The Frontstretch: Driven to the Past: Old School Officiating ... Is That What Carl Needs? by John Potts -- Friday March 12, 2010

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No. 1 – Not so far back…

We’re not driving too far to the past this time, at least not at the beginning of this week’s column. Less than a week, in fact – to last Sunday afternoon.

Carl Edwards’ retribution against Brad Keselowski has already been analyzed, dissected, and commented upon at great length so far, as has NASCAR’s action or lack thereof. But I’ve got to add my opinion.

First, as another member of the Frontstretch staff has pointed out, Carl was fairly cool about the first incident in his TV interview. Well, in the intervening 150 laps or so, while the car was being repaired in order to pick up whatever points they could pick up, the heat under Carl’s collar apparently heated up enough to make him want to get even.

That it was deliberate can not be doubted. The failed attempt to spin Keselowski on the lap prior to the incident is sufficient enough evidence of that.

Whether he meant to turn him over or not, I don’t know. I don’t care. He deliberately crashed another competitor at something like 190 miles an hour.

Now comes the matter of NASCAR’s action regarding the incident, and this is where I want to voice my opinion, based on something like 40 years as a race official. Should Edwards have been suspended? My opinion is that he should have, at least for one event. Instead, what they’ve told him is, “OK, Carl, behave yourself for the next three races and everything’s fine.”

It bothered me on Sunday that all they did was park him.

If NASCAR really wants to get back to basics, as they seemed to be telling us at the beginning of the season, maybe they should look at the example of most short tracks.

At every short track where I’ve worked in any capacity, the response to such an incident has always been the same. So many times I’ve heard a race director say on the radio (or said it myself when I was working in that capacity), “Black flag the 99. Scoring – no money, no points for this event. We’ll discuss other action later.”

No. 2 – Officiating back in the day…

At many short tracks, the flagman would have already black-flagged the offender without having to be told.

You didn’t have much time to make a decision at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville.

This goes back to the days before radios and the sound-powered systems which preceded them at short tracks. Somebody had to be in charge when the cars were on the track, and the starter is the official down there with them and has the flags.

Even with the advent of good communications. a good short track starter won’t wait for somebody else to make his decisions. On those venues, you have usually have a MAXIMUM of 15-20 seconds to make that decision.

I’ll have to give John Marcum of ARCA and Rex Robbins of ASA credit – they gave me the authority to make those decisions, even on the larger tracks. Sure, you get a lot of help from the observers (or corner workers, as we called them back then), but if you could see the situation yourself, you made the decision yourself – then you stood behind it.

I’ve talked to a starter I know well who used to work one of NASCAR’s touring divisions. He told me he learned to flag by watching me, much as I did by watching Johnny McIntosh when I was a youngster. I considered it as much of a compliment as I was trying to give Johnny when I said that.

However, he said, working with NASCAR wasn’t as much fun as flagging used to be because you couldn’t make any move without being instructed to do so by the tower.

Now, no race official wants to be a robot. I know of at least one very good flagman who quit a track because he was told that the tower would make his decisions for him.

Did it used to be different in NASCAR? Well, I can’t say absolutely for sure, but I can’t imagine anybody telling Harold Kinder how to flag on a short track. The times when I listened in on their radio in those days, the last thing I can remember the tower saying to Harold as they came off the fourth turn was, “Mr. Starter, they’re all yours.”

I had a serious disagreement myself once, with (of all people) Earl Baltes. We had a car go out last for qualifying at Salem, and he hadn’t had any practice. This was on a Saturday afternoon when all we were doing was practice and qualifying for Sunday, and I was working down on the track.

I held up one finger to give the guy at least one lap. Earl was standing there and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him, and he exploded.

“I’ll tell you when to throw the %$#@ flag!” he yelled.

I offered him the green flag and said, “Here you go. You can use these the rest of the day, but get your own for tomorrow.”

He walked away, and I finished the qualifying and then packed up the flags. Earl had been talking to Marcum, and he came over and stuck out his hand and said, “You’re right, I’m sorry. I can’t run this place and do everything. John said to leave you alone, and you’ll do the right thing every time.”

We shook hands, became friends, and he even called me to flag for him several times at different tracks after that.

Contact John Potts

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Don Wilbur
03/12/2010 09:45 AM
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John in cup all he is a flag waver. I’m not sure Carl was all wrong, what did they do to Brad ?? You like shorty Miller ran the races when cars were on the track. As we talked those days are gone. Take care my firend

Geoff FL
03/12/2010 10:26 AM
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I think Carl should have been set down for a race.
If Carl spent several laps looking for Brad and missed 1 attempt then NASCAR knew what he was doing, and they allowed it to happen. I guess they wanted to add something to “THE SHOW”.

Paul Denton
03/12/2010 09:13 PM
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Most peole i’ve talked to in the business believe it was just in Edwards actions believing he could,nt known the car would flip.Brad is one of those drivers that all you be dammed i’m racing the way I want.He wont last with that attitude .Most of the drivers agree with what Carl did are sorry as Carl is that the car flipped but are hoping Brad learns from his mistake.In all my years i,ve seen many paybacks and without the flip it was well deserved and many have happened before .We must get through the somebody is going to die[yes someday again someone will]but the likely hood of it most likely as it has been not occuring during a payback.I.ve seen the excact same manerver made by Dale sr a hundred times some with injuries and the car did not flip so what should we really be looking at.Let’s get back to the track get the racing going and hope all have learned from this