Plenty Of Blame To Pass With SK Mod Safety Issue, But Ultimate Responsibility Is On Teams

Speedbowl Night SmallerWhen the SK Modified teams of Craig Lutz and Keith Rocco rolled into the Waterford Speedbowl on Saturday night, those with direct knowledge of the cars involved went there knowing they were spitting in the face of one of the biggest safety issues at any racetrack anywhere.

One can sit and play the blame game, or the why game or the wonder game, all day, but there’s no sugar coating the gravity of what took place on Saturday at the Waterford Speedbowl.

Those two teams showed up at the track without track mandated front wheel tethers on their cars. The tethers have nothing to do with performance and everything to do with the safety of the drivers, the track crew and the fans in the grandstands.

The tethers link the front spindles to the chassis and are in place to keep tires from flying in the event of an accident. The tethers became standard as a safety item in many divisions of racing after three fans were killed during an IndyCar Series event at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999 after a tire and suspension parts flew into the grandstands following a crash during an event.

Yes, the knee jerk reaction of many is to pass all the blame on to the track’s inspection staff. This is at the same time fair and unfair.

Yes, the track’s inspection staff certainly bears some of the responsibility with the incident.

That said, those who want to compare a short track pit area to that of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event where cars go through multiple rigorous pre-race inspections are far off base.

The fact is, few short tracks anywhere have the staff do thorough pre-race inspections on every car that shows up each and every week.

Each car is safety inspected before the season and the onus is on teams to live up to keeping those safety standards in check through the season. They actually sign legal documents agreeing to that.

If someone is willing to bring a car to the track but is not responsible enough to care about fan safety, competitor safety or track crew safety then they shouldn’t be anywhere near a racetrack.

Passing the buck onto to the track inspection crew is just giving the ultimately guilty parties a pass.

It’s like a teenager sneaking out in the middle of the night using the keys to mom’s car, then getting in an accident. Is the accident mom’s fault or the teenager’s fault? You can say mom is responsible for leaving her keys on the counter, but isn’t that really just deflecting blame for a stupid decision made by the teenager that actually committed the act?

Drivers sign agreements before the season that they that they take responsibility for their own safety and the safety of others at the track. They’ve entered into a contract saying it’s not something they’re going to mess with.

According to sources close to the track, Rocco’s car is thought to have run without tethers for the last three events, after his car was involved in a massive wreck on May 3 and torn apart. It’s unclear how long this season Lutz ran without them.

No, the brunt of the blame should not be on the track’s inspection staff, but they do bear some of the blame. Rocco’s car had gone through post race inspections on May 10 and May 17 and track inspectors should have picked up on the missing tethers on those occasions.

Wherever blame lands, there’s absolutely no discounting just how big an issue it is, and teams need to understand that fully. A tire into the grandstands could change short track racing across the industry. It would send shockwaves through the grassroots levels of the sport. It’s something that could send insurance premiums for short tracks skyrocketing and the end result would likely be many facilities being forced close up shop under the burden of those premiums.

And again, ultimately, the teams involved are the biggest sinners in the situation and that can’t be discounted or diminished.

It should be expected that adults who have a grasp on the levity of the danger involved with what they’re doing – not just for themselves but for those around them – shouldn’t ever look past such a massive safety measure.

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  1. Shouldn’t that be checked when the car is initially tech’ed each year. Granted a crash can happen and parts get changed most of the time an inspector will check out a car the week it comes back from a wreck….

  2. wayne smith says

    Just a reminder! If a part comes off your car and hits a fan your the one going to be sued! Ask Ted Stack!

  3. 1) “Rocco’s car had gone through post race inspections on May 10 and May 17 and track inspectors should have picked up on the missing tethers on those occasions.”

    Shawn, Not dismissing that the teams bear responsibility, but in my mind, it is EQUAL between the teams and the track / inspection process. If the wheel went in the stands, and injuries occurred, it’s not going to be just the race team named in the suit, but just as much, if not more, the track being sued/held liable for the the race team being allowed on the track to compete without having the tethers.

    (BTW, some may think fans attending the track and buying a ticket is also a waiver to lawsuits in the event of injury, aka “attend at your own risk”. That is not the case, by any means. It does not hold up in court.)

