Syracuse Mile A No Go

| June 19, 2006
The Syracuse Mile, round two of the AMA Ford Quality Checked Flat Track Championship at the New York State Fairgrounds in Syracuse, New York, turned into a complete debacle on Saturday night, June 17, with various reasons causing the race to be scrapped completely.

Overnight rains moved through the area leaving behind high humidity. Initially, this appeared to be a good thing as the track seemed to come around, but the surface became inconsistent and slick. And it was made worse by the fact that they used magnesium chloride instead of calcium chloride on the surface. What resulted was a track that was unsafe for racing. When the sun finally went down, the riders were hit with a double whammy. Most of the track was very dark with turns one and three almost pitch black.

The Syracuse Mile race track in unique in that there is a cinder racetrack on the inside of the mile. The cinder track is elevated approximately three to four feet, and this causes problems. When night fell, what lights there were, were shining from the inside out, creating dark shadows across the narrow, slick groove.

The heats and semis were run, setting the field for the National. Portable lighting was brought in, but by then the moisture was reappearing on the track. After several aborted warm-up laps were attempted, it was decided that it was unsafe and the National was scuttled. All qualified riders were paid one point and paid according to their starting position.

“There were two serious issues that we had,” said AMA flat track series manager Bruce Bober. “One was lighting. The other issue was an excessively slippery racetrack. Some of the reason for the racetrack’s slipperiness was that they inadvertently used magnesium chloride instead of calcium chloride. Our experience in the past, when they did that at San Jose, was that it was so slippery that it was like ice. We had nine guys fall down in the first turn. “When we did realize it, we tried diluting it as much as we could during the break [between qualifying and the heat races], just by dumping water on it. Once the humidity and moisture came out at night, it was just too slick and combined with the poor lighting and dark spots it created an unsafe situation for the riders. I’m not going to risk somebody’s life. We talked about an option with the promoter to race tomorrow, and he felt that wasn’t good. He wouldn’t be able to provide a crew to work. He also felt the fans wouldn’t be able to come back.”

Although the situation disappointed everyone involved, most felt it was the proper call at the time. Harley-Davidson Motor Company/Screamin’ Eagle’s Kenny Coolbeth was the pole sitter as he had posted the fastest heat race performance.

“It sucks for the fans. That’s the thing I’m bummed out about,” said Coolbeth. “We also have the safety issue, it’s so slippery. Chris [Carr] had problems with the lighting and I have problems with the track being so slippery. I don’t know. It was just a bad deal. It sucks that it has to end this way, but I’d rather walk out of here than wake up in a hospital tomorrow. It was slick everywhere and it just happened just like that. Mostly the front end would just go away. It was just like ice, like somebody dropped oil on the track. The lighting was definitely poor. Down in turn three the wall was blocking the whole groove. It was just a shadow and we couldn’t see anything. I was fast qualifier, but I’d of rather won fair and square.”

When timed practice was over it was defending Grand National Champion Chris Carr with fast time on his Quality Checked Certified Pre-Owned Ford backed Harley-Davidson on top. Carr continued to roll through his heat as he easily won the first heat.

“I’m very disappointed,” said Carr. “Nobody wants to walk out on a race, but you’ve got people that want to see flat track racing at it’s finest and unfortunately it wasn’t presented in it’s finest tonight. I could have lived with the racetrack. I had a problem with the lighting. Other guys had no problem with the lighting and had a problem with the racetrack. I know how hard my guys work to prepare these bikes. I know how hard everybody in this pit area works to put on a presentable professional show, not only with their trucks, but also with their bikes.

“You have a lot of young guys working hard to make names for themselves. They are putting their heart and souls into this. I’m deeply disappointed that the lighting for this place was not checked prior to this race. I was here at 8 o’clock on Friday night. There wasn’t a light turned on in the place – it was pitch black dark and frankly when you are doing 125 mph it wasn’t lit up much better than that tonight. I think it’s disappointing that the last time they had a night race here was 13 years ago and nobody took the initiative to come here and make sure the lighting was up to standards.

“The slickness was getting worse. The cars they took around were just a band-aid while they tried to reposition some lighting that was insufficient to help. The longer you sit the slicker it’s going to get. If you come out here at midnight or 2 o’clock in the morning, this thing is going to be really slippery. The longer we waited the worse it was going to get. That’s just the nature of them [track personnel] using the wrong chemical. There’s another issue. They ordered the wrong chemical and they put it on the racetrack. The people that put it on probably didn’t know that it was the wrong chemical. We’ve had problems with that magnesium chloride in the past on other racetracks that have clay in them. This track is part clay and part cinders and magnesium chloride is not a conducive chemical for a safe motorcycle race. They should have known that before it got put on the racetrack. The IMDA almost made that mistake about five years ago and I brought it to their attention. They were having a hard time getting calcium.”

By Dave Hoenig