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Critics say desert off-road races are unmanageable

August 17, 2010 |  3:26 pm

A desert off-road race from Las Vegas to Reno remains green-lighted for Friday even as the agency that regulates races across federal land reviews its safety policies following a crash that killed eight spectators during a similar race Saturday in San Bernardino County.

Officials with the Bureau of Land Management, which permits more than 100 off-road races a year on desert land it oversees, said they are confident adequate safeguards are in place for the Nevada race.
But critics of the agency called the decision reckless, saying the bureau lacks the manpower and desire to ensure the events are safe.

“These races are unmanageable. They are almost impossible to control and enforce. So the real question is, is the [bureau] permitting far more events than they can deal with safely’’ said Daniel Patterson of the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, an advocacy group of government workers that has clashed with off-roaders. The bureau "needs to take a time out and say, 'Can we deal with this?' "

Eight people were killed and 10 others seriously injured in Saturday’s California 200 off-road race in the Lucerne Valley after a truck lost control after a jump and plowed in the crowd gathered within feet of the racecourse.

The promoter of that event, Mojave Desert Racing of El Monte, is scheduled to host a 250-mile off-road race Sept. 25 near that same site, the Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area on bureau-controlled land in the Mojave Desert. Federal officials said there are no plans to postpone the Lucerne 250.

Officials with Mojave Desert Racing have not responded to repeated requests for comment, but did post a statement on the firm’s website: “MDR offers its sincere condolences and prayers to all those affected by the incident in Lucerne Valley. We would like to thank all those individuals who helped at the scene."

An official with Nevada’s Bureau of Land Management office on Tuesday said that the promoter of the Nevada race has an excellent safety record and that the agency reviewed all safety measures in the wake of Saturday’s deadly crash.

“Motorized recreation is an accepted use of public lands. And I know it's not everyone’s cup of tea, but we’re here as a multiuse agency to provide recreation opportunities when appropriate," said Leo Drumm, coordinator for the Nevada office’s off-highway vehicle program. “It’s part of our mission. It’s what we do. Some people would like us to stop it all together, but that is not what we intend to do."

-- Phil Willon in Riverside