Boo, Part III

Published January 8th, 2003





Before you read Part III, make sure you’ve read Parts I & II





One of the first things Rick Johnson ever said to me was, “People are going to love you, and hate you” and after a short pause, “all for the same reason.”



I’d just driven to Los Angeles to meet with Rick and the rest of the Supercross.com crew. We were sitting in a small sushi restaurant with neon art deco on the walls that leapt in the face of a night more black than blue, just outside the frontage windows. I was there to discuss joining forces with Supercross.com, and I was nervous.



I remember two things about that moment. I didn’t understand how his statement applied to me. I had a pretty good idea how it applied to him, of course, but not to me. Why would people hate me? I simply presented the races with drama and detail. The riders were the ones exposing themselves, not me. That was the whole idea. Put the reader in the race. Let him see it, hear it, feel it. If I did my job right, I wouldn’t even be there.



The second thing I noticed, the thing that interrupted my thoughts every time I turned to face him, was the intensity of his gaze. Rick Johnson doesn’t just look at you when he speaks. He looks into you. And it isn’t a friendly feeling. He has the hard, urgent stare of a prizefighter.



Months later, I brought that observation up to him and he laughed. He said his father was a fighter.



When I was growing up, my father was my hero. He was tougher than me, smarter than me, meaner than me. His bike was bigger and louder than mine. He rode faster than I did. He was the law, and every weekend, the law was riding. That was motocross to me. It wasn’t a sport. It was my life. It was what I learned to measure myself against, and it had nothing to do with magazines or admission tickets. I remember the motocross magazines lying around the house. I never even picked them up.



It wasn’t until I raced the CMC Golden State Series as a teenager that I came to understand the spectacle of professional motocross. I raced on Saturdays. My father raced on Sundays. The same day as Rick, Jeff Ward, Johnny O’Mara, Mark Barnett, Ron Lechien, Danny Chandler, Bob Hannah, Donnie Hansen, David Bailey and Broc Glover. Those were the glory years of the Golden State Series. The factory teams used it to prepare for each new season, fine-tuning their now legendary one-off works bikes. Every weekend for two months, I watched the stars battle moto by moto, I watched the title-chases unfold on pink carbon-paper stapled to the sides of sign-up shacks, and I watched the kids crowd around the neat rows of box vans, scrambling for racers’ jerseys.



I never asked for one. Eric Kehoe didn’t ask for jerseys. George Holland didn’t either. Nor Mike Healey, or Mouse McKoy. All of those guys were my age or younger, and they were factory minicycle stars. In their company, I felt shame. I dreamt of being a hero myself. They were heroes today.



For them, motocross was something completely different that what it was for me. Their motocross had wealth and prestige, exotic equipment and professional mechanics. Their motocross pitted a fearless calm against mind-boggling speed, and showed the pinnacle of accomplishment.



It was then that motocross ceased to be a way of life for me, and became a sport.



I had this in mind when I sat down to write Boo. I focused on Star Wars, because aside from Bob Hannah’s rant, it presented itself as the preeminent authority in supercross. I disagreed with the way the sport was presented so one-dimensionally, implying, if not outright stating, that real fans thought dirty riding was okay because dirty riding had always been a part of the sport.



Kris D. writes: “I am assuming that you are one of the many that booed Ricky Carmichael at Anaheim I, as you, felt reprimanded by Steve Cox of Cycle News after reading his editorial. Your feelings are not unfounded; Mr. Cox came across a bit harsh toward all of the booers in attendance that night, but I would say the booing was also a bit harsh. I highly doubt that when Tim Ferry and Steve Cox used the term “contact sport”, they were thinking in terms of a Webster’s Dictionary definition, if there is such a thing. I’m guessing they were trying to say that contact, sooner or later, is inevitable.”



It would have been easy enough to add in the first installment that I was not one of the fans that booed Ricky Carmichael. That I, in fact, wasn’t even in attendance that night. I left myself open to that assumption purposely, something Robert R. is quick to point out: “It seems to me after reading these articles that you are obviously slamming Ricky Carmichael for the way he races. All racers have contact in some way or another. So for anyone to single out just one rider is wrong. These kids pour their hearts into the sport only to have journalists like yourself cut them to ribbons with your comments. So my suggestion to you is to be a real journalist and quit stirring the pot and talk about positive issues instead of negative.”



I was guilty of stirring the pot. I wanted reader feedback on a timely issue, and I didn’t want to show my hand in the first installment, when there were two more to go. What surprised me about Robert’s assertion was that I had cut Ricky Carmichael to ribbons.



