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Cycle News 2005 11 02

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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By HENNY RAy CHICANERY ABRAMS Safety First f the 10 tracks on the 2005 AMA Superbike Championship calendar, all had safety problems. Some were worse than others. All needed attention. AMA Pro Racing knew this. So they formed a distinguished one-time safety committee comprised of Mat Mladin, Kevin Schwantz and Ron Barrick and sent them and their years of collective experience out into the world. The track that AMA PR thought needed the most immediate attention, the one with the most pressing safety issues, the one that was more important to visit than all others? New Hampshire International Speedway. Huh? "It was a total waste of time," Mladin, who flew across the country to make the inspection, recently told me. I visited the six-time AMA Superbike Champion and his family at the airy, ecofriendly house he designed on I80 acres in The Oaks, not far from where he grew up, an hour southwest of Sydney. After lunch with Mat, his wife, Janine, their 2-year-old daughter Emily Jean, and Janine's mother, we sat down for an interview. He spoke of the recovery from his foot surgery, about the problems he had launching the GSXRIOOO, about his business interests, about how hard he's training for 2006, and about how much he loves living in America. It was an amiable conversation that went on for about half an hour. But when the topic turned to track safety, the tone shifted; now it was from the heart, now there was an edge, and why not? The lack of progress on safety issues could have an immediate and disastrous impact not only on his livelihood, but on his family - which is why, whenever he's asked, he's willing to go anywhere, do anything, meet with anyone to improve racetracks. Cycle News has twice arranged meetings between Mladin and a track owner, including once this year. Which, I'm guessing, is twice more than AMA PR has done, O if you exclude Loudon. As for his input on the Miller Motorsports Park project, Mladin critiqued the plans. little more. The $64,000 question is, Why would Loudon, a track that hasn't had a race in four years, that was vilified by the riders for years before it was canceled, that caused grievous injuries to too many riders, including Miguel Duhamel, Scott Zampach, and Thomas Wilson, and whose management publicly ridiculed AMA PR officials, get more attention than, say, Road Atlanta' Or Mid-Ohio? Or any of the other tracks that actually host AMA Superbike races? Beats me. And Mladin, too. Another year has been lost with far too little done for the cause of track safety. The effects of the lethargy were on vivid display at Road Atlanta. A bearded Vincent Haskovec returned to the AMA paddock that he was forced out of by a racetrack and we all did our thing because really that's what we're paid to do. But if the wall wasn't there, I think there's a much better chance he would have got up and been racing that afternoon." Air bags were placed in front of the barrier after the crash. "It's the same old deal; if you've got guys, officials of racing, or whoever, out there putting the air bags out and doing this and doing that, they're not always going to go in the right places, because they don't see it as the fast guys see it," Mladin said. "Things change. The tires change. They allow you to do different things differently. Technology changes. Corner speeds are up. The lines are different; not that everyone rides the same lines as me - actually not many people do. But even the other guys' lines are different to what they used to take. I mean, said. "I mean, they're talking [about] slowing the motorcycles." The problem isn't the motorcycles, it's the impact zones. The first priority should be to move them, the second to protect them. Top riders such as Mladin and Neil Hodgson, who has years of experience on racetracks all over the world, including some of the dodgy British ones, need to be involved. "I don't know how it should be organized, I just know what needs to be done to the racetrack," Mladin said. Mladin admits his differences with Duhamel. He vehemently disagrees with Duhamel's position on Daytona, a track he believes Duhamel endorses as a way to enhance his own legacy. But Mladin agrees that the change Duhamel made at California Speedway was for the better. (Duhamel suggested to the AMA:s Barrick that the kink be eliminated from the back straight. It was, and Barrick wants to take it even further.) '~bsolutely, that was a really good change, no doubt," Mladin said. "But that takes initiative to do something like that. By the way, I didn't know anything about the change. And that's the other problem that you have. I actually went onto the racetrack not knowing about the change." What Mladin believes is that the AMA needs to take a stance and tell the racetracks, "'listen we need some improvements career-ending injury at Infineon Raceway. The very popular and likeable Czech immigrant was paralyzed when he hit an unprotected barrier during the Formula Xtreme race in May. I asked Mladin if the accident was avoidable. '~bsolutely - everything's avoidable," he said. "From everyone's point of view that I've spoken to - and I've seen the footage qUickly - it was an impact accident. That's it. So if the wall wasn't there, big chance that that was avoidable. It's too late to say it now. And we all went and raced on the things change. Ten years ago, nobody would ever say that they were going to do a backflip on a motocross bike, either. People do things differently. Tires, the bikes, everything. Suspension allows you to do things differently. Even to 10 years ago. So things change." I asked Mladin if he had any ideas on how it could be improved. "No, I have no ideas, because personally, I don't think the people that have the power to make it better are really caring about it as much as they should be," he done.' And when the racetracks decide to do them, get a couple of the top riders there to help, to make the changes right." If AMA PR had the slightest interest in safety, they wouldn't send Mladin to Loudon. They'd arrange for him, Schwantz, Barrick and some of Mladin's fellow riders to meet with track owners on the Thursdays before the races. They could discuss what needs to be done, which corners need to be addressed, and where the priorities are. Long-term plans. They could place the air-fence and the hay bales. And they could help make sure that what happened to Vincent Haskovec never happens again. eN CYCLE NEWS • NOVEMBER 2, 2005 95

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