NERF'ers Corner by Robert Echo

BRING ON A REAL FLAGMAN

– Friday, July 14th, 1978 –

In the “Oval Dustings” section of NESS on June 28th was a letter from Diane Scott of East Lyme, Conn. which was in agreement with Dick Armstrong’s article of a week earlier.

Now here’s the shocker of this week’s “NERF’ers Corner.” I’m not going to rap this letter, but instead would like to commend her on a letter well written. One line in the letter; “Where the hell are this starter’s glasses?” gave us the initiative for this weeks column.
The line fits one flag waver to a “T”, that being the flagman of Riverside Park Speedway. This man is about as far from being a flagman as I’ve seen in New England or anywhere else for that matter. He never drops the green flag in the same place twice and seems to use the yellow flag when he needs a break.
In the next few paragraphs I will try to illustrate the problems of flags at Riverside.

A few weeks ago Mr. Flagman saw rookie Jim Tourville spin three times during the qualifying heats and the consi, but no yellow flag was thrown. After his third spin he was black flagged. A week later, young veteran Bruce D’Allesandro looped it three times but low and behold no black flag. When questioned on this, his reply was; “They were different circumstances.” Maybe so, but down on the track a spin out is just that, a spin out.

Bob Polverari (Czarnecki Bros. #20) and Stan Greger (Simons Excavating #9) Battle at Riverside Park in 1978. Photo Courtesy of Speedway Scene.
Bob Polverari (Czarnecki Bros. #20) and Stan Greger (Simons Excavating #9) Battle at Riverside Park in 1978. Photo Courtesy of Speedway Scene.

Last season with a few races to go and on a restart, there was a rookie in the front row outside with Roger Westbrook outside second row. Coming out of the fourth turn the green flag flew, but a change of heart by Mr. Flagman, for whatever reason, saw him drop the yellow almost simultaneously causing the rookie to lock up the brakes and with no where to go Westbrook was pushed into the wall. His Vega was so badly bent up that it ended up the season for the talented driver who was running 8th in points in only his second year at the wheel of a Modified. You could blame the rookie, but I think everyone involved and in attendance laid blame on poor flagmanship by Mr. Flagman.

In a recent 100 lapper, Tourville not running at speed with the leaders, was being given the passing flag while he was passing an even slower car. Two of the leaders rolled up up on his bumper with one whalloping the wall demolishing the right front half of the car. Tourville was black flagged for causing the accident. Evidently, a slower car isn’t allowed to pass. I’ve heard several drivers say they’ve been given the passing flag for three laps before anyone passed them. If Tourville was to get the black flag then why wasn’t Gig Smith given the same flag for putting Billy Knight into the wall a few weeks ago? Knight’s car was so badly damaged that he has yet to return to action as of this column.

Why doesn’t the yellow flag fly for lesser known drivers when they spin, yet it always seems to fall for the big names so they won’t be lapped by the field?

Why does one NASCAR official state that he’s never seen a certain big name rough ride as he has seen, but Mr. Flagman sees nothing?
Why are the big names allowed to run dumping fluids all over the track while the little guy gets the black flag fora small puff of smoke?
“Why”? Because Mr. Flagman needs more than glasses to cure his problem.

If you ever get a chance to visit the pits at the Park watch and see which drivers Mr. Flagman hangs around before and after the races. It sure isn’t the little guy.

Drivers have been complaining about Mr. Flagman since he came to Riverside some three years ago, but to no avail. One popular big name refuses to return to the Park in his own car because of Mr. Flagman.

When will NASCAR wake up and put someone on the flagstand that knows what he’s doing? I’m no flagman and I don’t pretend to be, but Mr. Flagman gets paid for the job he’s doing. What job? The fans are not blind and have booed Mr. Flagman on many occasions. NASCAR had better hurry up before there’s a $250,000 pileup or someone gets killed.

The drivers should get a yellow flag when they come out of the pits for getting on the speedway with Mr. Flagman on the flagstand.
The Flagman should get the black flag so the Park can get a flagman like Frank Sgambato who knows what he’s doing.

Till next week; “Keep on Trackin'”

*       *       *       *       *       *       *

The NERF was just one of many columnists and media types that were heavily critical of certain chief starters back in the day. Over the decades, most all were written about certain incidents particular writers felt were wrong, biased or unjust.

One of the NERF’s examples was the repeated “rookie” move of immediately dropping the yellow after throwing the green. That has always been a huge “no-no”. That type of action by a flagman wrecks a ton of machinery. 

Another example of the same flagman at the same facility is one evening in 1980 “Mr. Flagman” threw the green flag on 12 rows of Modifieds and as the field went through turns one and two, this flagman turned his back on the track and made numerous failed attempts to light a cigarette. During his failed attempts he glanced over his shoulder once and went back to flicking his lighter repeatedly in cupped hands. As the field headed out of turn four and flew past the flagstand, this guy still had his back to the track trying like mad to light his smoke. People in the stands were throwing up their hands at him while watching it all go down.

Being a former chief starter or “flagman”, as the NERF always referred to it, during my time in the profession, I was two short steps from being classified as a chain smoker. However, I NEVER had a smoke in my hand on the flagstand or lit one up in between races, let alone turned my back on the track to light one up under red, yellow or green flag conditions. I always waited until after practice or during intermission after the heats to partake in my terrible habit. A flagman’s job is the safety of all on the speedway grounds as soon as those cars fired up and began rolling out of the pit gate. To do anything of the sort, especially after observing the position during my young years and being trained by one of New England’s greatest flagmen, Jim Hanks, it would have been great disrespect the one who tutored me and equally cheating the very definition of the position.

In those days you didn’t have a Race Director in your ear barking out orders like the micro-managing, chatterbox, choreographers some are today. Back then the majority of a Race Director’s job was to move the show along.  When the racing was going on however, they were an “extra set of eyes” helping the flagman out just as the Pit Stewart and Assistant Flagman. The chief starter was considered the highest ranking official when those race machines took to the speedway. EVERYONE’S SAFETY on the speedway grounds was the chief starter’s responsibility.

The NERF was spot on in this particular write up.

– Jared

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