Lemasters Jr, Ron

LEMASTERS: A Change To The Code?

CONCORD, N.C. — What happened to respect on the race track?

Recent incidents in the upper levels of American racing beg that question, which is but an offshoot of an age-old poser: What is hard racing and what is out-and-out wrecking someone to win a race or prevent another driver from doing so?

As the sport has evolved from rough-and-tumble dirt tracks to superspeedways, there has always been a constant ebb and flow in this particular debate. During the early years, there was a code of sorts. Violate the code and there were consequences. If you were a young driver looking for acclaim and a step up the ladder, you soon learned there were limits, and they carried fairly draconian penalties when you stepped over the line.

Now? Not so much.

March 26, 2023:  at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. (HHP/Chris Owens)
Daniel Suarez (99) chases Alex Bowman during the NASCAR Cup Series race at Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas. The two had a dispute about an on-track incident following the event. (HHP/Chris Owens photo)

In recent weeks, there have been multiple incidents that have called into question the viability of the established order. Drivers running into other drivers just to gain a position, keep a driver from winning a race or from a sense of retaliation for incidents past.

It’s a bad look, any way you slice it.

If you’re going to lose coming off turn four, turning right into a competitor’s door or fender should not be the go-to move, whether there is history between the two involved or not.

There’s a difference between hard racing and payback, and it’s one that is growing wider and wider every week.

Back in 1986, I saw and heard such an instance first-hand. It was at Anderson (Ind.) Speedway during the annual Redbud 300 in the original American Speed Ass’n. Mike Eddy, one of the hardest racers on any track, and then-rookie Kenny Wallace had a run-in on the tight quarter-mile oval.

The incident in question began harmlessly enough, but the result was two wrecked race cars. Following the race, Eddy conveyed to Wallace that the resulting escalation was going to end one way: He had more race cars than Wallace did, and he would continue the process until the lesson was absorbed. That is a paraphrase, but accurate, nonetheless.

Perhaps it’s time for the “Eddy Strategy” to be employed.

With the rapid flipping of the field from established veterans from the old school to the new school, some of those hard lessons have been lost to time and a changing environment. Kyle Busch, who has had his share of incidents, opened up on this process recently, and how it has gotten out of hand (my words, not his).

Busch’s involvement in some of the most widely-publicized — an understatement, to be sure — incidents of the recent past, gives him a lot of credibility in this discussion, and his direct address of actions in the NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway carried a lot of weight.

During this post-race presser, Busch talked about a lot of the above, but added a modern touch to it that incorporated the drivers coming up. Busch noted his son, Brexton, cannot dump a rival during one of his feeder-series races because the penalty is being sent to the rear of the field. He also mentioned that it might not be a bad thing to make that part of the current officiating criteria at the top levels of racing as well.

I don’t know that it will be, but I agree that even the threat of such a penalty should get some attention. As long as it was delivered in an even-handed way, it would send the message that hard racing is fine and encouraged, but out-and-out dumping someone will bring a heavy price, especially in the era of aerodynamic parity that makes coming through the field in a short span of time almost impossible.

If that scenario or something similar were implemented, with some object lessons pending, the respect level among competitors will rise to the point where it is self-policing again and not up to the sanctioning body to distribute the pain.


This story appeared in the May 10, 2023 edition of the SPEED SPORT Insider.

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