(EDITOR’S NOTE: 51’s X-Factor is a feature on Speed51.com that features opinions from columnists on racing’s hottest topics. Rob Blount, the author of this editorial, is the Southeast Editor for Speed51.com. The views which are expressed in the following column are his own and not necessarily the views of Speed51.com and/or its partners.)
“What a weekend for pavement short track racing.” At least, that’s what I kept saying on Sunday morning to myself as I scoured the good ole internet for race results to add to Speed51’s Weekend Update.
Why was I saying that? Because even though the eyes of the racing world were on road courses (Cup at Sonoma, Formula 1 in Baku and IndyCar at Road America), I had watched three awesome short track races the night before.
Yes, that’s right. I watched three short track races in one night. One was the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway on FOX Sports 1. The other two aired as part of 51’s Summer Thunder TV series. They were the Redbud 400 from Anderson Speedway (IN), and a Granite State Pro Stock Series race from Seekonk Speedway (MA).
While I was searching for race results on Sunday morning, I kept replaying in my head the final laps to the Redbud. If you missed it, I feel sorry for you. But, you can always watch the race right here (shameless plug). I kept replaying the battle between Steve Wallace and Raphael Lessard. And I kept thinking to myself while I was replaying that battle in my head, “Man, that was an awesome race.”
You see, I was at the Redbud in 2016. It was still 300 laps. That’s the only Redbud I’ve been able to attend. Dalton Armstrong led 266 laps that night, and halfway through it I was honestly thinking, “Okay, this race can end now.”
I was worried when I saw the news that this year’s race was no longer the Redbud 300, but instead the Redbud 400. I couldn’t believe that they were adding another 100 laps to that race.
But on Saturday night, there I sat at my computer watching all 400 laps and I was truly captivated by the race. From start to finish it was a great show. It had everything you could want in a short track race. It had side-by-side racing. It had beating and banging. It had intrigue. Jeff Choquette was dominating the first half and crashed with a lapped car. I mean, talk about a “Holy s—” moment.
And the best part was, I wasn’t alone in my thoughts on Saturday night. I had a second screen going (or I guess a fourth screen since I was watching three races) with Twitter open. There were plenty of other people watching Saturday’s Redbud that also were talking about what a great race it was, both during and after the event.
However, that all changed on Monday morning.
I walked into the Speed51.com offices in Concord, North Carolina (stop by and say hello some time if you’re in town). I sat down at my desk, opened up my laptop, opened up Twitter and the first thing I saw were the words, “Bubba Pollard Swears Off Returning to Anderson Speedway Due To How CRA Regulars Raced Him in the Redbud 400.”
In the effort of full disclosure, Bubba and I have a very good professional relationship and a mutual respect. But my first thought when reading that article was “Bubba, you’re just mad that you had a good car on Saturday and got wrecked. That’s quarter-mile bullring racing.”
Look, I’m just a journalist. I’ve loved racing my whole life, but I’ve never had the pleasure of racing anything more than a rental kart at a go-kart track with friends (and I usually don’t win). But when I watched that race I didn’t really notice much of a lack of respect from anyone. I saw hard racing one on of the best bullrings in the country.
CRA regular Johnny VanDoorn, who finished 13th, said he doesn’t think it’s a fair statement to say that the CRA regulars were rougher than the non-CRA guys at the Redbud.
“I can kind of understand why he would think it was just the CRA drivers, because most of us there were CRA drivers,” VanDoorn said. “But as far as CRA drivers having a lack of respect, I don’t think that’s fair at all.”
However, in fairness, to Pollard, he wasn’t the only driver upset with how they were raced on Saturday night. Second-place finisher Steve Dorer and third-place finisher Stephen Nasse both echoed Pollard’s thoughts about a general lack of respect.
“They’re just so rough and they don’t ever give you an inch,” said Nasse. “They race you on the first lap like it’s the last lap.”
“I don’t accept the quarter-mile bullring racing thing,” Dorer said. “I think that’s an excuse that people like to use because they hear it on Sunday’s on TV. I think it’s total crap.”
Dorer also went one step further and said it was not just CRA drivers, but it was everybody. He highlighted two CRA regulars that he felt ran him clean, and two non-CRA drivers that in his opinion raced each other the wrong way for the win.
“Jack Dossey ran a good clean race and I thought Hunter Jack ran a clean race. But I watched (Lessard and Wallace) for 20 laps just beat the tar out of each other.”
In VanDoorn’s opinion, Saturday night’s race was a rough race simply because it was on a tight, one-lane 1/4-mile bullring. VanDoorn knows a thing or two about that track also. He’s a five-time winner there and past Redbud winner.
“That was the product of a high-banked, quarter-mile bullring. The track is just so tight as it is. I don’t think it’s a product of dirty drivers there,” said VanDoorn. “I don’t think it was anything intentional on the part of any of the drivers. When you get late in the race with hot tires and you’re slipping around you get people running into each other. That’s a product of the race track.”
Here’s what I know, as someone who grew up not in a true to form “racing family,” but instead in a family of race fans: That race was fun to watch. NASCAR fans have been begging for “old Bristol” to come back since that track was reconfigured in 2007. NASCAR fans should have tuned into Saturday’s Redbud because that race had everything they’ve been looking for.
As far as Pollard’s comments are concerned, he reiterated those comments on Monday when Speed51.com reached out to him.
Truly, that’s a shame. Anderson Speedway is a great track and the Redbud is a great event. It would be a real shame not to have one of the best in Super Late Model racing in Bubba Pollard at that race next year.
Premier races should have premier drivers. That’s part of what makes them fun for fans; just like Saturday night.
That was fun.
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Speed51.com