Why have we seen the likes of Ryan Villopoto, Mike Alessi, and Trey Canard fall out of the series? There have been many more riders than those guys fall on hard times, but when title contenders get hurt it really raises eyebrows. I went over this in my mind over and over on my drive back to North Carolina from Morgantown. I thought about what it would be like to spend three months training, practicing, and testing then jump into an 17-round supercross meat grinder. After all of that, you have two weeks to "chill" before you stare down one of the most demanding physical efforts in all of sports. Racing two 30-minute-plus-two-lap motos at the professional level is gnarly. But, those motos are the easy part in a way. The training and track time a rider spends before the race is arguably tougher. Especially if you train and ride hard enough to win when Saturday finally arrives.
The question I kept coming up with is: "How do they not get hurt more often?" I don't care if you are as smooth as Christophe Pourcel or as wild as Justin Barcia, every single time you throw a leg over a motorcycle you are putting your head in the lion's mouth. Then, I thought about how astonishing it was for a guy like Ricky Carmichael, who has ridden more laps and spent more time on the seat than any rider who has ever lived. That guy did gas tank after gas tank and put away 15 titles and the only things that slowed him down were a collarbone and a knee. Who really knows how many small broken bones and concussions he had that nobody knew about, but the fact is, only two or three injuries took him off the track in a 10-year career. Amazing. Then look at guys like Travis Pastrana, Robbie Reynard, and Ben Townley. Every time those poor bastards hit the ground something let go. Don't even get me started about poor Broc Hepler.
A racer's body type has almost everything to do with his ability to withstand crashes. Ricky is made like a mini-Mack truck. You can throw him out of a car on a gravel road going 70mph and he could just ball up and take it. Those three guys I just mentioned would be a mess. They're tall and lanky.
But, back to the topic at hand: Let's look at RV Park. He's built a lot like Ricky and he's been through some big crashes and remained intact for the most part. He has a bum wrist, and now a knee that's taken him away from a likely fourth consecutive outdoor title. It sounds like his knee finally gave up after several knocks. The same thing took a supercross title from Mike Fisher and James Stewart in 2008. It isn't because he's on a 450, or was riding the infamous Kawasaki practice track. More than likely it was from riding a dirt bike since he was three.
Ah, and then come the Alessi questions. Why was he riding on Monday? What was he doing trying to triple in that section? So on, so forth. Hey, Carmichael would have been pounding laps at his practice track and the same thing could have happened. Dirt bikes are dangerous and they'll wear your body out one way or the other. Hey, he could have been water skiing like Bob Hannah in 1979...
The biggest pisser for me has been Trey Canard. It echoed back to 2006 when I saw James Stewart hit the deck no more than 100 yards. from where Trey landed. Two laps from their masterpiece and BOOM! Done. A lack of concentration? A bad line choice? Were they tired? Maybe it's all three, but the real reason slaps you right in the face - they were riding dirt bikes. Fast.
On to some speculation as to why injuries are happening. In the 1980s, there was a big scream about big jumps causing the guys to go down. The jumps were pretty steep and unforgiving there for a while, but since then a supercross triple is so easy they jump them the first lap. Riders are still getting injured. From first-turn pileups (Daytona) to yard sales in the whoops (Vegas). And, thus far in the outdoor nationals, I could jump every double or triple the riders have seen. And I suck. Tracks are built to be safer, but dudes are still getting worked. The simple common denominator - two wheels and a throttle.
"Everyman dies, but not every man truly lives." That's a pretty heavy (and cheesy) quote from Braveheart, but I always go back to it when I think about riding and racing dirt bikes. The freedom of becoming one with a machine, flying through the air like an eagle, pounding through the wind like a steaming locomotive... It's why we do it, and the core dirt bike rider knows nothing better. No drug, or herbicidal experience comes close. And they all know that eventually they will go down, and go down hard. But they get back up. "Fall down seven times, get up eight," dammit.
A lot has changed since the early halcyon days of motocross. The equipment is way better. Every promoter makes sure the track is as safe as it can be. We have the Mobile Medical Unit, and a huge overall effort is made to make things as safe as they can be. But riders are going to go down still and get hurt. It’s not happening any more than it ever did. They did it in the ‘60s, and they'll do it in 2020.
That is why it's your responsibility as a fan to keep that shirt swinging every single lap. If it's a runaway, you keep cheering because that bastard could stack it up any time! Hey, I hate seeing guys get broke off, but I hate even more seeing guys not doing what they love. I hate seeing droves of human cattle just waiting to punch the clock. Hey, I've broken almost everything in my body, had tubes, catheters, and IVs. But, if there is a bag of gear and a dirt bike lying around, this homeboy is hitting it. Motocross and its inherent danger is what makes me knock down the keys on this laptop every Thursday. I'll gladly drive 1000-mile round trip just to earn a massive sunburn watching the gate drop.
If you're reading this far down, you would too. And more than likely you've ridden and crashed, and gotten back up.
In closing, I just want to send all my best to you guys wearing plaster or hardware out there. And for ALL those out there riding, hey, man, these fingers are crossed and I knock on every piece of wood I see. But keep doing it, because we all love it.