Empire of Dirt Column

Steve Cox | January 29, 2020

Empire of Dirt

COLUMN

“Moto” (a general term for motocross, supercross, arenacross, etc.) has always been a contact sport. And the tighter the tracks, the more contact should be expected. Contact is foundational to moto, because if contact isn’t allowed (especially indoors), any rider can keep a faster rider behind them basically forever.

That said, there are, in my opinion, right and wrong ways to make contact with another rider. There are acceptable moves, there are dirty moves, and there are unacceptable moves. In this column, I will attempt to explain this etiquette.

Empire of Dirt Column

Who has what job?

In describing a battle between two racers, we’ll refer to the racer in front as “Racer F” and the racer in the rear as “Racer R.” It’s R’s job to pass F. It’s F’s job not to let R pass him. That means it’s F’s job not to open the door for R to get by. It’s also R’s job to go through any door F opens wide enough for R to get through. Those are their jobs in a nutshell, and the jobs switch the moment the lead changes (F becomes R and R becomes F).

Racer F always has the right of way. It’s Racer R’s job to adjust to what Racer F is doing, not the other way around, which means it’s R’s job not to run into F. And the very moment R’s front wheel goes in front of F’s, R becomes F, and vice versa. And again, F always has the right of way.

It’s also every racer’s job to be aware of their own surroundings at all times.

Who’s at fault, and when?

If R runs into F, it’s R’s fault with very few exceptions. In a corner, if F is on the outside and R is on the inside, and R runs into F, that’s a “T-bone.” Just as with a T-bone steak, the “T” doesn’t stand for anything. It’s a visual reference, representing the shape of two motorcycles when the front of one hits the side of another.

T-bones are dirty. Moto, in general, is dangerous, but T-bones make it more dangerous unnecessarily.

If the racer on the inside of the corner is in front when their two lines come together, that racer is Racer F at the point of impact. So see above.

Racers are expected to anticipate what’s going to happen before it happens. This is true of all levels of racing, but it’s the most true at the professional level where speeds are highest and racers are the most experienced. If a C-class racer fails to properly anticipate what’s going to happen, it’s more understandable than if a Pro fails to do so, and it’s also less likely to lead to an injury, as C-class speeds are much slower.

Dirty/Unacceptable

Besides T-bones, the other two big no-no’s are cross-jumping and drifting into another racer’s line while you’re both skimming whoops.

Cross-jumping is when a racer intentionally jumps across the track into another racer’s line while they’re both in mid-air. This is a no-no because you can’t hit the brakes or turn in the air, and the likelihood of injury is very high if mid-air contact is made. This happens on accident sometimes, which is just a “racing incident” with nobody at fault, but the trained eye can spot intentional cross-jumping, and it’s never okay.

The same goes for skimming whoops. Sometimes, guys will just be out of control in the whoops, so that’s just a racing incident if they hit someone else. Sometimes it’s the line a racer has taken every lap, which is also not a problem, as anybody behind him should see it, and Racer F has the right of way. If the racer behind doesn’t have time to see it, and they hit, it’s just a racing incident because, again, Racer F has a right to their regular line. But it’s dirty if a racer intentionally moves over while skimming whoops for the same reason cross-jumping is: You can’t hit the brakes, or even let off the gas, while skimming whoops, and crashes due to this lead to a high likelihood of injury.

You’ll notice the common denominator here revolves around how much we can expect Racer R to adjust to the behavior of Racer F (who, again, always has the right of way).

This is Moto Etiquette: 101. Now, let’s apply this to the incident that led to 35,000 “race fans” booing Dylan Ferrandis at Anaheim 2, after he and Christian Craig crashed together, causing Craig to DNF, shall we?

Dylan Ferrandis was faster than Christian Craig. Christian Craig may or may not have known it was Ferrandis behind him, but he definitely did know there was a faster racer on his tail. In the corner after the finish-line jump, where they fell, Craig (Racer F at the time) could have chosen to take the inside line, which would have caused him to drift wide on corner exit and given Ferrandis an opening to possibly rail the outside berm and challenge Craig on the inside as they crossed the start straightaway. Ferrandis (Racer R at the time) chose his lines based on where Craig (Racer F) went.