Mathew S. writes: “When Carmichael and Pastrana got together I stood up and clapped and rooted Carmichael on. Is your reason for not liking Carmichael because he does what he has to do, or because he wins too much?”



Again – the feeling that I’m against Ricky Carmichael. This was the kind of feedback I wanted. Strong opinions from people who weren’t afraid to voice them. Wasn’t I doing the same?



Still, it surprised me how many felt my examination of contact in supercross was an examination of Ricky Carmichael exclusively. I used Ricky’s encounter with Jeremy at Anaheim III previously to show that Ricky himself appreciates the value of a race won without contact. I wanted to transition from my examination of brake-checking, which Mr. Cox puts forward as a virtue, into the idea of a racer’s honor, and compare that to the honor of his fans, which was, ultimately, the subject of Boo.



JR M., Michigan, has a different take: “You’re right; no one should be booing Ricky because he’s awesome. He’s number one in my book. He loves to win and like you said, he’s doesn’t need the public to do it.”



Zack P.: “I just wanted to tell you that you’re right. Ricky deserves respect. I hope that between you and Hannah, people understand what they are doing to a Champion when he wins.”



Alex P., Connecticut: “Hey man, I just wanted to thank you for having the guts to say what needed to be said about Ricky. It’s total crap that people boo him, or anybody racing a professional event. Ricky truly is a champ. Thanks, and way to go.”



Even if I were able to prove once and for all that brake-checking was a dirty tactic, it wouldn’t mean that Ricky was guilty of it. Whether Ricky was innocent or guilty of putting Travis down was immaterial to me. It wasn’t to the readers.



Joe J. writes: “I never thought I would be booing Ricky Carmichael. I have always enjoyed watching him kick butt. But when he went to the inside of Pastrana, with one of the biggest block-passes I’ve ever seen, I was the first person in that stadium to stand up and start booing him as loud as I could, and I would do it again.”



Scott S.: “Block-passing is racing and those who don’t like it should find another sport. I think Ricky’s an aggressive rider in an aggressive sport. Being aggressive wins races, right?”



Chris H.: “If one rider were to take another out and jump up-and-down on his head, it would be clear to see that the line had been crossed. But if one rider block-passes another rider for position, that’s racing, that’s strategy, and that’s going-for-broke.”



Paul W.: “I am perfectly fine with what Ricky did. It’s called a block-pass and in Supercross it’s often used. Travis does it. Ricky does it. This is a completely different thing from taking a guy’s front wheel out, or tee boning the guy in front of you.”



Eric L.: “If you look at the tape you will clearly see that Travis does not lock up his rear wheel in an attempt to brake-check Ricky. He simply takes away Ricky’s line and continues to pass. Now look at Ricky’s pass. He locks up the rear wheel and slides into Travis playing his little games like he did with Chad Reed in Vegas.”



Steve O.: “I recorded the race and have watched this incident several times. Ricky did not make a clean block-pass, however, nothing I see on the video indicates that he brake-checked Travis.”



Stephen H.: “Carmichael was not in the wrong. His pass was just as close as Travis’ was a few corners previously. It was just unlucky that Travis’ fork leg caught on Ricky’s bike and dragged him down.”



Doug F.: “If you watched it on TV it was clear that Ricky had more than a wheel on Travis coming out of the corner. Travis turned into Ricky, making the contact and catching Ricky’s foot peg.”



Bill P.: “Ricky said that he went for the pass and Travis stayed on the gas and that’s why he went down. Sorry, I watched it in slow mo and he slid into Travis and then gassed it. Looked to me Travis had to gas it just to try and stay up.”



So which is it? Steve Cox contends Ricky employed a brake-check. Others say with authority it was a block pass. Some say it was just an accident. Even with camera angles and VCR’s, the cause of the crash gains no more clarity. One thing is sure: slow motion or no, fans remain divided. Heck, if readers can have opposing interpretations of a static piece of journalism, how can there ever be one correct view of a battle that happens in an instant and is over with? Who, in good conscience, can step forward and claim to have the definitive answer?



Chris H. writes: “I was at the race, and did boo when Ricky took out Travis. After I saw the replay I realized that Ricky did not take Travis out, and he didn’t deserve the booing.”



Scott D.: “I didn’t boo but felt very cheated that Travis wasn’t still on the pegs to get him back. Not blaming Ricky, I wasn’t in the corner, they were.”



