Tag Archives: Modified Touring Series

Tiregate Part 2: Looking Back and Moving Forward

RELOADED03The 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.”

Series Director, Scott Tapley (top) and VMRS Officials during the drivers meeting at Thompson Speedway (CT) just days after the happenings at Seekonk. Howie Hodge photo.
Series Director, Scott Tapley (top) and VMRS Officials during the drivers meeting at Thompson Speedway (CT) just days after the happenings at Seekonk. Howie Hodge photo.

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?

Eventual 2013 VMRS Champion Rowen Pennink (25) and Richard Savary (99) take the green flag at Thompson. Howie Hodge photo.
Eventual 2013 VMRS Champion Rowan Pennink (25) and Richard Savary (99) take the green flag at Thompson. Howie Hodge photo.

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.”

Richard Savary is interviewed by VMRS announcer and long time racing personality John Spence Sr. in Thompson's victory lane. Howie Hodge photo.
Richard Savary is interviewed by VMRS announcer and long time New England racing personality John Spence Sr. in Thompson’s victory lane. Howie Hodge photo.

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.”

The aftermath of the Port City 100 at Lee USA Speedway. Barrett sits in the grass as McKennedy had already driven off. Crystal Snape photo.
The aftermath of the Port City 100 at Lee USA Speedway. Barrett sits in the grass as McKennedy had already driven off. Crystal Snape photo.

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
Tommy Barrett Jr. (9) passes Ted Christopher (00) at Thompson. Howie Hodge photo.
Tommy Barrett Jr. (9) passes Ted Christopher (00) at Thompson. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Tommy Barrett Jr. in victory lane at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) in June 2013. Howie Hodge photo.
Tommy Barrett Jr. in victory lane at Stafford Motor Speedway (CT) in June 2013. Howie Hodge photo.

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.

Looking Forward
Steve Masse does a lap with the checkered after an August 2013 victory at Stafford Motor Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.
Steve Masse does a lap with the checkered after an August 2013 victory at Stafford Motor Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.

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 poses with his new NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride at Frank Maratta's Auto Show & Racearama this past weekend. Crystal Snape photo.
Tommy Barrett Jr poses with his new NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour ride at Frank Maratta’s Auto Show & Racearama this past weekend. Crystal Snape photo.

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.

The Valenti Modified Racing Series feature storms around Seekonk Speedway. Howie Hodge photo
The Valenti Modified Racing Series feature storms around Seekonk Speedway. Howie Hodge photo.

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

Tiregate Part 1: Controversy Out of Canaan

RELOADED03The Valenti Modified Racing Series, based out of Canaan, NH, wrapped up it’s 10th season of existence in 2013.  The VMRS has become a successful alternative to NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour in the New England region.  That was proven when the series was the recipient of popular auto racing site, Speed51.com’s Best Touring Series voted on by the fans.  The series has also seen it’s fair share of controversy over the last two seasons.  Last years tour stop at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk (MA.) on Saturday night, August 17 became arguably the most talked about controversy in Modified racing.  When the smoke finally cleared on the following Monday the teams of Tommy Barrett (#9), Steve Masse (#13), and Richard Savary (#99) were disqualified for what was deemed tire tampering.

Rather than the headlines being about Todd Annarummo taking a huge victory that night at his home track, all the talk became that of Tiregate. The subject filled the grandstands and digital pages of racing news sites, blog sites, forums and social pages.

The subject is still being brought up six months later.  So I decided to take a dive into the subject on the internet’s information super highway and place some calls as well as emails.  I made some contacts and posed questions to some of the individuals involved from that night’s happenings and the days that followed.  First though, lets not get too far ahead of ourselves and start from the beginning..

