On Saturday night, I sat in a friend’s kitchen. We mocked her husband’s latest investment — a Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle — and said it was only fair that if our significant others wanted motorcycles so badly that we more than deserved matching all-terrain vehicles to go play with.
We laughed. The guys scoffed. The debate continued about how ridiculous the motorcycle really was and the practicality of an ATV.
As I sipped wine and retold stories of friends who had successfully driven across desert landscapes at high speeds on what is little more than a plastic frame with a metal engine on four wheels, I didn’t know the same friends, who I endearingly call my brothers, were experiencing the backlash of off-road sports.
The previous Saturday I sat by a roaring camp fire and casually asked my dad’s best friend of nearly 50 years, Bob, “Hey, where are the boys this weekend if they’re not camping with us?”
Bob’s response was expected. After all, we’re not kids anymore and we decided if we did or did not want to go on family trips.
“They’re at the races in Lucerne Valley,” Bob responded.
There was nothing unusual about Derek and Jeff taking the souped-up VW Bug out to the desert or going out there to watch the off-road races. In fact, Bob said he enjoyed going out to the races with the boys. Bob’s dismay was at the fact that the race’s victor, who normally destroyed his car in the process of winning the timed rally course, only won $200.
It took exactly seven days for everyone’s outlook on the races to change.
On Saturday night as phone calls were launched to loved ones from the sandy dunes of the Mojave Desert, Bob received a horrific phone call from Jeff: A truck left the track where Derek and Jeff were standing. Derek is covered in blood and we’re not sure if it’s his. We think Derek is okay.
The brothers — my brothers — got lucky. There were eight people who died at the track and many more injured.
Derek said when he tried to run from the truck, he couldn’t outrun it. He got to the ground and felt the force of the displaced air forcefully brush against him. When the truck came to a stop, Derek said he could practically reach out and touch it.
Although Derek is more than shaken from the tragic events that shaped his evening, the rumbles that have come from the desert outside of Los Angeles speak the truth. The driver lost control over the vehicle and did not intend to hit spectators. Yes, there were no barriers setup between the crowd and the off-road track. And, yes, people specifically picked that spot on the track to watch the races because of the view they would get of the off-road trucks being hurled into the air by built-up mounds of dirt.
While there will more than likely be safety regulations, lawsuits and more stories of loss to come out of this event, I can honestly say that I am thankful both boys came home alive that night.
Life can change in an instant and I’m glad this was only a warning for my family. For those who lost loved ones, my deepest sympathies. For the injured, I wish you a full recovery.
Cortney Maddock is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.