Race Weekend Central

Full Throttle – Double Standards are Hard to Swallow in NASCAR

The Kyle Busch shenanigans from Texas have been beaten to death over the last few days, but there is one angle that has not been explored. NASCAR not only polices their national touring series, they also watch over weekly racing that takes place throughout the country. Some five years ago a very similar incident occurred at Motor Mile Speedway during the run to the national championship. The result was a driver whose career was basically ended thanks to the penalty levied by NASCAR. Another incident took place just a few weeks ago and the results of those penalties are yet to be realized. Unfortunately for local racers, it appears that there is a double standard when it comes to discipline at the local level vs. the national level.

In September 2006, the national championship race for the Whelen All-American series was coming down to the end and Philip Morris was poised to take his first of what is now four titles. During his run to the championship he’d rubbed some fenders the wrong way and there were some drivers who did not want to see him in the top spot. One of the more vocal drivers was Jason Lawrence, who was one of the people who had been wronged, at least in his mind, by Morris during the year. When the last race got under way the first 21 laps were uneventful with Morris running fourth and Lawrence running fifth. As the field passed under the flag stand on lap 22 Lawrence moved up to the back of Morris’s car and turned him into the outside wall in an attempt to end his national title hopes. It didn’t work as Morris was able to get back into the race and finish fourth. For Lawrence, it was a career crippling maneuver–he was escorted out of the race track and subsequently suspended from NASCAR and Motor Mile Speedway for the well known “Actions Detrimental to Stock Car Racing”.

Lawrence spent the next two and a half years racing on dirt after being told that he should wait a while before trying to get back into NASCAR. He asked Lynn Carroll, the man who makes the calls for NASCAR in the Whelen All-American series, after his appeal what was next. Carroll told him that he should wait a while before he tried to get reinstated. Finally, in 2010 he was granted a NASCAR license again but unfortunately has not been able to secure a ride in a Late Model. He helps a friend with a street stock but, what was once a very promising racing career was ended because of one bad decision in the heat of the moment.

The ironic point to this whole event is that the maneuver was very much out of character for Lawrence. He was a very religious, family man who actually led the prayer for the drivers and crew members before the race that fateful night. During the prayer he actually asked the Lord “help us to use clear judgment on the track tonight” and concluded the prayer with the prophetic words, “Help us keep our tempers in check”. Lawrence was not a drinker, he didn’t swear, and he didn’t curse. He was regarded by most everyone who met him as one of the nicest young men they’d ever known.

Fast forward to October 22 at South Boston Speedway. Lee Pulliam has just come off of winning the biggest Late Model race of the year at Martinsville Speedway where he used a last lap bump and run to beat Matt McCall to the checkered flag. In the excitement after the win the rumblings around the garage are “Glad he finally grew a set, now he just has to stand up to Philip.”

As the race is unfolding at SoBo Pulliam is leading the race with some 70 laps to go with Morris on his tail. Morris dives under Pulliam as they head into turn three and Pulliam pulls down on him, causing contact between the two and a spin by Pulliam. Morris is not black flagged and that sets the events in motion that have changed Pulliam’s racing career just like Lawrence’s. Pulliam starts at the back of the pack and charges toward the front, eventually getting to fourth place when a late race caution flies thanks to a car spinning off the front bumper of Pulliam’s car. Pulliam is not black flagged and restarted behind the second place running car, not Morris. Try as he might Pulliam cannot get higher than third in the standings as the race runs to the finish.

As the cars circle the track after the checkered flag has flown Pulliam catches up to Morris on the back straight and hits his car in the rear, spinning it around and spinning himself in the process. Both cars come to rest against the inside back straight wall facing each other. At this point, had Pulliam let things lie, he probably would have had a reprimand and possibly a fine. Unfortunately, he made the decision to take it one step further. He grabbed a gear and hit the gas, plowing head on into Morris’s car, causing serious damage to the front ends of both cars. Fortunately Morris was not injured but the action resulted in a melee on pit lane with crew members pushing and shoving, a former national champion being arrested, and the post race fan opportunity in the pits being cancelled.

Similar to Lawrence, Pulliam was suspended from NASCAR indefinitely and fined $1,000. The suspension is under appeal and a hearing will occur in the near future. Interestingly, this action was quite similar to Lawrence’s in that it was very much out of character for Pulliam. Just like Lawrence, Pulliam is a God fearing Christian who routinely professes his faith openly. While not married he is a dedicated family man with loving parents who are very involved in his career. Sadly for Pulliam, he let emotions get the best of him at the moment and it is going to have a profound effect on his career.

In both cases, the drivers let themselves get sucked into something that they would not normally do by listening to the people around them. Both Lawrence and Pulliam had people in their ear telling them that they’d been wronged, ironically by the same person. Both were being continually reminded that they needed to stand up to the bully or live their life in fear of him. Both drivers had large, vocal fan bases who were constantly encouraging them to retaliate and make Morris pay for his driving style. In the end, it all but ended a promising career for Lawrence and very well may do the same thing to Pulliam’s.

We now look at the events of Friday night. Whether Busch had people in his ear telling him that he needed to do something to a KHI truck or if it was just the voices in his head, Busch lost all sense of reason after being bumped into the wall by Hornaday on the 14th lap of the race and proceeded to pile drive him into the outside wall of the race track, possibly injuring him and definitely destroying two race trucks. The incident took place under caution, albeit just under caution before any safety vehicles had hit the track yet because the cars were still travelling at high speed. Like Lawrence, who made his contact under green flag conditions, Busch was parked for the night, although he was not escorted from the premises. The next day Busch was penalized and the following week he was fined, but that is where there is a dramatic dichotomy.

Lawrence and Pulliam were suspended indefinitely while Busch was given a $50,000 fine and put on probation through the end of the year, which is essentially two weeks. For whatever reason, the drivers who run on a weekly basis and put their hearts and souls and most of their disposable income into racing have their careers severely impacted by NASCAR’s taskmaster while the drivers who show up with their helmet bag and make millions of dollars get a proverbial slap on the wrist.

All three of these men made a very bad decision in the heat of a moment that most of us have never been in. The repercussions of those actions have had and will have very long lasting effects for each of them for many years to come. Unfortunately for the two local drivers the impact on their lives, at least from the NASCAR rules enforcement side of things, is dramatically greater than that of the drivers at the highest levels of the sport. Shame on NASCAR for having an uneven playing field for rules enforcement for the exact same rule at different levels of their sport.

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