There were times in my race officiating career when I was told that I was “a little quick” sometimes to throw the caution flag. I usually responded that I’d much rather throw a quick caution than to wait too long or not to throw one when it was needed.
One of the last ASA races I worked, in 1984 at Winchester, Ind., was one of my proudest. Anybody who has ever raced at Winchester will tell you that it’s so fast and so narrow that a one-car caution is extremely rare. We ran 400 laps that day with 36 cars starting and didn’t have any multi-car incidents at all. There was once when somebody got crossways and I came down with the yellow, and he straightened it out – but my conscience was clear.
Talking to officials who work in some of the major sanctioning bodies nowadays and listening to race control on the scanner from time to time, I’m not sure flagging would appeal to me. Don’t get me wrong, every flagman wants all the help he can get and all the eyes he can get helping him up there, but nobody wants to just be a robot and be told what to throw and what not to throw on every single situation. I bring this up because of a photo in a box of old ones that Wayne Doebling, our ASA photographer for years, sent to me recently.
Doebling, for those who don’t know him, was one of the best racing photographers around. I compare him very favorably to David Allio and I consider that to be high praise indeed. Another of his photos shows the aftermath of an accident which occurred in one of the early ARCA Salem 500s in the late 1960s. It was 1968 or 1969, if I recall correctly.
Early in the event, Jerry Norris of Louisville spun his Ford down the backstretch. It came to a stop against the inside guardrail, behind the tower in my blind spot. I had the yellow flag in my hand when an ARCA official in the tower started waving me off and giving me the “safe” sign. This was before radios. I could even read his lips as he yelled, “It’s OK.”
Well, it was OK for about a hundred laps or so.
Benny Parsons, who was leading, needed some relief in his familiar Torino No. 98, and on a pit stop he turned the wheel over to one of his pit crew who had some driving experience. As I recall, the car stayed in the lead through the pit stop and things were fine until Benny’s old nemesis, Les Snow, came up to un-lap himself. Les made a clean pass, but the crewman didn’t think he was pushing the Ford hard enough and picked up his pace.
I think Benny even stepped out on the apron with “EZ” on the blackboard, but it didn’t help. Trying to keep up with Snow coming off the second turn, the guy lost control of the Torino and spun down the backstretch, disappearing behind the tower.
My heart sank, because I knew immediately what had happened, and went yellow. The car had crashed into Norris’s parked racer.
When it was all over, Jerry came up and said he planned to give me a good beating, adding, “Not here, but sooner or later.” I said if he felt that way, let’s get it on here and now without waiting, but first I’d appreciate it if he would climb the tower steps with me and confront the man who had signaled that the yellow wasn’t needed.
We did, and I was just a little surprised that the guy owned up to it and apologized to both of us. After we got back down from the tower, Jerry apologized to me, and I told him – and said he could tell every other driver he knew – that from this point on, I was following my own conscience when it came to slowing a race down.
As late as a couple of years ago, Jerry was still racing. We remained friends through all those years.
As I’ve written before, I felt my first obligation was to the competitors, to serve as their stationary eyes. I stuck to that decision and never really had any reason to regret it.
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