NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Old-School Officiating… Is That What Carl Needs?

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’s 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 mph.

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 No. 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.

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.

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