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Oct 2, 2001

Opinion: Now On Other Side Of Fence, Mathers Advocates Same Type Of Safety Delay That Led To Duhamel Being Maimed In 1998

Copyright 2001, Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>By John Ulrich<BR><BR>The flashback came after I got back from the AMA Superbike National at Virginia International Raceway.<BR><BR>It was at VIR that AMA Pro Racing Operations Manager Gary Mathers told me that placement of additional sections of Air Fence in front of a bare steel barrier that Jamie Hacking hit during the Saturday-morning 600cc Supersport practice couldn't happen before the lunch break, that the schedule couldn't be interrupted, that practice would not be stopped. Hacking's crash was a fluke, Mathers told me, nobody else had ever hit the barrier there, and nobody else would, because no two guys ever crash in the same place.<BR><BR>(In a conversation held a short time earlier, I had advocated immediately stopping practice and deploying some of the additional 12 sections of Air Fence AMA officials had held in reserve at VIR. Less than 30 minutes after Hacking's crash, the excellent AMA crew had placed two sections of Air Fence in front of the steel barrier while practice continued. It was when I again approached Mathers, this time to thank him for the quick response, that Mathers--apparently not knowing the problem had been already handled by his staff--angerly told me that nothing could, would or should happen before lunch.)<BR><BR>Which brings me to the flashback.<BR><BR>It is 1998, and Gary Mathers is the manager of Team Honda.<BR><BR>Harley-Davidson's Tom Wilson hits a bare concrete wall at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire, and suffers unspeakable, career-ending injuries.<BR><BR>The word was that no-one had ever hit that wall in that place before, during the Speedway's 7 or 8-year history.<BR><BR>The bolted-together rows of soft Indy-car tires used to cushion the walls in known impact areas at Loudon were all full of rain water from a recent downpour, and if tires were moved into place in front of the wall where Wilson hit, water would run across the track and further delay practice and Superbike qualifying.<BR><BR>Wilson's crash was a fluke, and nobody else would hit the wall there, because no two guys ever crash in the same place.<BR><BR>To avoid further delaying the schedule, the decision was made to place tire stacks in front of the wall where Wilson hit later, at the end of the day, after all on-track activities were finished.<BR><BR>And during Superbike qualifying later that same afternoon, Team Honda's Miguel Duhamel crashed, slid hard into the same wall that Wilson had hit, and suffered terrible injuries that put him out of racing for about 9 months.<BR><BR>Miguel Duhamel, riding for the team that Gary Mathers managed at the time, hit bare wall at Loudon that day because the schedule couldn't be interrupted, and because practice would not be stopped.<BR><BR>And now, four years later, at VIR, that history lesson was forgotten, lost upon new-AMA-official Mathers, who was determined to keep to the schedule, no matter what, with blind faith that no one else would hit the same barrier in the same place that Hacking did.<BR><BR>We lucked out at VIR.<BR><BR>We may not luck out next time.<BR><BR>Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.<BR><BR>And the safety of riders must take priority over the schedule, every time, every place, every year.<BR>