The sport of motocross is a beautiful blend of human sport mixed with 2-wheeled machines and natural beauty. Outdoor motocross, unlike stadium motocross or arena cross, is staged on natural terrain usually featuring uphills, downhills, jumps, bumps and of course turns—lots of turns in the dirt. Motocross races proceed in any weather. The race must go on unless of course there is a safety concern for the riders.
As motocross evolves and becomes more mainstream for families and friends to take part, so do the rules and regulations responsible for keeping people and their associated machines as safe as possible. There are indeed risks associated with motorcycle racing of all types, so caution must be taken by all parties, and safety becomes a higher priority as more people begin to participate.
The racetracks themselves need to be challenging for the riders but also considered safe. Likewise for spectators, the track and racers provide exciting action, however the risk of a motorcycle colliding with a spectator must be minimized through thoughtful track design, barrier installations and cushioning of immoveable objects.
This article is specifically authored regarding closed course motocross tracks and not long-distance, point-to-point events like hare scrambles, enduro, hare and hound, or cross-country races which have natural occurring objects that cannot all be covered, padded, or protected for the riders’ benefit. An adult-sized, closed-course outdoor motocross track is usually between 1.0 and 1.75 miles long enabling racers to find a repeatable “lap rhythm” while spectators watch much of the track from various vantage points. As an example, not all the safety considerations in this paper could be implemented over a 100- mile open-course cross-country race through a forest or across rocky desert terrain. Other precautions specific to those types of non-motocross events are available from organizations like BITD, WORCS, SCORE, and GNCC. On a closed course motocross track where much closer racing action abounds between riders, it is necessary to consider more safety precautions covered in this July 2023 article.
II. Keeping the Racers Safe
- The waiver: This is between the landowner, the race promoter, and their lawyers to finalize. It is recommended that all entries to the track area—spectators and racers—be issued a wristband to be worn while on the property. This allows track staff to know who entered the property correctly, paid their gate fee, and signed the waiver after reading it. Those not wearing a wristband should be offered the chance to re-enter the property properly or be escorted off the property.
- Referee, Chief Marshal, or Clerk of the Course: There are various titles for this position including referee, clerk of the course, marshal, or chief marshal. The Chief or Clerk of the Course is responsible for all activities at the track including rider behaviors, motorcycle inspection and compliance, track conditions, safety precautions, starting and finishing, scoring, and supervising his assistant track marshals and flagmen. At some larger outdoor motocross events there will be a separate Technical Officer responsible for motorcycle inspections and technically related protests. The Clerk, Referee or Chief Marshal has “the eye” for maintaining a safe environment for event attendees, racers, spectators, and track staff. When a problem arises, the Marshal makes the call.
- Support staff: This includes people at the front gate taking entry fees and having waivers signed. It also includes assistants to the Clerk of the Course, scorers, and corner flagmen. Many tracks also include a staffed retail store which sells parts, souvenirs, and apparel. These staff members are also asked to report any dangerous activities to the course marshals.
- Flagmen: This is an important responsibility for promoters to provide for any motocross race. Each blind corner or jump needs to have a flagman holding a yellow “caution flag” in the event a rider goes down and is out of sight from other riders coming around the corner or over a jump. It is of tantamount importance that such flagmen understand the need for prompt action to avoid a collision between two or more riders. It is the Clerk of the Course’s responsibility to select the flagmen or women and have them trained before assigning them a specific blind corner or jump.
- Ambulance: It is standard protocol to have 2 ambulances staged and ready before the day’s events begin. Should one ambulance be needed to exit with an injured rider, a second ambulance can be present so as not to delay racing events. It is always a good idea to call another ambulance to be on site should one leave otherwise the promoter will need to delay events until another ambulance can arrive on site.
- Separate age groups: Like in any sport it is a good idea never to mix older-aged riders with younger ones. The older and larger athletes have more physical strength making the contest unfair and more dangerous to younger athletes. Keep like-age groups together. Once racers are past their 20s or 30s and beyond it still makes sense to separate racers by age groups usually at 10- year breaks. Forty-year-olds race against one another and so do 50+ year old and 60+ year olds, etc. Some clubs label these age groups names including Veteran, Senior, Super Senior, etc.
