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Sep 29, 2001

Opinion: AMA's Telling Response To A Father's Request For More Air Fence Deployment

By John Ulrich<BR><BR>Jamie Hacking hit bare steel barrier in the first 600cc Supersport practice at VIR Saturday morning, outside the entrance to turn three. When eyewitness David Swarts drew me a diagram on a track map showing where Hacking hit, I took the map and went looking for AMA's Ron Barrick at tech, where I was told that he was in a meeting and couldn't be disturbed.<BR><BR>On pit lane I gave the map and drawing of the impact to the first AMA official I saw, who passed it off to another, who took it into the meeting involving Barrick and AMA Pro Racing Road Racing Operations Manager Gary Mathers.<BR><BR>A few moments later, I saw Mathers walking out of the AMA mobile command center. In the meantime, 600cc Supersport practice ended and 250s were immediately sent out onto the track.<BR><BR>"Gary," I said, "Hacking hit bare Armco. Now that we've indentified a possible impact zone, shouldn't we put out more Air Fence?"<BR><BR>Mathers told me they were looking into it.<BR><BR>"They just sent out another practice," I said. "Why not stop practice and deploy more Air Fence? My kid is in the next practice. What if somebody else hits in the same place?"<BR><BR>Mathers said he'd look into it.<BR><BR>Back on pit lane, I learned that more Air Fence was being deployed even as the 750cc Supersport bikes went on track; although practice was continuing on schedule, one additional Air Fence section had already been inflated and another was being inflated as bikes headed out onto the track. Before the 14-minute session was over, two new sections had been deployed.<BR><BR>So, when I saw Mathers again shortly after the session, I said "Gary, I appreciate the quick response."<BR><BR>His reply was stunning.<BR><BR>"We're not going to deploy it until noon," he said.<BR><BR>"You're kidding, right?" I asked.<BR><BR>Mathers then went off on a tirade, albeit in a calm, controlled voice. His major points were:<BR>--AMA had been at VIR for two days with no riders hitting the barrier where Hacking hit it.<BR>--No riders had specifically requested Air Fence or haybale coverage at the impacted area.<BR>--AMA officials did the best they could in deciding where to place haybales and Air Fence, and 12 sections of Air Fence were held in reserve.<BR>--The practice schedule could not be delayed or stopped to deploy any Air Fence, and additional sections would not be deployed in the area until noon.<BR><BR>And the kicker:<BR><BR>"We can't stop practice for an hour to place nine or 10 additional sections of Air Fence in that area. You're gonna roast us anyway, so go ahead and roast us. If it's too dangerous for your son, don't run your son. You even roasted us for not running at Willow, and that's patriotic. So go ahead and roast us."<BR><BR>I was hearing a familiar AMA Pro Racing refrain: If you don't like it, get out of here.<BR><BR>I had heard it from AMA Pro Racing CEO Scott Hollingsworth about a year ago: If you don't like the job we're doing, don't run our series. He has said the same thing about AMA Superbike Champion Mat Mladin--if he doesn't like the job AMA is doing, or has a problem being fined for expressing his opinion, he should race somewhere else.<BR><BR>And now, if I want Air Fence that I helped pay for deployed in a newly-identified impact area, and if I want it done before my son takes to the racetrack, then I shouldn't make a suggestion, but instead I shouldn't run my son.<BR><BR>In other words, if you don't like your son running with bare steel barrier that has aready been hit by another rider, go home.<BR><BR>It is a sentiment that illustrates everything that is wrong with AMA Pro Racing and the people who run it. It goes perfectly with AMA Pro Racing Director of Competition Merrill Vanderslice's response to Grant Lopez, when Lopez was trying to broker 5 laps of practice prior to the 600cc Supersport race at Loudon, after the track had been dried, to get the riders to take to the grid: "They (the riders) don't run the AMA, we do."<BR><BR>It goes perfectly with the AMA Pro Racing dictate that a pace car will be used at VIR, with riders and teams given no opportunity for input or comment.<BR><BR>I will remember that single comment made by Mathers in rejecting a perfectly reasonable request for the greater good--"If it's too dangerous for your son, don't run your son."<BR><BR>It explains so much of what is dreadfully wrong with AMA Pro Racing, and the AMA.<BR><BR><BR>Post script: Fortunately, Mathers didn't know what he was talking about, and the two sections of additional Air Fence were deployed in short order.<BR><BR>And for the record, I didn't "roast" AMA for postponing the race at Willow the weekend after the WTC disaster, as anybody who has actually read the posts on can see. As for why AMA Pro Racing refused to reschedule the race either one week before VIR or one week after, and instead insisted on trying to reschedule on top of the Formula USA finale at Daytona, leading to the AMA event's cancellation, that's another question for Mathers & Company, likely to produce another bizarre answer...<BR><BR>I don't know the true answer to that question, but I hope to be able to access that information around February, 2002, at the AMA Board of Trustees meeting. Stay tuned...