Racing can be difficult. Racers and officials are not always going to see eye-to-eye. It’s life. Unfortunately, ramifications from those disagreements can impact teams and the racing itself.
That is the case after the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race last week at Bristol Motor Speedway (TN) when three teams were penalized for working on their cars during the red flag period in which the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race was completed. At the time of the red flag, 55 laps of the scheduled 150 were completed in the Modified race.
The debate is that those penalties were handed down after the teams were allegedly told they were allowed to work on their cars and would not face a penalty.
Sly Szaban, Timmy Solomito’s crew chief at Flamingo Motorsports, said there was a chance they would not head to the next series race at Riverhead Raceway due to their frustration over the penalty.
Now, one of the other teams that was penalized, JR Bertuccio, claims he will take his team and race elsewhere, while former NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour champ Burt Myers is just plain frustrated over the confusion.
Jimmy Wilson, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Director, told Speed51.com powered by JEGS that this situation was the result of a “miscommunication” and that “under no circumstances is a team allowed to work on their cars under a red.”
Burt Myers finished in ninth for the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour drivers, 31 laps down, after breaking a shock-eye and a shock-hanger before the race was red-flagged due to rain. Myers said he and his team fixed the shock eye before the rain came, but he didn’t notice the broken shock hanger until after the race was red-flagged.
“I went and got all the parts and all the tools and everything ready and laid them on the back bumper and I left the car alone,” Myers said. “They told us at lap 125 of the Truck race that we could start working on the cars; changing the air cleaners and stuff. So I get down to my car around lap 130 and one of my guys is already changing the shock hanger. I said ‘Man, what are you doing?’ because of course you’re not supposed to be able to work on the car under red. He said ‘The NASCAR official told us we could.’ As I turned, standing there at our car was a NASCAR official there watching us work. Not only were we working, there was about six other teams working on their cars. So, one could assume that the NASCAR official had correct information, so we finished working on our car.”
Myers said the story from NASCAR changed when he was climbing into his car to resume the race.
“He said ‘Even though I told you you could work on your car, they’re going to penalize you for working on your car under red.’ I said ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. You told us we could.’ He said ‘I know. It’s my fault. I know I told you that you could, but they’re still going to penalize you. It was my mistake.’ I said to him ‘Listen to what you just said to me.’ At that point he stepped away from my car and went back to talking on the radio,” explained Myers.
As the race was about to go back to green, Myers said he was black-flagged and sent to pit road by NASCAR, along with the No. 21 of JR Bertuccio and the No. 16 of Solomito. Myers said he was never told what the penalty was until he was sitting in his pit box. At that time, he was informed that it was a 10-minute penalty.
Bertuccio’s father and car owner, Joe Bertuccio said he was told the same thing as Myers and Szaban.
“All of the people that got penalized are in agreement. We were told to do this. We didn’t just go ahead and do this on our own. We were told to do it,” Bertuccio said. “I was up in the sleeper and one of the guys told me the NASCAR official wants me outside. He told me we could work on the car… with 30 to go. I said ‘Are you sure? We’re still under red.’ He said ‘You heard what I said.’ There were two officials there. I asked him twice… I said, ‘Are you sure we can work on this car?’ He said ‘You heard what I said.’
“When we went back out nobody told us we were being penalized. Nobody told us we were going to serve a penalty. When we asked the official on pit road what was going on he said ‘You’re being penalized for working on the car under red.’”
Myers, who just locked up his seventh NASCAR Modified track championship at Bowman Gray Stadium (NC) on Saturday, said he’s pretty much moved on from the situation, but he is still puzzled of how to handle things in the future.
“I guess where I’m confused is no matter who makes the initial call, whether it’s the tower or whatever, the official in our pit area is the official we are supposed to listen to and we are supposed to follow his instructions,” said Myers. “It would have been silly for me or anybody else to have the official say we could work on our car, especially when one of my guys even specified ‘We can fix the damage?’ and he said ‘Yes, go ahead.’ It would not have made much sense for me to say ‘Oh no we’ll wait.’ We’re supposed to trust that the official in our area knows what call to make.
“I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus or say NASCAR is a good or bad situation for us. I am very confused as to why, if NASCAR’s official is the one that made the mistake, why we had to be penalized for it. It makes me question the next time a NASCAR official tells me something. What do I believe? What do I go by? If it’s up to me to make a rational decision and then it costs me because I didn’t listen to the official, I just need to know where I stand. All we ever ask for as drivers is consistency.”
Myers said he agreed with Wilson’s assessment that there was definitely a miscommunication on Wednesday night, but he said it was not between the officials and teams.
“The miscommunication was between the tower and the officials on pit road. It was very clear that we were told we could fix the damage on our car. Now, if there was a miscommunication, it was that the officials on pit road misunderstood what the tower was telling them, which is very possible. But that’s who needs to take responsibility for what happened and not us.”
Speed51.com reached out to NASCAR again on Tuesday morning in an effort to understand if an official truly did tell these teams they could work on their damaged race cars. NASCAR declined to comment further on the matter. However, in the previous conversation they did insist that it is clearly stated in the rulebook that teams cannot work on their cars under red flag conditions.
Bertuccio said after this incident he will no longer be competing with the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour.
“I’ll go race some races locally,” he said. “I’ve gone to all those tour races and I travel from Long Island to go to all those tour races in the south. And I do it for myself, not just for them. But, they won’t see me anymore. I’ve been racing a long time and this is the first time that an official has made me sore enough to say that you won’t see me back.”
Myers, who currently leads the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour points standings by 10 over defending champion Andy Seuss, said he is not in a position to even entertain that idea.
“What’s the old saying? Don’t bite off your nose to spite your face? I can’t not go. I don’t go to races for NASCAR. I don’t mean that in a negative way, but I don’t race for NASCAR, just like I don’t go race for PASS and I don’t go race for Bowman Gray Stadium. I go racing for Burt Myers, for my family and for my sponsors. Whenever I go to a race I’m not supporting anybody other than myself and my team. We love to race and that’s what we do and that’s what we’re going to continue to do until I decide different.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com