This Classic NERF’ers Corner is a continuation of the Marty Radewick, Fred Felton, and Radical Racer versus NASCAR officials ordeal. Due to the initial column on the same subject two weeks prior, Robert Echo was going on his second straight race weekend without NASCAR press credentials. It should be noted that a couple local NASCAR sanctioned facilities decided themselves to reinstate his credentials the week after this very column was published.
Robert earned a couple of good friends in Marty and Fred during this period of investigative reporting. It was a friendship which he enjoyed for years to come.
– Friday, August 11th, 1978 – SPEEDWAY SCENE –
IS NASCAR TOO BIG FOR ITS BRITCHES?
I just know that you have been waiting for this weeks NERF’ers Corner and the continuing saga of NASCAR and the “Radical Racer”.
Before I get back into the controversy of the “Radical Racer” I’d like to point out that Fred Felton and Marty Radewick aren’t the only ones who are upset with the National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing. It seems the list of disenchanted drivers and owners has grown beyond belief this season.
Eddie Flemke, Sr. and Dick Caso have both vacated Stafford Motor Speedway because of disputes with NASCAR officials.
It seems “King Richard” is being victimized by the very organization he helped build to it’s present proportions. NASCAR’s winningest Grand National driver, Richard Petty, recently shifted from a 20 year association with Crystler, except for one year with Ford, to Chevrolet because of NASCAR’s refusal to change some rules that would have enabled his Dodge Magnum to become more competitive.
Rules right now show NASCAR leaning toward the General Motors cars. NASCAR changed the rules for GM a couple of years ago to make them more competitive. The 41 year old Petty, who has 185 career wins and has won more than 3 million dollars, stated; “They wouldn’t change the rules for me even though they promised they would if the Magnum didn’t prove competitive.”
“It’s been most frustrating.” said Petty, who hasn’t visited victory lane in more than a year. His last win came at Daytona in the 1977 Firecracker 400. Petty added; “I’m upset with NASCAR and most disappointed in them.”
It’s nice to be able to shit on the people who have probably been the most instrumental in helping build the organization.
Could NASCAR be at a point where they think they are the only organization around? This is the feeling that one gets with some of the decisions that are being handed down by so called competent NASCAR officials.
Although USAC (United States Auto Club) has had their own division of cars equivalent to that of the NASCAR Grand National cars for many years, they have recently moved their events to the longer superspeedway tracks. Could this mean that NASCAR had better cleanup its act and treat the competitor with a little more respect and dignity or they, the competitor, might jump to the other guy?
What would a Richard Petty or a Cale Yarborough or a David Pearson defection to USAC do to the mighty NASCAR? This organization had better wake up and realize that they need the competitor, the competitor doesn’t need them.
The evidence of this is that two central New York tracks continue to operate after either breaking or losing their affiliation with NASCAR this season.
NEARA (North East Auto Racing Association) is the strong sanctioning body in central New York with 6 tracks under its wing while NASCAR now shows none with the departure of the Chemung Speedrome and Utica-Rome Speedway. The latter had to be a hurting blow for NASCAR as the two top point runners, Richie Evans and Jerry Cook. An interesting fact is that NEARA sanctions the Modifieds at 6 speedways, while NASCAR only sanctions 10 Modified tracks on a regular weekly basis in the entire United States. These stats were taken from the National Speedway Directory, Northeast Speed and Show Directory and the 1978 NASCAR Official Record Book.
NEARA has given NASCAR more than it can handle in central New York, especially if you consider the fact that most of the tracks under NEARA now were once under the control of NASCAR. Another couple of years could find NEARA here in New England with NASCAR on the outside looking in.
The downfall of NASCAR will come from its illegitimate rule book and wishy-washy officials who make up their own rules for lack of them from NASCAR.
Now to get back to the NASCAR / “Radical Racer” controversy. A radio show on August 1st had a commentary directed toward the Felton owned and Radewick driven #11 Mass Monza bodied Modified. It was compared to another Modified that was involved in a serious accident recently. The car used in the comparison has been outlawed by NASCAR for sometime because of it’s right hand drive and some other things. The Felton car hasn’t got a right hand drive and is built from the best materials money can buy.
“The man who did the commentary was definitely off base” stated Felton.
The two NASCAR inspectors involved with the ousting of the car, complained about the roll cage being too narrow. You don’t have to be an engineer to know that a short piece of material, whether metal or wood, is stronger than a long piece. I believe the gentleman who did the commentary should put his brain in gear before putting his mouth in motion.
The same individual asked Radewick if he’s brought his car on the night of the All Star League show at Stafford. How ridiculous! The car is safe for an open show at Stafford, but not for the weekly program?
People up North where Radewick captured his first victory recently, think the whole thing with NASCAR is a joke. Boy do them Northerners sure know their stuff or is it their race cars?
NEARA Executive Director, Francis Gitchell stated; “We would let the car run this season if this type of problem arose here, we’d then amend the rules and at the time tell the car owner that the machine would have to conform to the rules next year.” He also added; “It’s not right that a man who has spent that much money can’t run.”
One closing remark about NASCAR inspectors. I asked a popular named driver recently who won’t divulge for obvious reasons, about the breaking down of an engine for NASCAR inspection when a tear down is requested. His reply was, and I quote; “The idiots NASCAR has for inspectors wouldn’t know what to look for if it was staring them in the face.” Unquote.
