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Jun 17, 2014

How AMA Pro Superbike Riders Felt About Racing On Slicks In A Downpour At Road America

Martin Cardenas (36) riding a Superbike on slicks in a downpour at Road America. Photo by Brian J. Nelson.

AMA Pro Superbike Race Two on June 1 at Road America ended prematurely with a red flag on the 13th of 13 scheduled laps. All but one of the racers were riding on slicks in heavy rain for the last two laps of the race, but that wasn’t why the race was stopped.

The race was stopped when Jason Farrell, a resident of Oshkosh, Wisconsin and arguably the most experienced rider in the field at his home track, crashed his Farrell Performance Kawasaki ZX-10R on the kinked straightaway between Turns 11 and 12, bounced off a bare concrete wall and was lying in the racetrack in need of medical attention. But according to Farrell and many other of the Pro Superbike racers in the field, the race should have been stopped by AMA Pro officials before Farrell’s crash regardless of what the rulebook did or did not say.

“I came out of the Bend, did the left and then the right,” Farrell told Roadracingworld.com, recalling his crash. “I had turned my traction control on to ‘Wet,’ all the way up to the highest setting. So coming out of there the traction control indicator bar on my dash was full on and it was not spinning the tire at all. It wasn’t making any power, but it wasn’t spinning the tire. I got up to second, then third and fourth [gear]. I just had one lap left. I wasn’t racing with anybody. There was no one in front of me and no one behind me. I was just trying to finish the race.

“I went through the right kink and something happened. I don’t know what, but it threw me up over the bars and I lost my balance over on the side of the bike. I was hydroplaning, sliding sideways straight at a bare concrete wall on the right, and I made the split-second decision to kick off the bike even though I knew I was still going to hit the wall.

“I was on the ground sliding and I hit the wall with the back of my head and my left shoulder first. Then I bounced off the wall and hit it with my [left] heel and my knee. When I finally stopped I was lying with my whole body in the track except for my head. It was still in the grass, but I couldn’t move so I just laid there and waited for help.

“I didn’t understand what they [AMA Pro Racing] were trying to accomplish by leaving us out there on slicks after it started raining heavy. At that point we weren’t racing anymore. We were just trying to survive. I don’t understand why they left us out there when they knew we were on slicks. I normally go through there at 165 mph, and I was doing 129 mph on my data -- 35 mph slower than normal -- with 4 degrees of lean angle and I crashed. I wasn’t trying to race anybody. I was just trying to finish the final lap. I knew there were puddles down there, and I still crashed.

“I think the thing that bothered me the most was after the race you called me to see how I was doing, a lot of people who were there and who weren’t there called me to see how I was doing, but no one from AMA Pro Racing ever called me to see how I was after that crash. You’d think they would call and say, ‘Hey, how’re you doing? Or, ‘Hey, what happened when you crashed?’ Nope, nothing. That really bothered me.

“I was planning to come race at Barber, but I haven’t been able to get my bike back together and I’m still pretty banged up. My knee is all swollen up still, I broke my heel and I tore up the ligaments and stuff in my shoulder. So I couldn’t ride even if my bike was fixed.”

After finishing third in rain-soaked Race Two, Yoshimura Suzuki's Roger Hayden said, "I’m just glad to finish the race on two wheels. It was pretty sketchy. I don't know who was making the calls there at the end, but they definitely didn't have rider safety first. They want to fly us all over the country and look at tracks and check out track safety but they want to make us run in a downpour on slicks. I’m pretty disappointed about that.”

After finishing second in Race Two, SIC/Motul/Fly Racing team owner/rider David Anthony said, "It’s still a second place, but it’s a bit hard to take when I don’t think any of us feel we should be sitting here right now. We should’ve been back in the pits long before this. I’m going to be vocal about it and say, yeah, bad decision by AMA [Pro Racing]. They really need to step up their game, like Roger said, rider safety.”