- Separate engine displacements: It would not be fair for a racer with a 125-cc motorcycle to race against a 250-cc or Open Class (350-cc+) motorcycle. The horsepower difference between these sizes of engines would make the race non-competitive. With small youth oriented motorcycles, there are more than a few ways to classify them including electric, 65-cc Junior, 85-cc Small Wheel, 85-cc Big Wheel, and youth 125-cc/250-cc.
- Separate novices from juniors and experts/pros: There will be many riders of varying skill levels attending a motocross event. It is the promoters responsibility to keep “like skill levels” together on the track at the same time for safety purposes. As an example, an expert or pro rider might be able to “double” or even “triple” the jump on the back straight because he has the experience and skill from racing for years. A new racer who has never been to the track before may need to “roll through” these jumps before he can even jump one much less two or three. This is a very dangerous “speed differential” which can result in the expert landing on top of the novice in the jump area. Experts traveling at a much higher speed on the same track as a slower amateur could also perpetuate a collision should the new rider waver or weave where the expert does not expect him to. Separation of these 3 distinct skill levels is important in maintaining a safe racing environment.
- Separate genders: More girls and women are beginning to race motocross, thus should require a separate class under which to compete. It is sometimes permissible to have women start on a “second gate” drop behind the boy’s or men’s class, but that is only if it is determined to be safe by the Marshal having men and women on the course at the same time.
- Mandate and inspect safety apparel and gear: It is important for the race promoter to require top quality protective gear including padded apparel and head protection. An ECE and DOT approved full-faced helmet should be absolutely required and inspected to be sure there are no gashes or dings from previous hits thereby damaging the (non-memory) foam EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) liner. Many tracks have small rocks mixed in the dirt surface which can cause bodily damage should the rider’s chest, face and shins not be padded or protected. Likewise, motocross boots should be required because they provide support on the foot pegs, ankle protection as well as shin protection. New safety technologies are always appearing on the market including helmets which minimize rotational acceleration of the brain in the fluid-filled cranium. Also neck protection using braces of several designs are on the market and can be recommended but not required until such time as a national racing organization like the AMA requires it.
- Technical inspection of the motorcycles: A skilled “Technical Inspector” should be available for an inspection of all racing motorcycles. It is important that the racing machines be safe not only for its racer/owner, but to other racers on the track. An inspector will look for obvious mechanical deficiencies including loose or worn chain, worn sprockets, loose axle nuts, loose handlebars, properly routed cables, working suspension components, regulation number plates, fresh tires, tight spokes, etc. Checklists are available for such tech inspections.
- Staging a mandatory Rider’s Meeting: Before the race begins it is important to gather all the racers together simultaneously to announce how the events of the day will run. Informing racers of the logistics, ruling protocols and safety measures is important to everyone racing that day.
- Pit riding: Riders should be able to ride their race machines carefully and respectfully through the finishing or pit areas before or after a race to get to and from their specific pit camp. No other riders should be permitted in the area. This minimizes the risk of collision between motorcycles and pedestrians in the pits. Speeds should be kept to a maximum of 10 mph and in first gear only.
- Minimizing exposure to the spectators: Spectators love to get close to the action, but sometimes too close. It is advised to have a 20’ to 25’ space between the racetrack and a spectator area. A fence barrier also needs to be in place to keep spectators from edging closer to the track or even trying to cross it during a race. These types of barriers are covered in another part of this paper. It is also recommended to keep spectator areas away from a) the outside of a high-speed turn and b) the bottom of a steep downhill where riders could lose control and exit the track.
- Natural obstructions: Motocross is all about racing over “natural terrain.” However, if the track is designed in such a way to put riders (or spectators) at risk, the design should be reconsidered. For example, it would not be a good idea to split the track “around a tree” leaving it in the middle of the track. If an object is immoveable, then place it on the inside of a corner with a catch fence around it…and cushion it.
- Man-made obstructions: Man-made obstacles like barriers of wood, power poles, heavy fence posts or concrete walls all become hazards when placed near a track where a rider could lose control. Padding with foam, Tuff Blocks or straw bales helps but it is best to either remove the hazard or re-route the track away from it.
