Commentary

Dakar race cancellation, lost money, angers Robby Gordon

Robby Gordon is testing in Daytona this week. That he's not racing in North Africa in the canceled Dakar Rally has him fuming, writes David Newton.

Updated: January 7, 2008, 4:48 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Robby Gordon arrived for testing at Daytona International Speedway on Monday with a pack on his back and a chip on his shoulder.

Robby Gordon

Us racers, we like to race. Just get creative. They're right there in Portugal [where] they have a Formula One track down the street. Get creative. Do something to keep the show in place. I can't believe they gave up that easy.

-- Robby Gordon

Gordon had planned to skip the three-day test for his Sprint Cup team to drive in the Dakar Rally in North Africa.

Those plans changed on Friday when organizers canceled the event because of the Dec. 24 slayings of French tourists in Mauritania -- where eight of the 15 stages were scheduled to be held and -- and direct threats of terrorism from al-Quida-linked militants.

Gordon said he was upset because the Amaury Sports Organization that puts on the rally had no backup plan for a race that he estimated cost Robby Gordon Motorsports out of California $4.5 million to prepare two cars to send overseas with full crews.

"They did not have a plan," Gordon said as he shook his head in disbelief. "That's the part I'm mad about. Cancel the race for safety. I'm with you. Good. But there was no reason to cancel the whole entire event with 16 days or racing. We could have run Martinsville or a couple of specials.

"Us racers, we like to race. Just get creative. They're right there in Portugal [where] they have a Formula One track down the street. Get creative. Do something to keep the show in place. I can't believe they gave up that easy."

It was the first time the 30-year-old event, one of the biggest competitions in automobile racing, was canceled.

"When you are told of direct threats against the event and when the sinister name of al-Qaida is mentioned, you don't ask for details," Patrice Clerc, who heads ASO, told the Associated Press in a telephone interview last week. "It was enough for me to hear my government say, 'Beware, the danger is at a maximum.' "

Gordon said the ASO has promised to pay back the $360,000 entry fee, but he's not sure how he will recoup other losses for his team and sponsors. Officials with the ASO could not be reached for comment.

"I don't know what their insurance policies look like, but we have severe loss at Robby Gordon Motorsports," he said. "I don't know what actions we're going to take, but they misjudged as a sanctioning body on what they needed to do for the event. They could have had the event of some sorts."

What Gordon said frustrated him even more is that there always is the potential for danger at the 6,000-mile race, noting there was a direct threat against his team one year.

"Let's put it in perspective. Eleven people got killed over there," Gordon said. "I'm pretty sure in L.A. we kill 11 a night. I'm pretty sure that 11 every night are killed. Stabbed. Shot. Beat up. Murdered.

"A couple of kids in the back of a pickup truck with a couple of AK-47s shot a couple of people. I'm sorry to say that, but the reality of the thing it's not like it was a big setup, bombings or whatever. I can understand that. I feel sorry obviously for the families and people that happened to. But I don't get it. I'm confused."

Gordon shared his confusion and anger -- a bomb as he described it -- on Sunday with a letter to ASO.

"I'm extremely disappointed in the ASO," he said. "I can completely understand their decision to not go to Mauritania or not want to put competitors in an awkward or dangerous situation. That I understand 100 percent. But for them, as many years as they have been doing this rally, not to have to have a backup plan …

"Why didn't we run 10 days in Portugal on the same course? Something. All the equipment was there. All the teams were there. Television was there. And Portugal was not a dangerous area to race. And we had the permits to run on those roads and trails. We had what we needed to do to race there."

Gordon heard of the cancellation less than an hour before the race was to begin.

"To have them cancel it and not just postpone it or rethink of a way to make the race happen, it puts a lot of people in a very awkward situation," he said.

Gordon said there were 570 teams with an average of about 10 members per team that were sent home, most after spending a year to prepare.

"At the point they canceled the race I had 40 people sitting in Lisbon, Portugal," he said. "Twenty-eight of them were going on the rally. We didn't have flights for them. We didn't have motel rooms. We were checking out the next morning.

"They just completely put a lot of people in awkward, awkward situations."

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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