These three had a great view of the rock pile section from atop their 4Runner last year. T
I now shared the stunned disbelief I'd seen on others. It was a surreal scene-something straight out of a movie. This couldn't be happening! It was.
As I motored away from the rock pile, a helicopter beat its way down on the scene, its light angellically floating lower and lower. Extra help had begun to arrive. For many, it was just in time. For others, it was already too late.
At the Locos Mocos pit, the news had already come in. The race was called off and they were packing up. The Locos Mocos crew had been expecting me, knowing I'd probably be taking photos at the rock pile before going to the pit. They were relieved I was okay. I've never felt more fortunate and yes, blessed, to be alive and uninjured. My heart went out to anyone involved in the accident that night.
Where Mainstream Media Gets It Wrong
It's pretty rare that anything related to off-roading makes the news, so it was a shock to hear about this crash from media outlets usually obsessed with stick-and-ball games, the BP oil spill, and the latest sacred words to fall from our president's lips.
During this media coverage, off-roaders got a firsthand view of the way outsiders see us. We also got to experience how misinformed mass media can be. KNX 1070 AM initially reported that there were 50,000 people at the race, a figure that was off by at least 47,000.
CNN's Tony Harris had no clue about the motorsport, about the equipment, or about the racers themselves. Proof of this reared its head when he used the phrase "souped up" to attempt to describe desert-racing trucks. "Souped up?" Welcome to 1977, Mr. Harris. He also wondered aloud, "Are these the illegal street racers from a few years ago? Are these the same people?"
And we saw a common media tactic of trying to create controversy where there wasn't any. Amanda Jones - best friend of victim Andrew Therrien and a friend of Brett "Sloppy," who was driving the truck - was interviewed for TV's Inside Edition. "They put me through Hell during that interview," Jones told us. "I was getting all choked up. They wanted me to say something bad about Brett, and I wouldn't. They kept asking me 'What do you think about Brett?' and 'How do you feel about Brett?'" After not getting the controversy they were apparently seeking, Inside Edition didn't run the interview. Fortunately, Jones appeared on Fox News side by side with Andrew Therrien's mother.
Most outsiders' first view of desert racing was the video of the crash. To them, it looked like an off-road jumping contest that was maybe 150 yards long. In truth, the rock pile section is only a tiny blip during a 50-mile loop.
Elements of the Perfect Storm
In my opinion, there were several elements to this tragedy.
Dust was a factor. Yes, there was a slight breeze, but there was still quite a bit of dust hanging in the air.
The race format was a factor. Racers started two at a time, side by side. Each racer knew that there was a single-line pinch point at the rock pile. The result? A two-mile drag race to the rock pile.
Law enforcement was a factor. Yes, the BLM had personnel on site, but they didn't take a stand and control the crowd. No, that wasn't the BLM's job, but critics say the BLM could have convinced MDR to not let the race start until the crowd at the rock pile was a safe distance back from the course.
The sanctioning body, MDR, was also a factor. MDR is a small organization that has limited resources and relies heavily on volunteers to staff the checkpoints and road crossings along the course. There weren't enough volunteers. Critics say the race could have been delayed until some crowd control was implemented at the rock pile.
Were the racers themselves a factor? Maybe. On one hand, hindsight says that everyone should have slowed down when they came up to the crowd at the rock pile. On the other hand, it's a race! No one showed up to drive slowly.