- Youth racing: There are special track requirements for youth racers because their wheels, engines and bodies are smaller than adults. Never mix adults and youths on the same track at the same time. The inequity of speed, power and ability is too great and will result in problems. Many venues have special “mini tracks” or youth tracks especially for small-wheeled motorcycles.
- Family and Friends of Racers: Riders are responsible for their friends’ and family’s actions at the track. Irresponsible behavior by those supporting a racer will result in the racer’s immediate disqualification from the event and track.
III. Keeping the Spectators Safe
- Spectator waivers and wristbands: The traditional waiver form signed by both riders and spectators when entering the track area must be thorough and complete. There are many templates available from which to select the one most appropriate for your specific application. It is important that your track staff be able to immediately recognize spectators who have read and signed the waiver at the front gate. The most common recognition method is a colorful wrist band indicating the attendee—spectator or racer—has read and signed the waiver at the front gate. Anyone seen not wearing a wristband should be asked to pay the gate fee and sign the waiver otherwise be evicted from the track and/or OHV park area.
- Signage: The rules of the track and surrounding OHV park area need to be placed on a large, easily readable sign at the front gate where racers and spectators alike will read the rules while waiting their turn to pay the gate fee.
- Barriers: More is discussed and shown in section IV of this paper, but here is a preliminary look at how barriers in motorsports racing have evolved. Spectators need to be separated from the active motocross racetrack by 25’ or more. There also needs to be a protective “catch fence” or flexible barrier between the track and spectator areas to protect spectators from possible “runaway” motorcycles which can occur when a rider/racer loses control of his machine. The evolution of spectator safety barriers in motorsports can be seen by comparing old car racing tracks against new modern ones as depicted below. Naturally, as speed increases so too does the need for stronger, taller, or more substantial barriers. The same separation and protection needs to be incorporated into motocross tracks considering lighter weight vehicles and slower speeds than races like F1 and Indy 500. Motocross racers can still lose control of their 240-pound motorcycles because this sport is one of the most physically taxing in the world next to soccer.
- Separation distance from active track: It has been recommended by several motocross authorities to have a separation of at least 5 to 7 meters (approximately 15 to 25 feet) between an active track area and a spectator area. Should it be close to an immoveable obstacle, the outside of a turn or at the bottom of a fast downhill 2 catch fences are recommended in front of a spectator area.
- Avoiding the outside of turns: Riders and motorcycles usually never run off the track to the “inside” of their turn because their momentum cannot carry them in that direction. It is the “outside” of the turn which becomes more “at risk” for spectators. Track owners and promoters need to pay special attention to the speeds, momentum and likelihood of a motorcycle hopping the berm and pushing to the outside of the track if control is lost. Placing the spectator area on the “inside” of the turn is a safer alternative if terrain and layout permits.
- Where riders tend to lose control: Motocross track designers like to make it challenging for riders because it is a true endurance event. Those riders who are more fit than others will last longer and tend to be on the podium at the finish. But all riders get tired, especially near the end of the race. Their legs and arms can lose their strength and grip respectively thus affecting their form. The result can be a simple “low side” fall into the dirt or it could be more of a high-speed nature coming down a straight of whoop-de- doos or a fast downhill where they could lose control resulting in a runaway or “ghosted” motorcycle which continues through a corner and off the track.
- Track crossings: Spectators should never have an opportunity to cross the actual racetrack, even between races. If the Clerk of the Course or Marshal decides to allow it periodically for crowd control reasons, he or she will make sure it is done safely. Otherwise, the only form of track crossing allowable will be a bridge which is usually “blinded” to avoid spectators loitering or watching the race from above. It is only there for spectators to cross from one side to the other.
- Pedestrians always have right of way: Of course, pedestrians should NEVER be crossing the racetrack during an event unless the Marshal or Clerk of the Course provides permission…between events. In the pit areas or staging areas, pedestrians will have the right of way.
IV. Separating of Racers and Spectators–Types of Barriers
- Wood catch fence: This can be made of loosely tied semi-permanent wooden slats (as pictured) or vinyl debris netting used in construction. The wooden version pictured here is sometimes called a snow fence used often to prevent snow from being blown across a roadway or driveway.
