Jun 18, 2001
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Copyright 2001 Roadracing World Publishing, Inc.<BR><BR>Grant Lopez's efforts to mediate between riders and AMA Pro Racing Director of Competition Merrill Vanderslice prior to the start of Sunday's 600cc Supersport race at New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire drew an angry response.<BR><BR>When a reporter asked Vanderslice what happened, Vanderslice said "Sometimes the tail wags the dog, but not this time."<BR><BR>Vanderslice and AMA 600cc Supersport regulars were at odds over the procedure prior to the start of the rain-delayed race, after jet-blowers had been used to dry the track. Riders wanted a five-lap warm-up practice to assess available traction and track conditions, and Vanderslice wanted an immediate start to the race. The two sides came to an impass and the race was started with 12 riders on the grid, all but two being locals.<BR><BR>When Lopez tried to convince Vanderslice to give the riders the five-lap warm-up, explaining that he thought the riders he had talked to would then grid up, Vanderslice angerly replied, "They don't run the AMA, we do."<BR><BR>Lopez wanted to run the race, but also told Vanderslice that while he wanted to convince the riders to race, he was not willing to just grid up alone among National riders and then "become the bad guy."<BR><BR>"No," Vanderslice told Lopez. "The race is now." Vanderslice added, referring to the riders, "It's us against them."<BR><BR>Vanderslice then ordered Lopez and other riders who had gathered around him to leave, saying "It's done. Leave!"<BR><BR>Lopez could only watch as the field of 12 left without him.<BR><BR>A slight drizzle was falling as the race was flagged off, and continued until two riders crashed in short order and another ran off the track due to increasing slickness, and the race was red-flagged.<BR><BR>National riders were irate at their treatment because AMA Superbike Operations Manager Ron Barrick had said all weekend that the races would not be held if it was raining. But suddenly riders were asked to take to a mostly-dry track with the slight drizzle falling. Yet most were willing to do so if they had several laps to check conditions, because, as Lopez explained, "You can't tell anything on one warm-up lap" as far as available traction.<BR><BR>Asked if riders would have raced if given five laps to check conditions, Jake Zemke said "Yeah."<BR><BR>Zemke's Erion Racing teammate, Mark Miller, said to a reporter, "I wish you had been up there for the whole thing (the discussion with Vanderslice). It was unbelievable."<BR><BR>Attack Suzuki's Tom Kipp also wanted to race, but returned to the pits after taking the warm-up lap, with rain drops on his visor, and did not take to the grid.<BR><BR>The general feeling among AMA National riders is that they do not want to race in the rain at Loudon due to the proximity of walls to the racing surface. Loudon regulars argue that the turns lined with nearby walls are slow-speed corners and point to the track's lack of wall-impact-related injuries under all conditions in the last two years.<BR><BR>The incident fed a growing feeling among many AMA National riders and teams that the series should not return to Loudon at all, as well as adding to discontent with Vanderslice‘s reign as Pro Racing Director of Competition and his progressively declining willingness to enter into any type of dialog with riders and team members.<BR><BR>Update: On Monday morning Vanderslice approached Lopez in the paddock area at Loudon and apologized for the exchange. But, Lopez said, "He didn't seem real sure of what he had said, like he couldn't remember or something. It seemed like he was almost asking me what he had said to me."<BR><BR>Of course, apology or not, the damage had been done late Sunday afternoon when the pro riders were left standing in the pits as a 12-bike field started the race.