Race Weekend Central

What’s Vexing Vito: Make Up Your Mind Already!

“You write born to kill on your helmet and you wear a peace button. What’s that supposed to be some kind of sick joke?

No sir.

“What is it supposed to mean?”

I don’t know, sir.

“You don’t know very, much do you?”

No sir.

“You better get your head and your ass wired together, or I will take a giant s— on you.”

That little irony-laden exchange between a Marine Colonel and Private Joker from the 1986 Stanley Kubric Vietnam War epic Full Metal Jacket came to mind after the back and forth that has raged the last few days and weeks with regards to the plight of Chad Knaus, Ron Malec and the No. 48 team, as well as the fate of the recently-reconfigured Bristol Motor Speedway.

The comments read on message boards, within the media and critics who serve to be critical, simply for the sake of being critical.

When the penalties were originally assessed to the Hendrick Motorsports No. 48 team, the vast majority of pundits and commentary read was that Knaus has a history of cheating, you aren’t supposed to touch that area, he told Jimmie Johnson to crack the back of the same car up at Talladega five months earlier and that NASCAR fines are virtually never rescinded.

See also
MPM2Nite: A Travesty & a Tragedy - Reviewing the Johnson Appeal Decision

Following the initial decision by the NASCAR appeals committee, it was deemed that the fine should remain. Rick Hendrick undeterred escalated the appeals process to the ultimate arbiter, John Middlebrook, for which it was overturned on Tuesday of this week (March 20).

Each story about the fine includes a little dig, such as Middlebrook was once a General Motors executive and would curry favor with Hendrick who owns a renowned Chevrolet dealership and has campaigned Chevrolets in NASCAR for nearly 30 years. That kind of overshadows the story of how the car was randomly pulled out of line for inspection – and was never actually inspected. Competition Director John Darby said he didn’t like the way the C-pillars looked.

So I guess now we just eyeball the cars and don’t actually put a gauge on them. This is akin to the TSA pulling an 80-year old lady out of line at the air port and giving her a thorough inspection, since clearly she is the most likely of underwear and shoe bomber for domestic air travel.

Very little has been said regarding NASCAR’s total botch-job of handling their own inspection procedure and due process for assigning guilt, or the other three cars that had the same issue with their C-pillars going through inspection – failing – and then being allowed to repair and resubmit for inspection.

If this had been a criminal case, it would have been thrown out of court and never made it to trial and HMS would have a pretty tasty lawsuit to play with. That would be like pulling somebody over with a broken taillight, then charging the operator with drunk driving, but never actually administering a field sobriety test.

Score one for creative engineering, playing within the rules and seeing justice actually prevail with addressing a NASCAR issued penalty.

See also
Holding a Pretty Wheel: The Eyeball Effect Overturned - Middlebrook's Move Saves Ugly Precedent

The other flip-flop and selective recollection in recent weeks is that regarding Bristol Motor Speedway. Bristol has long since been known as the action track, and who’s souvenir cups boldly declare, “Racin’ The Way it Oughta Be!” With only five cautions, a distinct lack of wrecking (save for Kasey Kahne’s latest expedition into the wall), and – gasp – side-by-side racing, their slogan is finally wringing true.

I’m not sure that single-file riding and ramming into somebody from behind constitutes “racing”. After all it was Bristol that helped bring the term “bump-n-run” into the NASCAR lexicon, which then devolved into the dump-n-run.

The same people who carp and moan about the lack of action at Bristol are also the same ones who find fault with restrictor plate racing and the 25-car mash up that results from the Big One, or multi-groove tracks such as California, Michigan, Kansas or Chicagoland that can often slip you into the sweet slumber of unconsciousness.

Sure I miss guys chucking helmets, footies and blasting ambulances, or going Cole Trickle ramming somebody after the checkered flag falls, however in this day and age of racing with the more hearty and virtually indestructible CoT, is that really what we need at Bristol?

The end result would be the track blocked with 43 cars, half of them torn up but still running just fast enough to be in the way. The old races were usually pretty clean in the last 50 laps, because by that time, 20 cars had spun and made contact with the inside retaining walls and buckled the front end.

I remember Carl Edwards going out to qualify in the previous generation car, losing control on an upshift, barely making contact with the inside wall, and completely ruining the racecar.

In the lower series such as Nationwide or the Camping World Truck series, might it be good for teams so save a couple bucks and not have to bank on writing off a wrecked racecar?

After a somewhat disappointing fan turnout (102,000 stated attendance in a 160,000-seat venue), Bruton Smith is now in the process of meeting with designers and engineers in an attempt to re-Bristolize Bristol. I can only imagine how this is going to turn out, after the last time somebody had the bright idea to sanitize Charlotte Motor Speedway, ruining what was the absolute perfect racetrack with character, speed and idiosyncrasies.

Apparently it was decided that somebody didn’t like the little bump in turn 4 so they had to introduce the sport to “levigating.”

At the 2005 Coca-Cola 600, over 100 laps were contested under caution because the track started coming apart. The end result was ultimately a repaving, resulting in the cookie cutter of cookie-cutter tracks, with hideous yellow walls.

Not sure why I’m so cranky over this; perhaps it is the perpetual sinus infection and bronchitis I’ve been combating for the last two weeks, coupled with mid-80 degree Michigan-in-March heat. Everybody is entitled to their opinion, and far be it from me to stifle somebody’s right of self-expression. A little consistency would be in order though from the media, NASCAR and those who don’t have anything better to do than get all worked up over something for no apparent reason.

And yes, I am well aware of the irony and hypocrisy considering the name of this column. Well, whatever. You’re the one who read it, don’t get mad at me.

About the author


Vito is one of the longest-tenured writers at Frontstretch, joining the staff in 2007. With his column Voice of Vito (monthly, Fridays) he’s a contributor to several other outlets, including Athlon Sports and Popular Speed in addition to making radio appearances. He forever has a soft-spot in his heart for old Mopars and presumably oil-soaked cardboard in his garage.

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