AMA saves the 2020 Supercross season with COVID “bubble” approach
The 2020 season of the American Motorcyclist Association Supercross was well under way when COVID-19 hit. “We were ten races into the season, with seven races left to go when we had to stop racing,” recalls Mike Pelletier, director of racing for the AMA. “It was just after Daytona in March when we stopped, and we had to totally rethink our protocols to ensure the safety of all of the teams and support staff if we were to continue the season.”
The season was put on hold in mid-March. The AMA decided to use a bubble approach similar to the one used by the NBA. After working closely with the Utah Sports Commission and Governor Gary Herbert’s office, Supercross got the go-ahead to complete the remaining races of its season in Salt Lake City; racing restarted on May 31. A track was built at the Rice-Eccles Stadium, where the University of Utah plays football. Upon entering the paddock, every person had to take a test; each team had its own “pod” in which they worked to minimize interactions and keep socially distant. “We raced the 250cc class, rebuilt the track, then raced the 450cc class,” explains Pelletier. “The city itself was fairly open. We had to wear masks when we were out, but we could eat at restaurants.”
There were no fans in the stadium, and the racers missed them. “You had to tell yourself this is real,” said Eli Tomac, rider for the Monster Energy Kawasaki Racing Team and winner of the 450cc class, after that first race. “It kind of felt like practice. So, that’s what I really had to focus on. Like, ‘Man, this really means something right now.’ We kind of call it the gladiator effect when we’re in front of the crowd—the lights, the noise, the music getting you fired up before the gate drop. That’s what we were missing.” Fellow racer Cooper Webb agreed. “I’d say the weirdest thing was no fans. On the gate and all day, getting ready for practice, you could hear a pin drop.” The season ended on June 21.
“The 2020 season was very successful, considering everything we had to deal with,” says Pelletier. “Just to finish and to determine our championships was a win. It wasn’t perfect, but people really came together.”
The AMA Supercross is taking the lessons learned from the 2020 season and applying them to the upcoming 2021 season, which begins on January 16, 2021, at NRG Stadium in Houston. “For the ’21 season, we’ll set up in a different town each week,” says Pelletier. “We’ll race on Saturday, then Tuesday, and finish on the following Saturday. Then we’ll move on to the next host city and repeat the Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday schedule. We’ll allow fans to attend, but we’ll cap the audience at 20–25 percent of capacity to allow for social distancing.”
Pelletier is looking forward to the upcoming season. “Riders know what’s at stake, and everyone has been so good at following the protocols we established,” he says. “With the continued support of all involved, we are confident the 2021 season will be a great success.”