In front of a standing room only crowd, a new era of short track racing kicked off in northern Virginia with the grand opening of Dominion Raceway. It was an illustrious night, but when all was said and done, there was as much emotion as excitement after a finish that was riddled with controversy.
Tyler Hughes and Nick Smith raced hard on multiple occasions for the lead in Saturday night’s Late Model feature, which was originally scheduled to be a 100 lap distance. While they were almost dead even at the line shortly after halfway, by the time they made it out of turn two that same lap, the entire facility went dark due to a power outage.
The power was restored and the race resumed, but due to the late hour the distance was shortened to 75 laps. Two late restarts resulted in Hughes and Smith continuing their battle for the top spot. Shortly after the final restart, Smith worked under Hughes, was unsuccessful at the stripe in his first attempt, but edged him at the line when the flagman waved the checkered flag.
In the middle of the winning interview, officials deemed that one too many laps were run, reverted the conclusion of the race back to lap 75, and overturned Smith’s victor. Hughes was then declared the winner.
In frustration, Smith threw down his winning hat and trophy in front of a remaining crowd with mixed emotions.
“I said it over and over, we were taught to follow the flagman’s orders in the driver’s meetings,” Smith told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “We have photos of us crossing the line with the checkered in the air beating Tyler Hughes to the line, and for them to stop me halfway through my speech, it’s just not very professional. At any other NASCAR races in the nation you never see someone get cut off halfway through their interview; I was caught in shock. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t believe it.”
After the evening’s conclusion, Speed51.com spoke with Dominion Raceway’s Oval Track Director, Chris Stefi, about the decision and what had occurred.
“I remember telling the flagman, I thought it should be green-two-white-checkered,” Stefi said. “We ran the finish, for some reason, he was off. The race ended like it did. The 12 car (Smith) got up underneath (Hughes) at what we thought one (to go). The 8 car (Hughes) actually brought it up that we ran one too many laps.
“So, obviously, my response was check the scoring. My line scorer and my transponders both had 76 laps, so we go back and review who was leading on lap 75 and the 8 car was leading on lap 75. I made the call to switch because we announced 75 laps because we were 45 minutes past our curfew. We made the 8 car the winner, and the 12 car obviously didn’t like that call.”
Hughes believes the correct call was made.
“When it came down to it, I knew they had run extra laps,” Hughes explained. “I was expecting to come around and see the white flag and I actually didn’t see any flags.
Meanwhile, Smith stands by his belief that the flagman should be the one determining when a race begins or ends.
“I did talk to the flagman,” Smith said. “The flagman threw the green, he threw two, a white, and a checker. These races go over all the time and for them to just stop the race at 75… the flagman is still throwing flags; the race is still going on. We’re not looking at the scoreboard; I’m not counting laps, I’m looking at that flagman. I don’t care if it was 10 to go or one to go, I beat him to the checkered. That’s all that matters, and I’m hoping NASCAR will see it the way that I think all the fans see it that left here with me taking the checkered.”
NASCAR has set a precedent just this year for this type of circumstance. The conclusion of this race was reminiscent to the New Smyrna Speedway K&N Pro Series East race in February when NASCAR declared the race was over on lap 150 despite the race going one lap past the scheduled distance. Despite a hard fought and controversial final restart, Hughes was ecstatic about the win for multiple reasons.
“It happened in the K&N Series too; we’re happy that we take home the first win,” said Hughes, who began his Late Model career during the final season in which the previous nearby Old Dominion Speedway was open. “It feels incredibly awesome. We worked so hard all winter long to come out here and win this first race. My dad’s actually battling cancer right now and I wanted to win for him, and we got it done tonight. Not in the way we wanted to, but a win is a win and we’ll take it”
Smith and team claimed they will appeal the finish to NASCAR, a process that Stefi agrees should be the solution.
“He didn’t do anything wrong,” Stefi said. “He put a hell of a show on, the 8 car put on a hell of a show. Only thing I know to do is to appeal it to NASCAR. I told the 12 write it out; he wrote it out, they’re going to talk to NASCAR and find out what the precedence says happened before to justify the ruling.”
Smith remains in disbelief that an exciting night of racing at a brand new facility came down to this.
“Just one man up in the box says ‘hey, we went over one lap.’ Well, this is kind of a big race, this is the first one and there were a lot of cars, it was a very exciting race. I had a blast, and I’m still in shock.
“I won the race and I can’t believe I’m having to fight for this like this. For me to have to appeal to NASCAR, I’m going to go through the motions, and I’m going to pray for the best, and just see what happens. I’ve never had to do this before. I’ve never seen this happen in my racing. So I don’t know, I’m just shocked.”
A phone call to Dominion Raceway on Monday found that the decision had not been overturned.
“There was a mistake made in how the flags were thrown,” explained Edwin Pardue, General Manager of Dominion Raceway. “We reviewed video of the race, spoke to NASCAR and acted according to the rulebook so Hughes is the winner of the race.”
The rulebook does claim that the race is concluded at the end of the advertised distance and all drivers were notified that the race was being cut short to 75 laps.
In regards to the lights going out in the middle of the race, Pardue made this statement.
“We are investigating and we feel that it may have been a disgruntled employee of a sub-contractor.”
Sounds like someone might have flipped the switch off, but despite the debate regarding the lap count and official finish, the switch has been flipped on for a bright future at Dominion Raceway.
-By Aaron Creed, Speed51.com Central NY & PA Editor – Twitter: @aaron_creed
-Additional Information by Bob Dillner, Executive Director, Speed51.com - Twitter: @bobdillner
-Photo credit: Speed51.com