Motocross adapts in the age of COVID-19

Pro Motocross TV schedule

It is among the dichotomies of racing: Even while competitors battle for the top spot, when one has a need, others rally to help.

That has been the case between the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross and Monster Energy Supercross Series throughout their history, but it might be even more clearly defined than ever in their response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

As soon as it became clear that events needed to be canceled, Davey Coombs, MX Sports Pro Racing president, and Dave Prater, the senior director of operations, two wheel, at Feld Entertainment Inc. were on the phone discussing how best to get both seasons completed.

Supercross had completed 10 of its 17 events before the season was put on hold after the March 7 race at Daytona International Speedway.

MORE: Supercross executive explains how the 2020 schedule might unfold

“Our friends at Feld Entertainment were challenged because their series was put on hiatus when it was about three-fifths of the way through,” Coombs told “With us being supposed to run from May to the end of August, we volunteered, after talking to (our broadcast partner) NBC, to back up to the middle of June to try and give Supercross a window to fit in.”

Davey Coombs

At the time, no one knew how long the break in action would last. For that matter, it is still unclear when and how racing will continue. The immediate need for action at the time was pressing nonetheless.

Despite major differences in the style of racing, motocross and supercross share their stars.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Cooper Webb and the remainder of the field cannot be in two places at once. It is also not as simple as riding indoors one week and on an outdoor track the next. The muscle memory and physical toll required for motocross and supercross makes it incredibly difficult to switch back and forth between disciplines.

“(Supercross) had a really compelling season going and the vast amount of riders, race teams, sponsors and the fans wanted to see supercross conclude before we began the outdoor series,” Coombs said.

So everything possible was and is being done to achieve that.

When reports began to circulate that Monster Energy Supercross was exploring the option of finishing its season at a single location without fans, motocross shifted gears once more.

Instead of starting on June 13 at WW Ranch in Jacksonville, Florida, the series shifted the first race to High Point Raceway in Mount Morris, Pennsylvania, one week later. Just to open that window a little more.

As the date approaches, how racing looks during the pandemic is still in question.

Even if no other changes need to be made to the motocross calendar, the season is going to be unlike we’ve seen in recent years.

Riders already have to battle the grueling heat of summer, but they are typically done well before fall and winter storms crisscross America. The heat is part of what makes this an endurance sport. So is rain and the muddy conditions it creates.

Coombs inspects the track at Southwick.

“Given this year and all the sacrifices we’ve made and all the time we’ve spent indoors, I don’t think we will have as many complaints about the heat as we might in normal circumstances,” Coombs said. “Everyone is chomping at the bit to get back to their normal lives and get back outdoors and enjoy the sports, past times and hobbies that we have.”

After losing a few weekends at the beginning of their season, motocross might end under cooler conditions. And because they run in all weather conditions, there could be some interesting races at the end.

Adaptability is a word everyone needs in their lexicon.

“If we need to do a 10-race series, we already lost Hangtown, they’re not coming back in the fall because that race takes place in an (off-highway recreational vehicle) park in California, which means they only have access to it at certain times of the year, so we’re down to 11,” said Coombs. “So if the state of Florida or the state of Michigan doesn’t relax its social distancing rules, we will have to make some decisions about cutting down on the number of races we have.

“And we’ve already talked to the teams about that as well. It’s very possible this is not a 12-race series as normal, but fewer races. The reply I got was, ‘That’s absolutely fine.’ ”

Plans have been made and remade many times during the break. If motocross has to run some races without fans or with a limited number of fans, that is possible. It may not be desirable given the fan-friendly nature of the sport, but it is on the table.

And Coombs was quick to point out that given the rural nature of the venues associated with motocross, the series has practiced a form of social distancing all along.

Limiting contact between riders and fans also will be part of the new normal. Cashless transactions, additional handwashing stations and other health-related initiatives are already under consideration.

The good news is that as CDC guidelines evolve over the coming months, Lucas Oil Pro Motocross has time to adapt along with them.

Kyle Busch interests McLaren for Indy 500, but team is leaning toward experience

McLaren Indy Kyle Busch
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With Arrow McLaren SP heavily weighing a fourth car for the Indy 500 next year, Kyle Busch is a candidate but not at the top of the IndyCar team’s list.

McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown addressed the possibility Wednesday morning during a video news conference with Gavin Ward, the team’s newly named racing director.

“I have not personally spoken with Kyle Busch, but you can read into that that someone else in our organization has,” Brown said. “We want to make sure if we run a fourth car, we’re in the mindset that we want someone that is experienced around the 500. It’s such an important race, and from a going for the championship point of view, we’ve got three drivers that we want to have finish as strong as possible, so if we ran a fourth car, we’d want to be additive, not only for the fourth car itself, but to the three cars and so bringing in someone who’s not done it before potentially doesn’t add that value from an experience point of view.”

Busch will race the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing next season in NASCAR under a new deal that will allow the two-time Cup Series champion to make his Indy 500 debut. Busch, who had a previous deal to run the Indy 500 nixed by Joe Gibbs Racing, openly courted Chevy IndyCar teams to contact him during his introductory news conference with RCR last month.

After Team Penske (which has given no indications of a fourth car at Indy alongside champion Will Power, Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin), McLaren is the second-best Chevy organization, and it’s fielded an extra Indy 500 car the past two years for Juan Pablo Montoya. The Associated Press reported last month that McLaren was in “serious conversation” about running Busch at Indy with Menards sponsorship.

But with its restructured management, the team is in the midst of significant expansion for 2023. AMSP is adding a third full-time car for 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi to team with Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, and a massive new shop also is being built in the Indianapolis area.

“(It’s) not because of him but purely because of experience,” Brown said of Busch. “He’s an awesome talent and would be huge, huge news for the speedway. But yeah, I think everyone is under consideration if we decide to do it, but experience is right at the top of the list as far as what’s going to be the most important to us.”

And it seems likely there will be a veteran joining Rossi, O’Ward and Rosenqvist at the Brickyard.

“A fourth car at the 500 is very much under consideration,” Brown said. “I wouldn’t even want to get ahead of ourselves, but we wouldn’t be ruling out a fourth car in the future on a full-time basis. That definitely wouldn’t be for ’23. But as we expand the team and get into larger facilities and things of that nature, it’s something that Gavin and I have spoken about.

“I think we would be in a position to run a fourth car at the 500 this upcoming year. If we do decide to do that, we’ll make that decision soon for maximum preparation, and I would say we’re open minded to a fourth car in ’24 and beyond and probably will make that decision middle of next year in time to be prepared if we did decide to do that.”

Brown also addressed the future of Alex Palou, who will be racing for Chip Ganassi Racing next season after also signing a deal with McLaren. Though Brown declined to get into specifics about whether Palou had signed a new deal, he confirmed Palou will continue to test “our Formula One car from time to time.

“Everyone has reached an amicable solution,” Brown said. “We’ve now had Alex in our Formula One car as we have Pato. That will continue in the future, which we’re quite excited about. At this point we’re laser-focused on 2023 and glad to have the noise behind us and now just want to put our head down and get on with the job with the three drivers we have.”