Anonymous: “Yes, if I saw it live, I would boo, but after further review. Hmmmm. It was a heck of a pass, and that’s racing!”



Travis Pastrana has taken responsibility for his fall, a result of some dirty riding of his own. However, there are many who feel Ricky didn’t need to put them in the situation in the first place.



Carl Q., Idaho, writes: “My family and I watched the Anaheim race on ESPN and we all booed when Ricky and Travis got tangled up. I realized I’d just booed a true star of Supercross. Ricky’s talent alone is enough to win without riding dirty. I would hate see all of his hard work and dedication to the sport be ruined by resorting to the race tactics he showed in Anaheim.”



Mark: “McGrath was adored because he was a class act and clean rider, besides being incredibly fast. He always gave his competitors room. Carmichael seems to routinely pull moves that the fastest rider on the track should not have to resort to. He punted Ezra at the U.S. Open this year in his charge to the front. The fans see these things, and they are more savvy than Bob Hannah and others give them credit for.”



Josh M.: “When Ricky wins I cheer for him. However, I have noticed that when behind in a race, he sometimes ends up taking riders out. I believe that Ricky is so talented he can avoid those situations and still win. The ability to pass and ride around other riders, and not into them, is just as important as speed.”



It seems that Ricky’s aggression on the track is admired by some, and decried by others. Still, it’s logical to assume that those who boo him aren’t his fans, right? Wrong.



Nathan writes: “I was in the stands at Anaheim I. I didn’t boo, although my 6-year-old did, and he’s the RC fan! Most people booed Ricky simply because he had the chance to race with Travis, and he did kind of block him in that corner. The crash was Travis’ fault, but Ricky was visibly riding to block Travis. The fans were starving for a race and instead got two laps of one.”



Just because his fans boo, however, doesn’t necessarily mean they dislike him.



Mike B., Arizona: “If only the purists attended these events, we would have about 40,000 empty seats each week. The fans are entitled to boo at a sporting event as they choose. They may have booed just to vent their frustration that Travis went down. Ever boo at a referee at a football game even though you know deep down that the refs were probably correct? You’re not mad at the refs. You’re upset that the call on the field didn’t go in your team’s favor. Same thing here.”



Myth number two: those who root against Ricky don’t admire him or his accomplishments. It just isn’t true.



Derrick S. writes: “Supercross is a contact sport but it shouldn’t be intentional. When Travis crashed at Anaheim it was not Ricky’s fault, and I’m a Travis fan. I think people should respect Ricky for what he’s done for the sport.”



Mark, Australia: “I think every rider has his own style of competing. Ricky treats every lap like it’s the last lap in a 250 main and he’ll do whatever it takes to win. Jeremy had the confidence to wait for the right time and pass people clean, but that was his own style of racing. Ricky’s pass on Travis was totally legal and it doesn’t deserve the booing that it created.”



Eric T.: “Ricky Carmichael hasn’t given us any reason to like him. He’s a taker not a giver. He rides, does the interview and disappears. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Travis. Bob Hannah was the greatest personality we’ve ever had. Key word here is personality. But that little Floridian is awesome to watch ride.”



In the three days after posting the first installment of Boo, I received over 250 e mails. People from all over the world had something to say about Ricky and Travis and the sport they embody. It came as no surprise to me. Nor was I surprised at how personally they took what had happened between Ricky and Travis, whether they were there in Anaheim or not.”



Marc B. writes: “Ricky is like a machine. He says the right things, talks about his sponsors and is always fair. It’s actually kind of cold. It may not seem professional to let your feelings show, but sometimes, that’s why the fans like someone. I know the riding should be the focus, but the more you see these guys, the more emotional you get about them. It feels like you know them personally. I would like Ricky to be a bit more aggressive towards his detractors.”



And there you have it. The fans don’t need to be reprimanded, nor do they need to learn to see supercross the way anyone else does. Countless people come to take part in its spectacle for countless reasons, the sport itself meaning different things to each one of them. Supercross isn’t cheapened because of it. It’s the stronger for it. The fans boo for the same reason they cheer. Because they want more. More battles. More persona. More discussion, and more champions.



There is only one rider right now, who can either stand in their way, or give them what they want. Team Honda’s Ricky Carmichael.



—————————————————————–



I want to thank everyone that’s written me with their thoughts on Parts I & II. It’s truly impressive! I’ve had responses from every state in the USA, and just about every country in the world.



Tyler



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