The California 200-One Year Later – Part 5

The California 200-One Year Later

Part five of a multi-part series on

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3:

Part 4

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Sadly tragedy again strikes the Off-road community. On August 11th Brian Lynn owner of the Slash X Café lost his life in an automobile accident, near the famous desert café. Brian Lynn and his family supported the California 200 Memorial and where instrumental in helping find a permanent home for the memorial.  The dedication will be held at 6:00pm August 13th.

Become a member of something…. A club, a district, anything…If you are active, most groups have access to land issues.” -Jerry Grabow.

In October of 1998, Craig Diller attended an MDR race with his uncle Tom Costa. Diller, attempting to keep track of his uncle’s racecar, traveled to various places along the course on his motorcycle. Diller crashed while trying to cross an unmanned section of the MDR racecourse. The crash resulted in Diller falling on the racecourse where he was subsequently run over by a racecar. Diller suffered from a heart attack, fractured leg, a broken shoulder, and an anterior cruciate ligament tear. To recover the costs of his injuries, Diller filed a lawsuit against MDR for negligence. In his second amended complaint, Diller alleged that the defendants negligently, recklessly, willfully, and maliciously failed to place warning signs or barricades along the power line road. In 2003, the case was settled out of court.

Only one year after MDR started promoting races, they where introduced to problems with spectators and course marking difficulties. The difficult question to answer is why would a company who has the largest amount of calendar dates in the BLM’s California Desert District, a history of spectator incursions on the race course who have filed a lawsuit claiming the course was not properly marked, and been the target of multiple years of defamation on desert racing blogs not made an effort to improve its safety standards?

I look to a quote from Henry Ford for the answers when I find myself dwelling on blame. “One who fears the future, who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity more intelligently to begin again. There is no disgrace in honest failure; there is disgrace in fearing to fail. What is past is useful only as it suggests ways and means for progress.

It could have happened at any event, at any time, to anyone. We must look to the future, and hope that those who lost their lives, those that will bear the scars of this terrible tragedy, and those who have carried the burden of blame will not have done so in vain. We must make changes to the way we look at off-road racing or it will become a lesson in history.  With the increase in popularity of short course racing, potential sponsors are flocking to the neatly packaged venue where spectators pay a ticket fee, sit in the stands, and drive home when the event is over. Off-roading is not that sanitized. Families need to travel to that remote location, they watch the kids play in the dirt and sit around a campfire sharing a meal. The remote location and inhospitable wilderness is very much a part of the attraction. Most every desert racer can share a story of the amazing images he has seen in the wilds of our deserts. You don’t get that sitting in the stands watching a 1-mile course eating an overpriced hot dog.

If off-road events are to survive in the United States we must all work together on a ways and means for progress. Promoters must adopt a unified set of safety standards. The spectators must respect the rules and maintain a safe distance from the course and be willing to apply peer pressure and education to those who would jeopardize our future. Our racers must lead by example and be a positive role model for those that are coming into the sport. The BLM must continue its communication with OHV leadership to build a proactive management plan. I am reminded of Bob Bowers’ “What About You” opinion piece, “People, the single biggest danger to our safety as we involve ourselves in this race is us. Us. We represent the single largest jeopardy to our own well being out of all the freak things that could happen. On the surface, it would seem that those most in danger of clobbering themselves are those that have less experience down there. I wonder?”  You can find the complete version here.

As I ponder the future of off-road recreational events, I hope that we are strong enough to fight for what we believe in, and never forget we must do a better job to make sure that it never happens again. Sometimes you just have to slowdown to see what really matters.

This series of articles is dedicated to the men and woman who spend their free time fighting for OHV users rights to recreate, the racers and spectators who will carry the weight of the California 200 for the rest of their lives, Andrew Therrinn, 22, of Riverside, CA; Brian Wolfin, 27, of Escondido, CA; Anthony Sanchez, 23, of Escondido, CA; Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas, NV; Zachary Freeman, 24, of Fillmore, CA; and Dustin Malson, 24; of Ventura, and the families who miss them.

Please consider joining one of the fine OHV user groups who fight day in and out to maintain our freedom to enjoy OHV recreation. Get involved with the SRP sub-committee by attending a quarterly meeting and volunteer at an event.

You can make a difference!

About the Author

Jeff Knoll is the former Event Director for the King of the Hammers event. He has raced various classes in SCORE, BITD, MORE, and MDR. Following the California 200, Knoll travelled to Washington, DC to meet with BLM officials regarding the Special Recreation Permit policies of the BLM. Knoll serves on the BLM’s Desert Advisory Sub-Committee regarding Special Recreation Permits. Knoll also drafted language for Nevada’s Senate Bill 156 in 2011 regarding action sports safety.

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