Tommy Hayden’s jumped start at the beginning of the American Superbike final was the beginning of a chain of events that would humiliate American road racing and DMG/AMA in front of the world at Laguna Seca.
For those of you who attended Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca for this year’s Red Bull U.S. GP this past week, I can only hope you left before the AMA/DMG American Superbike race at the end of the day! Because if you didn’t, or if you have it set to TIVO and will watch it later, you will know the joke that DMG has become – this time with the entire world watching.
Let’s preface what happened: It all started with a botched start that Tommy Hayden jumped and then took off, after which the AMA held the riders on the grid instead of turning the lights green as they should have. Chaos followed; riders throwing their hands in the air as tires cooled to what would surely be unsafe temperatures. This festered for what felt like multiple agonizing minutes before the start was finally waved off and they were sent back around for another warm-up lap. Thus, technically, the first start never happened.
The second start was then marred by Ben Bostrom getting into Turn 2 far too deep, appearing to lock up the rear end as he low-sided and took out several riders in the process – Neil Hodgson and Larry Pegram among them. But while quite a nail-biting crash, the real madness ensued after the fact.
In an attempt to “control the field”, as riders completed the first lap the AMA hastily threw up a double-yellow flag and some kind of sign, which they said was displayed in the final few corners of the track. They then sent the pace car out, positioning it on top of the hill in the Turn 1 area, sitting at a dead stop. Now remember, this is a point of the track in which the riders would have first saw the car while tapped in fourth or maybe even fifth gear on 200-horsepower Superbikes at race-pace on the opening lap, everyone still bunched together. Not exactly a lot of time or space in which to get slowed down while trying to avoid being rammed by the 10 guys behind you.
As the field proceeded through Turn 2 the pace car made its way onto the track via the outside line, trying to merge in mid-pack as it veered onto the racing line, two wheels still in the dirt with a pack of motorcycles flying past it at more than double the speed.
Gasps erupted throughout the Media Center as everyone held their breath in hopes the worst would be avoided. Thankfully, by sheer luck alone, no one ended up smeared across the back window of the Mazda SUV they call a pace car! This was followed by the clunk of jaws hitting the floor in disbelief as the world’s press couldn’t fathom that someone would actually try and put a four-wheeled vehicle on a hot racetrack, during the middle of a professional motorcycle race, with the riders at speed. All who had never seen such a thing were flabbergasted with what was happening before their very eyes. Yours truly included!
Personally, I think they need to ditch their new pace bike idea and make the pace car into a pace ambulance driving around with the doors open, so when a rider piles into the back of it they will be as close as possible to medical attention because, sadly, at this rate it’s bound to happen.
The riders then slowed to a crawl, all looking at each other in confusion, arm gestures flailing and heads spinning as the pace car just sat at the back of the field. With no one having any clue as to what was going on, AMA then red-flagged the race for a full restart.
Back in the pits, chaos continued to grow as the debate of what to do with Tommy Hayden, who jumped the first start, which, in fact, never happened, arose. During this time the younger Hayden clan of Nicky and Roger Lee were seen ‘discussing’ the situation with AMA’s Bill Syfan in a very heated manner. This quickly made it on the Media Center live-feed TV and instantly the world’s keyboards started typing away in haste. While the TV didn’t have audio feed as to what Nicky and Roger Lee were saying, judging by their hand gestures I doubt they were inviting him over for a Sunday BBQ.
By this time AMA/DMG and American Superbike now looked like so much of a cluster that when the third, finally successful restart happened no one seemed to even care what was going down on track, as the following day’s headlines had already been written before the race even started. It’s a shame, too, as Mat Mladin made a heroic run from a poor start to take an awesome victory.
As a result, for the second time in only their first year at the helm of professional road racing in America, AMA/DMG had to hold a press conference explaining their mistakes. AMA’s director of competition Colin Fraser was once again under the gun and had the following to say:
“The car came out of the pit lane so what happened is when the field, on the first lap after the incident in turn two, reached the Corkscrew, we called for the safety car and it pulled out just past and under the bridge with a plan to drive it as far up the hill as it could be and still be seen. Then the marshals displayed dual waving yellow flags and a safety car sign and we know that those signs and those flags were shown and seen in (turns) nine, 10, 11 and at the start /finish line. Well, I know they were seen because we asked the marshals and got a call in terms of how some of the people in the field behaved so I can’t tell you why people didn’t respond. Please understand that the safety car had to be somewhere where it could control the field through turn two, so what we tried to do is put it as far up the hill, past the bridge, where the riders could still see it with the expectation that there were multiple turns with waving yellows and safety cars prior to that location that would allow us when the riders came out of 11 to follow the instructions as per usual with the safety car. There is no set spot where the riders will encounter the safety car; it depends on the flow of the race. Clearly, it didn’t work well. I’m not going to pretend that it was successful.”
Driving the pace car was Dan Argana, whom Fraser said has done it on a regular basis and “has a lot of laps on this track on a motorcycle.” I don’t envy that man and the fire he must now be under. But while I’m not really sure how much he is to blame, there’s no doubt the brunt of it should fall on DMG’s steadily sinking shoulders.
When asked about it after the race, Mladin was nearly at a loss for words in an interview for On the Throttle TV, something rarely seen from the six-time champion. “I don’t know what to say really,” he commented. “I really enjoy racing … but I certainly don’t enjoy what happened at the start of that race. For me it overshadows our win today and the importance of that cannot be forgotten … because people could have been hurt and I’m just glad the end of the year is near and hopefully some smarter heads will prevail when it comes to writing the rules for next year.”
Former world champion Kevin Schwantz weighed in for an OTT interview as well, calling Fraser out publicly for not having “enough common sense to move the car further down the hill, further into Turn 2, or down around Turn 2 … on the exit of pit lane like everybody else exits and comes onto the track. I just have no idea… I can’t fathom why the decision was made to put that car, stopped, where it was.”
The press conference following the Daytona SportBike final was a ghost town. At least we sent someone to cover it…
With all the off-track drama going on, the on-track racing was almost instantly forgotten about. So much so that by the time the riders made it to the post-race press conference for Daytona SportBike class, there were literally four people in the large room to hear what second- and third-place finishers Chaz Davies and Josh Herrin had to say, one of which being our own editor Adam Waheed. And I think two of the others were Davies’ and Herrin’s girlfriends…Thus, the rider’s couldn’t have felt too hot about talking to a whopping two journalists after hanging their asses on the line to finish on the podium. This had glorified club race written all over it.
This all added up to make what was one of the most humiliating and terrifying racing weekends I have ever seen firsthand. And the worst part was that the AMA/DMG picked the most crucial weekend of the year to make such a royal flush of bad calls and have so many hairball incidents, doing so in front of the world on our very own Independence Day weekend.
I remember thinking at the end of last year that there’s no conceivable way AMA Pro Racing could get any worse and no matter how bad they were, DMG would surely be an improvement. How wrong I was…