One Night In The Valley..
Last Wednesday myself and a good friend of mine hopped on the interstate, which led to another interstate, and another.. -sigh- and another.. 16 hours later we arrived at our destination to spend some time with another good friend in Connecticut. The next day the three of us made the hundred mile trip Northwest to take in the Mr. Dirt USA big block Modified event at Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, NY.. We grabbed $30 pit passes and watched the night’s proceedings from the pit area or what many refer to as “The Hornet’s Nest”. It was great to be back in familiar surroundings from days gone by.
Walking through the pits and soaking in the environment, the scents and the scenery I looking up at the stands in turn 1. Many a night spent at “The Valley” with my family and many with just my father.. That’s when it dawned on me..
Back in the early 70’s our family resided in East Greenbush, NY. Sometime during the summer of ’74 my family attended our very first auto race. We all piled into the family car and traveled about 15 miles down the road to Lebanon Valley Speedway and Dragway in West Lebanon, New York. Sometime during that evening’s events that high banked dirt oval instantly hooked us and made all of us auto racing fans. At that moment in the pit area, looking up at that section of grandstands, I realized this year makes 40 years that I have been an auto racing fan and how right it was to be at the very facility which sparked this awesome addiction. Pretty cool..
The Brett Hearn Haters Club were out in full force last Thursday night and probably all let out a huge moan with a few choice profanities when the Sussex, N.J. veteran hot shoe broke the track record. The familiar #20 set a blistering lap of 19.33 seconds during the group time trial session. Love him or hate him, Brett “The Jet” has always been one heck of a talented driver through the years.
Prior to the Mr. Dirt USA event speedway officials and management brought some of the youth onto the front stretch to draw for starting spots for drivers by way of seat cushions. There were plenty of laughs drawn from the grandstands and those grouped up on the front stretch as the gentleman manning the microphone asked each child questions prior to picking for their driver. It was enjoyable kind-hearted fun that was well received by all. Kudos to the Valley’s treatment towards the young fans as after all that is what it’s all about.
During the re-draw the club of Hearn haters exploded with a roar of approval when the child helping Hearn selected the 10th spot. At the drop of the green Mr. Dirt was dominated early by Andy Bachetti of Great Barrington, Mass. in the #34. Bachetti shot out to a half-straightaway lead, but a caution flag put the kibosh to the distance he put between himself and second place runner Kolby Schroeder out of Poughkeepsie, N.Y. in the black and blue #98.
Once the field bunched up Hearn went to work and by lap 28 or 29 had taken the lead from Bachetti and never really challenged again. Hearn, as my father used to say, “was on rails”. So much so that we could clearly hear him letting off the throttle three quarters of the way down the backstretch as the #20 would set back down closer to the racing surface. Midway through turn 3 we could hear his foot hit the throttle briefly as if to set the car up for turn four and then back on the throttle again, flat footing it in four and continuing all the way down the front stretch.
There was plenty of great racing action going on throughout the field during the 100 lap feature. Two great battles that stood out involved “The Doctor” Danny Johnson, who earlier had ran away with his heat race piloting his Modified with his visor wide open. Johnson, in a very familiar orange #27J, battled with the #1 of Canadian driver Stewart Friesen early in the show then with the #99L of Larry Wight in the later stages. Wight put on a show as he seemed to be the only driver to hang up top in turns three and four consistently, lifting that left front way off the surface and powering to the inside of Johnson as they ran down the front stretch.
When the checkers fell Hearn had his haters furious by nabbing the $17,500.00. Bachetti tried every line to gain some steam on the #20, but the distance between first and second ended the same as it was the last 25 circuits or so. Bachetti wasn’t the only other driver showing power. Donnie Corellis finished a strong third. Corellis put on fine performance going winning some tight battles, one coming on a restart. (Read the race report here)
One observation after Mr. Dirt USA.. There were many comments on the social pages and forums regarding folks being “glad they didn’t show” up for the Mr. Dirt USA event because of Hearn’s dominance. According to the driver’s website, as of Thursday, August 21, Hearn entered 49 events, started 46 of them, won 15 with 30 top fives and 39 top ten’s. So what gives with this “dominant” tag?
My question to those folks; “Why not show up to support your driver?” Go ahead and boo anyone you like for that matter because that just comes with the territory, besides you the fan are paying to attend and that’s your right. Disregarding all the conspiracy theories some have voiced regarding Lebanon Valley, Albany Saratoga and Brett Hearn, what about the drivers you do support? What if one of them beat Hearn at the Mr. Dirt event? Would you commence to kicking yourself in the hind end for not attending?
When Tommy Corellis, Kenny Tremont, C.D. Coville, A.J. Slideways or Jack Johnson were dominating many showed up with the hopes they would witness them getting beaten on the track. The same goes for their asphalt counterparts like Richie Evans, Geoff Bodine, Bugsy Stevens, Charlie Jarzombek or Greg Sacks. Not attending to support your driver only hurts that driver and more so the track that driver supports and competes at. Where’s the loyalty to your favorite? As a racing fan, it just seems awful shallow to avoid attending and supporting your driver because you think you know who’ll win. But hey, that’s just my opinion.