If you, as a fan, would like to see the “Radical Racer” running at Stafford and Riverside, you can help by voicing your opinion in a letter to NASCAR – Daytona Beach, Florida 32015 – To the attention of Bill France, Jr.. With the shortage of cars at these two tracks, even one missing hurts. It’s a chance for you, the fan, to be heard.
Checkered Chatter.. “I don’t want anyone to think I’m agitator just because I’ve been ousted from Riverside.” stated Marty Radewick, referring to the Riverside Park Speedway Car Owners meeting being held at his Speed Shop this week. The owners will try to figure out how to lower the cost of racing at the Park… Seymour the Clown was elected Mayor of Stafford Motor Speedway for the umteenth year last week in a close battle Geoff Bodine. At this point I would like to inject the fact that I’ve had my little off track battle with Mr. Bodine, but I do you have to give credit when due and I think Bodine has been a gentleman in contributing much of his time to this little or should I say big event. Even though Seymour got my vote, Geoff gained some points in my book and that’s sumthin’… Several names related to Northeastern Mods and Late Model Sportsman were in the Coca-Cola 500 field at Pocono on July 30th. Satch Worley finished 9th in the Bob Johnson Oldsmobile. Dirt tracker Kenny Brightbill placed 23rd while Jocco Maggiocomo, Jr. took 37th in his father’s Matador. Jocco, Sr. was a star at Riverside Park in the 50’s and 60’s. Northern Late Model Sportsman star Dave Dion finished 38thin his Green Mountain Ford… There’s an excellent write up on the late Toby Tobias in the September issue of Stock Car Racing Magazine by it’s editor, Dig Berggren. In fact, the entire magazine is filled with some fantastic reading and super six… Anyone interested in buying a T-shirt in support Dick Taylor who drives his own #79 Modified at Riverside and Stafford can contact Marge Larocca in the back row of the section 4 from the left end of the grandstand at Riverside… How about that National Points Race between the “Rapid Roman” and the “Cookie Monster”? As of August 4th, Richie Evans leads Jerry Cook by a mere 4 points after who knows how many races… Well after 12 weeks of frustration with the beautiful new #711 Vega, Polverari and crew have put the car in moth balls and brought out last years Vega which looked good in its first outing last week… Our NBC TV affiliate here in Western, Mass. Has done it to us again by televising the Red Sox game instead of Sportsworld. We missed the Martinsville Mods, the Spring Sizzler, and now the National Motorized Barstool Racing Championship last Saturday. Darn it! Till next week, Keep on Track’n!
* * *
I hope you enjoy these classic NERF’ers Corner columns as much as I do sharing them. If you would like to share any memories of days gone past that relate to these columns please feel free to do so in the comments area under any of the columns published.
After speaking with family members and close friends of the late Robert Echo we have come to an agreement.
The lack of morals of an auto racing blogger from Connecticut, by bringing up our late friend, father, grandfather and husband’s memory by way of negative public comments, for the sole purpose of provoking a response, was nothing short of a disgraceful act.
“..really don’t know much about what he (Robert Echo) did other than he wrote a column for Speedway Scene. Probably best he’s not around to see you absolutely destroying any sort of legacy he created.”
There’s some places you just don’t go especially when attempting to provoke a confrontation. Bringing up someone’s late relatives, out of spite, to egg on an argument is one of them. His words were inexcusable and disrespectful. If disagreeing or disliking a writer or the column, then stick to the argument and subject at hand. Bringing a deceased relative up, as was the case, and using the pathetic excuse of defending his work is childish at best.
As of Today, Friday, March 21st, 2014 in the “Tiregate Part 2: Looking Back and Moving Forward” story published on this site, any mention, links or comments involving the blogger and their blog have been deleted as well as the blogger has permanently banned from any future posting or comments on this site the coinciding Facebook page.
We believe this is the best course of action in order to maintain what this site is about which is a tribute to the accomplishments and memory of the late Robert “Bob” Echo.
Thank you for understanding and frequenting the NERF’ers Corner RELOADED site and NERF’ers Corner RELOADED Facebook page.
The Family and Friends of Robert Echo
**Update 5/17/14 : After being banned.. The same blogger attempted to comment on the “Money and the UnderDog” story. The blogger used the fake ID and email of a “Dave Mederios”. The IP address for this fake ID and email matched the exact same IP used by the blogger previously to comment on “Tiregate Part 2”. It was an IP address that was tagged and banned.
It should also be noted the blogger continues to publicly deny (on his site as well as through social media) ever saying the aforementioned quote about Robert Echo, but the comments and the screen shot of said comments are on record.
Bugsy Stevens once gave the great New England auto racing writer, Pete Zanardi his opinion of what the upper level of auto racing consisted of. With that, so goes this column..
“There’s the Formula One..”
Formula One kicked off it’s 2014 season this past weekend in Australia. The new 6 cylinder twin turbo charged engines with kinetic energy system have turned the trademark sounds into more of an idling leaf blower. Just terrible sounding engines. I for one am a huge Formula One fan and when I tuned into Free Practice One and the teams started heading out onto the track, I had to stop myself from turning up the volume. Not having that trademark scream of an F1 machine at full song will take some getting used to.
