Catching Up With John Gallagher

Catching Up With John Gallagher
By Donn Maeda
Following last weekend’s controversy between Supercross Champion Chad Reed and his challenger James Stewart, we decided to phone FIM Competition Director John Gallagher, to see if the “neck grabbing” incident was for real, or a figment of some people’s imagination, as many Internet Bandits dubbed it…

After all the flaming on Internet message boards that went on earlier this week, we thought it’d be a great idea to go straight to the FIM Race Director and ask, “Is there, or is there not a ‘neck grabbing’ incident under review by the FIM?

Yes, there is. I’ve seen the message boards, and how they are just ripping Larry Brooks apart, calling him a liar, and exaggerator and such. What these people don’t realize is that they are basing their opinions on what they saw on television, and television cut short all that happened when Chad Reed first rolled up to James Stewart. Yes, there was much more to it than a television viewer would have seen. Someone who was sitting in the stands would have seen much more. Television only shows what the show editors choose to show, so obviously, what James and Chad experienced was much different than what people who watched the Jacksonville race on television experienced. This incident is just a situation where the two riders in the morning, and the two riders in the evening, let their emotions get the best of them. We have to draw a line in the sand and make sure that people don’t cross that line. There was some touching going on, but not to the extent that you could call it a fight or an assault. But still, we have to curtail it. My whole off-race weekend is going to be spent dealing with incidents that actually have nothing to do with racing, per se. I have another incident involving Jason Lawrence and how he was not out there racing after he fell while trying to make a pass, but out simply to ruin Broc Hepler’s night and get even with him.

The 450 class is governed by the FIM. Has tape of the incident been sent back to Switzerland for review, as Larry Brooks mentioned? Or is the ruling on the incident solely in your hands, as the US Race Director for the FIM?

No, the footage is all here with me for review, and there will be no ruling made overseas. I am evaluating the footage, the statements and all of the information and will make a collaborative decision regarding the incident with help from Karen Myron, the AMA’s Race Director. I have heard from Larry Brooks and James Stewart, and I will hear from Roger DeCoster shortly, but I have not heard from Chad Reed at all. He is still in Florida and I have not heard from him. Nothing has happened since we left the racetrack on Saturday night, except for some information gathering.

We were initially informed about the situation from a couple fans, who saw the incident from the stands, and a call to Larry Brooks on Monday confirmed the story to an extent. In the television footage that was not shown, what did you see?

Well, let’s just say this. If you and I got into a fender-bender in our cars, and I jumped out of my car and started yelling at you, that’s the line in the sand. Now, if I yelled at you and took my index finger and started poking you in the chest with it, I would expect you to take a swing at me. Though I didn’t hit you first, I could probably expect you to take a swing at me. What I am saying is that there are things a guy can do to initiate the next step: to encourage the other guy to take it to the next level.  We never got to the point where there Chad and James were swinging at each other and fighting on the field, but what I saw on the tape was one of those inviting things. Obviously, the incident on the track scared both of them, and emotions were running high.
It’s funny: from James’ perspective, he clearly thought that he had the lead. The riders were jumping the triple, and James was landing on the ramp like he had every lap. Chad, though, over-jumped the triple in a pass attempt. He didn’t make a mistake; he was over-jumping the triple in hopes of making a pass while entering the next turn. James landed and took the normal line towards the inside of the next corner, just as he had every lap prior, and he had no way of knowing that Chad was over-jumping the jump. So from James’ perspective, he had total control of the lead and was taking his normal race line. From Chad’s perspective, James cut over on him in an attempt to take out his front wheel. Afterwards, when James watched the video, he actually said, “I could see why Chad would be mad, but from my perspective, I was clearly in the lead.” The bottom line is that James landed the jump just as both of them had previously, and made the directional change to dive to the inside of the next corner. Chad didn’t have that ability, because he was still in the air. It was a racing incident. There was no fault in the incident that happened on the racetrack. Chad’s biggest issue is that he needs to count to 10 when he pulls off the track before he reacts.

So in the footage, what exactly did you see? Was it a friendly “good job” pat on the back like some have said, or was it a grab and squeeze of the neck with some heated words?

(Laughs) Your second rendition of the incident is much more accurate than the first. It was definitely a move to get James’ attention, and it was not friendly by any stretch of the imagination. I know what James told me was said by Chad, and from the tapes it looked like a pretty accurate recount. But I don’t care about trash talk; guys can say as much as they want. It’s when guys start laying hands on each other that we have to draw a line in the sand. There is a fine line here, because who wants the emotions in our series to go away? But we can’t have riders laying hands on other riders, trying to initiate other actions.

The fact that Larry Brooks is willing to write about things like this and be willing to take the wrath of half of the fans…I commend him for that. Giving readers an inside peek at what a guy in his position as a team manager has to go through takes courage, and the average joker out there would otherwise never get to experience these things. You and I know Larry, and we know his personality, so we can appreciate the things he writes, but I can understand how those who have no real experience with Larry could take what he writes the wrong way. Larry is not a whiner; he is simply putting his experiences on the table. I have told him before, that it takes balls to write that column.

Agreed. At TransWorld, we all enjoy Larry’s columns, regardless of where they are posted. So in conclusion, will there be a ruling on this that involves a fine or penalty of some sort.

No. Or at least I don’t expect there to be. This will be the hot topic in Seattle’s rider’s meeting, as we have to make it clear where the line has to be drawn. As far as penalties go, one thing I would like to touch upon is the criticism that the AMA and/or FIM takes for lacking consistency when it comes to penalties. Herein lies the debacle. For a rider like, say, Jacob Marsack…if he were to do something wrong and we were to penalize him points, he would probably have some hurt feelings, and nothing else. He is not in contention for a championship, or even the top privateer status. If we were to fine him $10,000, though, that would probably shut his entire program down. He’d have to get a loan before he could return to racing. And if we simply suspended him from some racing, that would hurt him the most because that’s what he’s here to do in the first place. Now take a guy like Chad Reed. If we were to dock him even a single point at this stage, it could be disastrous. A $10,000 fine, though, would roll off his back and he would just shrug his shoulders. Not every situation is identical, and that is why no two penalties can be identical. Everyone has something they want, and everyone has something that they don’t really care about. The intention of a penalty is to take something away that they really care about. The only way to be consistent in issuing penalties is to take it case by case.