Monday, August 10, 2009

COMMENTARY: Why Complain About Waterford?

-by Justin St. Louis

For perhaps the first time in American-Canadian Tour history, there were some big questions left unanswered, two days after a checkered flag fell. Maybe we're wrong about that, but for sure, nothing like the confusion surrounding the finish of Saturday's Nutmeg State 100 at Waterford Speedbowl has come up in recent memory.

Vermont Motorsports Magazine was not at Waterford, so all of our information is second-hand at best. But here's what we understand to have happened: Brad Leighton wrecked with lapped driver Howard Payne out of the lead while racing for the win with Brian Hoar on lap 98. The white flag was out as the incident took place, followed quickly by the yellow flag. It seems like the cars of Hoar, Randy Potter, Tim Jordan, Scott Payea, and John Donahue crossed under the flagstand to take the white flag before the yellow flew, with the balance of the field locked in by the yellow. Under ACT rules, anyone that crosses the start/finish line to take the white flag before the yellow flies may race back to the finish line, and all others must retain their position and cross the finish line under yellow conditions.

Is it a perfect rule? Of course not. But it is the rule.

According to reports, third-place runner Tim Jordan -- a Waterford regular in just his second-ever ACT race -- slowed on the backstretch upon seeing yellow lights on lap 99 after he had taken the white flag, seemingly unaware that he should have raced back to the finish line, as outlined in the aforementioned rule. During this, Potter, Payea, and Donahue stayed at racing speed and passed Jordan to finish the race.

After the checkered flag, all five drivers, including winner Brian Hoar (whose finish, by the way, has never come into question) pulled into victory lane on the frontstretch. In the confusion, ACT officials -- maybe going back to the running order on lap 98 or 99? -- told Payea and Donahue to head back to the pits, and photos and interviews were taken from Hoar, apparent runner-up Potter, and third-place man Jordan. Following the race, the drivers were reportedly told to give their trophies back because the finish would have to be reviewed.

At 3:39pm on Monday, the official finish for the race was published by ACT. Hoar and Potter's finishes of first and second, respectively, were upheld. Payea was moved up to third, Donahue took fourth, and Jordan was placed back in fifth, the order in which he crossed the finish line. Brent Dragon and Joey Doiron were sixth and seventh, while Joey Polewarczyk, Jr. was eighth.

In addition to the finish, an excerpt of the ACT rulebook outlining the race prodcedure in question was included. (Click to go to page.)

According to a memo attached to the finish and rule posting, "It was determined that the yellow flag was displayed when the 97NH (Polewarczyk), running in 8th position at the time, reached the flag stand following the incident between the 55NH (Leighton) and 16CT (Payne). All cars in front of the 97NH are allowed, under the rules and procedures as sited above, to continue racing for position (with caution) until they complete the distance and receive a checkered/yellow flag."

Was it frustrating to not know the finishing order? Yes, absolutely. But understand this: ACT got it right the first time, and it shouldn't matter how long they took to do it.

ACT president Tom Curley, who is usually the race director for Tour events, was directing the Série ACT-Castrol event at Autodrome Chaudière in Québec at the time of the Nutmeg State 100. Curley was no doubt in the thick of reviewing scoring tapes for the Waterford race and making sure everything was done the right way. He has a reputation of integrity to uphold for his organization. In fact, the official finish for the Castrol event was also held until Monday, pending a review.

What looks worse? A sanctioning body that releases an ultimately false finishing order in a knee-jerk reaction, only to revise the finish several days later -- a la the PASS North debacle at Thompson Int'l Speedway last year -- or a sanctioning body that takes two or three days and gets everything correct?

"It's pretty simple," said Hoar on Monday at 2:00pm. "[ACT officials are] taking their time to get the finish right. There's no question that we won. The question is, when did [ACT chief starter Mike Wilder] throw the yellow? I took the white flag before the yellow, but to my knowledge, I don't know when the yellow came out after that. I know I took the white. Absolutely. I think the 47 (Jordan) did not race back to the line, and that's probably because he's never raced under that ACT procedure and didn't know the rule. Scott Payea certainly knows the rules, I'm sure John Donahue knows the rules. That's all it is, I think."

Even Payea, who has spent most of the season leading the ACT Late Model Tour point standings and will likely hold onto a very slim lead over Hoar after the finish is announced, wasn't losing much sleep over the outcome at Waterford. "Can't sweat it," he said at 1:45pm. "It's out of my control. I've got to worry about fourth not being good enough when Hoar is winning. I think I should have been third, but I'm not really complaining too much, although I do know the value of every position and point. We will worry about making the car better."

We're of the opinion that ACT did exactly what it needed to do to be a professional series that remains fair to its competitors and fans. We're not thrilled with the amount of time that passed since the checkers fell on Saturday night, but if that's all we have to worry about, that's no big deal. Kudos to ACT and Tom Curley for doing it right.

No comments: