The Frontstretch: Martinsville : Stop The Bumping! by Tommy Thompson -- Tuesday October 16, 2007

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Martinsville : Stop The Bumping!

Thompson In Turn 5 · Tommy Thompson · Tuesday October 16, 2007

 

Every spring as the NASCAR Nextel Cup schedule entered late March and early April, I became more and more frustrated that I seemed to be about the only one that despised the part of the schedule that held two of, in my opinion, the worst races on the schedule, Bristol and Martinsville. And the frustration was only amplified by the knowledge that my view was lopsidedly contrary to popular opinion. However, in late March I wrote again on the topic of my loathing for the despicable style of racing that the two one-groove race tracks produced, knowing full-well that I would again be chastised for my opinion. But I was encouraged to take another swipe at the track configuration at Bristol on a whiff of a rumor that track owner Bruton Smith may be considering progressive or variable banking as part of the tracks resurfacing project. Though I was exceptionally skeptical of the rumor and assumed that someone had planted it just to "mess with my head," I took the bait and put forth the best argument I could muster in an article entitled Progressive Banking For Bristol…Why Not? as to why the track modification would be good for all concerned. Well Mr. Smith, apparently swayed by my commentary (unable to confirm this assumption) did order engineers to install variable banking into the track, creating of all things, passing during Augusts Cup event. Now it is Martinsville Speedway's turn!

Be assured that I have a ton of respect for the history of NASCAR and am fully aware that Martinsville has hosted NASCAR races since almost the sanctioning bodies beginning. And understand, I am not suggesting that the owners, International Speedway Corporation (Okay, the France family) convert the place into a 1.5-mile cookie-cutter of a track. I only want to see them attempt to put a hint of a second racing groove into the venerable old bastion of stock car racing. Just enough so that drivers might be encouraged to attempt to engage in some side-by-side competition, complete with skilled passing.

The Sharpie 500 held at Bristol Motor Speedway in late August, shortly after the progressive banking project was completed, has confirmed my belief that with a little ingenuity on the track operator's part, better racing could be achieved. There were hard-fought and skillful passes for position being made as a result of the new configuration. No longer were drivers given but one choice to gain position over a slower competitor that insisted on continuing to hold his position, and that choice was to use his front bumper to move the car in front up the track and pass the opponent to the inside. A "bump" I might add, that more often than not left the victim of the questionable action struggling to regain control of his racecar before hitting the outside wall. This maneuver, commonly known as the "bump and run," though much to my chagrin, having gained widespread acceptance as a passing tactic, is still in my estimation counter to what good short-track racing is supposed to be.

Though I can and have debated the legitimacy of the "bump and run" as an acceptable part of racing to exhaustion, I simply do not understand the standards that drivers should be adhering to when determining whether to employ the method for advancing their position in the race standings. And I challenge anyone else to give a universally agreed on explanation as to when the tactic is permissible and when it is not. Drivers certainly are not in unanimous agreement that the practice is even acceptable; let alone what exactly the rules of engagement for employing the "bump and run," are. Bristol's March Food City 500 is a recent example of the conflicting opinions on the matter, when eventual race runner-up and "old school" driver Jeff Burton declined every opportunity to put the front bumper to race winner Kyle Busch. It just is not something some drivers believe should be part of the sport.

Therein lies the problem with the present one-groove configuration of Martinsville: drivers are not afforded a choice of executing a clean pass on their competitors. Realistically, the options are either to follow the leader or push the car ahead out of the train-like procession of racecars that is known to be Martinsville's brand of racing. And conversely, what are the choices of the lead driver? Should he just concede his position because the driver following him is able or willing to drive hard into the turn and use the lead cars back bumper to slow him? Or continue to race for his present position?

That Martinsville Speedway is one of the ten venues hosting the Chase for the Nextel Cup Championship compounds the lines between what is and is not proper use of the front bumper. I am not sure if Chase participants are not even more justified to bang the other thirty-one race competitors out of the way as if they are nothing more than incidental objects impeding their efforts to win a championship. And I am equally befuddled as to what is the proper course of action for the lead cars that know that they are only marginally faster than the Chase eligible driver knocking on his rear bumper. Is that driver, knowing that he is subject to being "punted" obligated to relinquish his spot in the race order and not try to "race" for positions against the Chase eligible group?

And the whole issue becomes even more muddled. Should teammates "punt" teammates? Is it okay for teammates not in the Chase to continue to race teammates that are? If a non-Chase competitor does not voluntarily give his position up is he now practicing "dirty" driving? Is it unsportsmanlike for a driver to move over more willingly for some drivers yet choose to "race" other drivers? Who knows!

The rule-of-thumb for passing in short-track racing was always pretty simple and clear to me. If a car attempting to pass another had his front fender to the quarter-panel of his competitor, it was understood that the trailing car had gained position and both drivers would race accordingly. This time-honored understanding resulted in both drivers racing each other in a fashion that endeared stock car racing to the millions of fans that have come to enjoy the sport today. It is a manner of passing that fans of short-track racing at local venues all over the country, Richmond International Raceway, and now Bristol Motor Speedway, are very accepting of. It creates true door handle-to-door handle, side rubbing racing. To me, without question, the best form of auto racing that there is in the world!

