By now, most of the off-road community has heard of the tragic race accident at the MDR California 200 in Lucerne Valley, California. Due to the national coverage, there are probably quite a few people outside of the off-road community that have heard of the accident that took the lives of eight spectators and injured others. Even my mother, who went Jeeping for the first time this weekend but knows very little of off-roading, texted me to ask if I was at the race.
The event occurred on Federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), but the California Highway Patrol (CHP) took the lead on investigating the accident because of its magnitude. It’s unclear what they will uncover. MDR did have the proper approval to hold the race, but the BLM, which has also said it will investigate the accident, released a statement saying that MDR’s permit required racers to travel 15 mph or less when they were within 50 feet of fans, and allowed no more than 300 spectators for the event.
Regardless of the CHP or BLM’s finding, it is a very dark time for the off-road community. Though the sport involves risk for both drivers and spectators, that risk doesn’t help explain why this happened. It has been noted in the national media that no major fencing was put up in the area to protect spectators and keep them back from the course, which has caused a stir of controversy in the media and general public at large. But one well-written AP news item spoke to a Southern Californian to get an off-road enthusiast’s take on the inherent risk of the sport. “That’s desert racing for you,” said John Payne of Anaheim. “You’re at your own risk out here. You are in the middle of the desert. People were way too close and they should have known. You can’t really hold anyone at fault. It’s just a horrible, horrible accident.”
It’s unclear how this will impact off-road races in the U.S. in the future. It is unrealistic to think the entire 50-mile racecourse could be fenced in, but clearly some spectators had gotten too close to the action to have enough response time to get out of the way.
While the off-road community continues to search for answers, it’s unfortunate how some in the national media have portrayed the event. In one news item over the weekend, the authors linked the event to other “recent” race accidents, noting “The crash was the latest in a series of race accidents that have proved deadly to spectators.”
Of these accidents referenced, the writers link an illegal drag race that occurred on-road in Maryland in 2008, an NHRA event in Arizona earlier this year where a woman was killed by a tire that came off a vehicle, and a dragster accident at a fundraising event in Tennessee in 2007. These are all tragic events as well, but what’s the connection to off-road? One event was an illegal drag race in a suburban area on PAVED ROAD … what the hell does that have to do with off-road racing? Nothing.
The accident in Lucerne Valley this past weekend was horrible, and it’s something the off-road community will never forget. Was it preventable? What can we do in the future? We will all look to answer these questions in the coming days. But for now, media, please don’t sensationalize the story for more dramatic effect. Drawing parallels to unrelated events does nothing but provoke more controversy, and a respected news outlet such as AP should know better than that.
For those looking to help victims and their families, FAST Aid is a non-profit agency helping to gather funds. For more information, visit www.fast-aid.org.