Friday, February 26, 2010

The Juice: Where Were YOU?

-by Justin St. Louis

JFK. The first moon landing. The Miracle On Ice. The Challenger space shuttle. September 11.

And now, electronic scoring.

Where were you when these life-changing events took place? I'll never forget where I was yesterday, messing around at my "real" job, reading Twitter on my phone, when messages came across from ACT and Thunder Road that the organizations would be switching to electronic scoring systems for 2010. I'm telling you I almost dropped my Blackberry right there.

I had to read it again. And again. Then I read the actual press release itself. Could this really be happening?

Since the dawn of its existence, Thunder Road has been very steadfast and proud of its traditional tape-scoring procedures. Hand-written scoresheets scribbled hastily each and every lap by as many as five or six people for as many as 200 laps. The practice was perfected at the Barre track in 1963 by Dr. Gordon Nielsen, and techniques and systems were developed there and spread to the masses at race tracks across the country, from tiny Vermont bullrings to the wide-open spaces of Daytona. But tape scoring is becoming a forgotten art, and yesterday it lost another battle in its war of surivial.

In an age where everything is done by computers (and here I am), Thunder Road and ACT -- or, more specifically, front man Tom Curley -- have been deadset against implementing electronic scoring, citing its many faults. In person, I have heard Curley go on maybe a dozen times in as many years about the disadvantages of electronic scoring. I agree with many of his arguments, including the dreaded "glitch" that seems to happen only in the most important of moments.

Many fans may not know this, but the first Modified Racing Series event at Thunder Road in 2008 was a nightmare for the electronic scoring system used that day. I have also witnessed first-hand several scoring-related delays at places like Oxford Plains and Lee USA speedways, transponders either not registering or simply "missing" a random lap at many other tracks, and myriad other problems.

As I understand it, each race car's transponder is in the same pre-determined location, so many inches or feet from the front edge of the front bumper, with a scoring loop buried in the racing surface the same number of feet or inches in front of the start/finish line. This means a car's transponder crosses the scoring loop at the same time the front bumper crosses the start/finish line. (For the record, the NEKC go-kart series has used electronic scoring at Thunder Road for many years, and the scoring loop wires are clearly visible in the asphalt about four to five yards before the start/finish line at the track; MRS has used this same system in both of its appearances at the track, and NASCAR used the system with its Busch North Series events in the late 1990s and early 2000s.)

But at most tracks, the scoring loop travels only a couple of feet into the infield, if at all. What if a car has to go through the infield for some reason and misses the loop, but is able to continue? Is the car not scored that lap?

How about this scenario, and say for the sake of the argument that the transponders are located on the rear frame rail of each car (which is quite common): What if two cars are racing for position coming to the line, and Car A spins but Car B continues, yet Car A -- now facing backwards -- has its transponder cross the line before the Car B, which although its nose may have crossed the finish first, its transponder is scored behind Car A's. Yeah, I made a diagram. According to the transponder, Car A is the winner, but according to everything else logical, Car B is the winner. In theory, you would think such a decision could be easily overturned by a race director or anyone else that physically witnessed the incident.

In a situation where there are between three and six human scorers watching every single car with their own eyes and writing everything down as it happens, it'd be a moot point and Car B would win every time. In this case, where transponders have replaced humans (and the impression that the official press release gives is that there won't be as many people sitting in the scoring tower as there used to be, meaning less eyes watching), it's plausible that such a scenario could be missed if it was to happen somewhere in the middle of the pack rather than at the front.

Is that a likely thing to happen often? Probably not. Am I reaching a little bit to try and prove a point? Absolutely. But it's entirely possible. And a computer error could ultimately cost someone a championship.

Here's why I feel I have some ground to stand on: I was a tape scorer for ACT in 2008. I worked the position at each Série ACT-Castrol event that year as well as ACT Late Model Tour races at Waterford, Kawartha, and White Mountain, the Showdown at Chaudière, and a handful of weekly races at Thunder Road, probably 15 events in total. Am I an expert? Of course not, but I did take a crash course with a very steep learning curve, and I now feel like I could get the job done at any track anywhere.

Tape scoring is without question the toughest job in racing, and I don't care who you ask. This media stuff is easy, trust me. Tape scoring is the dumps. You need 100% focus and concentration every second of every lap. You have to change your techniques all the time, even once a lap. You have to be able to anticipate, react, and get it right in the blink of an eye. You don't even get to watch the race, but rather focus on a group of six or eight or fifteen cars. But you feel damn proud of yourself when the night is over and nothing got totally botched.

Try scoring a 30-lap Tiger Sportsman feature at Thunder Road, when the pack never breaks up from side-by-side racing. And under those horrendous 60-watt lights hanging over the track. I've done it. It's hard and it totally sucks. But when that happens this year and one of those guys twitches out of Turn 4 and someone goes through the infield -- and I know you can picture it in your head -- and he misses the scoring loop, he's gonna be real mad when he recovers to finish seventh only to discover he never crossed the "line" on lap 13 and really finished in 26th, one lap down. And when titles come down to 13 points over the top three drivers like the Tigers saw in 2009, it will make a HUGE difference.

What about the practice of going back to the last complete green-flag lap when there's a wreck? Will that change? Will partial laps be deleted or not scored?