All these changes over the past few years on the F1 machines keep being labeled by the FIA and Bernie Ecclestone as cost cutting rule changes to steer more manufacturers into the sport. Kinda mixed signals there wouldn’t you say?
Bernie has said he prefers no more than 24 cars/12 teams maximum. Of course, this is coming from the same Bernie who opened it up for 13 teams had the Peter Windsor/Ken Anderson US based team ever made it to the grid. This is also the very same Bernie who was against more than 18 races in a season then followed it up by scheduling 20. This cost cutting label is just a smoke and mirrors show. The only thing that isn’t consistently changing is the fact that damn near every year the specification and regulations ARE drastically changing.
These overhauls of regulations effect nearly every aspect of the machines. Where does this save any team money? Engine, aero package, chassis, body, etc. and on top of that all the developement that goes into it, all have nothing to do with lowering costs. They supposedly have everything to do with trying to persuade more manufacturers into throwing their hat into the ring. But what manufacturer is going to want to enter a half electric, half 6 cylinder engine that is jacked up with a pair of turbos and regulated to use only so much gas in the engine per lap? Anybody? Anyone? Yeah, me either.
Looking at the issue of saving fuel by implementing electronic or kinetic energy system. I say trash the damn things. If Formula One wants to save fuel and cut costs, first regulate how many transport trucks can be used by each team. Half the trucks that arrive at each event for the teams are strictly for setting up each team’s headquarters or social area for the weekend. There’s a fuel saving idea! Bam! Costs cut. Click-click, that was easy.
If Bernie is stuck on 24 cars maximum grid then what is he going to do with all these new manufacturers that he believes will be breaking down the doors to join? For the love of the sport don’t ruin one of the keys that makes F1 unique and bring back the trademark engine screams!
The Australian Grand Prix ended with Nico Rosberg outclassing the field crossing the line 23 seconds ahead in his Mercedes. Daniel Ricciardo had a great run and finished second only to be disqualified later that evening and Kevin Magnussen had a spectacular rookie debut as well. But Valttari Bottas, in his Williams machine, put in the drive of the day. A cut tire after popping the wall forced him to limp around the majority of the Australian circuit to get to his pit box. Once he pitted and came back out he started slicing up through the field like being shot out of a cannon. Sure he had the help of a safety car period, but the passes he made on his way back up to 5th was the stuff of champions. The fact that it was done with a team that had been in quite a slump through the past decade made the charge even more magical. This made me wonder if Felipe Massa didn’t beach his Williams in the first turn on the first lap, would we have seen Mercedes on the top step of the podium?
“..and the Indy cars on top. ..”
Standing at the podium during a Racearama Roast back in the early 80’s Bugsy Stevens regarded Indy Cars as the only cars where you have to put your balls on the dashboard and drive. Enter one Kurt Busch.
When I used to watch Cup religiously, I was never a Kurt Busch fan. I’ll even go so far to say that for once in my life I cheered for Jimmy Spencer and that was when he planted Busch’s nose sideways during an altercation one season. But my friends I have had a change of mind about Kurt Bush the driver.
It was announced a while back that one of NASCAR’s black sheep, Kurt Busch had decided to throw his hat in the ring to attempt the double on Memorial Day. He’s not entering the run for the Borg-Warner Trophy with just any team either. He’s landed a ride with Andretti Motorsports. Busch, being the first true NASCAR driver to cross over and attempt the double of the Indianapolis 500 and World 600 at Charlotte in a really, really long time, has to be one of the biggest stories to hit in 40 plus years. The significance of it is unlike Tony Stewart, Robbie Gordon, and John Andretti who all came from the open wheeled IndyCar ranks and moved to NASCAR. Bush is a real deal full fendered driver stepping into an IndyCar.
In the past, these doubles have been cheered by faithful fans from both sides. After all it is the ultimate level of weekend warrior. As May approaches the story will start to boil to the top, but it hasn’t received the full dial as it should so far. Maybe it’s the lingering effects left from the reaction by NASCAR’s Brian France in a press conference on May 25th of last year which took place a couple weeks after Busch’s testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway early last May.
France downplayed any double happening by mentioning that drivers have found their schedules prevent that. He went on to say that any changes in scheduling times at Charlotte to accommodate any future runs wasn’t even on the proverbial radar. Coincidentally the other side said they would be more than willing to adjust times for the Indy 500. So was the reaction a snub to Indy or maybe a shot at Busch who has been on NASCAR’s black list for actions in the past? Who knows. In France’s defense, NASCAR has been concentrating on their top series with the steady drop in attendance so his mind might have been elsewhere with those answers.
The Indianapolis 500 is going on it’s 98th running of the greatest spectacle in auto racing. Those in charge of the longest running auto race in North America are willing to adjust the times in order to allow doubles to exist. France has no problems adjusting points systems and formats that completely change the landscape of a season. He had no problem drawing further and further away from the true auto racing identity of “consistency win championships”, but is unwilling to contemplate adjusting an event by a half an hour or hour to help make the feat possible this year and for the future? A little irony.
The Indianapolis 500 has once again reclaimed itself as the best race of May’s final Sunday. 2012 had 34 lead changes and last year’s 500 had a whopping 68 lead changes that even made Talladega stand up and say; “What the..?”