Instead, Craig chose to go outside in the corner, leaving the inside wide open, and Ferrandis took that opening (which is his job).

If Craig saw Ferrandis coming, in that split second, he had a choice: 1. Check up and try to dive back under Ferrandis as they crossed the start straightaway where Craig would have the inside line. 2. Keep it pinned and race Ferrandis for the intersection where their lines were bound to converge. If Craig got to that intersection before Ferrandis, Craig had a chance to stay up (not completely untouched) and keep his position on the racetrack, and Ferrandis would’ve been at fault for the contact (he would’ve been “Racer R”) and likely would’ve crashed anyway.

Both Ferrandis and Craig had a duty to anticipate whether Ferrandis could get to that intersection (where their lines would converge) before Craig could, and then act accordingly. If Craig anticipated correctly that Ferrandis would beat him to that intersection, he likely would’ve gotten off the throttle—or maybe even on the brakes—and either cut under Ferrandis or just concede the line and position. This would’ve resulted in a likely podium finish for Christian Craig!

But Craig misjudged the situation, and that is ultimately what caused the crash, and his own DNF.

Ferrandis, on the other hand, anticipated correctly, because whether Craig decided to check up or keep it pinned, Ferrandis calculated that he’d get to that intersection first. Ferrandis was right, and he knew if Craig chose to stay on the gas, Craig was destined to pay the heavier penalty for that error. If Craig didn’t see Ferrandis, and that’s why he stayed on the gas, that’s still not on Ferrandis. It’s Craig’s job to know his own surroundings.

The same goes for what happened late in the race when Ferrandis again had the inside line on Jett Lawrence (when Lawrence took the outside line in a different turn, Ferrandis dived in to take the line away, and Lawrence, like Craig, also chose to keep the throttle pinned and nearly wadded himself up in the ensuing rhythm section). Luckily for Lawrence, that time, Ferrandis was slightly less committed to the line and he gave Lawrence more room. For the record, that is never to be expected or anticipated. That was Dylan Ferrandis acting charitably! He didn’t have to do it. Ferrandis (Rider F at that moment) had every right to put Lawrence (Rider R) off the track there, too. But he’s a nice guy and probably didn’t want to do that twice in one race.

The AMA has decided to put Ferrandis on a one-year probation over this incident with Craig, along with a $3000 fine (which will be paid if he violates his probation and rides “too aggressively” again during the next year). Look back through the years and it’s easy to see that the AMA makes rulings on “aggression” or “endangering other racers” on an almost entirely subjective basis. That’s no way for any sanctioning body to rule over any sport. The AMA didn’t put Craig on probation for what he did to Alex Martin in practice at Detroit in 2017 (even though it was much worse, and Martin was still Rider F when they hit). There are almost countless worse incidents where the AMA made no ruling whatsoever and sanctioned nobody involved; Ricky Carmichael/Kevin Windham at Vegas, 1997, is just one prominent example. Is the excuse that Windham didn’t fall in that one? Some racers are better at avoiding crashes than others. Does the AMA judge the penalties for these incidents by how good the supposed victim’s balance is?

I’m out of space or else I’d list a bunch more.

Dylan Ferrandis did not endanger Christian Craig or Jett Lawrence. Those two racers endangered themselves. And that’s their prerogative, but you can’t penalize Ferrandis for it!

If the AMA wants to dole out penalties, I think they must do so fairly and objectively. And that means they must penalize everyone the same. This moto etiquette I’ve described here makes for an easy, objective guideline for the AMA. Penalize T-bones, cross-jumping, and drifting over in whoops, but otherwise whoever’s front wheel is behind at the moment the two motorcycles meet is the one at fault for the collision. It’s part of the sport. If one guy becomes too much of a wrecking ball, the other racers will take care of it. And as long as the other racers don’t do it with T-bones, cross-jumping or drifting over in the whoops, it’s fine.

The AMA is forcing Ferrandis to attempt to defend his 250SX West title while racing by different rules than the people he’s defending his title against. And that’s not okay. We have to be willing to let the racers race, and let them live with the results of the choices they make on the track, including the choice to go outside when there’s a faster racer right on their ass. That’s the sport!CN

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Steve Cox