The Cement Palace

The Superior Team Racing #99 Modified, piloted by Richard Savary, is listed as owned by Rob Walendy.  Rob became involved in asphalt auto racing in 2004 and came with plenty of experience working in

Rob Walendy checks the 99 prior to driver Richard Savary heading out on the track. Crystal Snape Photo.
Rob Walendy checks the 99 prior to driver Richard Savary heading out on the track. Crystal Snape photo.

everything from go karts to Rolex 24 Hour Prototypes.  He’s not only the owner of the Modified but is also a mechanic, spotter and tire specialist for the Superior Team Racing #99.  Rob gladly went over in detail his duties on the night in question.  One of those tasks included selecting four tires at the tire corral for the night’s competition. (Modified Racing Series teams are allowed to purchase 4 tires from the series for each event which are to be competed on the same night)  They proceeded to mount the tires back at the hauler and air them up using the team’s air compressor;  “As was often the case last year the tires did not size up as we would have liked. I do not remember which tire or tires we returned and selected new ones so we could get the stagger where we wanted it.  We then returned to the hauler and mounted the new tires and inflated them with the air compressor to make sure we had what we wanted for sizes.”

“Once we were satisfied with the set we pulled the valve cores, let all the air out, inflated them with nitrogen, and set the tires off to the side in the hauler.  We then proceeded to practice [with older tires] and make adjustments on the car.  At the end of practice we removed the tires and wheels on the car and put the new tires we had purchased that day from the MRS on the car.”  Rob’s team deflated the nitrogen from the tires and aired them back up.  “I was present for all of these activities.”

Andrew Truchinskas, a crew member for Steve Masse’s Modified last season, assisted his team with selecting tires from the VMRS tire corral;  “The crew chief and myself picked the tires that day and brought them back to the trailer.  We mounted them on the ramp on the back of the trailer like we always do.  They then sat there until we put them on the car for the heat race.  They were in plain view all day to everyone.”

Steve Masse on the scales before the events at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk (MA). Crystal Snape Photo
Steve Masse on the scales before the events at Seekonk Speedway in Seekonk (MA). Crystal Snape photo

During the drivers meeting it was apparent post race procedures were going to be done a little differently.  Andrew explained;  “It’s common for the VMRS to have the top 5 teams break down 2 tires after a race in tech.  During the driver’s meeting that day they told us the top 5 would have tires checked on the track immediately after the race and any random cars they decided on.”

Rob said much of the same;  “Standard procedure was to have the top 3 stop on the track at the start finish line and be interviewed.  4th and 5th go directly to tech.  The top 3 then go to tech after on track interviews and pictures.  The practice for tech is no one touches the car until we are informed by the officials what they want to inspect. As I remember, the MRS officials would check bar codes on the tires against their list to make sure everyone was using the tires they had purchased that night.  Sometimes they would ask to break two [tires] down in post race tech, but I do not remember that always being the case.”

Then came the introduction of the sniffer by Valenti Modified Racing Series officials.  The sniffer device detects volatile organic compounds, v.o.c.’s if you will.  Most any compound that is used to treat tires to alter their normal performance can usually be detected by the sniffer.  When the sniffer goes off it signifies a reading by a “loud shrieking noise”, as described by Rob.  According to him It was the first time VMRS brought out this device;  “The Seekonk race is the first time I remember seeing the sniffer.”

Andrew Truchinskas also says the Seekonk pre-race was the first time he saw the sniffer device and upon inquiring received a rather strange response;  “When they (VMRS officials) were sniffing the tires we asked what they were doing and we were told (by the official) not to worry about it.  We had nothing to worry about so we didn’t bother to follow up with what they were doing.”

Why the series would decide to implement a sniffer device with half of it’s season already in the bag is their prerogative.  In many eyes it’s also their obligation as a series to inform their teams who support the series what the device is and what it’s for.  Why not introduce the device that night in the drivers meeting as is usually the case in regards to changes in procedures such as the aforementioned announcement for tech?  Furthermore, when the official used the testing device on Masse’s Modified, was it such a secret that an official would be disrespectful to an inquiring crewman who’s car they were using the device on?  After all it’s their series too, their equipment they are checking with the device, their money supporting the series and putting on the show.  They had every right to know.  To this writer it draws question as to why the sniffer and it’s application were held from the competitors, especially when it would later play a major part in the final outcome, but we’ll get to that.

I asked VMRS Director entering his sophomore year at the high ranking position, Scott Tapley if any of the teams in question were notified during pre-race that the sniffer did in fact register a reading on their tires?;  “The pre-race checks were done in the line up in front of team members that were there, but copious amounts of folks were watching the process. … The results are not to be considered for dismount and inspection until the tires have been raced and tested immediately when hot off the track.  That is the only way to accurately test with a sniffing device for conditioning. [It’s the] same procedures that tracks like Stafford have done for many years.”