The last 2 Indy 500’s had more wheel to wheel racing than anything at Charlotte or Monaco combined could think about experiencing. That very momentum switch has many baffled as to why France wouldn’t jump at the chance to play the give and take game with those running IndyCar.
“.. Then comes the Modifieds. Everything else is a step down.”
Though the Southern asphalt Modified season has two SWMT official races under their belt the Northeastern asphalt Modified season kicks off next weekend at the famed Waterford Speedbowl in Waterford, Connecticut. The Blastoff includes the Valenti Modified Racing Series’ 100 lap season opener next Sunday. Some new faces and teams have entered the series further creating a healthy pool of talent that is certain to make for a very interesting season.
The series gave a little tip of the hat towards the Tri-Track Open Series. Add to that the Race of Champions tour combo event taking place late in the season and it’s a welcome breath of fresh air in regards to the betterment of the division. Showing support and a good attitude for open shows can do nothing but good for the entire division as a whole.
When this happens it opens the thoughts of possible return of days of old. It’s a no-brainer for all involved that stars from all current tours competing in these types of events, open or combo, helps promote those series just as much as much as it promotes those events. Could this be the beginning of better days for the Modified division? It certainly has the potential.
Remember the days of that guaranteed starting spots for the Race of Champions, Bud 200 and Thompson 300? Spots were handed out everywhere regardless of series or any sanctioning body. Wouldn’t it be fantastic to see the return of big championship type races again? The return of what used to be the Bud 200 which shared the bill the same weekend of the Oswego Classic or the return of the Thompson 300 or real glory days Race of Champions event. Sure some were still points races, but they were outsider friendly for competitors who competed weekly at other facilities.
Hopefully this “all for the division” type attitude bleeds over into the head offices of the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour as well. Improving the health of the Modified division can only improve if all facilities, promoters, teams, tours, and media drop their differences and focus more on the betterment of the Modified division. One can only hope. I for one am praying for it..
On February 19th Carl Steven Berghman, who every Modified fan knows as Bugsy Stevens, was deservedly honored at the Living Legends of Auto Racing banquet held in Daytona Beach, Florida. Bugsy gave us all so many great memories in his racing career and I for one feel very fortunate to have watched the great champion race for many years. A belated congratulations Bugsy!
Until next week’s republishing of another classic NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, here’s to a very successful Riverside Park Speedway Reunion at the Springfield Falcons Hockey game this Saturday and safe gathering at the watering hole to follow that up.
When Robert Echo caught wind of team owner Fred Felton and driver Marty Radewick being singled out by a group of tech inspectors he refused to stand by and watch. Much like his colleagues back then who filled the pages of auto racing news papers, Robert Echo didn’t just report the news nor did he step over to bypass the real issues for fear of rocking the boat. He wasn’t afraid of the heat. He welcomed it.
After this story published in New England Speedway Scene, Robert Echo’s press credentials were suspended by the sanctioning body. Did this stop him? No. It had the exact opposite effect on his writing. His reaction to the suspension of his press credentials; “They want to take my press pass, fine by me. They can have them. I’m a fan. I have no problems paying to get in every week like my fellow racing fans. It won’t stop me from writing. It won’t stop me from sticking up for what’s right. Anyone who allows something like this to effect the way they write is just working for their press pass.”
Robert Echo had the stones to stick his neck out for what was right in the sport he loved and never thought twice about the consequences that might follow. He cared about the fans, the teams and the speedways. So rather than stand by the wayside and watch a team get “railroaded”, as he put it, he chose to fight for their cause by investigating the issues surrounding them.
Friday, July 28th, 1978 – SPEEDWAY SCENE
Somebody told me recently that we should change the name of this column to “Controversy Corner” and so in keeping with the weekly trend of this little corner in NESS, here we go again!
Can you tell me what Fred Felton, Marty Radewick, railroading and NASCAR (National Association fro Stock Car Auto Racing) have in common?
Well, car owner Felton and driver Radewick are being railroaded out of two Southern New England speedways by a couple NASCAR technical inspectors.
Frank “Bunky” Skawski of Riverside Park Speedway and Bruce Watt of Stafford Motor Speedway have joined forces to keep Radewick, Felton and the No. 11M Monza bodied Modified, which has become known as the “Radical Racer”, out of those two tracks.
Neither inspector has been able to give a straight answer as to why the car will not be allowed to compete at the two facilities except that they feel the car’s roll cage is too narrow therefor making it a supermodified. They will also tell you that it is probably the most well-constructed and safetest race car to enter the pits at either track.
Doesn’t make much sense does it?
The funniest thing, if there is one, about the whole situation is that no where in the NASCAR Rule Book does it say how wide the the roll cage has to be. It sates the size and thickness of the material that can be used in the construction of the cage. It also states that there has to be at least four bars on each side of the car plus additional bracing added at specified areas in the roll cage. The Felton built Modified has all of these required bars and then some. (See photo inserts)
In a telephone conversation with Skawski on July 20th, I was told that it states in the rule book that the roll bars can be no farther than 4 inches from the body at any point. I replied that I’d read the complete Modified section of the rule book plus the roll bar paragraph in each of the other seven divisions included in the book. Mr. Skawski then told me that if I wanted to take a ride to his house he would be glad to show me the 4 inch rule.
