In the blink of an eye, fists were flying and cuss words were being shouted in victory lane at Hickory Motor Speedway Saturday night. A discussion, which looked to be peaceful, between the top-two finishers of the South East Mini Stock Tour race turned into its own version of Royal Rumble on the frontstretch of the historic North Carolina short track.
The drama in victory lane commenced when Tim Canipe, the initial winner of the 50-lap race, pulled his No. 10 into the winner’s circle. He was met by series promoter Bob Guptil and a durometer to measure the softness of his tires. The series’ rule book requires the durometer reading to be 55 points or higher; Canipe’s right front tire measured between 38 and 42, which resulted in his disqualification from the event.
Initially, Canipe’s disqualification moved second-place finisher AJ Sanders into the number-one spot. But as the two drivers walked around Canipe’s car after a civil discussion in victory lane, a crew member from Canipe’s team confronted Sanders. That started an all-out battle royale between both teams and drivers.
Fists were flying, police were involved and Canipe was pinned up against the back of his own car before the situation was eventually diffused. Because of his role in the skirmish, Sanders was told by Guptil to load up his car and go home. That handed over the win to third-place finisher Michael Tucker.
“We were fine. Tim and I were talking about the race and things that happened during the race,” Sanders told Speed51.com powered by JEGS Monday. “Then his son in the black shirt just comes in and grabs me. When he grabbed me, one of my crew members grabbed him. That’s when I tried to separate them because they had given me the win. Then they DQ’d me for trying to separate them. You never see me swinging or nothing.”
According to Guptil, the confrontation between the two crews began after a Sanders crew member yelled over at Canipe saying, “You can’t f—— win or beat us unless you cheat, get out of here.”
“From there on all hell broke loose,” said Guptil. “I don’t know the people on the teams well enough yet to know who is who. I just know that a bunch of guys just started scuffling with each other and the two that basically started it, the two bigger guys, I tried to push them apart and I know a lot of the cops stepped in. Then I saw AJ coming in so I was pulling AJ back and told him to go back to his car. He ran in again, I pulled him back again and told him to go to his car.
“After pulling him back out three or four times, he said he needed his crew member and I said, ‘I’ll get your crew member, but I’m sick of pulling you away every three minutes.’ Finally I pulled him out the last time and he continued to yell and was talking over my father, who was there for an official, and talking over the cops. I decided that I don’t need the profanity, I don’t need the drama and I don’t need that kind of stuff while trying to start a new series, so I told him to load it up too.”
Sanders disagreed with the call made by Guptil and stated that he was doing his best to pull away his crew members from the scene. As the winner of the race at that time, Sanders said he had no reason to want to fight or be involved in the skirmish. He also indicated that he never heard the comment made by one of his crew members towards Canipe in victory lane.
“I never did hear that. One of my crew members yelled at me and said, ‘I told you so.’ He shouldn’t have said that and he shouldn’t have yelled that out,” stated Sanders. “I’ll be the first to say keep your mouth shut, go on and be done. He said it and I can’t control other people sometimes. You try, but you can’t always control what they say.”
As the video of the scuffle in victory lane went viral, many people weighed in on the debate on social media by stating that there has been a long-standing rivalry between Sanders and Canipe. While Sanders acknowledged that the two are very close competitors, he didn’t believe that there is/was any bad blood between them.
“I think it was 2001 when I raced Hickory and won about every race, so they didn’t like that,” stated Sanders. “Anytime you win people don’t like that. That was their home track at the time. But as far as anything bad, no. His son thinks I tell on them for cheating. If they’re cheating and I know it, I think I have the right to say something but I didn’t anyways.”
After having a few days to digest what happened at Hickory on Saturday night, Sanders believes that the frontstretch scuffle could have been avoided had series officials handled the tire situation a different way. Instead of having the option to run the tires that were soft following qualifying, he said that Canipe should have been forced to put on four new tires and start at the rear.
“Tim’s tires were wrong after qualifying,” said Sanders. “Bob admitted it and I have the text saying that his tires was wrong. He gave him the option to race those tires or go ahead and put different ones on. That shouldn’t have been an option. He should have had to put four new tires on and start at the rear with four legal tires and the outcome would have been different. Any race I have ever been to, if your tires are wrong after qualifying you need to pull them off.”
Guptil acknowledged that Canipe’s tires measured below the required 55-point reading on the durometer following qualifying, but said that many of the cars recorded lower readings than normal. After the feature, all of the tires checked except for Canipe’s recorded at least the minimum of 55 points on the durometer.
“They were soft after qualifying and we were unsure if it was just because they didn’t get up to temperature in a few laps,” said Guptil. “Everyone’s tires after qualifying, we checked them and they were all like five to eight points softer than what they should have been. (Race Director) Doug (Robbie) and I felt that they just picked up the real soft Modified and Super Late Model rubber. We told them that if their tires were low after the feature, after they ran 50 laps, than it would be called. They all knew what the rules were.”
The next South East Mini Stock Tour event is scheduled for April 23 at Southern National Motorsports Park (NC). Guptil plans to review all aspects of the frontstretch scuffle to determine if any further disciplinary action will be necessary.
“I know we have a conduct policy for the Northern series that Doug (Robbie) and I will go over. We’ll go over it more in-depth and if anything needs to be handed out we’ll be sure the drivers are notified before the next race.”
A full video of the victory lane scuffle can be seen now on the Speed51 Network. Race fans can watch the video and the rest of the short track racing videos on the Speed51 Network for just $7.99 per month or $59.99 per year.
-By Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Brad Newman