Ken Brightbill Vs. DIRT Rulebook Controversy Still Hot Item

A Speedway Scene Featured Article
– Page 16 & 17 – SPEEDWAY SCENE – Friday, October 23, 1981 –

Syracuse, NY – A new season unveils… A big racing event rolls around and over the past couple of years with them comes the word… Controversy!

The Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines this word, that seems to drive racing promoters to drink, as a discussion marked by the expression of opposing views.

Most of the controversies as of late have been directed towards types of bodies used, the way they’re constructed on the chassis and the aerodynamics of the bodies.

National Circuit has experienced the body controversy this year as the Ranier Racing Team built a Pontiac LeMans supposedly by the rules. The Bobby Allison driven #28 was found to be far superior aerodynamically than all the other makes of the new smaller cars for 1981. NASCAR officials instituted a special spoiler rule just for the Ranier machine which made car very unstable by Allison’s standards. After much bickering between NASCAR officials and Ranier, the latter conceded and built what officials felt was a legal car.

NASCAR’s Asphalt Modified division suffered much controversy over last winter about how much bodies could be tilted forward along with window openings.

The American Speed Association (ASA) has gone to a Grand National type template in trying to stop the excessive rear spoilers and extended nose pieces.

Last year’s “Super DIRT Week” featured the first of the big body controversies with the so called Lincoln Continental driven by Gary Balough of Opa Locka, Florida. The car, tabbed as the “Batmobile”, was built by race car wizard Kenny Weld of Kansas City, Missouri.

The body controversy continued on with the 1981 DIRT of New York season and still isn’t over some two weeks after “Super DIRT Week X”, even though “Drivers Independent Race Tracks” President Glenn Donnelly and the Super DIRT Board of Directors came up with what they thought were some stringent body rules during last fall’s Pocono meeting.

Bodies were not the only controversy at “Super DIRT Week X”. Easton, Pennsylvania’s Tommy Hagar was refused a chance to take time trials while Weld was too late for his two laps against the clock. The most talked about items at Syracuse were the protest by Kenny Brightbill of Sinking Springs, Pennsylvania and the new Weld creation which now carries the Ferraiuolo Racing Team number and colors.

The 1980 Weld car was a sleek looking black machine which featured a wide wing type roof along with air foils and side skirts making it a ground effects car in the truest sense of the words.

Well! … ’81 arrived and Brightbill brought out his new car. His first “CRC Chemicals/Schaefer Qualifying Series” race was at Flemington Fair Speedway, which is not a DIRT sanctioned track.

Brightbill’s first outing at a DIRT of New York facility was at Lebanon Valley Speedway on July 15th. His car was passed in an inspection by DIRT officials and he went out for his heat. It looked like a win for the #19 when he had to drop out with motor problems. Brightbill never made the consolation race as he loaded up and headed for home.

He then ran Penn National Speedway, another non-DIRT sanctioned track, before heading for DIRT’s Rolling Wheels Raceway where he ran into the first snag about the Cadillac Eldorado body he had on the car.

Brightbill wouldn’t be allowed to run because of the roof on his machine, but it was finally decided that the drivers would vote on whether he could compete or not and of all the drivers in the pits only six voted with Wil Cagle of Weedsport, NY and Tampa, Florida the only one who said to let him run. He once again loaded up and headed home.

He ran two other DIRT sanctioned tracks after Rolling Wheels, making one wonder what rules the DIRT organization runs by. How could he be allowed to compete at Lebanon Valley, Fonda Speedway, Five Mile Point Speedway and not at Rolling Wheels when all are governed by DIRT rules? Brightbill picked up his guaranteed starting spot for the Schaefer race at Albany-Saratoga Speedway while he collected his “CRC Qualifier” win at Bridgeport Speedway.

Brightbill was so disgusted with the DIRT organization that he showed up with his old car on a hauler that carried absolutely nothing on the tire rack. He stated, “I thought Glenn Dannelly was serious at Pocono until the Rolling Wheels incident.”

He also stated, “Body rules aren’t the only thing that the DIRT organization has screwed up, such as the offset rule which was not written in the rule book like it was interpreted at the Pocono meeting.” Brightbill was making reference to Rule #29 under the Body & Chassis Specifications section of the 1981 Official DIRT Rule Book which states and I quote, “Rear end must not be offset anymore than 6″ from center of rear wheels.”

DIRT Vice President Andy Fusco, speaking on behalf of the Weedsport, New York based racing body replied, “It’s in the book just like they wanted it.” The reference to “they”, is Brightbill, 1979 Schaefer Champ Jack Johnson of Duanesburg, New York and Nazareth, Pennsylvania’s Kevin Collins, who were all invited to and in attendance at the Pocono get together.

When asked about the accused misprint in the rule book, Johnson was in complete agreement with Brightbill about the rule which allowed 12″ of offset.

Brightbill’s feelings about the DIRT organization are not very high at the present. “Alan Johnson wins a bunch of races in his Troyer car, so what do they do? … They make him change his roof.”

He then added, “What’s good for one, should be good for everyone.”

I asked Fusco, what was actually wrong with the Brightbill machine and he gave me three reasons. 1. The homemade roof. 2. Rear quarter panels went up like 1957 Chevy fins. 3. No trunk lid, which made it possible to play with interior aerodynamics of the car.

When I contacted DIRT Tech Inspector Don Buschbascher at the phone number listed on the inside cover of the DIRT Rule Book, he told me his only concern about the Brightbill car was the roof.

Why this conflict in answers by two DIRT officials and why was I told by Mr. Fusco that Mr. Buschbascher was unable to be reached because he’d taken a few days off after “Super DIRT Week X”? I contacted Buschbascher that very evening and he also told me he was thinking seriously about resigning his position with DIRT because of all the hassles over bodies.

