Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: He’s Outta the Park

I found myself taking issue with something that was said during last weekend’s telecast of the Nationwide Series race at Phoenix. After a couple of bad restarts with some cars being wrecked, Dale Jarrett made the comment that the rule is that the leader can speed up anytime between the restart line and the start-finish line, and that the flagman is to throw the green when the leader does so. If that’s so, things have sure changed.

My understanding was that the flagman doesn’t throw the flag before they hit the restart line, and it’s up to the leader, after the flag is thrown, to determine just when he’s going to speed up between there and the start-finish line. This may be splitting hairs, but I think it’s closer to the truth. NASCAR said that everything had been done according to procedure.

Unfortunately, a slow restart is very risky on the part of the leader. There’s always somebody back in the pack who will jam that right foot down when his spotter says “Green, green, green,” regardless of what the consequences may be. That leads to cars scattering in all directions, a few chain-reaction collisions, and in general a pretty bad scene.

I’ve had it happen to me on restarts, even at local tracks now and then, and I’m sure other officials have had the same experience. In ASA, it even happened once or twice on an original start, most notably at Nashville for a 100-lapper in the ’70s. We had a NASCAR veteran on the front row who wanted a second-gear start resulting in cars all over the place. I’m sure that driver remembers that one and the talk we had later.

As I’ve noted before, it’s as hard to out-legislate stupidity as it is ingenuity.

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On a related topic, there were always some unwritten rules in effect for the guy waving the flags back in the day, particularly on the short tracks in weekly programs. If a car got upside down, you threw the red. If a wheel came off, you threw the red. On larger tracks, if a car went out of the ballpark, you threw the red.

I remember one day at I-70 Speedway in Missouri when somebody went out over the wall coming off the second turn. From the flagstand, I could see all kinds of stuff flying up in the air – things like hubcaps that I knew didn’t come off a racecar. Fortunately, nobody was hurt in that one, but I’m sure the insurance companies had a ball sorting it out.

But there was one day during an ASA 100-lapper at Salem when I decided not to throw the red when a car went out of the place. For some reason, Larry Cope ran up over somebody’s wheel heading into the third turn and got launched. I mean REALLY launched. I was treated to the sight of a Chevelle flying over the fence, clearing it by at least five feet, in perfectly level flight. I was reaching for the red flag when I saw him come down on all four wheels. He drove down the hill on the other side of the fence with no apparent damage to the car and kept on going. I decided to stay yellow rather than red.

All of a sudden, the attendant at the track gate at the head of the front straightaway leaned out on the track and waved to me. I could also see the front of Cope’s car up against the gate. I told the pace car to get them down low, and they opened the gate.

Cope came through the gate, crossed the track and drove straight to his pit area, where his crew began inspecting the underside of the car. They decided it was good to continue, and sent him back out to join the field at the tail for the restart.

After the race was over, our esteemed president, Rex Robbins, came down from the tower and said, “Potts, that’s the first time I’ve ever seen you let a car go out of the ballpark without throwing a red flag.”

I said, “Hell, Rex, I could see him driving around in the parking lot. We wouldn’t have had to stay yellow so long if he hadn’t rolled up to the gate wanting to get back in.”

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The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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