I took the 10 mile trip to the Skawski residence where he told me he had the page marked so he could show me. He tried to pass off the four bars on each side of the car as the 4 inch rule. I pointed this out and he replied it was somewhere in the book which he would show me. As of this time I have still not been shown the rule.
Ralph Ouderkirk, racing director at Riverside Park Speedway, said the roll bars must follow the configuration of the car’s body, but again it doesn’t state this in the rule book. Ouderkirk then added we should look at the picture in the back of the rule book. All fine and dandy, except that Felton didn’t build a Grand National car, as pictured in the rear of the book. He built a Modified by the NASCAR Rule Book or to the way it reads.
Early in the season, Mr. Skawski gave Felton a check list of 4 things he had to correct and a period of three weeks to do them in. They were completed in the specified time. Later Ouderkirk added a couple of things he wanted done and they too were finished by the next racing program. The car then ran for a couple of weeks after that at the Park up until the time they had problems with their 340 ci engine. For three or four weeks they went north to run Claremont Speedway with a 356 ci mill, which is legal at Riverside.
Upon returning to the Park on July 15th, they were told not to unload the care by Mr. Skawaski because they wouldn’t be allowed to run with a Supermodified roll cage. It was at this time they found out that the NASCAR people at Stafford had contacted Skawaski and told him that since Radewick wasn’t allowed to run at Stafford he shouldn’t be allowed to run at the Agawam, Mass. Oval. It’s nice to know Stafford now runs the racing program at Riverside Park.
An irate Radewick, the 24 year old Riverside Park Speedway Rookie of the Year, stated; “They are insulting my intelligence. I wouldn’t get in the car if I thought it was unsafe.”
Felton added this comment; “My conscience wouldn’t allow me to put anyone in the car if I thought there was the slightest chance he should be hurt because of the construction of it.”
Two Modified car builders, including Richie Evans, stated they felt the car was as safe as any Modified they’d seen at either speedway.
In my phone conversation with Mr. Skawski, he first stated he didn’t give Felton a check list and moments later admitted he had. He also said that none of the other drivers and owners were jealous of the car, but later referred to thirty Riverside Park Car owners that were on his back about the “Radical Racer”. When I brought up that there were many rules in the NASCAR Rule Book that were not being adhered to, he stated he didn’t give a damn about them and he still wasn’t going to let Radewick run at the Park.
Ouderkirk, in a phone conversation on July 20th, told Radewick that Skawaski had told him that if everything on the checklist was completed he could run. In a return call Skawski moments after the Ouderkirk conversation, Skawski denied ever saying such a thing.
Sounds like a whole lot of double talk and run around being handed out by what are supposed to be qualified NASCAR officials.
To add to all of this, Skawski told me that both Riverside and Stafford had a serious shortage of Modifieds, but that he wished Felton would take his car and run somewhere else.
Watt stated; “I’m afraid that others, in seeing the Felton car, will take the role cage to extremes.” he’s most likely right, but why should they penalize Felton and Radewick now? Change the rule over the coming winter and state that the roll cage can be no narrower than so many inches. That would keep this problem from arising again.
It’s not right that two tech inspectors can bend the rules in their favor just because. “They don’t like the car” is no reason. It is not right because there are rules in black and white in the NASCAR Rule Book that are not being enforced at either track.
How would you like to spend 15,000 hard earned dollars to build a Modified to the way the NASCAR Rule Book reads only to find out that you can’t run it because some guy working for NASCAR, who thinks he’s a genius, doesn’t like the car. By the way, the Modified section in the NASCAR Rule Book is only nine (9) pages long in a book that measures 4” x 9”. “Ya gotta be kiddin’!” How can you build anything as complex as the Modified today with only nine pages of rules, regulations and specifications to go by in a book that leans almost entirely towards the Grand National division?
There will probably be more on this in weeks to come, but in the meantime what we’d like to know is this; “Has NASCAR gone into the railroad business?”
* * *
Next week comes a new RELOADED. Until then, take care everyone!
The evening “Tiregate Part 1: Controversy Out of Canaan” was published, the Director of the Valenti Modified Racing Series, Scott Tapley emailed me to vehemently deny any conversation took place between himself and Superior Team Racing car owner Rob Walendy that night at Seekonk; “The only people who came to the trailer to discuss their tires were Joey (Kourafas) from the 99 and Steve Masse with Josh Steeves with the 13. They were all shown the same thing and were told that the tires would be going to Canaan where Jack (Bateman. Series President) would have to make a determination. That is what I said and those 3 people know that as they were there. I made it very clear that the finality of any decisions would have to be decided by the series president. Jack was not at the race track as he left before so his input as the president would have to be done when he could see the tires.”
Scott made his stance clear about the conversation Rob Walendy’s spoke of and shared additional info on the decision process for the tires; “So the recollection by Rob that he was told the tires would be sent to a lab is impossible and never occurred. By phone conversation that night Jack stated that he wanted to see the tires and if it weren’t visibly obvious he would have the labs done.”
When I mentioned news sources reporting that the series would indeed be sending the tires to a lab, Scott’s response wound up drawing questions rather than answers; “As far as the report in other media is concerned, I was called at about 12:00am by [a member of the media] while I was driving home to Maine from the Seekonk event and [that media member] told me he was told that we had found issues with the 3 cars from multiple sources and I relayed to him exactly what I just told you. That Jack would make a determination when he inspected the tires and they would be sent to a lab if he questioned the findings and the things he saw. [He] is the only person whom I have spoken with about the Seekonk event, other than yourself now and that is because you are the only two who have actually asked.”
