Monday, August 16, 2010

8/14/10: The End of Off-Road Racing as We Know It...

Part 1

Tragic--Yes, Surprised--No...

I just always thought would happen in Mexico at one of the Baja events before it happened in the US.

Given the much larger numbers of spectators, higher alcohol consumption, and more "anything goes" atmosphere there I though for sure that a major accident would occur there before the dice fell the wrong way here. Take a look at some of the videos on the Internet and you'll see that this has been an event easily foreseeable and actually talked about for some time. Everyone knew this day was coming...

I won't play Monday morning quarterback and say that the promoter should have done this or that or that the spectators should have known better than to stand (from what reports I have read) on the outside corner of a downhill turn off a jump. I've been there. I've done that. I've been close enough to these vehicles at high speed that I could reach out and touch them as they went by. You know the risks and put them out of your mind, telling yourself that you can see the danger coming early enough to get out of the way. I've told myself those lies and likely will continue to do so in the future.

If there is a future for a sport like this.

Did LeMans cease to exist in 1955 when Pierre Levegh's Mercedes left the road, killing himself and 83 spectators?

Was the Indy Racing League shut down after the 1999 accident at Lowe's Motorspeedway where a flying tire from a crash killed three spectators and injured eight more?

Was CART banned from operating after the 1998 accident at Michigan International Speedway in which three spectators were killed (another flying tire)?

How about the Dakar? Three spectators were killed in '88 and five in '98, two in '06 and one in '10--yet the event still goes on.

I haven't even delved into other forms of racing such as drag racing (at least two spectator deaths I can think of this summer at drag events in the US) or boat racing or airshows, etc.

Mind you, I'm not saying that any of these deaths should be trivialized or ignored, I wish that none of them had ever happened...

I just want to raise the issue here to point out what is sure to be a vast difference in ultimate reactions to this accident. Offroad racing here in the US stands on the precipice of extinction.

Long relegated to an overlooked subset of American motorsports, offroad racing (under the auspices of various promoters/organizations such as SCORE, BITD, MDR, SNORE, etc.) has been under tremendous pressure in recent years from environmental, governmental and business interests as the sport is immensely land intensive, requiring scores, if not hundreds of miles of open dirt roads/paths. For this reason, the sport has been the near singular purview of the American West and Mexico, particularly within the boundaries of the Bureau of Land Management regulated areas in the US.

Forced to jump through ever tighter regulatory hoops in order to protect species such as the desert tortoise or change locations to prevent dust from collecting on solar panels the sport nonetheless attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators every year to areas like Primm, NV, Reno, Las Vegas and Plaster City, CA. Despite the numerous attendees, promoters/organizers are not getting rich on the sport as the events take place away from stands and controllable facilities where one could charge a fee for spectating and have only ever increasing entry fees to fall back upon to make up for the cost of all the fees, permits, staffing, examinations, committees, etc. that are only some of the massive cash outflows needed for putting on events like these...

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