I normally attend the Phoenix Supercross in person each year. This time, I did not, but I have seen the televised version of the conflict between Yamaha’s David Vuillemin and Honda’s Kevin Windham (the eventual race winner). According to a report on Cycle News Online here, the sanctioning body of the Phoenix Supercross (AMA Pro Racing) has deducted ten championship points from Kevin Windham as a result of Windham’s collision with Vuillemin (punting Vuillemin off the track). However, we also understand that this penalty has been appealed by Windham. We think the penalty should stand.
Although Vuillemin made an aggressive block pass on Windham just prior to Windham’s infraction, in my opinion, it was aggressive, but legitimate racing, and nothing more. An apparently angry Windham came back at Vuillemin in the next corner (not uncommon), but Windham, again, in my opinion, crossed the line. Screen shots from the television footage of these two encounters can be found at various places on the net, but this link seems to show the encounter best.
Although block passes and bar-banging are a legitimate part of supercross (and motocross), the AMA did the right thing in penalizing Windham. Demolition derby is not a sport I am interested in watching, nor is it a sport skilled supercross riders should participate in. A block pass is one thing, but a deliberate take-out (or take-down) is something entirely different.
AMA representatives must make difficult judgment calls, no doubt. It can be a thankless job, and there will always be critics. If the AMA does nothing in a situation like this, however, efforts to knock riders down (and out) will become more blatant, more common, and result in more serious injuries.
We don’t know how the AMA arrived at ten championship points being the correct penalty, but we support this means (points deduction) of penalizing unsportsmanlike riding. Monetary fines will not work consistently. A wealthy factory rider will view a fine of a few thousand dollars as insignificant (after all, one man’s $2,000.00 is a wealthier man’s $5.00). Taking away championship points is the best way to deter unsportsmanlike riding.
We certainly do not mean to demonize Kevin Windham. Before last evening, you would have to consider Windham one of the cleanest riders at the pro level. His take-out of Vuillemin was out of character, and we all make mistakes when we are angry. Nevertheless, the penalty levied against him by the AMA is a just one.
With the retirement of Duke Finch, and the appointment of new management of supercross by AMA Pro Racing, perhaps, we will see more consistent and equitable assessment of aggressive riding tactics. Supercross is a tough sport, and injuries are all too common, but the risks involved in legitimate supercross racing are knowingly accepted by the riders. The type of collision that occurred between Windham and Vuillemin is not a risk knowingly accepted, and it is the duty of AMA Pro Racing to eliminate (or at least, minimize) this type of risk.