    A 5 second check on each wheel for tethers should be MANDATORY on all pre- and post race inspections. Heck, you can add it to the checklist when they hit the scales,it’s that quick an easy!!

    2) “That said, those who want to compare a short track pit area to that of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event where cars go through multiple rigorous pre-race inspections are far off base.”

    Shawn, I read the comments (so far at least), and I don’t think anyone is claiming or comparing short track pit areas to the pit area of ANY of the 3 major NASCAR Tours, let alone Sprint Cup. It’s kind of insulting to those of us that read the article, I think. I don’t even think anyone is comparing it to NWMT pits/ inspection, either, but I could maybe see how someone might incorrectly do that.

    We are talking less than 30 seconds total time to check a car for wheel tethers, tops. Teams AND the track should be able to cover this on each race day, especially in scales/ride height checks. For anyone to say or even think, that it will take too much time is frankly unacceptable – unless you are trying to tempt fate.

    And that responsibility is shared EQUALLY by the teams and the track. You would not have one without the other. I challenge that it should be on one entity more than the other, in this particular case.

    Having said all that? We know tethers are not going to ALWAYS prevent a wheel getting separated from a car. Last night could have happened even with the tethers in place. Still not an excuse, but in terms of DQs from last night for Lutz and Rocco? I would say no, but fines and a new rule on a go forward basis of disqualification are warranted (I say this not knowing what is in the agreement each teams sign at beginning of the year).

  4. This article assumes that the tethers are being purposely left off and no mention that they may have just been overlooked. The teenager stealing Mom’s car is a pathetic analogy. As a fan, I expect the track officials to take their jobs seriously and provide as safe a racing environment as possible. Apparently, that is not happening. It appears to me that you may be attempting to deflect the fact that race cars are not being inspected by the technical inspector(s). They are responsible for making the decisions regarding who does or does not get on the track! It is their responsibility to inspect the cars and drivers before they permit them to take to the track! The buck stops with those in charge of presenting the race to the paying fans! Sorry, but in my opinion, you appear to be kissing the butt of NASCAR, the track, and/or their officials.

  5. Come K, “This article assumes that the tethers are being purposely left off and no mention that they may have just been overlooked. ” Three weeks of being overlooked from a team with a nation championship? Whose making the assumption here? I don’t know the Lutz team but the Rocco team is well known through New England and the Eastern seaboard. I know the officials have to take some blame but really they are a national championship team. Can we also assume they do not do preventive maintenance on their car each week? Do there other cars have the tethers? How about their team cars, are they on them?

    Lets face they screwed up, There should be no excuse for either team and they should pay the consequence. I can only hope the track puts it foot down hard and sends a message they will not tolerate skimping on safety.

    Also , what I find funny is there has been not statements from the team. Why not? As a car owner I would want to clear my name or at least keep up my credibility as quickly as possible.

  6. Unfortunately there are officials at the weekly tracks are there just to look good. They are there to simply run the races and do a glossary inspection after the race. How many of them yell and scream at the teams. If it’s not something that they were told to check, they’re not going to look for it. They’re used to not looking for anything after the initial inspection because they feel the onus is on the team since the car already passed initial inspection at the end of they year. The tracks should inspect all cars the next time they show up ata the track after they are involved in major wrecks. They should also do a random inspection of 1 or 2 cars per week.

  7. DR — I said they may have overlooked this time. I don’t assume anything, especially when it comes to racing, but they may have had them on prior to this and it may have been overlooked. Doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that the officials are not doing their job. I wanted to say …the job they are paid to do, but with Waterford that isn’t always the case. It doesn’t really matter whether anyone accused responds to comments made about them. What would you expect to hear? All I’m saying is if the tracks have officials, then they need to do their jobs for the safety of everyone. This whole fiasco is of their making.

  8. justwanarace says

    Yes the track officials have some blame here but ultimately the responsibility is that of the driver and crew. This infraction is not a performance based it is for the safety of crews, officials and spectators. This type of arrogance should be looked at with severe penalties including suspension. I would bet this was intentional for what reason i have no idea but what i can tell you is that these guys have been racing for years and absolutely should have known better. If you can’t be responsible enough to adhere to the most basic of safety rules then instead of spending your money on things trying to impress and out do other competitors spend it on hiring people who know what they are doing.

