Race Weekend Central

Driven to the Past: Rules? In a Knife Fight?

Had to use that as a headline. It’s one of my favorite movie lines, delivered by Richard Kiel early in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. I’ve been known to quote it often when somebody asks about rules at the racetrack.

What brought about my attention to rules this week was the “controversy” over NASCAR telling the Nos. 48 and the 5 that they were getting close to the limit on one of the body standards.

My reaction to this was, “What’s new about this?” I can recall that happening several times back in the day. Leo Parrish, the original ASA’s long-time chief inspector, regularly warned competitors that they were approaching the edge of the envelope, and the envelope wasn’t going to move.

And there have been times when inspectors intentionally pulled a competitor’s chain once in a while just for fun.

Jim Carnforth, also with ASA, used a magnet to insure that the doors and roofs were steel, as required.

Once he purchased a new magnet, which came with a plastic cap for some reason. Using it the first time at Winchester, he stuck it to the roof of Bob Senneker’s Camaro, then surreptitiously slipped the little cap (which was the same color as the magnet) back on and held it up to the door. Naturally, it fell to the ground. He did it again and the same thing happened.

As you might expect, this brought Senneker out of his lawn chair in a hurry.

Jim handed him the magnet, with the cap on, and Bob tried it himself. It took only two tries before he caught on and handed it back to Jim, saying only, “Nice try.”

History has shown than some of the best rules come about, as might be expected, through necessity.

I’m particularly proud of two of them in which I had a part.

The first came in the ’60s at the old Fairgrounds Motor Speedway in Louisville, when the late Milt Hartlauf (once again, one of the best race directors I ever worked for), mentioned that we needed a “catchall” rule.

Now, I might not look like it now, but while I was serving my country and in the early ’60s I was a basketball official in the winter months. I recalled a rule from the National Federation book and mentioned it to Milt, and he said to write it up. He called on me for verbiage a lot, knowing my full-time job was as a weekly newspaper editor.

“Make it so they can understand it with no wiggle room,” he used to say.

From then on, our rulebooks had what we called the “elastic” rule included.

“Any situation not specifically covered in these rules shall be acted upon at the discretion of the official or officials involved, whose decision will be final and binding upon all participants.”

If that isn’t a good argument for making your rulebook deliberately vague, I don’t know what is.

The other rule came about when we had a few altercations in the pit area… you know, the usual territorial disputes on the racetrack, etc. Sometimes these led to blows being struck, and I recall one which could have become particularly violent if cooler heads hadn’t prevailed.

That happened while I was pit steward, when one hothead approached a very cool (and very talented) Figure-8 driver, holding a tire iron in one hand. He voiced his intentions with, “I’m going to knock your (expletive deleted) head off.”

The other guy, who reportedly had a reputation as being very quick and very good with a knife when he was growing up in a rough part of town, was standing there with his right hand in his pocket, and he said, “Go ahead and try, but I’ve got $50 that says I can cut your arm off before you do it.”

As I said, cooler heads prevailed. Don’t ask me what possessed me to step between them. I’m still wondering about it.

Milt wanted to know how we could assess blame in a situation like this, because it was sometimes difficult to get the whole story about who swung first.

After considerable thought, we came up with the “other pit” rule.

This rule stated that if you went to another competitor’s pit area and a fight broke out, you would be found to be at fault no matter who threw the first punch.

The message to the participants was simple – stay in your own pit area.

It didn’t really become effective, even when we explained it at the drivers’ meeting, until after the first time it was applied.

Somebody went to another pit, got knocked on his backside and was suspended for a couple of weeks.

Not many problems after that.

About the author

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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