It’s not anything anybody in short track racing wants to see.
A successful driver with a team coming off an ultra-successful season at another facility visits a track for a season opening event, wins and then gets disqualified.
All of the sudden the chorus of naysayers and critics only gets louder. So successful at one track, disqualified at another? What gives?
That’s the dilemma facing Wallingford driver Keith Rocco and his Late Model team owner Scott Fearn following their disqualification from a victory in Sunday’s 25-lap Late Model feature at Thompson Speedway.
Last year Rocco, driving for Fearn, left the rest of the field far behind in his wake week after week after week in the Late Model features at Waterford, as he rolled seemingly effortlessly to a track championship.
Saturday night Rocco opened defense of that championship by winning the season opening event at Waterford. And Sunday he came to Thompson with Fearn and won the Late Model feature there.
But on Monday it was announced that Rocco was being stripped of the victory for transmission issues found with his flywheel/flex plate and an external balancer.
It’s hardly a secret around the Connecticut short track racing scene that Fearn isn’t the most popular car owner amongst his peers. And Fearn has never been one to even lobby for any sort of Mr. Congeniality Award
He’s mouthy, brash and seemingly fearless about any consequences his words will bring forth. He’s says what’s on his mind, always unfiltered, and a lot of people around the pits don’t like that.
Over the years, first as the race director at the Waterford Speedbowl, then as the series director for the Modified Racing Series, first year Thompson race director Scott Tapley has proven himself to be one of the most consistent and fair officials in the New England short track racing scene. Consistency is his calling card, he doesn’t stray from that.
But the fact is, Fearn, in the defense of his team and the penalty handed down to them Monday by Thompson Speedway, – whether one thinks his team was cheating or not – has raised some legitimate questions about how procedures were handled after Sunday’s Late Model feature at Thompson.
Fearn seemed to have a fairly decent argument in stating that the American Canadian Tour regulations, which are used to oversee the Late Model division at both Thompson and Waterford, leave a lot of gray area when it comes to the flex plate that he was called to be in violation of. But that seems to be a matter he won’t be able to fight with ACT administrators, who told Thompson officials that the part was illegal and also suggested that use of the part by the team was on a level of highly egregious violation.
It’s getting to that point, where ACT officials were actually looking at the part in question thanks to photographs from track officials, that had Fearn raising what seem to be very legitimate questions.
Fearn questioned whether or not the second through fifth place finishers in the event were even made to go through a post-race tech inspection by track officials. Fearn’s car was parked in the paddock at Thompson Sunday in an area where most NASCAR Modified Tour teams were parked. He was allowed to park there because Rocco was also competing in the NASCAR Modified Tour event and the SK Modified event Sunday at Thompson.
The bulk of the Late Model teams competing Sunday were parked in the far back of the paddock area at Thompson, a long distance from where main area set up for tech inspections.
Tapley said track officials conducted the bulk of the post race tech inspections on the Late Model competitors at their respective trailers in the pit area. He said track officials did that to accommodate teams, so they wouldn’t have to bring tool carts from the back pit area to the standard inspection area in the paddock.
The issue that action brings up is transparency. Doing tech inspections in a set area for all cars involved leaves the process open to all eyes in the area. Moving tech inspections around to uncommon areas of the track opens the door for suspicion.
On Tuesday and Wednesday three owners of cars that compete at Thompson Speedway, who asked to remain anonymous, said the practice of inspections taking place away from a consistent inspection area leads to suspicions no matter the circumstances involved.
While it might not be convenient for all the teams to take part in the inspections process in a set and consistent area, it’s the only fair way of going about the process. And really, isn’t being fair the reason why there even is an inspection process?
Tapley said Monday that Rocco’s car was the only one to have its transmission taken apart.
“The car that wins the most money, gets the most points does the most tech,” Tapley said. “That’s how it should work at every level of racing.”
This raises another issue. By Monday afternoon, Rocco wasn’t the driver counting the most money or the most points after the race, Glenn Boss was after finishing second on the track and being named the new “winner” after Rocco’s disqualification.
Therein lies a problem with stating that the car that wins the most money and gets the most points should be the most inspected, because suddenly that’s not close to being true any more.
The only fair way to go about the post race is to have consistent inspections. And if inspectors decide they want to take things further with a winning car, the only fair process is to keep the second place, and probably third place cars there, to be in line to do the same inspection should the first place car fail.
Disqualifying a team for an illegal part found because inspectors dug deeper than they did on everybody else’s car leaves the inspection process looking more like witch hunt than balanced and equal.