Cooksey, Straight To The Point: My Story Was Burned By Lime
I’m a little late this week because my first story was on the popularity of Monster Energy Supercross and how the NBC Gold streaming service has grown international fans that could potentially lead to European points-paying rounds. Then the lime controversy started surfacing. In a 24-hour timespan my previous ideas became completely irrelevant. My thoughts about expansion changed to; How did this happen, and what long term ramifications will this have on Supercross?
I’ve seen the damage, to both human and machine, and what initially appeared minor is now looking much more severe. Lime has been used in tracks as long as I can remember, my first experience was at the Denver Arenacross in 1997. I have a vivid memory of racing in Denver and being intimidated by the size of the whoops. I asked Oklahoma legend Cliff Palmer if the whoops would deteriorate, and he assured me with lime they don’t. Back then, Arenacross was mostly held in small, snow-covered towns and finding dry dirt was next to impossible. Tracks were often spongy and deteriorated quickly. I have no idea who decided to add lime to the tracks, but it quickly became the new normal. Lime kept tracks intact and allowed for better racing. Palmer told me they used lime so the whoops wouldn’t break down. In all honesty knowing concrete whoops were the new normal inspired me to go back to college.
My initial thoughts in 1997 were all positive (outside my personal fears), but I probably would have signed off on asbestos jump faces if I thought they made racing better. In a sport where you hurl yourself through the air on a 220-pound machine, with inches between winning or a life-changing injury, being concerned with a skin irritation seemed frivolous. Now, 20 years later, I have an entirely different viewpoint and am concerned with anything and everything in Supercross that involves safety.
Lime used in construction of tracks has become an afterthought, if used sparingly this might not have ever been an issue. What happened last Saturday in San Diego is what happens when poor communication and unrealistic expectations are placed on overworked employees. Track builders have earned a reputation of being wizards with their track design and preparation. Outside of rain hitting exactly at showtime, they usually have the track looking immaculate and race-ready.
On Saturday it seemed like everything was going wrong, I didn’t understand the delayed practice schedule lining up with the forecast of rain arrival. All weather outlets predicted the rain would hold out until around 3:00pm. Why not have the first two practice and qualifying sessions before, then make all attempts to cover key parts of the track? I spoke with current and former racers and nobody could make sense of the schedule. I once had an official tell me as soon as the track is uncovered, it can’t be covered again. Does leaving it covered before the rain serve any benefit? The only logic I could assume was someone thought the rain would start sooner.
I watched the track crew uncover the track, but despite their best attempts to keep the track dry multiple sections pooled with standing water. They did their best to drain water and add what I thought was dirt to these sections to restore the track to prime condition. Someone in the press box asked why the dirt had a hint of white and another joked, “It’s pixie dust.” We laughed because it’s been used for 20 years, why would we question safety?
Currently details are still developing. Was a different chemical used? How much was used? Who decided to use it in standing water? Who is responsible for the damage? These are a few of the questions being asked. This season started with such promise as we have so many great on track storylines, unfortunately they will all be overshadowed by lime burns.
I have empathy for both the riders and the track builders, but I also don’t have a chemical burn on my nether regions. All I can hope for is positive change from this incident and hope this will inspire dialog between promoters and the riders over this, and other safety issues. I love this sport and would be devastated if Supercross as we know it went away because of a mistake that had good intentions.
(GuyB Note: As we were posting this, we also received a statement from Feld Entertainment, which you can see below.)
Feld Entertainment Responds to Track Conditions Following Last Week’s Supercross Event in San Diego
Ellenton, Fla. – February 5, 2019 – On Saturday, February 2nd at Petco Park in San Diego, Ca., Supercross riders were affected by a drying agent applied to the dirt track, which may have caused skin irritation and damage to their bikes. The wellbeing of our riders, their teams and our crew is always a top priority for us at all Supercross events. Given last week’s forecast of rain for Saturday’s event in San Diego, the track crew took normal precautions to ensure a safe and raceable track. Prior to the qualifying rounds and main events, they removed the protective tarp and applied a drying agent, a lime and sand mixture, to treat two areas on the track to try and remove moisture from the dirt. This process has been used safely for decades at Supercross to dry dirt and thereby reduce the risk of accidents for the riders. It appears that the unprecedented amount of rain on Saturday prevented the lime from mixing with the soil as usual. This resulted in splashing of the riders and their bikes, which may have caused skin irritation to some riders and damage to their bikes. We are currently reaching out to each rider who participated in Saturday’s race to assess the extent of the impact, ensure their welfare and get them back on their bikes racing. We are also reviewing our existing processes to deal with excessive water on the track to prevent a recurrence.