Monday, June 30, 2014

Risking life and limb to electrify racing - is it worth it? PLEASE, do it safely!

Bobby Goodin, R.I.P.
A question in my mind since the 2014 TT ZERO (and TT) at the Isle of Man is the carnage happening in this kind of race.  The TT course, the Pikes Peak course, and some other races, are severe challenges between person, machine, and the elements.  The challenge is higher than at regular race tracks, and while track based racing see's a fair amount of injury and even death, courses like the Snaefell Mountain Course (Isle of Man) or Pikes Peak seem to have a higher rate of injury and death.

What I'm pondering is my role in this process.  By covering these events as news I'm contributing my little bit to the spectacle around the event, and contributing my little bit to encouraging other riders to participate.  Some of whom have wives and children at home who would be devastated if it was their husband whose face appears on TV thanks to a fatal accident.

I've covered the electric racing scene since 2009 - including Zero Motorcycles' "24 Hours of Electricross" event, and at the Vintage Motorcycle event in Ohio that year where the TTXGP made its first appearance in North America.  Following that was several years attending TTXGP, e-Power, eRoadRacing and REFUEL races, as well as remotely covering events like the TT ZERO and PPIHC.

Covering electric racing has been, for me, a matter of recognizing that in order to change the worlds transportation system, we have to go into and transform every field of transportation.  That includes racing.

For this project of electrifying all transportation to work, we have to convince the serious gear heads to begin racing with electric vehicles.  That means building, racing, and winning with electric vehicles that catch attention of the gear heads, breaking the haze of their gasoline addiction.  That also means entering the territory, getting into the same events, as regular racing - and obviously it'll take a "few" years to fulfill that destiny, but it must eventually happen.

Fortunately the electric race vehicles are improving rapidly - as evidenced by events like Mugen's win at the TT ZERO this year (117 miles/hr lap speed) and Lightning's win at Pikes Peak last year (10 minutes).  The 2014 Pikes Peak saw a smaller electric field, but the first sub-12 minute time by a production electric motorcycle ridden by Jeff Clark, and an excellent first showing Brutus Motorcycles with Jeremiah Johnson riding (I'll be getting to the details of this later - if I'm misrepresenting this somehow, bear with me, I haven't looked up the details yet).  All this is proof positive that electric motorcycle capabilities are moving forward rapidly.

At the 2014 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, reports that Bobby Goodin died shortly after finishing the race.  He's an experienced rider, had just finished 4th in his class ("Pikes Peak Middleweight", gas powered, with a 11:07 time), and unfortunately when he raised his arm in victory he lost control of his bikes, hit some boulders, destroying his bike, sending him flying, and he died on the spot.

The same report says deaths among racers and race officials at the Pikes Peak race is fairly infrequent.

The Isle of Man TT event has had enough deaths that there's a very long Wikipedia page to list deaths at that race.  There were two deaths this year, Bob Price and Karl Harris, and I know from having listened to lots of ManxRadio coverage during TT Week that several other "incidents" resulted in serious injury.  In 2009, the first year of electric racing during TT Week (when it was still run by the TTXGP), John Crellin died in the Senior TT race after completing the TTXGP.

To give a sense of conditions at Pikes Peak, consider this video shot as riders were returning down the mountain last week during practice.  All of a sudden a riderless motorcycle comes tumbling down from above, and fortunately the impacted rider was able to avoid a serious crash, performed a perfect roll on the ground, and didn't fall off the cliff himself.  But just look at the narrow margin these guys have, and how far they have to fall if they do go off the edge.

Obviously, racing on this sort of course comes at the risk of injury and death.  Some people enjoy taking that risk.

What is our role, as spectators and journalists, in this scene?  It's not far removed from something like the fights in the Roman Coliseum where people were literally fighting to the death.

Don't we, as the spectators and journalists, have on our hands the blood of every racing death?

Those of us who choose to participate in electrifying the racing scene - PLEASE PLEASE do so safely.

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