Inquiring about the pre-race sniffing and any notification if the device went off, Rob Walendy stated; “I was not around the car the entire time.  I asked the crew and no one remembers an official checking our tires.”

I asked Andrew if the sniffer made a shrieking sound Rob described earlier.  Andrew simply replied; “No it did not.”

Rob described what took place after the feature was in the books; “The top 3 cars were requested to stop on the front stretch.  I relayed the information to Richard and he stopped on the front stretch and got out of the car and was interviewed by the track announcer.  After the interviews, Richard asked if I would drive the car back to tech.  I placed my radio bag on the metal behind the drivers seat, climbed in and headed off the track.  As I recall, the #12 and #13 Modifieds were in front of me as we drove up to the exit of the track.  The VMRS officials stopped all 3 of us while we were still on the track.  I stalled the damn thing at this post race check. The official then used what I later found out was a sniffer on the right front wheel. I heard a loud shrieking sound.  The official then moved to the right rear tire and again I heard the loud shrieking noise.  The official then moved to the left side tires.  I heard no noise at either time [for the left sides].  The official at the driver’s side window then instructed me to take the car directly to the tech area. I drove the car to the tech area and shut it off. I remember one of our crew guys asking me what the officials wanted for tech. I told him I would find out.”

“I believe it was Chip (Pettengill, VMRS official) that I asked and he said they wanted the tires broke down.  I went back to the car, about 20 feet away and said put it up on 4 and break the tires down.  They want to look inside.  We had plenty of guys at the car to take the tires off and if the officials wanted anything else, carb, ignition box, etc., we had people there that could handle that.  I believe I went back over to the tech area and watched as one of the crew guys broke down the right front tire then the official looked inside.”  Here is where things get a little interesting.  Rob explains;  “At some point the official at the car said that we were all set with the tires and one or two of the crew took the tires back over to the hauler.  Not long after another tech official said they wanted our tires back over to the tech trailer.  I went over to see what was going on.”

Backtracking a little, Rob gave good reason why he went back to tech; “When we were at Oxford Plains Speedway (Oxford, Maine) a few weeks earlier the VMRS officials had taken tires from some of the top finishing teams.  We were told we would be getting them back.  We did not.  The VMRS had cut pieces out of them and sent them to a lab. I can only assume that those tires came back negative because no one was penalized.  The VMRS only allows competitors to buy 4 tires per event in an effort to keep costs down.  We use the tires from the last race as our practice tires when we go to the next track.  Losing a set of tires is a disadvantage for the next race as we are forced to practice and make adjustments to the car based on feedback produced by very warn out tires.  So I wanted to make sure we were getting our tires back.”

Upon questioning Rob about those tires being taken at Oxford (about $580.00 worth for a set of 4), the same tires his team was depending on for the next tour stop’s practice session, he not only never had them returned, but was never reimbursed in any way.  The only thing the VMRS offered his team was being given the option to purchase a fifth tire at the next event, but it would be marked by the VMRS as strictly for practice.

Tommy Barrett Jr. Leads his heat race at Seekonk. Crystal Snape photo.
Tommy Barrett Jr. (9)  leads his heat race at Seekonk. Crystal Snape photo.

Back to the night in question..  When Rob arrived at the VMRS trailer Rob says he spoke with series director Scott Tapley concerning his team’s tires. By Rob’s recollection, he said Scott informed him they were taking their tires because the sniffer had gone off and they suspected their team had been soaking tires.  Rob denied any wrong doing;  “I replied as best as I remember; No we haven’t Scott.  I picked those tires out.  I mounted those tires and I put them on the car and there isn’t anything in them.  Scott said something like; Well were you watching them the whole time?  I think I said;  No I wasn’t watching them the whole time.  They were lying on the floor in our hauler with people walking by all day! Are you kidding?”

“At that point he said they were going to send the tires out to a lab. I told him Good send them.  They will come back clean because we didn’t do anything. [Later that night] Chris Grey (VMRS Operations Manager) took me aside and said that they didn’t think we were cheating, but they knew others were and that we were just caught up in it.  I replied with something like; Fine.  Just send the tires out and have them tested because we didn’t do anything.”  Rob and his team packed up and got ready to leave the speedway grounds extremely upset at the allegations that the team did anything to their tires.