I looked up the report that Scott referred to and found that the media person he made reference to actually published a story the next day that coincides with what Rob and Andrew told me. That article clearly states Tapley said the VMRS would in fact be sending the tires to a lab. In the same report, Tapley also comments on the length these tests could take in order to see results. It also supports what Steve Masse is quoted as saying to that very same media member in a follow up article.
So which was it? Misinformation by the series director or were his words misinterpreted by not only the 4 individuals on record, but numerous others who have relayed the same thing?
I spoke with Rob Walendy and he stands by his previous statements. If you recall from “Part 1” Rob stated he went back to tech because of what transpired from Oxford Plains Speedway earlier in the season in which his tires were confiscated by the series and were not returned nor was his team reimbursed for them. Nowhere did he mention he was in the tech trailer to review the tires with Tapley. During that same interview I asked Rob if he was there to review the tires with Tapley to which he answered; “I know Joey Kourafas from our team went over and spoke with Scott after the race and looked at the tires with Scott.”
Now back to where we left off with Part 1. Was Tiregate the final act of a proverbial witch hunt? If so, who was the hunted? Conspiracy theories can be easily brushed off, but when an overwhelming amount of people cry foul and witnessed incidents first hand, the theory has to be taken into consideration.
Former crew member for Steve Masse’s team, Andrew Truchinskas looked back and thought something was fishy about the way they went about the disqualifications from the start. He pointed out the changes announced in the drivers meeting that night and that the series, in so many words, seemed to have an agenda; “It was almost like they already decided on which cars they were going to disqualify that day and they wanted to make sure they were going to be able to catch them.. Tommy Barrett’s team appeared to have been under the VMRS microscope since 2012. It’s well documented in terms of penalties and suspension for issues that others who have wound up winning titles have been guilty of. Including the Rookie of the Year issue. With that said I believe that since we all associated with each other that it was easier to disqualify 3 teams then dealing with the confrontation of only disqualifying Tommy, which they were out to do.”
Superior Team Racing, Rob Walendy’s thoughts are very similar to others; “The VMRS officials couldn’t just check the 9 for soaking tires without looking partisan. They had to check everyone or no one. I believe the VMRS believed that Tommy Barrett Jr. was cheating. The VMRS could not believe that Tommy was beating their guys like he was without some sort of an edge. I have worked with that team. I know that he doesn’t need to cheat. Tommy Barrett Jr. is an incredibly talented driver.”
To understand what they are referring to we must go back further in time to the Valenti Modified Racing Series 2012 season, a year prior to Scott Tapley taking the position of series director.
The Conspiracy Theory
As many may recall the much talked about Tommy Barrett Jr. vs. VMRS thing started, coincidentally enough, at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk, MA.. The talented young driver was said to be involved in more than one incident during the feature that night. However, many following the series at the time recall similar incidents taking place that very same season not involving Barrett, yet those drivers went without reprimand. The results of the incidents at Seekonk, the one happening late being the most talked about, was considered by series officials as one constituting Tommy Barrett Jr. being placed on probation.
Then came the Port City 100 at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, NH. on Friday, June 29th, 2012. Refer to the David McGuire video capture of the event here to review.
27:03 – Rowan Pennink (#25 Red w/Yellow #’s) and Les Hinkley (#06 Yellow w/Orange #’s) share the front row while Jon McKennedy (#2 Red w/White #’s) and Tommy Barrett #9 Black w/White #’s) make up row 2. On the restart McKennedy takes the lead from 3rd, Barrett follows through.
27:31 – By lap 84 Barrett takes second and starts closing in fast on new leader McKennedy By lap 84.
27:54 – Barrett is on McKennedy’s tail. Here is where one needs to pay attention..
28:34 – McKennedy changes his line for the second straight lap. McKennedy who took a lower line off turn 2 than the past laps due to Barrett looking low in the previous corner moves up (change of line). As they head down the backstretch Barrett has a little run high on McKennedy and McKennedy in the lower line moves up high forcing Barrett to back off (change of line).
28:50 – McKennedy goes higher part way into the corner to block Barrett’s higher line of entry. (change of line) McKennedy again exits turn 2 low throwing another block on Barrett who coincidentally gets a run on McKennedy. Doing so McKennedy moves high forcing Barrett to back off (change of line).
30:18 – Having the inside line Pennink (red 25), battling behind the leaders, takes a strange line into turn 3 and touches Hinkley (yellow 06) who was on the high side of Pennink.
31:50 – Last restart before the McKennedy-Barrett incident.
It states in the VMRS Rule Book under rule; “2.23. AGGRESSIVE DRIVING. .. C.” that says; “Aggressive driving would be considered continuous use of front bumper, chopping, blocking, etc. Any of these can result in placement at the rear of the field or disqualification, depending on the severity of the infraction and possible probation.”