Nothing But The Truth..
It seems the last two weeks have been saturated with the happenings of an Empire State Sprint Car event held at Canadaigua Speedway in New York. Personally speaking, I wiped away the pathetic opinions of some uneducated-casual fans who were making asinine statements and comments towards or about Tony Stewart. However, the uneducated media’s headlines were a depressing sign of the times in this day and age.
These writers who were either blindly assigned the story or looking to grab some attention for the almighty ‘clicks’ and ‘hits’ and ran with only what they knew (which wasn’t much) or believed (which only proved their unintelligence) was nothing short of disgraceful. They reported without looking at the facts or the past history and failed to do their HOMEWORK. Why? Because THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT THE SPORT! They only cared about grabbing attention with unjustified slanderous headlines and fill their digital trash with the utmost uneducated adolescent verbiage.
One story claimed it was a NASCAR race, another sad excuse suggested the government needed to get involved. If the factual subject didn’t surround the loss of life these reports would be the equivalent to the Sunday paper funny pages.
I do have to give props to Dave Moody (“Tragedy Highlights Media At Its Worst“) and Nick Teto (“Clarion Call: A Word to the Wise“) for voicing opinions with some damn fine pieces about this very subject.
I guess the correct word that best describes what the uneducated media would be irresponsibility. My view? The following is just part of what I wrote immediately after finding out about the unfortunate tragedy..
6:30am Sunday morning I took my first sip of coffee and settled into the recliner to enjoy a beautiful beginning to the day. That mood changed as soon as I read the news and then the pathetic and down right disgraceful comments and headlines that followed regarding young Kevin Ward Jr and veteran ace Tony Stewart.
For as long as there has been auto racing there has been confrontation. That confrontation comes in many forms. In-car, out-of-car, and a little cross of both. Last night a young driver lost his head, as we’ve all seen take place from the highest form of the sport to the young fundamental divisions.
Unlike a few who chose to write something immediately with their emotions being fueled by the same adrenaline that pushed Kevin Ward Jr. from the cockpit to the race track on foot. I chose to soak it in to a degree, merely posting for my friends to see and let it settle while the comments and headlines continued to prove, the more some folks talk the more they show their cards as to their level of education in the sport.
Saturday night August 9th at Canadaigua Speedway in Canadaigua, New York a young driver lost his temper and ran to the moving car of a veteran driver. That young driver lost his life by getting “too close”, plain and simple.. And if you don’t believe that, well I don’t know what to say to you other than when looking at any racing incident YOU MUST LOOK AT IT THROUGH UNBIASED EYES and COMMON SENSE. Although these out-of-car to in-car confrontations have occurred multiple times every weekend throughout the decades, we veterans of the sport (fans, crews, drivers, officials, media; FANS), tend not to worry because “these guys are professionals”.. and then this.. A terrible graphic tragedy happens.
As I spoke about uneducated and casual kool-aid fans in my last column “Know What You Are Getting Into”, so should go a common sense that takes hold before making completely biased and unjust comments about a loss of life. This is even more so for the exploiting, grandstanding media, that only seems to pay attention when our sport experiences severe injury and or tragedy.
The uneducated media grabbed this unfortunate incident and proverbially picked up the banner and sped off sprinting through the streets screaming; “look at this!”. The majority did so with nonfactual and damn near made up representations of what really took place. Some of those clearly knew nothing other than the incident involved NASCAR Cup Champion Tony Stewart. They took an approach that was simply based off of their colleagues headlines rather than DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Some went so far as to go into detail that this accident involved fenders in their write up. Fenders? Sprint cars don’t have fenders. Sure, why be factual when you can grab hits by grandstanding a tragic happening in a sport you know absolutely nothing about!
These media types followed up this sprint car tragedy with reports that were nothing short of careless, classless and disrespectful. Sick fictitious versions sprinkled with bull droppings. It proved to us veteran fans in the know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how truly oblivious the mainstream media are, not only to the situation, but our sport. The fact is, THEY DON’T KNOW. “Tony Stewart KILLS driver..” IS NOT WHAT HAPPENED! Oh, but it works for great headlines, grabs readers or viewers.. These people are not fans of the sport, but merely leaches.. Scum suckers.. A school of Plecostomuses latched on to the side of the auto racing fish tank, only bothering to make a move or effort when shit happens. It’s the only time the sport is recognized or serves a purpose in their pathetic and shallow world.
Every unfortunate time true fans of the sport hear about a fatality, regardless if it takes place overseas, across the borders or on our own soil, it hits home and causes us all to pray for all parties effected and then reflect.. I’ll tell you one thing, my friends, as a former chief starter and track official this on-track incident hit rather close to home and caused some heavy reflection..
The many times being on the track during warm ups pointing to the area of the speedway to “run in” and pack the wet surface.. As close as we all were.. Always a few drivers who would get close and as they just passed down low, would gun it within inches of me, coating my backside with clay or dirt, a common tactic by driver friends and smart-asses showing their cards.. Sure it’s funny, yet dangerous.., but there’s a trust there..