Before getting in the hauler and heading out, Rob pulled the two crewmen that worked on the tires with him and asked each of them, point blank, if they had put anything in the tires during the nights events.  Both answered they had not.  Only later did he find out that neither one of the crew members he questioned had any experience with treating tires of any kind.  He assured his crew the officials were sending the tires to a lab and would find out the truth, that the tires were clean and legit.

Scott said the officials actually got confirmation during inspection of the broken down tires they confiscated;  “We mark the insides of all the tires sold with a paint marker and write the car number on the inside of each tire.  The positive tested tires had the paint [missing] and the car number was not visible as it should have been if no conditioner was present.  The tires dismounted that did not read on the sniffer did have the number still as it was when initially painted. Representatives of two of the three teams witnessed the lack of number and obvious differences in texture inside.  The third team declined to enter the tech trailer and witness the findings.”

Not Your Typical Monday

On Monday, Rob missed a call from Scott Tapley.  Rob says Tapley had left a voice mail as well as sent him an email asking Rob to call him back. Once he got in contact with the series director early that afternoon, to put it mildly and cleanly, Rob was shocked at what he was told;  “I was told that the Valenti Modified Racing Series had decided not to send the tires out to a lab and that we were being disqualified from the race along with the #13 (Steve Masse) and the #9 (Tommy Barrett Jr.).  I was extremely angry.  I spent approximately 20 minutes in discussion with Scott.  I asked why they were not sending the tires out and I never received a satisfactory answer.  I pointed out to Scott that VMRS was saying my team was cheating and I was saying that we were not.”

Steve Masse (13) and Richard Savary (99) along with Tommy Barrett Jr were disqualified after the VMRS Seekonk race. Howie Hodge Photo.
Steve Masse (13) and Richard Savary (99) along with Tommy Barrett Jr were disqualified after the VMRS Seekonk race. Howie Hodge Photo.

Rob was adamant that his team was not cheating;  “I asked Scott if he would be willing to send the tires to the lab at my expense.  I offered to pay the VMRS to box them up and ship the tires to the lab of their choice. Scott told me that wasn’t his call to make.  So I asked him if I placed a call to Jack Bateman (VMRS series creator, owner and president) and made the offer to him would Scott be okay with that? Scott told me he wouldn’t be in favor of it.”

Rob reiterated his reason to the series director;  “I said; Scott you’re saying I did something and I am saying I didn’t.  All I am asking for is an impartial third party to decide which of us is correct.  I am willing to pay for this to happen.  You have my tires.  You have the evidence. Why not let them make the call?  He said that I would have to call Jack and that it was out of his hands.”

Meanwhile, keep in mind that Rob Walendy stated he returned Scott’s phone call early Monday afternoon.  Coincidentally, by about1:30pm Eastern time a story was already published with news the teams of Tommy Barrett, Steve Masse, and Richard Savary had in fact been disqualified from the Seekonk race.  No points, no purse money, and out of pocket with nothing to show for that past weekend’s series show besides a finger pointed in their direction for a serious offense.  An offense that all three teams still say they were not guilty of.

Andrew and his team had the same view especially when told that the series said their tires grabbed a reading in pre-race, yet never hearing the sniffer go off.  It started to have a stink about the whole situation; “We weren’t told anything about our tires before the feature and when we found out post race that our tires allegedly failed the sniffer in pre-race we immediately asked [VMRS officials] why they would even allow us to race if our tires were looked at as illegal before the race.  We put 100 laps on the motor and used all the fuel when they already knew they were going to disqualify us?  We even offered to pay for the lab tests!”

As soon as Rob Walendy finished his conversation with Tapley he dialed up Jack Bateman at the Valenti Modified Racing Series headquarters in Canaan, New Hampshire;  “I asked to speak to Jack, but I was told he had just stepped out so I left a message for him to call me back.”