Anyone familiar with the fundamental aspects of short track racing are very well aware of racing etiquette. Watching the video repeatedly from 27:09 right up until the incident that resulted in the tangle can clearly see Barrett never touched the leader until turn 3 of the incident. The only thing Barrett appears guilty of was not giving McKennedy a few warning shots with his bumper after all the laps of blocking. The young driver repeatedly tried to find ways around the ever widening Modified of McKennedy. When Barrett finally gets a great run off turn 2 and moved low entering the backstretch, McKennedy counters by moving low in an attempt to force Barrett to back off. By that point however, Barrett was committed to the run and as they approached the corner McKennedy backs off due to the line he took to defend. Barrett pulls along side and McKennedy fails to give room to Barrett who is even with him entering the corner. The two tangled between turns 3 and 4 resulting in a caution and ending Barrett’s night with a disqualification and soon after a 2 race suspension.
To sum up the Port City 100, the young driver’s actions prior to the incident showed he was well aware of his probation. One might say that McKennedy showed that he too was very well aware of Barrett’s probation thus continuing to throw block after block. The most that should have happened after the race was a no-call and the officials talking with McKennedy about blocking. Barrett showed not only patience, but the same characteristics of a well seasoned veteran driver, by not making some form of contact with McKennedy after dealing with repeated blocks.
The immediate reprimand on Barrett rather than McKennedy gave it the appearance that series officials were just waiting for anything, even the smallest of contact to occur so they could penalize him.
If you watch the event video from start to finish you’ll notice this race was filled with numerous incidents that brought out yellows involving two or more competitors. This is where some started believing the standards the VMRS officials held for Tommy Barrett were quite different than the standards for the rest of the competitors.
At 2012 seasons’ end Tommy Barrett, who was listed as a rookie and carried a yellow stripe on his rear bumper all season long, was notified that he did not win Rookie of the Year. It was said he didn’t fill out the proper paperwork then the rookie eligibility in the rule book was brought up. Even giving the benefit of the doubt that the Barrett crew didn’t fill out the proper paperwork, which seems laughable, or read the rule book about eligibility. Even if the series officials were unaware and neglected to pay much attention to their own press release, it all falls back on the series for organizational issues. One argument was, you would think the yellow stripes on Barrett’s rear bumper would have been noticed resulting in a VMRS official mentioning it to the team at some point during the season.
All three of these examples that occurred in 2012 are more than enough to cause those to cry conspiracy and point the finger at the VMRS for singling out Tommy Barrett Jr.. It also set up what Rob, Andrew, Steve Masse and others believed and were quoted regarding their belief the series had it in for Barrett from the get go. It definitely didn’t help the VMRS’ cause.
Back To Tiregate
Starting 2013 it seemed all was well with the series and Barrett’s team moving forward from the past season’s issues. Under the watch of the Valenti Modified Racing Series freshman director, it seemed things were more consistent with green flag incidents. Many of the green flag incidents similar to those that took place in 2012 went without reprimand showing improvement in consistency of on track calls.
Then Saturday, August 17th, 2013 all hell broke loose. When you break down the whole mess of Tiregate and look at all the elements surrounding the night, it boils down to two things. These two things have a way of amplifying when neglected by those running the show and that’s information lack of written procedures. Those two elements brought the VMRS vs. Barrett scenario back into the fold. The fact that Barrett currently held the top position in the points at the time of Tiregate again, didn’t help the VMRS’s cause.
Anytime a kid arrives on the scene and is fast right out of the box it turns heads and draws immediate attention. Was Barrett rough around the edges in his first showings, sure maybe, but wasn’t that to be expected? These newbies are the future stars and champions of their selected series and division. It’s part of the official’s job to spend time with them after the driver’s meeting or stop by their hauler occasionally to see how they are doing. Maybe that’s not the case anymore, but I think most will agree it should be no matter the series or track.
I admitted wholeheartedly and agreed with Tapley that 5 out of 5 tests showing positive results for treating tires was indeed more than enough to disqualify any team, but if a lab test was announced or mentioned, to save face, the series should have submitted the tires to an independent lab. It’s what is said at that time which needs to be followed through with or the trust factor takes a nose dive.
Let’s say the series did send the tires to a lab and, whatever the results, afterwards the series were to announce there would be no lab testing from that point forward. I’d be willing to bet those teams penalized would have been fine with that because the officials would have followed through. I’d be willing to wager because it’s exactly what I have heard from many of those I’ve spoken to.
How the sniffer came into play and how it was handled crossed with many teams being unfamiliar with the device while it played a huge roll in the final outcome again, didn’t help the VMRS’ cause.
Rumors swirled about a lawsuit. Masse is on record saying that should the tires NOT be sent to a lab the VMRS was looking at a lawsuit, but when asked about it Tapley said; “As far as any lawsuit, I’m not aware of any. The VMRS rule book, as is the case with most current racing series/track rule books, all decisions are non-ligitable.”
So are there any new procedures in place to prevent the controversy that followed the disqualifications from last years Seekonk race? If so, what changes or additions were made? Tapley answered; “There are no new procedures in place, with the obvious issues that were seen first hand it would be tremendously wrong to not use that information that was 100% obvious in the immediate of the situation.”
“Rule 1.13. TIRES” mentions nothing in regards to inspection other than simply stating tires may not be chemically treated and tires may not be altered in any way.
“Rule 2.27. TIRES” lists the tires may be pulled from the first five finishing positions and two random positions determined by MRS officials each week and broken down and checked for any illegal substances or other issues. It further goes on to say that should tires be found illegal, penalties and fines will follow.
