What really happened on Saturday night? We talked to the AMA’s Director of Supercross and Pro Racing Relations, Kevin Crowther, on Tuesday evening to find out.
Racer X: First, take us through the process of how something like this actually happens. Does someone protest or bring your attention to something after the race, or is it something you’re actively looking for as the race is going on?
Kevin Crowther: Well, I think the first thing we want to note here is that no one actually protested this situation. Any official can bring anything to our attention during an event, and when a cross flag is out or a red light is on, there’s extra eyes on it already. As you can imagine, there’s a lot going on in a short amount of time, so sometimes your eyes see something, but you’re not sure of what you really might have seen. So you write it down on your notepad. Then we’ll go to TV and ask for footage. In this case, we were being approached by some teams and people as we headed back to our truck after the race, but we were already aware of the situation because our officials had already written it down. So that might be why some people think a team might have protested, because they saw different people talking to us about it. But we had already gone to work on it.
So then what is the process?
As you can imagine in situations like this, we want to make sure that we make the best decision possible. So in this case, a lot of times the television crew provides a few angles that no one else has ever seen. And I think in this case, I don’t even think it was on television. I haven’t confirmed that, but I’ve got a feeling it was [not seen on the actual TV broadcast]. So we’ll get multiple angles from multiple cameras from television. So John [Gallagher, of the FIM] and I looked at it again using the video and once we see, okay, well, we’ve got something here, at that point we request the rider and the team manager to come to the trailer so we can basically go through the video with the rider and let him speak his side of what happened.
So do you tap Dungey on the shoulder or tap DeCoster or somebody and say, “Hey, we’ve got to talk to you about something?”
Yeah. I gave Roger a call. They were still on the floor. I said, “Hey, on your way back up here please stop by the trailer.” They did. We walked through the videos that we had and listened to Ryan’s side of the story. We looked at what we had and it was clear to us in the video that the cross flag was out and waving and there was an incident on the track and he clearly jumped on it.
The argument I’ve heard from DeCoster’s side, he said that the flagger wasn’t waving the flag the same way that he did later. After Ryan went by he started waving it more adamantly or held it in a different spot or moved to a different part of the track. Is that what you heard from them? What was your perspective on that?
Obviously everybody could possibly see something different. Looking at it from our standpoint and what we actually just saw on the video—we’ve got not dog in this fight—and as you know as officials the last thing we want to do is penalize a rider for something he didn’t do. So we’re looking at it from that standpoint. To be honest with you, watching the video, the official, which was an AMA official waving the flag, not just a volunteer flagger, he was trying to get it over to the side that Ryan was coming from and basically as Ryan went into the bowl turn he switched hands to wave it in front of him as he came out. He was trying to follow Ryan around. He knew Ryan was coming into that section. Was it the best location for that flag? That’s debatable. But the fact of the matter was that the official was out there waving the cross flag and doing the best job he could with the situation he had on the racetrack trying to protect the rider.
Did you say this was a voluntary flagger or this was an actual official?
No, the cross flags are not in the hands of the volunteer flaggers. Cross flags, the red flags, the blue flags, those kind of flags will only be in the hands of an AMA official. The folks you see in the black and gray shirts. Only yellow flags or yellow lights clickers will be in the hands of the volunteer flaggers.
I also heard there was yellow light on? I think I heard DeCoster say that. There was a yellow light and a red cross at the same time?
To be honest with you, I don’t know which yellow light was turned on from my perspective. I couldn’t see it from TV. But historically—we had an issue a couple years ago where there was confusion with yellow lights and red cross flags, as you may remember [2013 St. Louis Supercross]. The year after that, the rulebook was updated to make it clear to our riders that the cross flag takes precedence over any other flag that’s out there. So there shouldn’t be any confusion. If you see the yellow flag or a yellow light, and there is a cross flag, the cross flag takes precedence over the yellow as far as what you can and can’t do.
Define what the red flag rule is as far as you can’t clear a jump but you can get air. I think that’s one of the discrepancies I’m seeing with everyone not able to agree. Some riders are out there saying, “Look, they’re jumping, they’re just not clearing the jump.” So what is the definition?
To be honest with you, as you know every year we’ve worked to clarify the rulebook better, but the reality is it is not a wheels on the ground flag. It doesn’t say wheels on the ground. As you know in supercross with the obstacles we have, sometimes it’s impossible to even get over an obstacle or do something without having the wheels come off the ground a bit. I know there was some question about the next three riders that came through, but we also had video of that and were able to review that. From a race director standpoint, from the officials standpoint, when that cross flag comes out we need to see that the folks acknowledge it and at least try and check up and not do the obstacles. In this case the flag was pretty close to that obstacle and those next three riders that came through all simultaneously checked up. The first rider to the point where he landed into the face at the top of the step up. It’s kind of like a domino effect when they do that. Each rider is going to slow down a little bit more because the guy in front of him just slowed down. So then [Justin] Brayton jumped clearly into the bottom face of the jump, and Chad Reed behind him rolled through and up and over. Didn’t even clear into the jump. But in the race director’s opinion, which we support, those three riders [behind Dungey] all were acknowledging that the cross flag was out and doing their best to check up and not do the obstacle and not put themselves in an unsafe situation.