- Chain link catch fence: The chain link works effectively to stop runaway machines, but if the posts are set in concrete, they could become a danger to riders. It is suggested they be placed in dirt postholes filled with rocks and dirt, so they are somewhat moveable in the event of a collision.
- Hay Bales and Tuff Blocks: Tuff Blocks or straw haybales can act to absorb energy when struck by a motorcycle or rider. They often line up multiples along an entire section of a track for both protection as well as advertising. Bale covers or Tuff Block covers can be provided by supporting sponsors or sold to vendors by the race promoter to help pay costs for track maintenance and preparation.
- Rope fences: A single strand of rope is not an effective track barrier, but it can be used to designate the track area itself. Sometimes vinyl flags (with sponsor names) or plastic ropes are also used to line a track, but not protect spectators.
There should always be a constant pursuit of improved safety in any sport whether it be in regulation changes, protective equipment innovation or field/track improvements. A “collective” made up of motocross track owners, track designers and race promoters could certainly improve upon this document with focused input. It is a goal of this author to “prime the pump” for a continuous evolution and improvement of the beautiful sport of motocross racing.
Disclaimer: This paper exhibits and highlights some of the areas which track owners and race promoters should consider for improved safety of their riders and attending spectators. It is NOT a rule book or handbook for building a track and maintaining it. Because this paper is the first of its kind to the author’s knowledge, it remains an evolving document which can incorporate suggestions from other track owners, designers, promoters, and racers. Date-July 2023
- American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Racing Rulebook 2021
- MC Federation Motocross Circuit Guidelines 03/04/2019
- NORA Motorsport Motocross Regulations v1.0 October 27, 2019
- Dirt Wurx Motocross Track designers
About the Author, Eric Anderson
- Former Motorcycle Safety Foundation Instructor, publisher Safe Cycling magazine
- Former manufacturer of DOT/ECE approved motorcycle helmets & protective riding gear
- Dealernews (.com) columnist 35 years “Confessions of a Customer®”
- Former southern California and East African motocross racer, current vintage MX racer
- Expert Witness for off-road and on-road motorcycles at www.motorcycleforensicsexpert.com
As a powersports businessman, protective helmet/apparel manufacturer and rider for more than 50 years, Eric Anderson has built a vast base of knowledge related to motorcycles, ATVs, UTVs and offroad vehicles.
He has been an MSF certified Rider coach as well as a ROHVA certified Driver Coach. He began working with the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) and Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) in the early 1980s before entering the business side of powersports building and marketing protective apparel and helmets. Later in the 2000s, he became an elected Board member to the MIC 10 times for a total of 20 years of experience directing the industry from the highest levels.
Founding Scorpion Sports with its associated ScorpionExo brand of helmets and protective apparel was an industry success story touted by trade magazines and thousands of dealers who recognized the disruptive marketing, unique distribution channel and price viability of the fast-growing brand. Later as Vice-President Sales & Marketing of the industry’s largest aftermarket group of companies, Motorsport Aftermarket Group, he directed the sharing of best practices and training between the best industry brands while also building an online university for said brands and their dealers entitled Powersports University.
Worldwide adventure riding has taken Eric around the world on 2-wheels and 4 enabling him also to race in Africa, Baja California, and the USA. Competitive by nature, he has also built businesses specializing in the design and manufacture of innovative protective riding apparel and helmets. He has also defended his own and related manufactured brands against
lawsuits having experience in both depositions and testifying in court.
Anderson currently remains the chairman of the Apparel and Helmet SubCommittee of the Motorcycle Industry Council and runs his own consulting business and marketing agency.
Besides being a branding, distribution and sales executive, Eric also has expertise in the following specific business areas: Retail Dealer Development/ Training Marketing/Branding Expert Public Speaking Distribution Strategies E-Magazine Publication, Product Marketing Sales Training Content Generation, Go-To-Market Strategy, Survey Building, Video production, Channel Management, Start-Up Businesses, Video Scripting, and Creation/Narration of Sales Strategy videos.