I inquired about any type of appeals process and was told by Tapley; “All decisions are non appeal-able.”
What about 2013’s issue in question? Was it a learning experience for the VMRS and will it improve how things are done? Tapley answered; “I learn something new everyday because I want to and know with my years of racing experience that the technology is changing literally every day. In regards to at track tire inspection we will continue to use all of the tools that are available in the industry to keep up with that changing technology.”
After the Tiregate fiasco and all what followed many believed the VMRS would have implemented some sort of direction or listing as to clarify what will be involved in the tire testing process. Currently there’s nothing in print. It appears that any demand for clarification regarding those procedures will need to be addressed directly by the competitors if anything were to change.
It was announced late last year that the Valenti Modified Racing Series would be taking part in a combination event with the Race of Champions asphalt Modified tour at Airborne Park Speedway in Plattsburg, New York. This undoubtedly is a major step in the right direction and Modified fans can only hope it will lead to more points paying, higher purse race combo events similar to that of the late model / Nascar North type open events of days long past that Oxford Plains Speedway was famous for. For now, the race is said to award equal points to those that show on the VMRS side.
Scott Tapley, entering his sophomore year as Director of the VMRS, is very much looking forward to the new season; “2014 is exciting for the VMRS, with the addition of the combo event (Valenti Modified Racing Series and Race of Champions Modified Tour race), which will be an incredible event. We have had a tremendous amount of race teams make it known that they will be partcipating in VMRS events in 2014. We travel to some of the most historic tracks in the country and with the talent level of our race teams, the 2014 championship chase will be the most action packed in the 10 year VMRS history.”
As for Rob Walendy. He plans on fulfilling the same duties this season season on the VMRS with Richard Savary at the wheel of the Superior Team Racing number 99 and hopes that the series continues to improve on relations and from the past issues of Tiregate. Rob also may be assisting a team on NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour as well.
Andrew is hoping to get on board with a racing team in some way shape or form this season. The split with Steve Masse was a friendly one which was proven with Andrews statements early on in the interview; “Steve is one of the most talented and respectful drivers out there right now. He always does what he is asked of by VMRS and goes to the track to have fun and win races.”
Tommy Barrett Jr. has moved on from all the controversy he experienced on the VMRS. The driver landed a top ride on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour with Chris Our’s Our Motorsports 22 NASCAR Whelen Modified. He competed in his new ride this February at New Smyrna Speedway during Speedweeks. On Tuesday, February 18th, the NASCAR Whelen Modifieds competed in a 150 lap race on a Daytona International Speedway backstretch temporary oval where Barrett Jr. finished a respectable 5th. It’s possible he might compete in a few Valenti Modified Series events this year and the big dollar, old school Tri-Track Open Modified Series shows.
I’m sure most of us can agree upon issues such as disqualifications and suspensions have a way of taking on a life all their own. The case of Tiregate and the issues surrounding Tommy Barrett from 2012-2013 fully resembles that remark. The rough riding issues that led to his probation which others say was nothing different than the same tactics by other top competitors in the series. The baffling disqualification and suspension for nothing more than committing to a racing line for a pass after putting up with lap after lap of blocking. Then being called Rookie of the Year contender all season only to be informed at season’s end he was never eligible. Those three instances certainly had that “magnifying glass” feel and had fans buzzing all off season heading into 2013.
Moving on to Tiregate. It really added fuel to the aforementioned Barrett vs. VMRS conspiracy theorists’ fire. How could it not? The sniffer device, not used prior by the series, popping up and never being introduced by the series. The same device became a deciding factor in the teams being disqualified. A crewman unfamiliar with the sniffer who inquires and is told “not to worry about it” by the official. A crewman who says the sniffer never went off and another who says his crew never heard it go off on their tires in pre-race. All these things caused the snowball effect. All of it could support what some called a witch hunt. Whether it was or wasn’t well, that’s for you to decide.
As a columnist there’s 2 things I am obligated to do. Report the findings and give my honest views and opinions on the subject at hand. Contrary to what many might think, I am a fan of the Valenti Modified Racing Series, because I’m a fan of the Modifieds. I believe the VMRS’ product with events of advertised “Green Flag Laps”, being a cheaper alternative Modified tour, and the quality of racing is a good representation of what Northeast asphalt Modified racing is. They are a series that is only 10 years old and every organization experiences hiccups along the way especially as those holding official positions come and go. Even the greatest of series like those of famed tour architect Tom Curley has had to endure major controversy along the way. However, what concerns me about this matter is the lack of accountability on the series behalf in the way these issues were handled. A series or track is always measured up by how they handle a controversy. This is what shows the true character of any organization. For that matter only time will tell.
What’s inevitable is the full throttle arrival of the 2014 racing season. Let’s also hope it’s a safe, exciting and successful one. You can almost smell the sweet mixed aroma of racing fuel, burning rubber, and concessions. Sniff-sniff. Wait. What does that say about us race fans’ if indeed smell is 75% taste? Until next week’s republishing of yet another original NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo, straight out of the pages of Speedway Scene, take care everyone.
* * *
*I’d like to thank Rob Walendy, Andrew Truchinskas, Scott Tapley and others for lending me some of their time and answering questions as well as assisting with gathering information. My sincerest thanks. – Jared