the likes of Jonny [Walker], Taddy [Blazusiak] and Cody Webb then you can point at a sheer wall and they will get over it. The next five guys can probably make it and then the rest cannot. It is a similar problem to Trial where there are five-six riders who can clear a section. So we have to be careful about it and make sure that we create events that are hard … but not stupid-hard. I think Extreme Enduro is a good spectator sport if you do it right and is very spectacular.”
What is the most important ingredient to get right when creating an event?
“It is about being genuine. It has to be the right event, at the right time and in the right place. That combination sometimes seems to be forgotten. People think that you can make events happen everywhere – ‘build it and they will come’ – but the timing has to be right. Arguably my biggest success was the U.S. Open and I get frequent phonecalls asking: ‘let’s redo the U.S. Open!’ but you cannot. It was a good fit for the right time.”
But finding that combination and chemistry must be very difficult …
“It is! And it tears you apart because you’ll have a good idea but then there are many parameters that you have to balance. I am working in a couple of big projects right now and I think I have found the window of opportunity for what is missing and I am trying to fill that hole but it is very difficult.”
I imagine in offroad it must be almost impossible to stage an extra event. With the AMA MX and SX and FIM MXGP calendars so full. Something like the Red Bull Straight Rhythm must be hard to tag on the end of a long season …
“Riders are getting more solicited and the schedule is crazy, especially in the U.S. Even a company like Red Bull that want to do the Straight Rhythm … it is not easy to line-up thirty top guys. And it is not easy for Monster. A complete overhaul of the motorcycle industry and the way it goes racing needs to be considered. At the least it is not as fine-tuned as it should be.”
If you think about the elements of an event – the right venue, organizer, crew on the ground, financial backing – just how important is the idea among that? The Straight Rhythm for example …
“The idea is ‘key’ and I had some ideas similar to Straight Rhythm years previously for ESPN. We got talking with Red Bull and they wanted me to do something with them so we took out the Straight Rhythm as the first suggestion and it turned out good … but there were a lot of people that put their heads together. It was a collective brain-storming effort to make it happen and I give them all the credit. It is a promotional race. It doesn’t count towards a championship. It is like the U.S. Open, something that was self-sustained and everywhere you looked it made sense, from the money given to the riders to the costs of production: everybody was happy. We had the biggest purse and the one used for the Monster Cup now is still the same I had in 1997; short of the big one million bonus for the winner of the three heats. I look at the payout now and I can see myself typing that same list on my old Mac! There has not been much evolution at that level. My previous main line of business was adventure travel and I was one of the first to set up this scene in the 80s, together with Yamaha. We did a very good job for seventeen years and took several thousand people through the Australian and African deserts and you learn a lot doing things like that. It is like event production with a little bit less planning. You have things happening to you on a daily basis that you did not forecast and you learn from it.”
Somehow you become an expert problem-solver …
“Exactly. That’s what I think I am. I feel now at my age I am like an ‘insurance tool’ for a big company and when I was doing work for Philip Morris, who was one of my biggest clients and I was doing the tours with Marlboro and Chesterfield, the MD used to say to me I was his insurance and if I was on the ground then he didn’t need to worry about anything. I was like ‘wow’ and didn’t perceive it like that. I was young and I never forgot that. You need a set of eyes with the ability to catch a possible disaster and because of all the training, experience and work I have done I feel privileged to have this.”
What’s it like to work with Red Bull?
“Red Bull is very structured and in the last few years they have become so important and have been really good to me and in the way they value my opinion. Red Bull tend to choose you, you don’t choose them. So I’m very grateful because I did not knock on the door. I think they know what they want and they know I am one of the people that can deliver.”
Do you need to be a patient man? I can imagine you wake up one morning with a great idea for a motorsport event but it might be three years until it happens …
There must be so many meetings, calls and endless arrangements …
“Sometimes you have to bite your tongue. I will launch something in a few months that has been a decade in the making. It has been about finding the right venue, timing and all the other things that need to come together. It might sound a bit stupid and when you see it then you might think ‘well, that looks easy’ but there are so many moving parts that you have to make sure go well together.”
What about the main powers in motorcycling? From governing bodies, to manufacturers, sponsors, apparel, technical suppliers I guess you need a skill-set to be able to deal with all these groups …
“I like 99% of the people I am dealing with and everybody has their fortes or weaknesses just like me and you just have to adapt. For example the people at ESPN are more ‘sport’ than motorsport orientated, so I have to adjust and think like they do in terms of regular fixtures and being TV-friendly. Red Bull on the other hand is very focussed and switched-on with what they want and what they can do with me. I’ve had the chance to work with Fox as a Motocross advisor as well and give advice to people that don’t have the specialised knowledge. I like variety, and everyday I can move in many different directions. Some people are good at being very focussed, like a sniper, whereas I’m good at having a broad vision and bring things into play when I have to.”
How about dealing with KTM?
“I was a successful KTM dealer in Daytona Beach for seven years. I sold the dealership but I had a lot of fun engaging with the KTM people. The company has changed the offroad world and you can only admire what they have done. I am not ‘stroking’ anybody here but what they have done for the sport is very cool.”
So what are your top three achievements?
“It is hard to do a number one! Hmmm, the U.S. Open was a big turning point for American Supercross and Motocross because I brought the showmanship from Europe – that was the first time there were lasers and lights and all that stuff that is a ‘given’ now. I think my biggest satisfaction is always in doing something that is not ‘stupid’. We created EnduroCross twelve years ago and it has been going on seriously for ten years, we have exposed riders like Blazusiak to the mainstream and showcased the talent of these athletes, who I think are some of the most talented motorcyclists in the world in terms of knowledge. They can do things nobody else can do. You can put Taddy Blazusiak on a Supercross track and he will look pretty decent but you cannot really put James Stewart at the Erzberg or the Romaniacs. Exposing the talent of the offroaders, raising the level of Supercross and always trying to put on a good race: I think you cannot go wrong with those three.”
More information on the Red Bull Straight Rhythm event that will be staged on October 10 in Pomona, California can be found here.
Photos: Ray Archer | Red Bull Content Pool