On Tuesday evening, Speed51.com powered by JEGS reported that Ryan Vargas had his win on Saturday night at California’s Kern County Raceway Park taken away after being disqualified due to having an illegal ignition system in his race car. The penalty meant that Trevor Huddleston swept the night’s twin features and could have major implications in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship picture.
On Wednesday, Vargas took responsibility for what happened, but also told Speed51.com that he felt his team was never properly informed of any rule changes in regards to the ignition systems.
“In the rules we printed out at the beginning of the season they said nothing about a 16-volt system being illegal. But apparently on March 6th there was a rule change sent through email to the email list from the track to the crews. We weren’t put on that list until March 28th, which Larry Collins confirmed to us. On Monday, after Larry checked, he said we weren’t added to the list until March 28th so we never received it. He couldn’t let us pass because the rule was updated online, but we never had any reason to reprint a rule because we weren’t told of any changes.”
“It’s hard to follow rules when they don’t notify you of a change,” said Vargas’ crew chief, Charles Price.
Price also said that the teams were given a hand-out at opening night, but the ignition system rules change was missing.
Larry Collins, Kern County Raceway Park’s general manager, said he could neither confirm or deny that a hand-out was indeed given out on opening night, but he did confirm that the Vargas team was not added to the email distribution list until the end of March.
However, Collins added that being legal is the responsibility of each individual team.
“That is true, but when you hand out or send out a bulletin, not everybody may end up getting it, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t responsible for knowing that rule that was updated,” Collins explained. “Everyone needs to be responsible to make sure they’re updated on what is going on. As rules get updated and changed, in this day and age they get updated on the website. We don’t do a handout every time. That’s stuff we did in the eighties.
“It’s always the toughest part of our job, but we have to take the responsibility seriously as far as towards the other teams and enforcing the rules. I’ve been doing this for 45 years and I’ve never enjoyed disqualifying anybody, but at some point you have to look the other competitors in the eye and say we disqualified someone for a reason. It’s unfortunate that the timing of this has bigger implications, but you can’t let the timing of this affect you either.”
Vargas and Price also said that the alternator belt wasn’t even on their race car, meaning that, according to them, the larger ignition system wasn’t giving them any sort of competitive advantage.
“It wasn’t even hooked up. It was doing nothing by being there,” Vargas said. “It really wasn’t a performance advantage. It was just there.”
Collins said whether or not it gives a performance advantage is “insignificant” because it was still against the rules.
“They should be able to answer that for us because why would you go that direction unless it has some sort of advantage, right? But that’s insignificant too because we could debate this every time someone has the wrong shock, wrong piston or wrong carburetor on the car or whatever it might be.”
Unfortunately for Vargas and his low budget, family-owned team, the disqualification hurts. Not because of financial reasons, but more because of pride.
“My guys have to work twice as hard with way less of a budget than some of these guys have out there. My mom is just a school teacher, my dad is an iron worker and I’m just a high school student. So when we have a win like that at a big track in front of a good crowd and we beat someone like Trevor Huddleston who is competing for a national championship, we take a lot of pride in it because we know that all of our work is coming together.
“To have it taken away from us because of something that doesn’t affect a car’s performance, that really stung. It really stung because we had no idea about a change in the rules. If the track had a more effective way of letting us know besides doing it just through email, then that would have been a big help.”
At this point, Vargas said all he can do is go to his last race of the season this Saturday, on his 17th birthday, and try to get another win and move on.
“I know that this will be a bump in the road in my racing career, which really just started. I guess all I can do is keep my head up, move on and chase more wins. The race this weekend is my birthday so it would be cool to cap the season off with a win on my birthday.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Kern County Raceway Park