It is with great sadness that we report of the death of 22-year-old AFT singles racer Alec Muth. This is what the AFT release says:
'Alec was a popular guy in the paddock and had a lot of friends in the flat track community,” said Michael Lock, CEO of AMA Pro Racing. 'He scored his first points in AFT this year and recorded a very impressive top-ten finish at the OKC Mile, in June. It is extremely sad that his journey through life has been cut so short and our thoughts are with his family at this time.'
The press release added that he was also a firefighter. He lost his life as a result of injuries sustained at the Black Hills Half-Mile.
Learning of Alec's death brought home just what a regrettable safety record pro flat track has. This is by no means either a definitive list, or a finger-pointing exercise, but just the off the top of my head reaction to some very sad news...
Alec Muth - Dead - August 2018
Jamison Minor - Dead - April 2017
Charlotte Kainz - Dead - September 2016
Kyle McGrane - Dead - September 2016
Add to that the life-changing injuries to Brad Baker (at X Games last month) and Dominic Colindres - paralysed at Peoria 2016. Parker Norris, seriously injured earlier this season, recently took his first steps 41 days after his crash.
It's not clear what AFT is doing to improve safety. Nothing, to my knowledge, was made public about the findings of AFT's proposed investigation into the death of Charlotte Kainz and Kyle McGrane in separate incidents at the Santa Rosa Mile in 2016. Please direct us to the report if there is one.
A lot of fingers were pointed at track prep at the Santa Rosa track. Was track prep, in that scorched area of the country, started early enough, so the track was in prime condition and could be kept raceable with minimal prep on race day? McGrane crashed and hit the outer barrier where there was no air fence, prompting the question, Why doesn't a pro sport have air fence all the way around the track? Eyewitnesses said there were haybales, stockpiled at the track but not used. Could this have helped?
Why is there no public publishing of findings after two riders are killed on the same day? Is the reason that the promoters think they can't do anything to improve safety, so ignore it (in much the same way the Irish road racing community does).
The four X Games that have included flat track are not AFT races, even though the twins class was entirely populated by their racers, and the X Games races have been characterised by very poor tracks. For four years! The Minneapolis track, raced last month, didn't look suitable for twins, and Brad Baker paid a hell of a price to compete at a non-championship race on a poxy pop-up track. After 24 days, he is still paralysed from the waist down.
Why aren't the AFT doing more to protect their racers, their greatest asset, from injury or worse at third party races like X Games?
It's not clear if Brad was wearing a back protector under his leathers, though they are mandatory in AFT races, and if it would have made any difference to his injury. Still, we know plenty of flat trackers, pros and amateurs, who prefer, from time to time, not to wear any kind of armour and perhaps now is the time to make road race style armour with chest/ thoracic protectors mandatory.
The founders of the Flat Track Safety Group are calling for more safety measures after witnessing the deaths of young riders.
Flat track has unique issues affecting safety. Its outright speeds are lower that short circuit road racing, but there is no run off on a flat track before hitting the outside fence of the track. Airfences help, but after the initial impact, there's the increased chance of ricocheting back into the path of other bikes because the track is enclosed. Think what a GP racer does when he or she crashes: they slide on their backside out of danger nine times out of ten.
Speedway shares the same kind of enclosed short tracks, but there's only ever four riders on track, not 18. Flat track twins, on a mile or half-mile, travel significantly faster than the speeds speedway bikes reach on their smaller tracks, and a twin weighs close to twice as much as a speedway 500 does.
The Flat Track Safety Group are calling for more training for riders, right up to pro level, to build 'a great[er] safety awareness in a general sense to distill safety into everyone's race strategy.'
I don't know what the answer is, but how long can young pro riders can't keep dying and the pro sport not seriously discuss improving that record? If it's anything like Irish and Manx real roads racing the answer is indefinitely, I guess.
Hopefully, it goes without saying that we are huge cheerleaders for all levels of this sport, but racers need protecting and educating, perhaps even forcing to look after themselves better.