LOOKING AT THE SAFETY ASPECTS OF PRO STOCK BIKE
With Angie Smith’s nasty season-ending injuries at St. Louis and Chase Van Sant’s knee damage that’ll sideline him until 2024, some have wondered aloud if thinner leathers are to blame for the serious nature of the wounds to Pro Stock Motorcycle competitors. Matt Smith, Angie Smith’s husband and reigning class champion, said he doesn't think they are. Cory Reed, who’s advocating for more comprehensive safety clothing, has a slightly different opinion.
Smith didn’t blame the thickness or quality of his wife’s leathers for her crash that broke eight toes and other bones in her feet and ripped the flesh from her forearm to the extent that she will need at least one more surgery to fix the road-rash damage.
“It’s not that the leathers are too thin,” he said. "It’s the simple fact of the tracks that we run on are so old and the pavement is so gritty.”
He used two separate patches in his Motorplex pit area as examples.
"This is brand-new pavement,” he said, pointing to one patch, “and it’s very smooth. You take that pavement there, and it’s 30 years old. It’s like a cheese grater. And that’s what St. Louis is in the shutdown. Dallas is the same way. They’re good tracks, nothing wrong with them. The shutdown areas are typically the place that doesn’t get improvements when the tracks improve their facilities over the years. It’s just the main racing surface [that is upgraded]. It might be time to step up and try to fix some of these older tracks in the shutdown area to make them smoother.”
Jianna (Salinas) Evaristo fell from her motorcycle at Joliet, Ill., and walked away with little more than her pride bruised. Smith said, “That goes to show you that Chicago is a smoother track. It’s a newer track. She didn’t fall down before the finish line, and she really didn’t get hurt. When she had the wreck at Bradenton [Fla.], that’s an old track, real gritty asphalt, and she got hurt there.
“It’s not our leathers. It’s simply that the tracks that have older surfaces, the pavement is way coarser and it just grinds stuff up worse,” he said.
In Angie Smith’s case, other factors played key roles.
“She did hit a bump. But that was a brand-new bike we built at the beginning of the year. And the master cylinder we had on her bike, we made special brake levers because women have shorter hands, their reach. I built this bike for me. That master cylinder is not made anymore. I couldn’t just swap the lever, but she said she was fine with it. She just reached up and grabbed too much, and when she did, she hit a bump and it just was simultaneously she had too much brake and she hit a bump. And it just pitched her,” he said.
Reed said the complaint about thinner leathers carries a measure of truth.
“I think so. I mean, I think that we're hitting a threshold now that we're going at certain speeds or, and the bikes are heavier and everything's starting to add up. We're hitting that limit of too light of equipment, not enough protection on your feet, on your hands, on your arms and legs,” he said. “It's just everybody wants to wear lightweight stuff. I get it. It's uncomfortable. Wear thicker stuff. Bigger boots, uncomfortable.
“I think we need to do it because it's apparent that we're all getting hurt now,” Reed said. “Chase skinned his knee on the ground yesterday, and literally if you go and watch the video, [he] barely touches the ground going very fast. And it took his skin down to his bone on his kneecap – and it was a split-second that he drug it on the ground for. It wasn't like he was dragging it for a long period of time. It's very quick. And that's all it takes, apparently.”
Reed’s suggestion called for “maybe knee pads, maybe elbow pads, maybe thicker areas, maybe not the whole suit thicker, not just padding, either. Like an actual hard puck, like a Moto GQ style suit has the ... puck so you can drag your legs in the corners and stuff. Not to that extent, but something in that direction is I think where we have to figure out how to go. We're the only professional motorcycle sanction that doesn't wear real racing boots [like MotoGP racers wear]. That's actually the proper thing we should be wearing, but it's going to be very hard to get the class to do that. They are a bit uncomfortable. I don't think I'd have too much a problem with that, because I wore dirt-bike boots for so long and they're even bigger and bulkier. But if you look at all the top rankings of professional motorcycle racing, they all are mandatory to wear a boot like a dirt-bike boot or a Moto GP boot. They don't get the luxury of wearing something that's comfortable.”
He said that might not have prevented his grisly leg and ankle injury in 2021 at Charlotte, but “it would've helped a lot. If I was wearing an actual big nice boot, even a nice leather boot, it would've helped for mine, because what happened was I was wearing car shoes. They separate, and when my bone came out, my bone ground down on the ground for so long and for so much it took a third of my tibia off. I broke off chunks of my [bone], and they said I could have done reconstructive surgery and not had a fused ankle, but I had such a bad bone infection from it grinding down on the asphalt. The doctor was picking rocks out of my leg, and luckily they didn't try to torture me and try reconstruction surgery. They just told me straight up like, ‘Look, with your bone loss and the infection you have, it's going to be very, very unlikely that we get the reconstruction surgery to work.’
“So,” Reed said, “the best option was to fuse it and to do it this way. But that's why my ankle barely moves now. But if I'd have been wearing a nice big boot, sure, I probably would've broke my leg, but it wouldn't have come out of my leather or be exposed to the asphalt. It just annihilated it into the asphalt. So when we hit, stuck my leg out, the bike rolls it over, breaks it right there, and then I fly off the motorcycle and I start tumbling and now my foot is literally off. I have a compound fracture at that point. And every flip and every turn, every time my leg came back around, it dug into the ground and drug on the ground and dug into the ground. It was bad. And the bigger boot issue would've helped mine a lot.”
He said, “I wear definitely a better-quality deal now than I did, but that's when we get into racing. Now you're talking about weight. Now you're talking about now I’m adding two or three pounds on my feet when so-and-so's wearing slippers. And I don't know, at the end of the day it's stupid. Definitely, the comfort deal is probably the biggest argument you're going to run into with everybody else. But, yes, the lightweight kind of thing needs to be sidelined for safety because it's apparent that our lightweight stuff is not doing the job.”
According to Reed, “There's some other things that need to be addressed in our class, too, about ‘How do we stop safer?’ The bikes are going faster and faster now. They're heavier than they used to be. We're hitting that point in this class where all of our safety equipment, from our brakes to tire size on the front end to our boots, to our leathers, to everything needs to go to the next level, as well. Our class is going to the next level right now. I mean, Gaige [Herrera] has proven it.”