Lots of questions this week, most of them in personal questions and phone calls from long-time acquaintances, regarding NASCAR’s handling of the final laps at Watkins Glen.
First, the question of whether it’s safe to continue racing on a road course has to be left up to race control, and they have to depend on their observers and course marshals. In my own experience, on a short track, and even up to a 1.5-mile if you’re in a good enough position in the flagstand to see the whole course, the flagman can make that call.
Nowadays, I’m not sure a NASCAR flagman has that authority on any size track.
During the course of my career, I was fortunate enough to be trusted by my sanctioning bodies, track operators, and most importantly, the competitors, to be allowed to make that kind of call. NASCAR says their observers told them there were no problems. They saw Bobby Labonte’s smoking car, but saw nothing on the track.
This isn’t unusual. Often, particularly in a day race, you can’t see liquid on track if it’s a light coating. However, it isn’t enough for them to simply look at the track. A number of drivers even admitted they couldn’t see the oil on the track, but they were having trouble with traction. You immediately look at the cars, particularly those trailing the smoker, to see if they’re having any problems. If they’re slowing down appreciably, or doing a bit of slippin’ and slidin’, there’s got to be a reason for it.
The first tip off to me as a spectator watching that race on TV, was when Dale Jarrett – a former Winston Cup champion said that there was, “something wrong” with Kyle Busch’s car. He had slowed down, and we found out the reason for it when they went into the first turn after the white flag.
Brad Keselowski, immediately after the race, said he thought it was Busch throwing oil. That’s plausible, since it was Busch that he was following. Kyle went into that first turn a little too hot for the traction available, that was obvious; whether he came down on Keselowski or not, I’m not sure. He may have been a little out of shape before Brad got to him, and Brad (even if he had been inclined to do so), would have had a problem using the brakes to keep from hitting Busch.
I’m sure not many drivers would pass up a chance to tap Busch in a situation like that, particularly with a race on the line.
My biggest complaint with NASCAR’s handling of the situation is the one we all have the most problems with – inconsistency. There seems to be a fluctuating scale of how serious a situation has to be before they tell the flagman to throw the yellow and they turn on the lights. We’ve all seen them slow a race down as soon as somebody’s car starts smoking heavily. The situation last Sunday could have been avoided if they had jumped on it as soon as Labonte started smoking. By the time they got to the white flag, it was way too late.
Under their own rules, throwing the caution after the white flag would have automatically given the race to Kyle Busch. That wouldn’t have been met with any more approval than what actually happened.
On a personal note, I want to voice my thanks to all the people in the pits at our local short track, Corbin Speedway, for showing how much they cared when I had a little accident last Saturday night.
Tooling through the pits on my three-wheel handicapped cart, I disregarded one of the cardinal rules of motorsports, and it came back to bite me. I saw the Pure Street car backing out of a pit stall when he was about a foot from the right side of the cart. It was a true “Oh s#*t” moment.
BLAM – he hit the cart, knocking me off of it and sprawling onto the pit road. This could have been a bad one, but he stopped right away, and I believe the cart actually kept him from running over me. It seemed like EVERYBODY in the pits was right there immediately, rolling me over and standing me up (without the use of my legs, I need some real help in that department), then sitting me back on the cart. Amazingly the cart still operated, despite being knocked on its side.
The Whitley County EMS girls were great – they cleaned up my badly scraped left hand (not much worse than the case of road rash I had from my last motorcycle accident almost 20 years back) and wrapped it. That and a sore right leg were the only problems.
Oh yeah, I was sore the next morning.
The driver was more shook up than I was, and I had to tell him to forget it, it was my fault, just like it was back in the ’70s when I was lining up a race at Louisville and a car backed into my right leg. Thankfully, these are the only two times I’ve been hurt on the track in over 60 years of this. That is if you don’t count the time I got hit in the leg (same leg – the right one) by a wheel weight off DW’s car at Milwaukee.
Both times, I had disregarded that cardinal rule I mentioned, one that was drummed into me by the late George Adams, one of my mentors…
“Don’t EVER turn your back on a race car.”
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