They arrived at Daytona International Speedway this week from their various weekly racing outposts, wide-eyed surely by the magnitude of the stage they were being welcomed to race on.
There they were, the drivers making up the field of Monday’s 150-lap NASCAR Whelen All-American Series event at the inaugural Battle at the Beach – far from the bullrings they call home – getting the chance to race on national television at one of racing’s most historic venues.
And in the end they all left the .4-mile temporary race track at Daytona as rubes. Drivers and teams suckered in by an elaborate Three Card Monte-esque game by NASCAR.
There’s no other way to look at it because there’s simply no other way to interpret the message sent by NASCAR officials at the conclusion of the event.
A bunch of short track drivers made their way to Daytona to serve as joked on jesters at the Kyle Larson debutante ball.
Larson, coming off a championship in the K&N Pro Series East last year, is being touted mightily as NASCAR’s next young superstar as he prepares to run this season in the Nationwide Series, one step below the top level Sprint Cup Series.
After a spirited battle over the closing laps of the event, C.E. Falk seemingly had victory in hand, but then it all got dirty. Real dirty. Instead of settling for second place, Larson took the low road, literally and figuratively.
In the final corner Larson gave Falk first a grazing blow to the inside, then a slam clearly bent on one purpose: sending the leader spinning.
Through the smoke Larson drove under the checkered flag first, leaving Falk settling for a third place finish.
Surely NASCAR would say no way to the move right? Surely this wasn’t the type of unchecked aggressiveness that NASCAR wants to paint as what short track racing around the nation is at its core?
Surely they would do the right thing and penalize Larson, right, and not let him keep the win?
Wrong. There would be no penalty, just celebratory congratulations waiting in victory lane for Larson. Falk, and the other true short track racers around him, were left looking like set up victims of a NASCAR promotional machine bent on force feeding the racing world their next chosen one.
There’s rubbing, there’s contact, there’s aggressive racing and anybody that’s spent any time around short track events understands that. Then there’s going out of your way to simply send someone with no regard whatsoever for competitive fairness, which was exactly what Kyle Larson did.
It was something that made WWE events seem all too tame in comparison. It essentially sent a message to America that short track racing across the land is simply Enduro style competition where destruction of your competition is not only allowed, but heartily encouraged.
As a Sprint Cup Series spotter, Anthony Hirschman III gets to see plenty of the best and worst of racing week after week, track after track. As the son of Tony Hirschman, one the most legendary Modified drivers ever, he understands well what short track racing is all about.
And he said all that was needed to be said in a post on Facebook following the event.
“I’m not one to typically rant, but after watching the late model race tonight…if that’s our sports next best thing, we can do without him,” Hirschman wrote: “A perfect example of what is wrong with racing these days, that a finish like that can stand, and a TERRIBLE example for every single up and coming driver in America. I guess a full time Nationwide [Series] driver with his future paved needed that win more than the Saturday night racer that this “special” event was created for. I’ve never turned a lap in my life, and I can pull a move like that. Severely disappointed that was allowed to stand after being told in meeting that it wouldn’t. Hoping for some consistency tomorrow…”
When NASCAR announced last year they would showcase weekly short track racers in an event at Daytona International Speedway it seemed like a story that could only be a positive.
Unfortunately, when the smoke cleared, the dust settled and NASCAR had their prince-in-waiting sitting in his throne Monday, it was the image of real short track racers left most injured. Short track racing is hardly a circus sideshow, though that was exactly the picture of it NASCAR painted so vividly Monday.