So they checked up more than Dungey did, from the race director’s perspective?
Yeah. In the video that we saw, Ryan didn’t check up at all. He was still in full attack mode through the whole section.
So the whole thing comes down to, was the flag visible. So when you look at the footage that you had, you feel like the flagger did have the flag in a position where Ryan should have been able to see it?
Yeah, and here’s a part to that—I don’t think any of us think for a minute that a rider is going to go out there and do anything in a malice intent. They’re never going to purposely put a downed rider in danger. But the reality is that there’s a certain sense of responsibility with our riders for safety. The rulebook talks about waving yellows and all that stuff, things that can tip them off to incidents on the racetrack, and at that point they should have a little better situational awareness in that section. And through the process, it was clear to us that the rider knew there was an incident there, but he possibly didn’t see the cross flag. But it was clear that the cross flag was out and waving so at that point it’s the rider’s responsibility to see it.
So you’ve described fourth or fifth place seeing this red cross flag. So there was still danger on the track for a decent amount of time here?
I know that the official pulled the cross flag down when he felt the situation was safe. But there are times, and I’m not saying that’s what happened in this situation, but there are times where the first three riders will go through with the lights on and the rest of the pack is not there yet. And our officials are still directed to not turn the triple lights off until the track is clear. So the incident might have cleared, but we’re not going to open the jump back up and potentially put a rider into a situation where he’s going to jump on another rider that was rolling through the section. So there could be situations where we shut a section down and we don’t open it up for the next four riders, even though the incident is clear. It’s just out of safety—you can’t have three riders roll a triple and then let a rider right behind them try to jump it.
So, just because the downed rider is no longer down, doesn’t necessarily mean the track is open yet?
Yeah. We can’t just all of a sudden open it up for the guy that’s two ticks behind and have him going banzaing into something or jumping a triple. He might not even see the rider in front of him has rolled, if that rider gets into a valley somewhere. We have to make sure the entire situation is clear.
What I’m getting at here is, the riders have to see the flags or the lights. They can’t judge the situation based on if they see a crashed rider on the track or not.
Absolutely. That’s where the situational awareness comes in. We understand these guys are racing but they need to race with their heads.
Also people are asking—how could they make this decision on Saturday night so quickly? Why don’t they wait until Tuesday like NASCAR does and deliberate for several days? Why don’t you do that?
To be honest with you, even though there is a sense of urgency at supercross because you have a press box full of guys screaming at you—so you know something happened—when it comes to this situation, there might be times where it does take days to gather video and make a decision. But on this night the video was very clear of the racetrack. After the discussion with the rider, it was clear to that the penalty was necessary. So I think in this case the time that was needed to make the decision was satisfying. And then there are other times where a decision can be made immediately where it happens on the racetrack. We had an issue with a fight this year, obviously [Peick and Friese at Anaheim 1]. You can make those decisions instantly. And then there are times where it takes hours, and times where it takes days.
So this stands? There is no type of appeal or anything that KTM can do or has done?
If you look at the AMA Supercross FIM rulebook, this is world championship class, so it’s a rule that comes over from the FIM. There is what we call a Statement Of Facts, with regards to protest and appeals. A Statement Of Fact is a situation that has been seen by an official themselves, and it is a penalty that is called out in the rule book very specifically, so it cannot be modified by the racetrack official. This is a good example. The penalty for jumping on a cross flag is any positions gained plus two positions. So in this case no positions gained, so it’s two positions. So it becomes a Statement Of Fact. So in any situation a team can appeal it. But then the appeal panel will go through the process. The first thing they’ll look at is did it meet the requirements of an appeal? Did it meet the time requirements? And so on. Once they’ve determined that, they’re going to look at this being a Statement Of Facts. This is the rule violation—jumping with the cross flag and this is the penalty—two spots, and it was witnessed by an official. It’s a Statement Of Facts, so if it were appealed, it wouldn’t have been overturned.
For us, especially when you’re dealing with sub-50 second lap times, things are moving fast out there and there’s a lot of things that go on in the decision of throwing a cross flag, and the execution of it. I think for us, every situation that we find ourselves in, we as officials are always learning and striving to do a better job of how we implement and do things going forward. We’ve learned things from this incident. We learned things from the [Ryan] Villopoto incident years ago [St. Louis] and Chad Reed [black flag] last year. We’re always learning and trying to do a better job. As you know it’s tough when the whole world is looking at you and they hate you because of a decision you’ve made. I feel strongly that we have an obligation to the riders, and when it comes to cross flags and red lights on triples, those are safety issues and we have to take those things very seriously. And that’s where educating the riders on their situational awareness comes into play, where potentially, if they see something in the lane that they know they’re about to go into, they need to kind of have a situational awareness of what’s coming next.