5 Minutes with... Ben GeigerWednesday, March 18, 2009 | 3:06 PM
Chances are good that most of you probably never heard of Ben Geiger. No, he’s not related to top female racer Tarah, nor is he a professional or factory rider. Ben Geiger is the father of a rider who passed away last September doing what he (as well as all of you) loved to do: ride a dirt bike. His son, Ben Jr., was a 17-year-old senior in high school, as well as an avid motocross competitor, who lost his life while practicing at a local track in north Florida. Since the accident, Ben’s father has been on a mission to make motocross practice facilities safer with what he calls “Ben’s Rule.” We gave Ben Geiger a call today to learn more.
Ben Geiger: Yes, it’s absolutely terrible. To make a long story short, last September my son was at a practice track here in Florida riding when he went over a hill and slid out. He was then laying on the track, facing the hill he just came off of, and that’s when another rider came over the hill and landed right on Ben’s head, killing him instantly. Ben had all the safety equipment and gear, a neck brace, and he was a good rider; he’s been racing for eight years. There were several stories of how he got killed, but I hired a CSI investigator to re-enact the accident. He was just a great kid and he worshipped motorcycles and motocross.
Was his goal to one day be a pro?
No, not really. I own a tree company that would one day be his, but he just wanted to race as a hobby. He wanted to race Loretta Lynn’s, and just have fun with it. He loved motocross.
This terrible accident led to something called Ben’s Rule. Tell us about that.
Right. After the accident, I got together with a bunch of fathers just trying to think what we could do on a track to make it safer for these kids. I was out investigating what happened to Ben, and we seen a kid go down on the same hill, just as Ben did. So we came up with this idea to install caution lights around a track which can all be controlled by flipping a single switch in a tower in the middle of the track. You know that a lot of practice tracks don’t have caution flaggers, so this would allow one person to control all the lights if they see a rider go down.
We installed the lights at a track nearby called North Florida Motocross Park (www.northfloridamotocross.com) in Hilliard, Florida. The weekend we opened the track up, there was a lady that went down, and we flipped those lights on and it helped warn riders from hitting her.
What we did, we went in and trimmed all of the trees high enough to increase visibility. We built a 28-foot tower in the middle of the track. The track has twelve good-sized jumps, and right before each jump we put caution lights. We made up posters and gave them to all the riders who came in, with five steps to a safer track. The main thing was that all the kids should be accompanied by a parent. The next one is you can’t be signed in by any other person besides the parent. The yellow lights mean the bikes stay on the ground—no jumping – and red lights means the bikes stop.
No, unless it’s a race day, there are no flaggers out there. My son would practice at several tracks around our house, and during the week there were never flaggers. Not sure if you read about it, but last year in Florida three boys got killed the same way my son died, as well as a father, who got hit when he was trying to get his son off the track.
And unfortunately, more often than not, there are 10-year-olds out on the track practicing with grown men and A riders who are going wide open. What protection do these kids have? None.
Where do you go from here? Is the plan just to spread the word about Ben’s Rule?
I’m going to a dinner with several top riders before the Jacksonville Supercross, but I’m trying to get endorsements, then I want to take it to the top of the AMA. My goal is to get the AMA to make it a rule that these tracks have some sort of protection for these kids. I can’t tell you what a nightmare it’s been knowing that my son was on that track with nobody to help him. My son lay in that dirt for fourteen minutes and nobody touched him. That’s why the parents need to be there; they shouldn’t be able to drop off their kids and leave—they need to have some type of regulation.
Me being in the tree business, every one of my bucket trucks have to be inspected every single year; my cranes have to be inspected; my men have to have CDL driver’s licenses... These track owners, they just let these kids on the track after they sign a waiver and they don’t care after that.
These tracks don’t realize what they mean to these kids. They keep them occupied. I’ve been around motocross my whole life, and riding is a huge part of a lot of people’s lives. I have a track at my own house, and my neighbor came over and said he’d help me sell the motorcycles and tear the track down after my son passed away. I said, Look, that’s what my son loved to do; he died doing what he loved to do.
The only big hurdle I see is the expense.
I spent $80,000 on the lights at North Florida MX Park but that was our first trial run. I built a tower that would hold thirty people up there, but you don’t need that—you need a tower that’ll hold four people at the most. I overdid it. You can put this on a track for a lot less. You could get parents and people to help out. I had two parents that owned a landscaping company to come out and do all the digging. I had another electrician put down the conduit. I did the tree trimming. You could get people to help out and get these things done.
And some tracks may only have a couple sections that would require lights...
Exactly, put them where the worst jumps are and have lights around some other points so where if the lights come on, everyone slows down.
It is. We’ve got buttons on the top and lower tower, in front of both bleachers, buttons at the sign-up booth, and the track owner has a remote. Anybody can push the button if they see a kid go down. You push it, and as soon as they’re up or off the track, you turn them off. It’s as simple as that—even the parents could do it.
What’s the plan from here on?
I have two tracks that have already called me wanting Ben’s Rule on it. I’m not in the business of building; I have my own company to run, but I’ll give you my contractor’s number and will show you how to do it. There are better ways to do this, I’m sure, but we just wanted to start somewhere.
I’ve been told I need a publicist to help get the word out, but I haven’t got to that point yet. I just want to spread the word so that maybe more tracks will adopt this and keep our riders safe.
Is there a way for people to contact you if they want more information or to help out?
Yeah, they can e-mail us at [email protected]
Thanks for your time, and good luck.
Thank you, Billy.