After winning Race Two, Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes said, "I feel a lot of the same sentiments that these guys do, but I honestly think I made the wrong decision. When we got to Turn One and it was a full downpour--call it a wet race or not--we were running dry (lap) times and it was pretty obvious we were all on slicks. I don't think it was the right call [to continue the race]. I should have pulled into the pits and handled it that way. While in the moment I wasn’t quite sure what the right thing to do was, so I finished the race.”

Asked if he had been the person making the decisions how he would have handled the race, Hayes said, “It would have ended when the track was soaking wet. It was pretty obvious from the lap times [at the beginning of the restart] that the racetrack was in good condition. So just in caring about the people on the racetrack, caring about your peers, you knew it was a bad scenario. I would have just stopped the race. I understand ‘wet race’ means it runs to the checkered flag or whatever, but when there’s a lap to go or two laps to go you’re not going to come in and put tires on your bike. I’ve got to be honest, I don’t even know if that’s an option for us.”

After placing sixth, Foremost Insurance/Pegram Racing EBR team owner/rider Larry Pegram said. “It was a sketchy deal, a sketchy, sketchy deal. It was sketchy as hell. I think they [AMA Pro Racing] made the right call. They declared it a wet race. I know it wasn’t fun and it was total sketch, but you’re allowed to pull over and go slower.”

After finishing seventh, Yoshimura Suzuki’s Martin Cardenas said, “I was in second position when the big rain came down. I almost stopped because I was completely sure they were going to stop the race. Everybody passed me, and I was still thinking the race was going to stop. Then by the end of that lap I thought maybe they’re not going to stop the race and I’m losing all these positions. I think racing at this track in those conditions was really crazy. I don’t know why they didn’t stop it immediately, because nobody was on wet tires, so I don’t think nobody would mind to stop right there and risk crashing and getting hurt. I don’t know why they kept running it in those conditions because it was not a small rain. It was a big, big rain. I’m a little disappointed by that decision.”

Hayes’ teammate Cameron Beaubier crashed out of a battle for the lead before the first red flag, got his motorcycle repaired during the first stoppage, continued during the restart to salvage some Championship points and then crashed a second time on the wet final lap. Beaubier said, “It was pretty crazy. I was obviously pretty frustrated about it that they kept us out there. They did declare it a wet race and they were trying to follow their own rulebook, [but] everyone else who was watching it thought we were in a pretty dangerous situation. At the end of the day, I feel like in my eyes, they [AMA Pro Racing] should try to keep their riders safe.”

Chris Ulrich, who was fighting for a top-10 position early in Race Two when he crashed out of the race, said, “I was getting my gear off in my truck, and I saw my crew guys come in and get their rain gear on. Then I see Josh [Hayes] go by and all these other guys go by. It’s like, ‘No way!’ I was watching the downpour and I could not believe it. I started thinking I was glad that I crashed and wasn’t out there. I was thinking surely they’re going to red flag this. Then I waited, then Hayes comes by a second time to the white flag. I just couldn’t believe it. I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t believe it.”

Team AMSOIL Hero EBR’s Cory West also crashed out early in Race Two. He said, “I made it back to the pits before the first red flag came out. I was cleaning my leathers because I dumped it in the gravel. Then it started raining. I thought, ‘Man, it’s going to be tough for those guys to get back on slicks.’ You know, just to make the lap back to get to the pits and put rains on.

“It quit raining. They sent them back out for the restart. They declared it a wet race, but it was dry again. Then the big rain came. I was thinking, ‘This is crazy.’ Then I saw the bikes go down the front straightaway. I was like, ‘I can’t believe they’re letting them stay out there with slicks on.’ I heard them come by again, and I just couldn’t believe they were still out there. It didn’t make any sense to me. That track is sketchy enough in the rain with rain tires on, and they’ve [AMA Pro Racing] got to know running slicks is just Russian Roulette. There’s no telling what could happen. They could stick to the rules and say, ‘Well, we declared it a wet race,’ but I think it would be better to err on the side of safety and just make sure everyone gets back safe, puts some rains on and then see a better race instead of guys just trying to tip-toe around and not fall down.”