Interviews 23 Jul 2015

Industry Insight: MX Nationals’ Kevin Williams

WEM director addresses that horrific Matt Moss incident.

The incident involving Team Motul Suzuki’s reigning Australian champion Matt Moss making impact with track maintenance machinery at the Shepparton round of the MX Nationals last Sunday has gone viral this week, both in the national mainstream and globally within the sport. MotoOnline.com.au got in contact with series promoter Williams Event Management’s director Kevin Williams to discuss what took place and to find out the safety measures to be implemented moving forward.

Image: Jeff Crow.

Image: Jeff Crow.

The most obvious question to start with and the one so many people are asking; how does such a horrific incident happen at a professional motocross event?

We’ve been asking ourselves the same question. We have around 40 staff and 60-odd volunteers, this was our first visit to the club, so there was a lot of new things to a lot of new people. Unfortunately, the nature of an accident is human error. There was a consequence of events that took place in the lead-up to this that we’ve never experienced in 306 events.

During the MX1 qualifying I personally went and briefed the bobcat operator and track manager about what machines we were going to use and where we were going to use them. We agreed the bobcat would only be used on the start straight to clear the first five metres and the only other machine to be used all day would be the excavator to dress the first turn, and that they couldn’t go on the track without our knowledge or without myself or Cameron Scheuber instructing them all, being there while it happened.

From there the MX1 had finished, I went into the mechanics area, and the guys who were fitting the GoPros up called two minutes to start. At that time a member of the club removed the water truck from the infield to go and fill the wash bays; he drove across the track. We thought nothing of it, we saw the movement of the vehicle and it had left. I walked to the centre of the circuit, called one minute, called the timing tower, called the Super Pole start area where the riders had arrived. I called 30 seconds and then I called go. Moss was indicated to take off, realistically from where he was to the finish line jump where they commenced the timing for GoPro Super Pole was probably a four-second section. Moss took off, then over the radio comes a call ‘bobcat, bobcat on the track, bobcat on the track’ and I replied ‘stop him, stop him’ but then a second later we had impact.

I couldn’t see the finish line from where I was, my first instance was to stop, cancel GoPro Super Pole, allow Racesafe to attend to Matt. After about a minute and a half I spoke with Simon [Maas], he said they had got him up and were moving him off the track. We spoke to the team managers about the Super Pole process and allowed Racesafe some time to get back and give us clearance. I spoke to Racesafe again, who indicated that Matt was injured but would be okay, and that we could proceed with the event. From there the MXD practice and qualifying got underway, and straightaway we began to ask questions how this had happened.

At the end of the day, I am the guy who runs and oversees everything that happens and this happened on my watch. There’s no getting away from that, nor do I want to get away from that. We have a lot of processes and protocols and have never had a near miss in 306 events. We went through a process of finding out what had happened and it was simply human error. Now, that sounds easy and a lot of people will dismiss it, but in a difficult time and in a difficult incident like this, all you can do is address the actual facts. The operator who had taken the water truck across and parked at the washbay had signed on to work for the day, he was a very keen and committed club member, walked back across through to the start line and knew he had put two wheel tracks across the track. He knew the bobcat operator, picked up the phone, rang the bobcat operator, standing on the start line seeing the MX1 bikes had returned and that there were new bikes on the line. He hadn’t looked at his schedule and wasn’t aware in his mindset that GoPro Super Pole was on, so he directed the bobcat operator to go and fix the two ruts. The guy in the bobcat sort of questioned it, he said ‘no, no, you’ve got time, you’ve got three minutes just go up and roll those ruts to make it safer for the riders. His intent was clearly just to improve the track for the riders, but unfortunately he didn’t go through the due processes and we were totally unaware.

For me, who gave the indication to start Super Pole, the last person I had spoken to was the bobcat operator and I told him I’d see him in 45 minutes to so we could dress the first turn and we didn’t need him until such time. For the ability for this to take place, there is a hole in the system. As everything in life, you learn and progress – 25 years ago they didn’t put scaffolding up around buildings when the roofing guys were on. Over the course of this week we’ve had to go through a lot of processes and break all this down, and we are now adding a number of processes to ensure this can’t happen again. There will be a more concise briefing including written notes for the operators, it will include a radio protocol of confirming that each machine listed on the machine operator’s list for the day is parked without an operator in its parked location. These are the steps we’re going to put into place so that this doesn’t happen again.

The most important thing is Matt and I pray that he can make a full recovery and can return back to his form. It’s been disturbing not only for the Suzuki team and all the competitors at the MX Nationals; myself and our staff have also felt the impact of this very heavily, but our thoughts are clearly with Matt and for his return to racing as soon as possible.

