It wasn't your fault. It might not have been anyone's fault. It might have been one of those mythical "racing deals," but there's little consolation when you're looking at a torn-up race car. The longest journey to a pit area is one on the back of a wrecker.
Accidents happen. They're part of the sport and everyone is going to face them at one time or another. The key to success lies in how a racer deals with them.
An accident is a moment in time with little preparation. No one wants to tear up a race car-his own or someone else's. If he does, he has a need to find another hobby.
Can We Fix It?
When an accident occurs early in a race, this is the first thought that goes through a driver's mind. Of course, the owner is seeing dollar signs in a lot of cases, but he's also thinking about getting the car back on track to make as much money (or gain as many points toward a championship) as possible. There are plenty of variables to consider in this case:
1. How many laps are remaining?
2. How bad is the damage?
3. Will the car be safe to race?For many, the third consideration should be the most important one, but that's not always the way it goes. It's the most important one for the track promoter or the series officials.
This crew is working hard...
This crew is working hard to make the repairs and get the car into competition. Points are on the line, but as a traveling team, they are cognizant of the need to fix it right before returning to the race.
"If a car wants to come back into a race after an accident, one of our tech inspectors will look it over," says Rick Day, race director of the Stacker 2 Xtreme DirtCar Series. "We look at the driver protection area and make sure the driver is protected. We also have to make sure they don't have parts hanging on the car that could fly off and hurt someone. Our number one priority in the series is to make it safe for the fans and the competitors."
Day says the nature of racers will lead them to try to get back into the chase as quickly as possible. Sometimes that means they will blast out of the pits before the tech inspector has a chance to do his job. "If that happens, we'll stop them on the track or we'll send them back in," Day adds. "We can stop them on the frontstretch and look over the car, and if it's not right, they go back to the pits." In a nutshell, it saves wear and tear on everyone if the car is cleared to go before returning.
The procedure used by Xtreme Series is similar to one employed by tracks and series throughout the country, regardless of the type of racing being done. If the car is perceived to be in violation of the rules with respect to safety, someone is going to point it out. It might be the gate guard at the track entrance or the backstretch flagman, but when it comes to safety, they all have equal enforcement powers.
Some series will help the competitors by pulling offending parts before sending cars to the pits. In an effort to reduce the perception of favoritism, many of the more professional sanctions have abandoned the process, allowing the teams to make the call if it's marginal. Officials can always banish the offender to the pit area if the problem is too significant to ignore.
Not as Bad as It Looks
Many drivers hope that officials are savvy enough to realize the intensity of damage at a glance. In some forms, such as dirt Late Models, damage can appear greater than it actually may be. The cars are designed to take some impact without adverse effect on the entire car. When suspension parts are hanging, it gets to be a different issue altogether. Simple body damage, provided no parts are left hanging precariously, is often ignored and not a detriment to further competition. If those parts could interfere with the tires or the steering, it's another matter and one that officials are watching for. If you leave the track on the wrecker, there's a good chance no one expects you to return.
Faced with a probable mechanical...
Faced with a probable mechanical issue, this competitor is leaving the race on a wrecker. In this case, there is probably no hasty effort to return.
It's About Time
Returning to a race after an accident is generally not a thought for many weekly racers in support divisions. Their feature events are usually short, and the chance of making significant progress is usually gone. The headlining divisions and traveling shows offer longer-distance races and therefore present more opportunity for a racer to rejoin after a crash. While the driver is often imploring the team to hurry up, there needs to be an honest assessment, not a long-shot delusion of success. Long-term effects should also be considered. Fluid leaks should generally signal the end of the attempt, especially since the officials are going to send you back anyway.
Most tracks and series want to give the competitors every opportunity to get the most of their racing experience, but they have to look at the big picture. If the car represents a threat to safety or another competitor, it will not be allowed on the track. There will be another race at another time, but, like it or not, the reality of the situation means it's not your day.
Knowing it's not your day doesn't hold any consolation. If it's because of driver error and you were the driver, it's one thing. If it's because of driver error on behalf of another person, you're finding it a bit harder to swallow.
Most on-track incidents seldom evolve into something beyond an unfortunate circumstance. There are, however, times when one side feels wronged and seeks an explanation, a forum for his or her opinion or revenge. When this happens, the situation usually heats up.
The on-track woes for this...
The on-track woes for this competitor could be fixed, but it's going to take some time to do it. While they're making repairs, the track crew is cleaning up fluid. Tech inspectors will make certain this car doesn't leak anything if it returns.
Cooler heads may prevail, but not always. When the cooler heads lose out, the rule makers step in.
"We have this all spelled out in our rules," says Day. "We keep a close eye on it and make sure it doesn't get out of hand."
The rule book for the Stacker 2 Xtreme DirtCar Series is quite specific, and the penalty is not a slap on the wrist. Any physical confrontation on the racetrack or in the pits leads to the aggressor or aggressors being suspended for three races, plus a loss of $1,500, plus a loss of 300 points. That's a far cry from the 25-point "slap on the wrist" stuff you see in the majors. Maybe the purses and point payoffs aren't as high as the top series, but it's all relative. Three hundred points are much more difficult to make up than 25.
If there is a second offense, the driver is gone for the remainder of the championship season. If it's happening at this level of competition, it's getting attention in the trade papers and the Internet chat rooms. If the driver tries to go to another series (provided that is a geographic possibility), or even to his local track, his reputation will usually precede him. Word gets out quickly, and it could be a little tougher getting the job done.
Remember when we said most on-track incidents seldom evolve into something beyond an unfortunate situation? That is generally true on the touring series because of the emphasis on professionalism by everyone involved. "These drivers know they have to play together throughout the year," Day says. "We have the rule book in place to help with it if they can't get through it themselves. They're racing for a living in many cases and don't want to do anything to take away from their living. There's a lot more give and take and a lot more respect."
The tempers tend to escalate when the racer is faced with damage that exceeds the amount of money set aside to fix it. In racing, the ones who finish up front get the most money while the ones who need the money the most finish in the back with wrecked race cars. "Most of the Saturday night guys are racing from checkered flag to checkered flag," Day says. "The least little thing could be devastating to them. What might be something easily fixed for one team, could put another team out of action for the rest of the year."
Late Models have a tendency...
Late Models have a tendency to look like they are damaged worse than they are. For many, crumpled sheetmetal can be removed or pulled from the wheels, and the race continues.
Tracks have recognized the need to keep everything in perspective. They understand that some elements of the crowd will get excited by impending conflict on the track, but the goal of family entertainment runs strong for racing in the 21st Century. Racetracks exist to provide that entertainment, and racers have a responsibility to be consistent with the idea. Keeping cool in the face of adversity is a trait that can serve the racer well. In many ways, success is not determined by the number of wins and losses, but in the way the racer is represented. No successful team is successful long if it succumbs to the temptation of losing control.