Of the three things Fusco stated were wrong with the car, he claimed two had been corrected. He was only half right… The roof problem had been fixed with a stock one, but the only thing that had been corrected on the quarter panels was a different paint scheme.

Brightbill feels he was used as an example during the 1981 season and many agree, including Flemington Promoter Paul Kuhl.

After seeing the cars driven by Harry Behrent of Florida, New York; Lou Blaney of Hartford, Ohio; Joe Romer of Middletown, New York; Frank Cozze of Wind Gap, Pennsylvania; Waterloo, New York’s Jeff Kappesser; Buddy Cochran of Sharon Pennsylvania; Horseheads, New York’s Darrel Welty; St. Albert, Ontario’s Marcel LaFrance and Middlesex, New York’s Danny Johnson. I would also have to agree. These cars were all as radical as Brightbill’s creation if not worse especially if you consider that they let the Weld machine on the track, which was first stated to be a Mustang Fastback and later changed to a Ford Torino.

Fusco told me in the press box that Blaney’s car was a Buick Regal while Cozze’s machine was either a Caddilac Seville or Oldsmobile Toronado. LaFrance stated that his own car was a Cadillac Eldorado.

Enclosed with this article is a set of drawings obtained from several automobile parts departments in Springfield, Massachusetts. These drawings cover the cars in question as well as a 1969 Ford Torino which Fusco told me the Weld car was copied from. The drawings should help you, the reader, determine whether the bodies on the Dirt Modifieds are stock or even stock appearing for that matter. Rule #1 under Body & Chassis states, “U.S. manufactured passenger car bodies only. Body must be from 1932 to 1981.” But Rule #16 states, “Roof and rear quarters must be original appearing and be single ply (roll bar exposed) fiberglass, plastic or aluminum if they resemble a stock passenger roof.”

Do you think Brightbill was made an example of? … This was why he held his mini protest where by he took only one lap in time trials, that being a circuit of 42.598 seconds which was good for 106th out of 108 cars that took times. In both the “CRC Chemicals Winners Classic” and “Schaefer 200”, he took the green flag and pulled in. After all this, he collected $800.

Brightbill was vehement in stating, “My protest is not directed towards any of the sponsors, but strictly towards the DIRT organization. This sport needs people like CRC Chemicals, Winters Performance and Schaefer Beer plus all of the others who support the DIRT operation and I’m not trying to hurt that in any way.”

His Syracuse protest was not the last step in the Kenny Brightbill saga as he’s headed for court sometime in the future in trying to prove he was right and DIRT was wrong.

Cagle feels the only way to solve the body controversy is to go stcok bodies and 1980 CRC Chemicals Champ Johnson feels the Gremlin bodies don’t really resemble a true stock Gremlin anymore.

After conferring with several car owners, drivers, car builders, and a couple of DIRT officials, the general consensus is either go completely with stock bodies or use some height, width and length rules and forget about making them look like anything. Personally, I fovor the latter because as Balough said last year, “Air is free!” and let’s face it, sheet metal is one of the cheaper things in constructing a race car.

There were a couple of other things that people who attended “Super DIRT Week X” were wondering about. Why weren’t Hager or Weld allowed to run time trials?

In the case of Hager, it was because he had no reverse in his car and Weld showed up ten minutes after Modified time trials had ended.

Let’s examine the Hager incident. He claims he lost reverse gear in the transmission when something let go during warmups. He told Chief DIRT Pit Steward Bill McNabb of his plight and was answered with, “If you can’t back up onto the scales, you can’t take time trials and if you can’t take time trials you can’t run in the semi-features.”

The DIRT Rule Book does state under the section on Engine Specifications in Rule #6, “Car must back up and go ahead with motor running.”

Hager offers to show McNabb that his tranny was definitely legal, but broken whereby McNabb declined. Feeling his weekend was over, Hager loaded his car and headed to his motel. He heard later, 15 minutes after he left, they changed the rule, so he headed back to the track only to find he was too late for time trials. When he asked McNabb why they changed the rule, McNabb stated, “We just did it!”

At this point, Hager said, “To hell with them!” and headed back to his Easton home. End of Hager controversy… Not quite!

On Saturday morning he received a call from a DIRT official stating,  “You’re seventh alternate and if you can make it back here by 3:00 p.m., you might be able to run one of the semi-features.” Hager asked them if he’d definitely be able to run one of the semis and they couldn’t say for sure.

He then declined their offer stating, “I’m not running up and down the road for Glenn Donnelly!” making reference to the nine hour round trip from his home to Syracuse and return.

But wait just one minute!… How could Hager be an alternate? They told him if he didn’t take time, he couldn’t run, but there it is in black and white, on the Modified semi-feature sheet listing Hager as seventh alternate. So if Hager could run, why wasn’t Weld allowed to run one of the semis?

It seems as though the DIRT organization has a problem where the right hand doesn’t tell the left one what it’s doing or could it be that DIRT has too many chiefs and not enough Indians?

Brightbill and Hager both feel that Glenn Donnelly and DIRT needs them more than they need him or his organization and I tend to agree! It’s the drivers and cars that really draw the fans if you really want to get down to facts.

What will happen in ’82?… Well, it’s all up to what DIRT does in the near future and they definitely have to do something. They’re going to feel some heavy pressure from C.J. Richards and his Champlain Valley Racing Association now with two tracks and maybe three, plus Lindy Vicari who’s going to be running seven big shows at the Nazareth 1 1/8th mile superspeedway.

Special thanks to all who contributed to this article, especially Houser Buick, Mutual Ford, Orr Cadillac and Spring Meadow Oldsmobile who’s parts departments were so helpful in obtaining drawings of the cars in question.