Have you been in contact with Matt since?

This incident happened at 9:30am and 20 minutes after it happened I walked to the Racesafe truck in communication with our medical director and asked whether it was possible to see Matt. Matt relayed – which I totally understand and respect – to the medical staff that at that time he didn’t want to see or speak with me. I have continued to follow Matt’s progress through Racesafe and the team manager Jay Foreman and we’ve been asked to give Matt some time, which I respect that.

Whilst maintaining the information from those close to him, I left 48 hours and sent Matt a message on Tuesday after speaking with Jay Foreman to see when was an appropriate time to chat with him, and I didn’t get a response, which again I respect. I called Matt’s phone early Tuesday evening and spoke with his wife Sophie, and Matt at that stage still wasn’t in a position to speak to me, which was fine as well. I continued to message Matt and Sophie was going to give me a call, then they had a friend of theirs call me, who I went through the whole incident with at their request. Since then I have tried to make contact again and today I have been able to have message correspondence with Matt.

There are plenty of people suggesting that we’re not appologising and that we are hiding behind it, but in these situations there is a protocol you have to follow and my first wishes were to follow Matt’s request and keep away for some time, which I did. There are people on social media suggesting I owe an appology; I have only spoken to Matt in text. Matt and Sophie – the people I need to appologise to for this happening on my watch – will hear that from me direct. I’m not going to make an insensitive appology on social media, because when I get to see Matt face-to-face or speak to him on the phone, which he has said when he is up to it he will give me a call, we will have a conversation.

For me it’s about what steps can we take to ensure it never happens again. We take the safety of the riders in this sport very seriously. There’s never been a requirement to have a Racesafe medical service at motocross; these guys race at 90 percent of their events without the level of care or safety that we invest in. We take it of the utmost importance, as does our whole team. I do appologise to the spectators and the fans that witnessed this horrific incident, it’s certainly had an impact on me and I’m sure it has on others. I feel for the people in the club – they were just trying to make it better.

Unfortunately in every process you create, there is an element of having people involved – a human element – that a mistake can be made and an error in human judgement. That’s what happened here, there was certainly no malice or intent. The club members were trying to improve the track to make it better for them, but the consequences of not going through the correct channels or commands have resulted in this major incident. I hope all clubs and all officials, club members and operators involved in motorcycle sport see, hear and think twice before they move a machine. If there can be anything come from this, lets make it a positive that we improve safety in all areas.

Image: Jeff Crow.

Image: Jeff Crow.

In terms of the incident going viral and being witnessed worldwide, what are your thoughts on that?

Look, social media is a fantastic thing. It’s sad in some ways that people so often want to share this, but I look to the positives and this accident has occurred. There’s no getting away from that, there’s no hiding behind it. We thank god that Matt’s okay and with us, because it could have been a very different story. The fact that it’s gone viral, I hope that whilst everybody wants a head on the chopping block – and I get that because emotionally when you first see it, my first response was ‘how the? what the? how could this happen?’ and that’s the same questions everybody else has asked – the fact is it has happened and the positive of it going viral is that if it makes one more person operating a machine or one more person that’s running an event add an extra procedure or check an extra time before they move a machine somewhere else in the world, then every viral video released was worthwhile.

WEM’s correspondence with Motorcycling Australia as the governing body, is that a fairly standard procedure in regards to incident reports, etc? It’s obviously taken extremely seriously by Williams Event Management and MA.

As far as procedures go, in 306 events we’ve never had to do any of this. Everything associated to this has been new, so we have taken due time and process to record everything that has happened and Motorcycling Australia have been supportive through the OH&S department, technical staff, stewards and officials. There are a lot of reporting processes that have gone into it. We’ve been in consultation with Worksafe Victoria because this is more than just a motorcycle racing accident, this is an incident that has occurred that needs to be recorded, needs to be managed and needs to create preventions and protocol to ensure that it doesn’t happen at any level in any form of motorcycle sport.

Over time you become oblivious, but it’s only that this incident has occurred that I’ve been made aware of a previous incident with a fatal outcome, that there was an incident at Formula One and one at V8 Supercars involving Matt Mingay only a few weeks ago. Many of these things happen that we are not aware of, but as I said, the positives of the viral impact of this is that everybody is aware. We can all say this should never happen, it can’t happen, how did it happen? But the fact is that it did happen and it can. If the processes aren’t followed, it can happen again. So we need to for Matt’s sake and the sport’s sake, we need to stop, look at our surroundings and we must improve our processes to protect the sport, the riders and everybody involved

Related