By Chris Cooksey
With my first season as a Monster Energy Supercross media member winding down, I decided to provide a media member perspective of my day in Salt Lake City. By now everyone has seen or heard about Eli Tomac’s amazing ride, so I won't beat a dead horse. This is all about my day in SLC, a behind the scenes look at my Supercross experience.
In Salt Lake City the vibes were different than other Monster Energy Supercross events. In Utah the crowd attending appeared family based as Utah doesn't have the “So-Cal Bro” feel of Anaheim and Las Vegas. If you wanted to bring children to a clean race, this was the event. My day started with a stroll through the pits where I took pictures and made the rounds catching up with industry friends and coworkers. I spoke with Charles Castloo from 100% about their impressive growth. I chatted tire preferences with my WPS co-worker and working man hero, Kyle Gills. He prefers to run the Michelin Starcross 5. Kyle is about as privateer as a rider can be. While he has some friends as mechanics, he does most of the work himself. Kyle only competes in select events as he has a 9-5 job and traveling across the country every week isn't feasible.
From there I headed to the track walk, specifically to get a closer look. As I tried to enter the track I was stopped by an official and told, “Sorry, working media only.” While I could have easily become upset or explained my way onto the track I didn’t have too. Standing to the side and towering over most, wearing a cowboy hat and boots , Teddy Parks and his grizzly voice directed me to a VIP view from the grandstands, after posing for several photos of course. I would proceed to see him multiple times throughout the night, even holding the flag during the National Anthem! After track walk and rider’s meeting a chapel service was conducted on the track. The pastor was puzzling to say the least. Typically, most members of the media head to the press box to watch practice, but I like to watch from different places around the stadium. This gives me a better idea of what the riders are doing and how they are feeling. I enjoy watching the B and C practices as this give the best indication as to how difficult certain sections of the track are, sometimes the A riders make it look too easy.
After practice and timed qualifying I headed to the press box. The press box is strange, there are a few seats reserved for “working media” mixed in with JT$’s VIPs taking in the experience. JT$ walks the VIPs through the track during track walk explaining the sections, level of difficulty, and possibly what the riders are thinking. I usually don't sit in the “working media section” because I can't watch the race without showing emotion. In the end none of us were able to watch Tomac and Dungey's epic battle without screaming emotion. By the main event the normal stress and tense mood of the room melted into an outcry of emotion for Tomac. For a brief moment every media member put their deadlines to the side and became a fan in the crowd.
After the race, leaving the press box becomes a race itself. With elevators jammed packed and the press conference held in secrecy, no media person desires to walk into the press conference room late, or get locked out unintentionally. The press conferences have been a source of great controversy, as it is a new system and there is little or no guidance outside of asking any question to the podium finishers. Some of the old guards of Supercross media despise the new format, they feel it removes their inside advantage. For newbies like myself it provides access to the top stars. In previous years you had to be a rider’s friend or grind through the system for years to get an interview or quote. The new format allows media access to riders who might otherwise avoid them.
I was extremely nervous, as this was my first press conference since the infamous, “there was no crown” incident in Glendale. I heard a rumor the 250 class changed their eligibility rules allowing champions to defend their title. I wanted to know if Justin Hill would defend or look for a 450 ride. I asked my question and without hesitation he confirmed he was racing 450 in 2018.
Ryan and his wife Lindsay sat directly behind me during the press conference and I did a little eavesdropping. I cannot be 100% sure of everything said, but I caught a few things. Ryan described Eli’s performance to Lindsay as Eli riding full of confidence after signing a multimillion dollar contract and Eli’s willingness to hang it all out. Since I didn't hear the entire conversation or the exact context consider this “fake news” but interesting nonetheless. As the 450 riders were called to the podium Daniel Blair announced Jason Anderson would not be in attendance as he was battling altitude sickness. Dungey took his seat in the 2nd place spot. Tomac avoided sitting in the middle, in the first place seat, and chose to sit furthest away from Dungey. Tomac appeared professional showcasing his Monster Energy drink, but avoided direct eye contact with Dungey. While they both respected the press conference process there was definitely tension between the two, even if it was one sided from Tomac.
