Amid all the discussion about NASCAR’s perceived “invisible” debris cautions, or cautions for debris that wouldn’t really affect the race, one of our Frontstretch writers raised a question a couple of weeks ago. The writer asked whether the rest of us thought one particular driver might have deliberately spun out another to get a caution flag, either to close up the field or make a pit stop under yellow.
I’ve written before about backmarkers who had obtained used engines and other parts from big teams back in the day, and how they seemed to spin once in a while when the big team needed a caution. This is a horse of a different color.
Now, I’m not sure what happened in that particular race, and I haven’t seen any replays that might indicate a deliberate “dumping” as we used to say.
However, it did take my alleged mind back to a situation in the days of the original American Speed Association when I thought it had happened, but neither myself or any other official actually saw it.
It was at Lonesome Pine International Raceway (I suppose a Mexican drove a tamale wagon there once, hence the “international” tag) near Coeburn, Va., a facility still operating, I believe.
We were running a 200-lapper, and we had a caution at about 110 laps when all of the lead-lap cars came in to refuel, bolt on new tires, etc.
For some reason, this guy stayed out and led a few laps, and at about 150 laps or so he realized that he wasn’t going to make it all the way on fuel.
Working with the layover flag, I was trying to keep the lapped cars apprised of the fact that the leaders were coming, just like they do nowadays, and I noticed him gaining on one particular car.
As I was watching the second-place car, I caught a glimmer of tire smoke out of the corner of my eye, and sure enough, the lapped car had spun in the second turn.
OK, we go yellow, the leader gets to pit. Nearly everybody else on the lead lap pits, too, to make sure they all had new tires, and we go back to racing.
The guy who did the spinning didn’t win the race. As a matter of fact, if my memory is correct, that turned out to be the night the late Alan Kulwicki posted his first ASA win. In getting a chance to pit, the guy also had bunched up the field, and Alan was a little faster that night.
When it was all over, I thought long and hard about saying something to this particular driver, but I decided to wait.
I discussed it with other officials, and as I said, nobody actually saw it.
At the next race, I pulled the driver off to the side, and asked him point blank if he had spun that guy out to get a caution.
“Well, John, I might have tapped him, but I didn’t spin him on purpose. I was just wanting to get around him.”
I then said I’d take him at his word, and then proceeded to let him in on something of which I thought he should be aware.
“That guy who spun,” I said, “was running just a lap down, and was having one of the best races I’ve seen him drive. We have a lot of races where that guy gets two or three laps down. One of those times he’s going to remember what happened at Coeburn, and I just hope you aren’t leading the race when that happens.”
He looked at me a little funny, but I heard later that he had gone to the other driver’s pit area and had a long conversation about something or other. I can only guess what it was about, but I have my suspicions.
Let’s just say it never happened again between those two particular cars.
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And about that layover flag – you know, the blue one with the orange or yellow diagonal stripe.
There was a time when it meant, “Get out of the way and let the leaders race,” or at the very least, “Give up the groove to the lead-lap cars.” It still means that at a lot of short tracks where it is used.
In today’s NASCAR world, it seems to mean, “Hey, you’d better get busy or you’re going to get lapped.”
One day at Milwaukee I was having trouble getting a car to move over for the leaders. I mentioned his number on the radio and said, “If anybody down there in the pits is monitoring our channel, they might tell his crew that I’m about to drop him like a bad habit.”
Next time down the front straightaway I had the layover flag in one hand and the black flag rolled up over my head in the other. I always told the drivers this meant, “You are making me very angry” or something to that effect.
The driver in question made an abrupt turn to the left. So abrupt that after the race, one of the leaders came up and asked me what happened.
I told him, and he said, “Just wondering. I was looking for a yellow flag because I thought he’d broken an axle.”