The countless times doing the crossover down on the front stretch as these 20 to 30 drivers in their machines came within less than a foot of hitting me, but there’s a trust there… If a loss of balance or clip of arm or flag by the speeding race machines by myself would’ve meant serious consequences.., but there’s trust.. A miss judgment of acceleration, turn of the wheel or contact with another race machine.., but there’s trust.
Running down off the flag stand in anger to get within inches and put that rolled up flag in the driver’s face as a warning, to show the driver the black flag and point to the pits or to point at that driver then my rear, a gesture well understood as “rear of the field”, but in the heat of the moment.. Even if we’re not on friendly terms.. There’s a trust there.
I viewed the grotesque footage of the terrible incident, and once was enough. That’s when I thought back to the thousands of times the aforementioned actions took place and immediately was overcome with emotion giving me the overwhelming desire to wake my wife & daughter up from their sleep and hug them tight.
We all hear the stories of days gone by involving a driver out of their wrecked machine and stopping, running along side, or jumping through the window.. That heat of the moment.. That temporary hatred fueled by that competitive temperament and rush of adrenalin.. That stupid act, but.. There’s trust there.
There’s countless stories of the drivers giving a fellow driver “the business” by getting into the strapped in driver’s face, throwing objects or jumping on a competitor’s car in the heat of the moment.. What if the other driver still strapped in accidentally hit the accelerator or had it in gear?.. What if he was still in motion and couldn’t stop?.. What if the driver on foot lost his balance?.. Pretty easy to get sucked under any open wheel machine, but even with all the anger there’s still a trust there. It’s an odd trust that only our sport has, but believe me, it’s there. NO DRIVER WOULD INTENTIONALLY TRY AND TAKE THE LIFE OF ANOTHER DRIVER, OFFICIAL, SAFETY CREW MEMBER, CREW MEMBER, MEDIA MEMBER, OR FAN. ESPECIALLY A RACER LIKE TONY STEWART.
Please, lets not confuse this incident with what’s filled the social pages and racing news pages regarding the “chase the ace”, demo derby scenarios between a number of Modified drivers at Bowman Gray Stadium. Yes it’s pathetic and makes us veteran fans do a damn near choreographed “face-palm”.. Yes, it’s inexcusable and highly dangerous, not to mention childish tantrums with high dollar machines.. These guys have no disregard for the safety of the officials and track crews, however policing, or lack there of, by the management of that facility is where the responsibility lies. If they don’t gather their senses and stop it, there will be a death.. Sure it hasn’t happened yet, but neither has an out of cockpit driver on moving vehicle death occurred in many, many moons.. That is until now..
And let’s also not associate or categorize this in the same context as a driver vs. driver confrontation in competition. That’s different as the factors of in car protection and trust in equipment comes into play with the offending driver knowing full well they are securely and safely strapped into their machines ..
When a driver steps out onto a “running surface”, just as an official or track crew does on any given race evening, those behind the wheel click into “pedestrian awareness” as all of us do driving on village streets or in subdivisions. However many factors have to be taken into consideration and the view from the cockpit of a sprint car is one of them.
The easiest way to solve this issue is now what many speedways and series are doing across the country as you read this. A universal rule simply involving; “UNLESS THERE IS FIRE, THE DRIVER IS TO REMAIN STRAPPED INTO THEIR MACHINE UNTIL SAFETY CREW REACHES THE VEHICLE OR IT IS A MINIMUM 2 WEEK SUSPENSION.”
Those less familiar with the sport are probably questioning; “Why hasn’t that rule been in place from the get go?”
Well, for one, our sport’s safety standards advance as much as the seasons progress. When there’s a hard wreck or injury to the driver, a fan, crew member, official, etc.. we advance in safety. Lastly, something anyone in all walks of life can relate to.. Sometimes the obvious solution is never the first nor the second answer any of us arrive upon until it’s too late.
Now since then Tony Stewart has decided to step away from behind the wheel and that is his choice and his way to deal with this matter. Only Tony knows what he needs to do to get through this painful time. As a fan of racing in general, I pray for the family of Kevin Ward Jr. for strength to make it through this terrible loss. Equally, I pray for Tony Stewart and his family and friends for strength to recover and help him deal with what he is going through. I hope he gets back behind the wheel soon as the sport of auto racing is less without Stewart. Although Ward Jr has been tragically lost, Tony Stewart is still very much alive and a gifted driving talent filled with a unique passion for the sport. He’s a racer’s racer.
A competitor lost his life in a racing incident. As part of the auto racing community we can only mourn, reflect, improve standards, and always remember… Those in our sport who have lost their lives at the track are never forgotten, but remembered and honored when others walk away in the future from similar incidents and those avoided.
God bless our awesome sport and all who make up it’s community. Safe travels to all of you, where ever you may be competing or taking in the races this week.
Next week NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo returns with.. The Rat Roast..