DECOSTER: NOTORIOUS DISQUALIFICATIONS
In 1998, Sebastien Tortelli won the 250 World Motocross Championship by 8 points over Stefan Everts. Many motocross fans will remember that fact. A less well-known fact was that at the 11th round, Everts had been disqualified for having a damaged muffler–an incident that cost him 13 points and the title. Before the season even ended, Roger DeCoster wrote about the ramifications of that incident and reminisced about other notorious DQs . The following column appeared in the November 1998 issue of Dirt Bike.
If Stefan Everts loses the 250 World Championship this year, he probably has a silencer to blame. Stefan was disqualified at the Brazilian GP because his bike was too loud. It didn’t start the race that way. He had been involved in a first lap pile-up, which somehow damaged his muffler. He got up in last place and worked all the way to fourth, but he was losing silencer packing the whole way. In Europe, the GP rules are much stricter than here. They require that all bikes meet a certain sound standard throughout the race. His crew knew that the silencer was probably too loud. They thought about pulling him into the pits and replacing it, but that would have cost him almost a lap. So they let him go. They figured the situation was clearly beyond Stefan’s control. Besides, Stefan was putting in such a great comeback. No one would be that picky about the rules.
Wrong. These days racing is big business. Money and jobs hang in the balance at every race, so everyone pays attention to every letter in the rulebook. A protest was filed and the officials had to act. Stefan was disqualified. Sure it’s ridiculous. Sure the fans don’t care about the silencer and they were, in a sense, cheated. But this is what happens when human judgment and sportsmanship are eliminated–we’re left with nothing but cold paragraphs in a book to make our decisions.
This is nothing new. Motocross history is filled with unfair disqualifications : and unyielding rules.
- In 1974, the Swiss GP was the final decider for the 250 World Championship. There were two riders in the hunt: Gennady Moiseev from the Soviet Republic and Jaroslav Falta from Czechoslovakia. In the first heat, Falta was leading and Moiseev was almost a lap down. Moiseev decided to wait for Falta, then he plainly and blatantly took the Czech down. Falta got up and finished third. In the next moto, Moiseev and his Soviet teammate Victor Popenko rammed and blocked Falta in every turn. Falta went down again, but this time he remounted and won the race. He was rewarded with a protest. The Soviets claimed he jumped the gate, and for some strange reason, the FIM agreed. Falta was penalized a minute and lost the championship despite putting in one of the greatest rides of his life.
- In 1993 at the Motocross des Nations in Schwanenstadt, Austria, the Italians had a good team with an outside shot at the overall victory. But things got off to a bad start when Alex Puzar-the team’s top rider-showed up a few seconds late to the staging area. The rule said that all the riders had to be there by a certain time, and if the officials let Puzar into the race, they were sure to be drowned in protests. The bottom line: Puzar was forced to sit out the race and watch his team be defeated.
- At the French 250 GP in 1996, Marniq Bervoets crashed and flipped over a snow fence. It was virtually impossible for him to lift the bike back over the fence by himself. As you might expect, several fans came to his aid, lifting him and his bike back into the race. And also as you might expect, Bervoets was protested for receiving outside assistance. He was disqualified despite making an impressive comeback.
- One of the earliest disqualifications in the U.S. that I recall happened about 1970, in the Dallas Trans Am. Sylvain Geboers won the race, then was protested because his Maico had a titanium rear axle. That was legal in Europe, but at the time, not in the U.S. Sylvain appealed his disqualification because the axle had passed tech inspection at previous races. After several days, the decision was reversed, but by then Sylvain had returned to Europe and decided not to compete in the rest of the series.
- At a Saddleback National in the ‘80s, Danny Chandler crashed going up an incredibly steep hill. Magoo rolled back down to the bottom of the hill simply because that was the only direction gravity would allow. He certainly didn’t gain any advantage; it was the only way to climb the hill, which had a big double jump in the middle. He was, of course, disqualified.
- Gary Ogden got one of the strangest disqualifications in the book. He was winning the support race at a Trans AMA, and just before the finish line, he stopped and let his mechanic get on the back of the bike. It was his way of sharing the glory with his crew. The officials said it might have been a nice gesture, but it was unsafe and reckless; he was disqualified.
- At the Rose Bowl in the ’80s, Broc Glover protested Jeff Ward for going backward on the track. Ward wasn’t doing laps in reverse or anything like that. He just crashed and bump-started his bike on the slope of a tabletop. Technically, he went backward on the course, but for just a few feet. In this one instance, common sense won out over the letter of the rulebook. The AMA threw out the protest .
- Bad rules come in all forms. In 1979, there was a claiming rule in the U.S. This meant that after a race, a top finisher was required to sell his bike to any rider who offered him a check for $3500. Obviously, this was way too low a price, especially in the days of the full works bike. So the team managers got together and agreed that if any factory bike were ever claimed, they all would claim the same bike. All the checks would then go into a hat, and one would be drawn. Each of the team managers further agreed to sell the bike back to its original owner, thereby defeating the whole rule. But a privateer named John Roeder actually had his check drawn out of the hat, not once, but twice. The first time, the AMA “didn’t like the look of the check.” The next week, he had a cashier’s check and successfully claimed Marty Tripes’ Honda 250. The claiming rule was immediately suspended.
There are probably thousands of other examples of bad rules, bad protests and bad decisions. I suppose it’s all inevitable when a sport crosses the line into a business. The best man doesn’t always win, at least not in the real world. But we can hope.