After a few reporter questions had been asked, the mic was passed to me. With hands sweating and my heart racing I tried to hide my nerves and make sure I asked my question correctly. This time I held the mic tight until I was sure Dungey understood exactly what I was asking. I didn’t want to ask the cookie cutter questions others were asking, but also I didn’t want to be disrespectful as these guys just put their hearts and lives on the line for 28 laps. I asked Dungey if the implementation of the chase format would have any impact on his retirement decision. To my surprise Dungey appeared relieved to share his thoughts on the future format. He expressed his opinion that he didn’t want things to change or turn into a “circus,” but did not break any information regarding his retirement.
As they dismissed the 450 riders from the podium, the top 10 riders from both 250 and 450 classes were obliged to hang around for 20 minutes for individual interviews. Dungey didn't want to hang around and headed straight for the door, I thanked him for not yelling at me this time and he gave me a funny look, I’m positive he did not remember me from before. At the end of my 14 hour day, I was mostly relieved to complete my first press conference since Glendale, and look forward to Vegas!
By Chris Cooksey
With controversy surrounding Supercross this season associated with inconsistent penalties, I decided rather than criticize FIM Race Director John Gallagher I would sit down with him to understand what his job fully entailed. After talking with John, I left with the impression that he is both knowledgeable about Supercross and truly cares about his position, the riders, and the crowd. I also left with more questions about the overall rule structure of Supercross, specifically how loose the rule book is, ultimately allowing for human interpretation. This is part 1 of my look behind the curtains of Supercross and who makes the important decisions. This is all about John Gallagher, his responsibilities, decisions and his thought process.
Who is John Gallagher and how did he get started in Supercross? His involvement in Supercross began in 1976 as a flagger, from there he continued officiating and racing locally until he graduated from Riverside City College with Associates of Science in Motorcycle Technology. Throughout his journey, John has been an official in Supercross, MTEG Ultracross, 4-Stroke Nationals, Thunder Bikes, Arenacross, Dirt Track, X-Games, and Endurocross from 1976 until present day. When preparing for a race, John will fly into the race city the Thursday before racing weekend and spend his Friday and Saturday at the track. His job consists of three different facets.
First is safety, John relies on his years of experience to determine the safety standards. He does this by making sure there are no immediate dangers to the racers, officials, and crowd. As it pertains to the crowd; making sure rocks, dirt chunks or motorcycles cannot make contact or do harm to any race fan. A particular area of concern is behind the starting gate, ensuring bikes cannot toss roost into the stands. The second facet is enforcing the rule book and confirming tech inspection is completed correctly. The third facet is ensuring the program runs with-in the time allotted. This includes allowing time for teams to complete bike changes or repairs while staying within the three hour television window. John also is involved with the input to the promoter to determine the rider breaks and the length in time to give the riders in between heats. He speaks with the teams and mechanics and considers their input when determining the schedule. John also has twelve officials placed around the track to act as his eyes during the event. John trusts each official’s interpretation as if he saw the incident himself. While he trusts in what his officials’ witness, ultimately, it is John’s decision if a punishment is distributed.
I asked John why he did an interview with Jenny Taft before informing Jason Anderson that he had been disqualified from Anaheim 2. John stated he informed Jason's team manager and was adamant that the responsibility then fell to the team manager to deliver the news as he needed to get back to his duties. John insisted if Anderson was not informed it was not his or any of the twelve officials’ responsibilities to seek Anderson out. Once Anderson’s team manager was notified John got back to his nightly duties. While Jenny Taft didn't have any issues finding Anderson, he was not in the mood to talk. John told Jenny Taft immediately following the incident, “If it becomes physical on the track or off the track it results in an immediate disqualification.”