In the meantime, Rob decided to do some online research and decided to contact a testing lab.  He called the lab and spoke with the owner of the facility;  “I learned a lot about tire testing and the proper procedures while on the phone with him.  [The lab] will only do testing for sanctioning bodies and tracks.  They do testing for a bunch of both.  I explained to the owner what had happened and he pointed out that the sniffer is only for indication that there are volatile organic compounds present and that in order to confirm whether or not a tire had been treated that further testing would have to take place.  We spoke for a while about what kind of testing they do, but he was somewhat reticent to be specific.”

Regarding these v.o.c.’s being described, Rob recalls;  “Memebers of our crew and other crews have pointed out that the sniffer was going off everywhere.  The pit area is full of v.o.c.’s from what I have learned. Gasoline, oil, carb cleaner, brake cleaner and a lot of other products contain v.o.c.’s.”

After he got off the phone it wasn’t long before VMRS president, Jack Bateman returned Rob’s phone call.  Rob went over the scenario with Jack regarding his and Scott Tapley’s conversation;  “I asked him if he would box up the tires and ship them at my expense to the laboratory.  Jack declined.  I then asked him why he wouldn’t send the tires out to be tested and he told me that they had done that before and they came back clean.  I then asked him if [the Valenti Modified Racing Series officials] had soaked a tire and sent that to a lab with the others as a known good example.  He said they had not.  I then asked isn’t it possible that no one was soaking then?  He said that he knew people were cheating.”

At that moment Rob realized that continuing further into the subject with the series president was absolutely pointless.  (Note what was mentioned prior about the tires they took from him after the series race at Oxford Plains Speedway earlier in the season.)

Rob’s question to Jack regarding the series purposely soaking a “known good sample” for testing brings up something to note.  While interviewing the series director over a period of days via email, I mentioned to Scott Tapley that after I read up on numerous chemicals used to treat tires for almost every damn thing you can shake a stick at (some were quite MacGyver-esque), a link Scott was so kind to provide me was the only type I had seen where they claimed was a product undetectable by a lab.  Others that have been listed as undetectable have been found in later tests at labs.

Richard Savary sits in his Superior Team Racing 99 waiting to take to the Speedway. Crystal Snape photo.
Richard Savary sits in his Superior Team Racing (99) waiting to take to the Speedway. Crystal Snape photo.

The reply I received from Scott was quite intriguing when he mentions prior lab testing;  “Prior to any of the events you are talking about I spent 2 months of on track/lab research, treating 4 tires with 4 different conditioners.  2 chemicals I’ve used before and 2 that were the newest to the industry.  I took 3 sample spots from each tire and had them analyzed. 4 dirty treated tires by myself and sealed by myself only showed results on 2 of the 4 tires.”

So, on the contrary, by Rob’s recollection of his conversation with Jack, the series had actually completed lab tests and had in fact sent a “known good sample” during the series director’s research earlier in the year.

“I went through this process because the integrity of my series is the most important thing in my life other than the love I have for my kids.  I will never go into anything without first doing homework that no one else would go through because in the end with a position such as mine, integrity is the only thing that drives me.”  Scott’s love and passion for his sport and family can not be questioned and that is not being challenged by any means.

Series officials announcing in the drivers meeting that there would be a change up in tech procedures is not uncommon.  It happens quite frequently in all series and weekly speedways as a way to shake things up.  Not introducing a new device in the drivers meeting, which would play a major roll later in tech on it’s first night in use is a little suspect.  Tech for a series is there to assure not only the series officials, but also assure series competitors they are all on a fair playing field.  However when adding up all of the little actions and what was said along the way will cause anyone to raise the eyebrows and does in fact draw question to the integrity of the series to a certain degree.

The fact remains when 3 teams left the Seekonk Speedway grounds they were led to believe that their confiscated tires were being submitted to a lab only to find out two days later they were not, but were being disqualified nonetheless.  Then the remarks by officials regarding someone is cheating begins to resemble somewhat of an ongoing witch hunt.  The only question is who was really being hunted?

Join us in two weeks time for the second and final installment of Tiregate.

A big NERF’ers congratulations to Doug Coby on winning the Modified half of Bash at the Beach.  The Modified show far surpassed last years fiasco, as the division was well represented in terms of racing.  If you’re a fan of NASCAR’s Cup series then this is your weekend, enjoy!  See you next week for another installment of the old NERF’ers Corner by Robert Echo straight out of the pages of Speedway Scene.  Be safe everyone!