IMSA: What? Why? Who?

If you’re planning on racing or riding soon at Perris or Elsinore in So. Cal., or at Hardrock in Florida, you’d better plan on bringing an extra ten bucks with you. You’ll need to join the IMSA (International Motorcycle Safety Association), and membership is mandatory.

First, here’s a little simplified background. Talking with some of the race promoters in So. Cal., race day liability insurance is still relatively easy for track operators to get, and usually comes with a couple practice days attached. There’s enough history involved with insuring races that the insurance companies have a fair amount of data to look at, and they understand the risks involved.

But lately, the big problem is with practice days. It’s gotten progressively harder for tracks to obtain practice insurance at any cost, especially in the climate of post-9/11 “risk management” adopted by a lot of insurance companies. That’s a big reason the Marysville track in Northern California was closed earlier this year.

So what is IMSA, and what is its purpose? It’s a new association that’s sort of a middleman between independent tracks and insurance companies. IMSA holds the rights to a liability insurance program that tracks need, so they get to tread some rather touchy territory. They play watchdog on behalf of the insurance companies, by making sure a track meets their obligations in regards to safety. In return, the insurance companies continue to offer coverage for practice days at a cost that track operators can live with. IMSA will also work as a mediator and communications link between track operators and cities when the need arises.

Who is behind IMSA? James Harte is the most visible driving force. He’s a former racer with a son who races, and he has a background in PR and a passion for MX (he helped launch Team ECC).

According to James, the biggest visible benefit of IMSA membership is that tracks that otherwise might no longer be able to offer practice days stay open.

From all indications, it sounds like IMSA’s benefits package is still evolving. It also sounds like once things started rolling during their launch, acceptance from some of the tracks involved happened so fast that they were caught by surprise and appeared a bit unprepared.

For now, annual memberships are $10, but that will jump to $20 on March 5th of next year.

Obviously, one of the most often-asked questions is, where does the money go? James says that it goes to expenses and their employees, including territory reps who will act like motocross mystery shoppers. They’ll anonymously visit tracks just like any other rider, check the overall safety, and make sure the insurance company rules are being met. They’ll then report their findings back to IMSA.

So the bottom line currently looks like this:

  • Every track operator we’ve talked to lately views insurance as one of their biggest problems, and it seems to be getting worse, not better.
  • It also seems like some of the tracks want and need the IMSA program. While it might rub some people the wrong way that they have to join IMSA, the annual cost (especially if you ride with any regularity) is pretty low.
  • We all need places to ride. If it helps keep tracks open, we’re all for it.

Our suggestions? Ride safe. If you ride, make sure you have insurance. And if you’re planning on riding any of the tracks that are sanctioned through IMSA, plan on cracking out the ten spot.