Everyone knows the general premise of the story by now: The No. 48 car had its C-posts confiscated during the initial inspection process for the Daytona 500. The resulting penalties are set to cost Jimmie Johnson 25 driver points, Jeff Gordon 25 owner points, Ron Malec and Chad Knaus six weeks away from the race track and Knaus an additional $100,000. Before the fine is paid and the suspensions are served, the folks at Hendrick Motorsports have the option to appeal the decision to the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel, which they did Tuesday. While some people might contend that the appeal process is antiquated, it serves the purpose for which it is designed and does not need to be altered.
The appeals panel has a Chief Appellate Officer, a position currently held by retired General Motors executive John Middlebrook. He does not hear initial appeals, but is the final word should a team decide to appeal the panel’s decision further. Ed Bennett serves as the Appellate Administrator, and while he participates in the appeals process he does not vote.
The 40 remaining eligible members of the panel come from a variety of different backgrounds but are all associated with auto racing. The panel members are:
Mark Arute: Stafford Motor Speedway Chief Operating Officer and General Manager
Christiane Ayotte: World-Renowned Expert on Performance-Enhancing Substances
Buddy Baker: Retired Driver
Lee Baumgarten: Phoenix International Raceway Director of Operations
Jeff Belskus: Indianapolis Motor Speedway President and CEO
John Bishop: Founder, IMSA
Clay Campbell: Martinsville Speedway President
John Capels: USAC Chairman
Joie Chitwood: Daytona International Speedway President
John Cooper: Daytona International Speedway and Indianapolis Motor Speedway Former President
Barbara Cromarty: Riverhead Raceway (NY) Owner
Doug Fritz: Richmond International Raceway President
Harry Gant: Retired Driver
Richard Gore: Old Dominion Speedway (VA) Owner
Janet Guthrie: Retired Driver
Russell Hackett: Carraway Speedway (NC) Owner
David Hall: TNN/CMT Co-Founder and Former President
Hurley Haywood: Driver
Jack Housby: President, Housby Trucking
Bill Lester: Driver
Shane Lewis: Driver
Grant Lynch: Talladega Superspeedway President
Denis McGlynn: Dover International Speedway President and CEO
Leo Mehl: Goodyear Racing Former Director, Indy Racing League Former Executive Director
Bud Moore: Retired Car Owner
Steve Page: Infineon Raceway President
Dale Pinilis: Bowman-Gray Stadium (NC) Operator
Cathy Rice: South Boston Speedway (VA) General Manager
Shawna Robinson: Former Driver
Jay Signore: Former IROC Series Owner
Lyn St. James: Retired Driver
H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler Jr.: Former Lowe’s Motor Speedway President
Kevin Whitaker: Greenville Pickens Speedway (SC) Operator
Jim Williams: Irwindale Speedway (CA) President
Jo DeWitt Wilson: North Carolina Speedway Former President
Waddell Wilson: Former Crew Chief / Engine Builder
Robert Yates: Retired Car Owner
While the number of administrators potentially on the panel is greater than the former competitors in the sport, there is no question that they are mostly successful in their fields of expertise. Success in business requires any professional to understand how to handle people while still treating them fairly in situations where there are differences of opinion. Leaders don’t necessarily need that ability but those who are truly successful have risen to the tops of their professions do, or they wouldn’t make it to those lofty heights.
When an appeal goes before the board, three of the potential members are selected and sit in on the panel that decides the fate of the parties making the appeal. At one time there were NASCAR employees eligible to sit on the panel but that potential conflict of interest has been removed and the remaining people who can be seated, while some might argue are cronies with NASCAR, are not NASCAR employees.
Some people would suggest that a jury of peers should judge appeals or possibly an arbitrator would be better suited to sit in judgment. The problem with a jury of peers is that pool is quite limited, and the potential for bias in the decision of the panel would be simply too great. Having an arbiter hear the arguments would simply be too time consuming. The fact that the people who can be seated on these panels have experience with racing avoids the need to explain the entire process to the person hearing the appeal.
By having people who participated in the sport, presided over facilities and races, or owned racing operations, appellants are assured that they’ll have a fair hearing. Not having a NASCAR employee on the panel assures that the sanctioning body’s side of the discussion is not given an unfair weight in the overall process.
NASCAR is a dictatorship–there is no disputing that fact. In order for competitors to have any chance of question their rulings, there has to be some form of appeal process. While it might not be perfect, the process that is in place works, offers a fair opportunity for participants to have their grievances heard, and avoids dragging the process into the legal system which would potentially prolong rulings over multiple years.
While NASCAR hasn’t always lived by the philosophy, the process ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.
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