Craig Murto: Flat track season ends in tragedy

The dust had hardly settled on the Santa Rosa, California, mile and Bryan Smith’s celebration of his 2016 Flat Track Grand National season motorcycle racing championship before news spread of the day’s tragedies.

Word spread that (Grand National Championship 2 rider Charlotte Kainz was pronounced dead at the hospital Sunday following a crash in Turn 2 of her heat race. Eyewitness accounts state that another rider crashed, and his tumbling motorcycle impacted Kainz.

Monday it was learned that a rider who crashed in the GNC2 feature race, Kyle McGrane, also died of his injuries.

The Daytona Motorsports Group, which leases the rights to promote flat track racing from the American Motorcyclist Association released a statement on the tragedies.

“AMA Pro Racing is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of professional flat track riders Charlotte Kainz and Kyle McGrane, and extends heartfelt condolences to their families,” the release reads. “Kainz and McGrane were involved in separate racing incidents during last weekend’s AMA Pro Flat Track race in Santa Rosa, Calif. Emergency responders were on the scene within seconds of each incident and the riders were transported to Memorial Hospital in Santa Rosa where they succumbed to their injuries.”

Michael Lock, CEO of AMA Pro Racing, stated in a news release, “The flat track community is tight knit, and today we are all mourning,

“Charlotte and Kyle were talented competitors with bright futures. Our deepest condolences go out to their families and friends in this time of need.”

Kainz was 20, from West Allis, Wisconsin. McGrane, from Pennsylvania, was 17. The GNC2 class is a support division to the headlining GNC1.

Tragedies such as this evoke a lot of emotions from those who follow the sport. But having seen footage on Fanschoice.tv and read many eyewitness accounts, it appears that track conditions – dust, in particular – were a problem.

That region of California has been dealing with record heat, and such was the case on race day. But observers note that even during the one-hour delay following Kainz’s crash, not a single water truck took to the track to help alleviate the dusty conditions. Local dirt tracks such as Lincoln Speedway in Pennsylvania will water the track between every event if needed.

Some professional riders have complained that dusty tracks were an issue all season. Hopefully, as the series heads into 2017, the issue will be addressed properly.

DMG took some criticism for not releasing a statement right away following the deaths of these riders. Instead, the first thing they did following the Santa Rosa event was to re-brand the series.

AMA Pro Racing issued a release stating that the series will now be called American Flat Track, and the format and rules will change. It makes sense that the name be changed, since the AMA really doesn’t have anything to do with racing anymore other than leasing the rights to the series, and AMA Pro Racing has nothing to do with the AMA.

Event formats change in 2017. The fastest 48 riders from timed qualifying advance to the heats. The program will consist of four six-lap Heats with nine of the 12 riders transferring to one of the two Semis, where 18 riders race for the nine spots that transfer them to the 18-rider Main. The premiere AFT Twins class keeps its 25-lap Main, and the supporting AFT Singles class increases from 12 to 15 laps.

And there’s also talk of another flat track series, started by a group called Octane Sports Management. The “Steel Shoe Nationals” will consist of at least five race events in 2017, according to internet reports, which also claim a TV deal has been signed. We’ll see; we wish them well, but rival series don’t have a history of success.

There’s a lot of talk about flat track motorcycle racing enjoying some sort of renaissance. But we lost our local race at Hagerstown, and it doesn’t appear to be back on the schedule for 2017. It’s great that fans and potential fans can watch all the races on Fanschoice.tv, but that doesn’t always equate to ticket sales.

All accidents cannot be avoided, and motorcycle racing will always be dangerous. But when riders complained about dusty track conditions all year, perhaps something needs to be done. The new American Flat Track series will come as close as Williams Grove, Pennsylvania, and Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2017. In honor of Charlotte Kainz and Kyle McGrane, let’s hope that re-branding includes more attention to details such as track prep to make conditions as safe as possible.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.