With one track down and one to go I continue to maintain that passing in racing, in its purest form, consists of drivers passing their competitors either high or low, but not by driving through them. But for this type of racing to be possible, the owners of Martinsville will need to follow the lead of Bruton Smith at Bristol Motor Speedway, and envision not only that their track can be improved, but then commit to the necessary investment in time and money that it will take to make it happen. If that day ever comes, we can put the term "bump and run" back in its box and label it as, "inappropriate for auto racing."

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DMIC
10/17/2007 06:10 AM
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Martinsville is OLD SCHOOL racing…it seems newer fans want to get rid of all of NASCAR’s historic tracks! Tune in tonight for QUICK CHANGE as we discuss this topic.

Pauline
10/17/2007 06:27 AM
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Thank you DMIC!! Martinsville was built that and banking it to create side-by-side racing would ruin it!

Bill McMillan
10/17/2007 07:40 AM
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Get a life! Martinsville is great just the way it is. It is not a coincidence that two of best tracks on the circuit are Martinsville and Darlington. Old school race tracks. That’s part of what makes NASCAR drivers, the best drivers in the world…the differences in tracks they have to race on week in and week out. Put down your TV remote, buy a ticket and get out of the house.

Brian France Sucks
10/17/2007 07:59 AM
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Everyone else is bi^ching about this, but I have to agree. Martinsville needs a second lane to run in. One of the previous respondents mentioned Darlington, but at Darlington passes can be made without punting the front car into the wall. Frankly, punting guys out of the way takes little skill and does no favors towards establishing credibility with others who tune in to see what NASCAR is all about. Increased options as to where to run makes racing better. PERIOD. Martinsville would be so much better if someone could run the outside groove and be competitive. If you want to see guys knock others out of the way, go to a demolition derby. Or just rip up the concrete/asphalt and put Martinsville back to the original configuration; dirt. That would be even better, but will never happen. Some fans would complain about getting dirt in their $6.00 beer, and King Brian would have a heart attack at the thought of losing money. Or just bring back N Wilkesboro for one of Martinsville’s dates, b/c people could run high and low there. And just so everyone knows, I’ve been a fan for over 23 years. Great article.

falcon325
10/17/2007 10:40 AM
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Tommy, Tommy, Tommy.

What I saw in that August Bristol race was not great racing. It was slow cars getting themselves double-wide and blocking the leader to stay on the lead lap. It was almost as boring as the ‘Dega parade.

You asked when the bump and run was permissible. First, let’s be clear. The vast majority of the passing on the one-groove bullrings did NOT involve the B&R. The B&R is used—and should be used—when the laps are winding down and the car in front is clearly slower and is just mirror-driving. Think Jeff Gordon and Rust Wallace. Sorry Rusty, but I don’t pay my hard-earned money to watch you show off your blocking skills. Besides, Jeffrey just “rubbed” you, and Rusty, “rubbin’ is racin’. “ Wrecking the leader ‘cause it’s your only hope of winning? Think Terry LaBonte and Ironhead. That’s cheating, and the fans at Bristol understood the difference.

To me, the B&R is part of the fun. Got a slow car in the lead? You can “make it wide” if you want to. But you better get up on the wheel, ‘cause the guy behind you is comin’! And if you decide to give up on hitting your marks to just block, don’t whine if he nerfs you up the track.

But all of that is moot now anyway. The COT, with its matching front-and-rear bumpers, has made the B&R tough to pull off. Gordon tried like crazy to root JJ out of the groove in the Spring race at Martinsville, but just couldn’t get it done. The slower car won. And that ain’t racin’.

Bob Mc Intyre
10/17/2007 10:44 AM
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i don’t think you could me more wrong about martinsville and [old] bristol. i think the jury is still out on the new configuration. i’ve been going to martinsville for 10 years now, and i’ve seen a lot of the kind of passing that you say “should be” the rule. there is some bump and run also. anything, anything, anything beat the “bore-exs” that most of the existing 1.5 tracks deliver.

Marty C
10/17/2007 12:44 PM
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I’ve been a racing fan for 45 years and a crew member back in the old Grand National – Winston Cup days and to me the bump and run is just a fancy name for cheating. It all started with Earnhardt Sr. and since NASCAR let him get away with it, it has become the norm. I agree with you 100%. Give me good old side by side racing. If you can’t pass him clean you don’t pass him. Intentionally wrecking someone isn’t racing, regardless of what Hollywood and a lot of Johnny come lately “fans” would like us to believe.

Mike C
10/17/2007 01:50 PM
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Marty , you might want to read up on racing in the old days . Bumping a competitor out of your way has been a staple of full body auto racing since auto racing began . Read up on the exploits of Marshall, Lee , Ralph , Curtis , Junior , Cale , Richard and all the other greats . Bumping was used and perfected long before Dale Sr . was born . It was the norm back then , and nascar let them all get away with it . It’s always just been part of racing .

Bob Whitehead
10/17/2007 07:01 PM
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Tommy, Buddy, you’re taking a beating here. But you’re absolutely right. I have to admit tight racing gets my juices flowing, but sometimes I wonder whether we’re fans of racing, or wrecking? If Martinsville was even just a little bit more like the new Bristol, where two racers could actually race, it would be great. Hang in there, my friend. Being right is it’s own reward. :)

Bob

Marc
10/17/2007 07:27 PM
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Martinsville is RACING, just the way it is. Leave it the hell alone

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