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.
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*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