The battle for the 2018 Valenti Modified Racing Series championship took a dramatic turn Sunday evening at Lee USA Speedway (NH). While championship contender Woody Pitkat celebrated in victory lane, Sam Rameau – who led the MRS point standings entering Lee – was left fuming with a decision made by series officials.
Rameau entered Sunday’s scheduled twin 50 features at Lee Oktoberfest with an 18-point lead over Anthony Nocella at the top of the Modified Racing Series standings. Woody Pitkat sat 21 points back of Rameau, while Mike Willis, Jr. entered the event 32 points out of the top spot.
The dramatic turn in the title fight began early in the day when Nocella, the defending series champion, suffered engine problems in practice. Despite his attempts to get fitted in another car to gain valuable points, Nocella was unable to find a ride and ultimately saw his championship hopes go up in smoke.
The drama didn’t stop there. After a three-hour rain delay that stretched into the evening hours, adjustments were made to the schedule in an attempt to beat the track’s 10 p.m. curfew. Among those adjustments was the reduction of the VMRS twin features from 50 laps to 40 laps.
After a slew of cautions slowed the pace early on, a light mist once again began to fall on the race track as the race neared the halfway mark. On Lap 19 of the 40-lap race, Rameau was involved in a vicious crash in turn three with Mike Holdridge and George Sherman.
Shortly after the crash, rain began to fall at a heavier pace. In a cooperative decision with Lee USA Speedway track management, Modified Racing Series officials made the decision to begin counting caution laps until Lap 30.
After circling the track for 11 laps (from Lap 20 to Lap 30) while hoping the weather would break, the decision was made to call the race official and cancel the remainder of the scheduled racing.
At that time, Pitkat was named the winner of the race with Willis finishing right behind him in second.
Rameau was credited with a 20th-place finish, which unofficially puts him 17 points out of the championship lead entering next Saturday’s finale at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park.
The decision to count caution laps was one that Rameau and his crew didn’t agree with. That ultimately led to a disagreement and altercation between the No. 6MA team and race officials after the race.
“I guess they decided to count caution laps now. I was still in the car, the guys were fighting I guess, I don’t know,” Rameau told Speed51.com. “If they let us go to Thompson we’re going to be 17 points down and we’re going to have to beat those other two guys to get the championship. This is not what I wanted.
“The race wasn’t even halfway done yet. This race was not done yet and I hope the MRS knows that, and I hope they make the right call to say that this race isn’t done yet. We can still battle out just like we’re supposed to do in real racing, but I guess they got to come up with their own rules every week.”
Modified Racing Series race coordinator Bob McIlveen explained the decision to Speed51.com after the race, stating that it was a circumstantial decision made by series and track officials.
“We were at lap number 19 when the caution came out,” McIlveen began. “We were working with Lee Speedway. We made every attempt that we could if we could go back green to get to halfway. Our whole objective was to get halfway. When we saw the weather not breaking, the decision was made that we would start counting caution laps, with Lee Management and they would say that was an official race. At the end of the day, they sign the paychecks.
“There is some discretion that must be made,” he continued. “We never want to do this but when we’re up against the weather you got to make some adjustments. We were hoping that the weather would break. If it broke at Lap 23 or Lap 24, I would’ve pulled back the caution, we would’ve kept the cars going around and we would’ve gone back to green. That’s what we were doing. I had to throw a number out there so I said Lap 30. I was hoping between Lap 19 and Lap 30 that we would get a break in the weather.”
Despite the circumstances, Rameau stayed true to his belief that the caution laps shouldn’t have been counted and the race shouldn’t have been official.
“They’ve never really counted caution laps. I guess now they want to start,” Rameau said. “I don’t know; we’ll go into Thompson and see what we can do. Stay strong I guess, if they let us race. Just a sucky day.”
According to McIlveen, a decision about the post-race altercation involving the No. 6MA team would be discussed this week.
After the dramatic turn of events at Lee, Pitkat enters Saturday night’s finale at Thompson with the points lead over Willis and Rameau.
-Story by Brandon Paul, Speed51.com Editor – Twitter: @Brandon_Paul51
-Photo credit: Speed51.com