  9. Heads up says

    I can’t believe nobody has spotted the biggest safety violation … Watch the video… It’s Nichole Morgillo even being on the track! She should be DQ’ed, fined, suspended, points docked, flogged, put on probation and all the other genius ideas I read in the other comments. She ran Lutz straight into the fence! Am I the only one to see this ?

    Nicole “safety violation” Morgillo must go!

  10. K – Sounds like yo might be part of one of the offending teams. This statement – “All I’m saying is if the tracks have officials, then they need to do their jobs for the safety of everyone. This whole fiasco is of their making.” is so typical of our society. It is not my fault. I am not to blame. Grow up and look at it as the person executing the action is ultimately the one to blame. The rules specifically state under Article 2.11.5 – NASCAR approved wheel tethers must be used on the front spindles/hubs. Can’t get any clearer for a team to understand. The words should, could, ought to, or any other subject terms are left out. The word MUST is there. No gray area for the team. If they team cannot show up to the track with the required (read again MUST) equipment then they are negligent. The officials missing it another topic and yes I agree they need to shoulder some of the blame but not all of it.
    FYI – there is a section on my weekly checklist for safety equipment, maybe the offending teams would like a copy so they do not miss this again.

  11. onus is on the team..they let a illegall car win..BS

  12. darealgoodfella says

    There are rules, rules to establish a level performance playing field, and rules to establish safety. Rules are going to be broken, and those that are supposed to be enforcing the rules are supposed to do just that. Saying that the teams are responsible is like saying all citizens are supposed to follow laws. Why do we have laws, police, courts, sentences and prisons? Rules have been broken and there needs to be much better enforcement. Those that are supposed to make sure rules are followed look pretty silly right now. A tether is just as obvious as springs, shocks and control arms on an open wheel car.

  13. So let’s see what the “Stiff Penalties” are. Anything short of a DQ is Bull.

  14. Sharpie Fan says

    Check the video. Where’s the inspection sticker on the roof of the 36?

  15. justwanarace says

    To blame Nicole is nothing more than an excuse. The issue is not Nicole it is the two teams who willfully broke the safety requirement regarding tethers. I saw the video and it seemed like a racing accident to me. I would say until you drive one of these cars and understand how fast things happen you may think differently. As for the insp. sticker on the 36 team i didn’t notice but what i did see is their crew member acting like an idiot along with their driver and for that I say give them a one way ticket back to LI. See Ya!

  16. Gregg Hurley says

    Agreed. Nicole’s not to blame for any safety infractions (unless on her own car). Certainly I am NOT a Nicole fan, but it is not her fault there was rules broke. If I was the track owner, I would suspend the teams that I caught breaking safety rules for the season. Term TBD. Ultimately the track is responsible for everyone (competitors and spectators). Speaking as a business man, no one is collecting on my insurance. No incidents, no worries.

  17. How can a winning car pass tech on two separate occassions with a safety violation unless the track is favoring that driver? Throw Nicole out, throw Craig out are you serious? How about if are found during pre race tech with a safety violation, turn around go back to the pit stall and correct it or load up and go home. If there is a blatant serious safety violation the car should not even make it to the racing surface that night.

    Lets put this in perspective, $200.00 for 4 tethers on a $50,000.00 race car is a drop in the bucket. I can think of better ways to save a few bucks in other areas but not when it comes to safety.

    It seams like the tech inspectors are more worried about illegal parts and scaling cars rather than driver, crew and fan safety. Why don’t we get rid of the tech inspector for not doing his or her job?

    Sorry all you Rocco fans but he should been DQ’d, placed in last position and told do not come back next week without tethers on the spindles. Matter fo fact to be fair, every car that was found that night without tethers should have been DQ’d and put to the rear of the fiinishing order and fined a minimum of $500.00. Unless the fine is paid and tethers are in place don’t come back.

    Just my opinion!!!!!!!!!

  18. Bubba J :) says

    In terms of safety for ALL motorsports, I think tethers should be mandatory. Be it drag racing, road coarse, stock car, sprint, endurance, monster truck, off-road truck and any other type of 4 wheel action………the safety of the racing fans and track officials must be a priority.

    In terms of the right and wrong of the missing tethers, all teams know the rules and strict penalties must me enforced to keep tracks safe and competitors on top of their equipment.


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