In comparison I asked John why Broc Tickle was not disqualified from Toronto after smacking Barcia in the back of the helmet , as that appeared to be “physical” off the track. John replied, “Every guy knows there is the ability to make somebody swing on you, I could probably provoke you to be very angry with me.” I also asked John why Tickle didn't receive the same punishment as Anderson at Anaheim 2. John stated, “Mr. Friese was not doing anything to provoke any part of that [Anderson incident], not anywhere in it.” In regards to his previous statement to Jenny Taft, I asked if Tickle had taken matters into his own hands by striking Barcia in the back of the helmet and if he should have been disqualified. John responded, “And running into someone with their motorcycle is not considered the same thing?, which is what Justin did in reverse, those guys got close to each other and had a discussion but it was nothing like what Anderson did to Vince Friese, you cannot compare the two. No possible way.”
John viewed the Anderson incident as one sided, while viewing the Tickle and Barcia incident as a couple of racers working out their issues. Therefore the latter punishment issued did not warrant severity. I asked John, if Barcia ran his bike into Tickle after the race and Tickle smacked Barcia’s helmet, wouldn't he sit them both down for the night? John said, “Not necessary to sit either guy down. They had a disagreement, it got heated and I dealt with it. Anderson’s incident was not this, it was all one sided. He was dealing with this issue because of what he thought happened on the track, and by the way, he [Anderson] was incorrect. What happened on the track was not Friese’s fault.” I asked John if Barcia was on probation and he confirmed, “No. He was warned but not to that degree.” He also stated when the Barcia and Tickle incident got out of hand he had to interject himself, but he preferred to let them work it out first. Both teams got involved and asked for action, so he had no choice to intervene and punish both riders. Tickle’s punishment included starting last in the Semi, receiving a written warning, and paying a fine. Barcia received a written warning.
As far as the Chad Reed/Blue flag penalty, John informed me he contacted Reed on the Monday after the event informing him of his penalty. At this time he tried every possible way to inform Reed of the appropriate way to appeal the penalty in a proper and timely fashion. John attempted to inform Reed of the proper procedure, due to Reed’s past incident with the Black Flag and Trey Canard. Once the black flag has been thrown, Reed had no way to appeal the penalty. John confirmed this was not the reason he did not Black Flag Reed. His concern was related to making sure Dungey didn't have another issue that might be slowing him down, such as a tire going down or a clutch slipping. If Dungey was experiencing any issues, and Reed wasn't holding him up, then it would be unfair to Black Flag Reed. Upon finding out Dungey had no issues, and to also have time to analyze all facets of the incident, is when John decided to penalize Reed.
As far as inconsistent punishments, John stated, “my job is to change behavior. If a rider feels a certain behavior is acceptable and the rest of the paddock doesn't feel it is acceptable, I have to figure out how to take a group of people that are vastly different in ability, quality of team, and funding, to find a way to make this all work.” In relation to different punishments for different riders John stated, “in regard to Jason Anderson, points are a big deal. A fine not so much. If you flip the situation and Friese threw the punches, a fine that would affect Anderson would bankrupt a Vince Friese and Vince doesn't have enough points for what Jason lost at that race now. Vince would still owe me points.” John determines decisions based on what is “equitable to each rider,” and the rule book allows this.
Bottom line is punishments are his decision. I asked if John considered punishing Barcia in St. Louis for his take out of Alex Ray (which he didn't see until watching the event on television Monday or Tuesday) and he said he told Barcia, “Justin learned that type of thing not only screwed the other guy but also took him out as well.” He continued, “Is that the way you want to move forward because you are riding in the back right now?” John admits there is no clear way to determine when an action requires punishment or it would be written in the rule book. He determines punishments on a rider’s intent and whether or not riders can sort it out themselves. His tasks do not physically allow him to interject himself in every issue. In regard to punishments, John said, “Bottom line is it ends with me!"
In Part 2 I will dive into the rule book and show how loopholes could be closed and ensure less human interjection. This will draw clearer lines as to what is a penalty and what punishments should apply.
By Chris Cooksey
Press conference is at 10:15 Pacific time, what do you want to know?