Archives | The Dreaded Asterisk
This Archives edition is reprinted from issue #39, October 6, 2004. CN has hundreds of past Archives editions in our files, too many destined to be archives themselves. To prevent that from happening, we will be revisiting past Archives articles while still planning to keep fresh ones coming down the road -Editor.
By Scott Rousseau
The dreaded asterisk is one of the meanest, nastiest, most joy-killing metaphors used in sports. The little symbol itself is not evil, but more often than not it is a horribly abused indicator that plays loose with the facts and only serves as little more than a point of argument for those who would choose to bring it up. The dreaded asterisk usually denotes that a rider or team’s given accomplishment is not all that it was cracked up to be. You hear it all the time.
“Kevin Schwantz won the 1993 500cc World Road Racing Championship, but you have to put an asterisk by his name because Wayne Rainey suffered a career-ending injury while leading the points.”
“Chad Reed won the 2004 AMA Supercross title, but you have to put an asterisk by his name because Ricky Carmichael was injured and had to sit out the series.”
Having just clinched his sixth career AMA Grand National Championship, dirt tracker Chris Carr knows the pain that can be inflicted by the asterisk, as it has perennially plagued his first career championship title, which he won in 1992. At that point, his factory Harley-Davidson teammate, Scott Parker, appeared headed for immortality as the first rider in history to win five consecutive AMA Grand National Championships. Carr wanted to stop that from happening. In 1992, he would—only not in the way he was hoping.
“Leading up to that point, my career had been a ‘chase Scott Parker’ type of thing, other than the first couple years, when Honda was still involved and we were all chasing them for the most part,” Carr remembers. “Basically in 1989, ’90 and ’91, I’d inch closer and closer to Parker in the points. In 1991, we actually tied in points.”
Carr pauses and then adds, “On the one hand, it was good to be able to finally stop Parker’s streak and claim the championship, but because of the accident, I’m sure that it is viewed by a lot of people as an asterisk-type year.”
The “accident heard ’round the dirt track world” took place with just four laps left in the Oklahoma City Half Mile on July 25, 1992. Privateer Honda rider Will Davis was winning the race. Carr was running third at the time, with Parker seventh.
“I was trying to chase Scott down in points, and I was ahead of him that day and gaining on the leaders when I just slid out in the middle of turns one and two,” Carr recalls. “I did what I always would have done in that situation—if my bike was running, I would try to pick it up and get back in the race. The bike was running, but the clutch lever was stuck in the ground and I couldn’t pull the clutch in. So in order to get the bike up and get the clutch lever in, I had to kind of jerk it up onto its wheels. I got the thing up and was grabbing for the clutch lever, and I knew that the thing would step out a little bit, and it did. Scotty came right by me… The thing hadn’t stepped out more than a foot, but it collected him. As far as I know, the yellow flags were out. The bike stepped out, but it didn’t back up. He hit the bike as I grabbed the clutch. It was almost instantaneous, and the bike was ripped right out of my hands.
Parker says that to the best of his recollection, there were yellow flags waving when he entered the corner.
“I saw Chris laying on the ground, and I wasn’t really surprised to see him trying to pick it up,” Parker says. “I just tried to stay on the edge of the groove because I didn’t want to go wide and have anybody pass me because it didn’t look to me like something they would red flag the race for. I had the points lead, and I figured it was just time to go win it. I was looking at the bonus plan on that fifth championship.”
Parker, too, says that it all happened so fast, but by the time he realized contact would be made it was too late.
“’All of a sudden, it was like, ‘Oh shit,’” Parker says. “You can see in the video footage that I was just trying to move my leg out of the way, hoping that it would just hit the pipes and not catch me. It caught me and the bike, and we just cartwheeled from there.”
The ensuing crash could have been far worse. Luckily for Parker, his injuries were limited to facial lacerations and torn knee ligaments. He was credited with 16th place at Oklahoma City, while Carr regrouped and finished eighth, making for a six-point swing. The bum knee forced Parker to miss the Peoria TT, which Carr went on to win, taking a series lead that Parker was never able to regain once he did return to action. Chris Carr became the 1992 AMA Grand National Champion, with an asterisk.
Nowadays, Parker, more than anyone else, probably makes the most compelling argument to eliminate the mythical asterisk surrounding Carr’s ’92 title.
“I don’t think anybody else would have done anything differently than Chris did,” Parker says. “He won the championship that year. He put together 10 or 20 races or whatever, and he beat me that year. People could always say there was an asterisk around the year that I beat Bubba Shobert in ’88 because his bike was too light, but the bottom line is that you have to put together 10 races or 22 races, or whatever the package is, to win the championship. You have to put them together, and if you’re sick or hurt, it’s the same thing. I, in my own mind, know that what Chris did wasn’t deliberate. It was just ironic that it was me who came through there when he crashed.”
In this case, history shows that all’s well that ends well. After a magical year by privateer Ricky Graham in 1993, Parker returned to his championship-winning ways in 1994, and he went on to earn his five consecutive titles, from 1994 through 1998. After returning from an ill-fated road-racing career, Carr lost the title to Parker by whisker in ’98 but then came back in ’99 and won his second career AMA Grand National Championship in the exact fashion that he had hoped—out-pointing Parker by scoring more wins than the champ.
A quick look at the AMA record books will show that there are no asterisks by either of Carr’s first two titles. CN