Andrew Therrien left behind a lot of friends. Exactly one week after they'd lost him, his
The spectators themselves were the single biggest factor. The spectators were out in force, and they were congregated mostly at the rock pile. I understand that when too many people get into one big group, a behavioral pattern known as "groupthink" or "groupness" usually takes over. I'm told that people often do things in groups that they never would by themselves. In this case, that meant standing on the very edge of the race course, rather than 100 feet away as they were supposed to.
With too many spectators standing too close to the track, no one stopping the race from proceeding, dust hanging in the air, and racers going big for their friends, it was the perfect storm. A storm that left eight dead and at least 12 seriously injured.
Insiders Set Things Straight
In the midst of the post-crash media misinformation, perhaps the brightest spots were where in-the-know off-roaders were able to go on the record and clear up some misconceptions.
Austin "Fishdood" Farner called in to The John & Ken Show on KFI AM 640, a major L.A.-area talk-radio station.
Fish talked about off-road racing's general pattern over the years: "Off-road racing has been around for a very long time. Nothing has changed recently to make spectators stand closer than they ever have before."
Fish also explained the race's format: "It's a marked course. There are markers along the course that are pounded into the ground with stakes and markers. Plus, everyone nowadays has a GPS, and before the race, we're all given the GPS file."
One of the biggest misconceptions was that racers were purported to be subject to a 15-mph speed limit whenever there were spectators around. Again, Fish cleared that up: "There's no speed limit for the racers in numbered vehicles on the course. It's a race. That speed limit is for the spectators."
Talk radio has a fairly wide audience, but television reaches even further. Marty Fiolka, editor of Dirt Sports magazine, had the opportunity to be on Fox News to give an insider's point of view. For some reason, Fiolka was joined by the Sierra Club Desert Committee's Tom Budlong as a counterpoint speaker.
Like Fish, Marty Fiolka gave some background information. "This was a sanctioned event on a marked course in an OHV park that we pay for with our green-sticker fees." He continued: "The Sierra Club has done a great job of protecting areas that need to be protected. We don't want to go racing through Joshua Tree or the Grand Canyon."
Mr. Budlong declared, "The desert is a quiet and a serene place, so we feel that these races are in conflict with what the desert is." When posed the question as to where off-roaders can go to race, he stated ,"They can go on private land, because we (the Sierra Club) can't do anything about that. They can also go to arenas where the audience can be protected from the race vehicles."
Side note: If you didn't understand the Sierra Club's point of view before, you now have a glimpse into its line of thinking. The Sierra Club wants people kept in the city. Should humans choose to venture outside urban areas, they need to be hiking or on horseback. Can you cross the desert backcountry, with its vast waterless expanses, on foot? Most of us can't.
Marty also spoke for all off-roaders when he said, "I love the desert. I really do." He further clarified: "These races take place in an area that the BLM has asked us to be in."
Thanks go out to Fox News for giving the off-road community the chance to properly represent itself. Fox's Carlos Amezcua and Christine Devine were very gracious, and treated both Marty and Tom with hospitality. Most media outlets chose to report the news from an uninformed outsider's point of view.