Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Mid-Ohio Debacle

First off, congratulation to Ben Spies, the factory Suzuki superbike rider who won the AMA Superbike championship here in the US on Sunday. He beat team-mate and 6-time champion Mat Mladin fair and square and Mladin knew it. Spies was rather overwhelmed by the occasion but Mat was, for once, gracious about it.

On a more sour note, the events leading up to the afternoon's headline race were pretty poor, and there's a lot of people I'd like to point the finger of blame at.

From what I can understand (I've avoided bike media for the last few days until I've watched the WSBK races), a large amount of rain had led to reduced practice time for all classes, and as a result the factory superbike guys refused to ride in the special qualifying heat races.

If I was to go to a trackday, and it was pouring with rain, I wouldn't ride. My bike is too valuable to me, and I would have little to gain. However, if I was to come to work and there was a huge network failure (which I'd be responsible for fixing) I would get to work, even though it would be time-consuming, frustrating work. Which of these two situations more closely resembles that which the AMA riders encountered on Sunday? I'd say the second one. These guys are paid handsomely to go out there and race. It's their job, and they know it's not the safest one out there. You don't see utility company workers packing up and going home when the lines are down in a storm - they're out there hanging off utility poles trying to get the power back on, a dangerous task, but part of their job. So, for all you professional AMA superbike riders who read this (you know who you are): DO YOUR DAMN JOB, and stop being a moaning fool. Go watch Leon Haslam's win in torrential rain at Croft in British Superbike earlier this year and watch how he struggled to get on his Ducati because his giant brass BALLS were in the way.

Where are you going, AMA? Come back here, I'm not finished with you yet... What the hell is going on with a rule that permits "provisional" entry into the main event? That kind of rule allows behavior like the riders exhibited on Sunday to happen. Here's the deal: you don't qualify, you don't race. And if the big-money, crowd-pleasing factory teams don't field any bikes, they get fined. That's how it should be. If that's too harsh, then any rider whose entry is accepted but who doesn't get a qualifying time starts at the back. If multiple riders start at the back, their position is determined by championship points. If points are even, it goes to best result this season. If that's even, then pull names out of a hat.

These guys are paid very well for two reasons: one, to win for their team; two, to put on a show for the fans. If they refuse to do either, they've failed. If they wanted a safe job they're more than welcome to sign up with my old temp agency and answer phones at a downtown law firm.


Eddie Kraft said...

As a racer who participated at Mid-Ohio that weekend, I've got a couple points to add. I agree with your views for the most part, however there's some differences to take into account.

One, "doing your job" is the reason they boycotted running Mid-O in the rain to begin with. It's simply not safe; both for lack of run-off, and more so, for the new patches added since the course was repaved (sealer strips, but they have a different technical name) that are present at almost every corner. There isn't the same amount of traction in the wet - it's sketchy at best; worse than most other tracks in the wet. This isn't like your tracks in Europe that have run off as far as the eye can see. Leo may have very well not raced at Mid-Ohio in the rain either.

If you're a professional, yes your job is to put on a show. However the riders who boycotted riding are the same ones who don't want to become seriously injured and not be able to race again because of safety concerns(remember what happened to Vincent Haskovec).

Second, the provisional rule was part of the reason the show was still able to go on. The biggest issue was the tug of war between the riders, the AMA and the promoters. Without the provisional, the riders wouldn't have been able to ride in the race, when it was then dry. If that had happened, there would have been a *major* clash with the track and with the AMA; not to mention the thousands of fans in attendance who paid good money to see the big names racing.

In the end, it was a disappointment for everyone involved. The rider's wanted to race (but not in unsafe conditions), the AMA and promoters wanted to push the race and keep the "heat-based" format. The reason for the boycott to begin with was because the AMA wasn't going to give the Supersport and Superstock classes practice before their race on Sunday. Fortunately it worked out for the most part, as there was still practice, racing, it was a clear day, and bikes were on track racing to finish off the season. Here's hoping it's dry next year 'round this time.



Nicebloke said...

Thanks Eddie for the comments. It's nice to get some insight from someone who was there and involved in the process.

I was pleased to read after I wrote the post that the rain was *very* unseasonal, a lucky thing given that Mid Ohio just signed an agreement to host the Superbike finale for another five years.

Good luck with your racing and stop by again - I'd love to hear about the challenges facing AMA privateers, as well as your thoughts on other two-wheeled racing around the globe.

eddie kraft said...

Ohio in October could be interesting for the next few years. I don't think the weather could have possibly be any worse over the two weekends in a row that we were there.


- eddie