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By: Robert Janis

Bureau of Land Management

BLM Reviews Off-Road Racing Nationwide After Accident in California

The Bureau of Land Management has ordered a review of off-road racing on property administered by the agency as a result of an accident at an off-road racing event on public land in California that killed and injured spectators.
The director of the Bureau of Land Management, Bob Abbey, said that the review will be on a case-by-case basis on each approved and pending request to hold an off-highway vehicle racing event on public lands for which the BLM offers permits. Abbey also said that the agency plans to increase its on-site presence at all off-road racing events.
The action, once again, has made producers and sponsors of off-road racing events that include motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles to review their own procedures to assure that occurrences such as the tragic event in California does not happen again. Many in the sport have called for a dialog with the BLM before the agency issues possible restrictions.

Mark Lundgreen, chairman of the Utah Sportsman Riders Association (USRA), said as of now he has not had any meetings with BLM representatives concerning this issue. He did have opinions, however, on what is and could be developing. “My personal opinion of the difference between what happened in California and what is happening in Utah is that we do not allow anyone out on to our courses when we hold events,” he said. “Most of our spectators are pit crew people, and they are actually in the pits where bikes and ATVs travel under 5 miles per hour. Those rules are followed very strictly.”

Lundgreen said that he understands that producers or sponsors cannot control everything that may occur on public land. He realizes that people can gather throughout the course but he believes that his organization has done a good job keeping spectators back away from the course. “Most of the time people have been pretty good about staying away from the course,” he said. “Fortunately, so far we haven’t had any of the issues like those that took place in California. However, it does bring more attention for us to be a little bit more careful and to be a little bit better prepared to keep people away from the course. Members of our organization have talked about this, and we will try to set in more rules and regulations to control things. We will make a little bit more of a conscious effort on our part that what happened in California never happens here.”

Lundgreen pointed out that the USRA hires sheriff office personnel to come out to events. Called the G Posse, they man all the road crossings, and they deal directly with spectators, said Lundgreen. “We have excellent radio communications with them, and we haven’t had any issues with spectators as far as viewing off-road racing is concerned.”

He is afraid that “higher ups” in the BLM will probably come up with some kind of regulations and administer them through the individual local offices. He added that so far there has been no “on-the-record conversations” between the local office of the BLM in Utah and himself or members of his organization concerning this.

Lundgreen concluded that he is willing to work with the BLM to set rules that his organization could follow. “Our organization constantly meets with the BLM in Utah to work out all sorts of things,” he said. “We help BLM with fencing and all sorts of other things. I hope that the local office will ask us for advice concerning how we can limit occurrences like the one in California. So, if there is a way to get together with the BLM to prevent this from happening in the future, then by all means let’s do it. Safety is our number one priority for riders, spectators, pit crew, personnel running the race, everybody. Safety is our number one concern for everyone involved.”

Casey Folks is director of The Best in the Desert Racing Association which holds events in Nevada and other locations. According to Folks most of his races take place on BLM property. “We have nine events a year, and maybe three of them do not take place on BLM property,” he said.

He noted that BLM has standard stipulations that he must follow. Many of them are basic, but some are tailored to a specific district or state. For example, he said that he has to deal with a lot of endangered species regulations that include plants and animals like the Mohave Desert tortoise. He said that under extreme situations he has to file special papers with BLM in order to get a permit to race.

Folks said that he expects the BLM to mandate more stipulations as a result of the incident in California. “The good news for The Best in the Desert is that we already have set the standard for safety in off-road racing,” he said. “Best in the Desert has spectator and race control. I don’t put on a race unless I have total control of it. Total control means proper communications, first aid people in proper places, checkpoint people in proper places, and we are controlling spectator areas.”

For most of their races Folk said that his people direct spectators to pit areas where they can control them. “We know where they are. We have marked areas, and spectators must be behind that. Spectators are not allowed to drink alcohol. Moreover, pit locations are mandatory stop areas. Vehicles cannot go more than 25 miles per hour in pit areas. This creates a safe environment.”

Folks said that he has Best in the Desert personnel directing and monitoring spectators and that there are pit captains with their own staff that control spectators in the pit areas.

Folks volunteered that the BLM is constantly conferring with him concerning rules and regulations. “We set the standard; and the BLM is constantly calling us and saying that they like something that we do, and they ask us for permission to use our ideas and mandate them for other organizations to follow,” he said.

As far as stipulations as a result of the California accident, Folk suggested that the BLM “open up a dialog with race sponsors.”

He asserts that spectators have responsibilities too, but that “we all have to be safe out there,” he concluded.
Lou Peralta of Alta Vista Events in California City, California, said that the BLM review has not affected him directly. However, they have affected him indirectly and personally. “I belong to an off-road club called The Checkers, and we participate in local races,” he said. “As participants in off-road events on public land we are always concerned that we may lose areas where we compete. We have a stake in this to be certain that public land off-road racing events don’t go away.”

He said that he has not been in contact with the BLM concerning their review as a result of the California incident. However, he did say that he is involved with a couple of groups that want to “speak with one voice” concerning the issue. “I got a call from someone with ORBA who is trying to get all the promoters from San Diego all the way up to California City together so that we can all speak in one voice,” he said. “We want to come up with ideas, suggestions, and ways by which we can mitigate a lot of the concerns. I believe that there are ways to do it. Personally, I am involved in a couple of projects we will have for next year. But more importantly, I want to make sure that BLM doesn’t over react. I hope that everyone takes a deep breath and think with clear minds. Yes, we do need to sit down with the BLM and discuss it. However, let’s go into these meetings without the fear that we have to save our sport or that they will try and close us down. We have to go into this to find ways to make it better.
“Everyone has to understand where we are coming from and where we want to go,” Peralta continued.

He said that he is working on some things about the sport with other people and that at the appropriate time they will elect one individual to head up the group and serve as its spokesperson in possible meetings with BLM.

“The important thing is that we are all singing the same song as they say,” he concluded.

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