There are many, many advantages to electronic scoring, including better accuracy, instant results, lap-by-lap breakdowns, and more. Transponders take the inevitable and cruicial guesswork out of photo finishes or tight-quarters racing, and are usually able to handle an entire race without issue.

But when things are running smooth, it's no big deal. It's those freak incidents that get people up in arms.

I hope for everyone's sake that the transition to electronic scoring goes well. Because I'll certainly rememeber where I am if it doesn't.


We've heard encouraging news that the region's three dirt tracks are thinking about working together this season toward a common, successful goal. We've learned of an upcoming meeting between promoters Butch Elms of Bear Ridge Speedway in Bradford, Dick Therrien, new boss at New Hampshire's Canaan Dirt and Canaan Fair Speedways, and first-time track operator Mike Rivers, who has completely rebuilt the track in Rumney, N.H., now known as Big Daddy's Speedbowl.

Wouldn't a Friday-Saturday-Sunday circuit be just awesome for the dirt racers around here? Cross your fingers, kids.


Joey Doiron is making a big mistake. At just 18 years old, he has decided to move from ACT to PASS in an attempt to win back-to-back Rookie of the Year titles. In a press release earlier this week, Doiron said he is looking forward to "going against guys like Richard Moody Racing, Scott Mulkern's team and Johnny Clark on all those different tracks with PASS this year," and eventually maybe moving up the NASCAR ladder.

Doiron is a likeable kid with some obvious talent. His parents have poured their hearts and souls into building a small-but-solid race team around their son. They have a huge behind-the-scenes ally in chassis man Dale Shaw, and could really turn some heads this year if they stuck with ACT. Moving to PASS is certainly not a bad thing, but the timing simply isn't right. Last year Doiron ran well in his first PASS start at his home track, Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Maine, and started to get his ACT legs under him late in the season with impressive runs at Waterford, Twin State, and the ACT Invitational at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but that's only four races. Out of 15. He also failed to qualify at Lee, Thunder Road, and the Oxford 250, and struggled in races at Airborne, White Mountain, and Beech Ridge.

Doiron's late-season progress showed that he'd have certainly been ready to be in the top-five consistently in 2010, up a bunch from his 14th-to-24th-place runs earlier. Instead, he'll have to start over in a different series with a different car, and the learning curve goes instantly back to where it was at the beginning of last year.

What Doiron needs to do is focus on staying consistent, becoming a threat week in and week out in ACT, get some seat time out front, maybe win a race or two, and then make the jump. And running four or five PASS events on ACT off-weekends would be a great idea in the mean time.

While he is generally easy on equipment, he still has an average of only two crew members -- his parents -- at each race. He needs to establish himself, recruit some more help, and get comfortable racing against the likes of RPM Motorsports, Brent Dragon, John Donahue, the Pete Duto #55NH team, Joey Pole Racing, and the powerhouse ACT teams that are pound-for-pound every bit as good as the PASS-based Moody, Mulkern, and Clark organizations.

We just think Doiron would be better off running in fourth place in ACT than running 12th in PASS. If he had one year of solid consistency in ACT and then went to PASS, the momentum alone would give him a better shot at doing well in PASS right off the bat.


We're watching our TVs a bit more this year than we did last year, with eyes on Shelburne's Kevin Lepage in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and Boris Said in the Sprint Cup ranks.

You might recall a sharp-tongued column from last summer about Lepage's recent disappointments, but maybe he's found something better this year in Jack McNelly's #56 Start Energy Drink Chevrolets. Last weekend at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., Lepage practiced and qualified at around 25th place before falling out with a bad wheel bearing on lap 40.

Is this a start-and-park operation? It's hard to tell, but we don't think it will be. McNelly didn't run any races last year, and ran just four times in 2008 with drivers Danny O'Quinn and Travis Kittleson. We're going to wait and see on this, but the car has what appears to be decent sponsorship, and past results with McNelly's cars don't indicate a start-and-parker. Lepage may not win any races in the car, but it seems like a much better deal for Lepage than what he had with Derrike Cope and Jimmy Means last year.

Said, of course, is the pilot of Latitude 43 Motorsports, owned by new guy Bill Jenkins of West Wardsboro. Said finished 25th in the Daytona 500 on the lead lap despite two crashes, but fell out of Fontana in 38th place with a broken rear gear after chasing ignition problems all weekend.

Jenkins has made it clear that he fully intends to run the #26 Ford at every event on the Sprint Cup schedule this season, and is still locked into the lineup (based on last year's top-35 in owner points; the #26 points were purchased from Roush-Fenway Racing) for Las Vegas this weekend, Atlanta next weekend, and Bristol on March 21 before the team will have to worry about qualifying. With little in the way of sponsorship, but a talented team in Said and crew chief Frankie Stoddard, Jenkins remains confident that his team will succeed.

Said ranks 32nd in driver points with Jenkins 33rd in owner standings, 20 points ahead of 36th-place Bob Germain's #13 car and driver Max Papis.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Regarding Kevin Lepage, I've been sucked back in! I've watched Nationwide qualifying the last two weeks just to see if he'll make the show. I'm happy when he does make the show and then I am frustrated with myself for watching when they park the car after about 40 laps in each race.

Kevin Lepage (presumably it is him) often makes posts on a web fan board that someone set up for his fans. After the Vegas race the following was posted as an explanation for starting and parking -

"We have used the 2 races as a TEST session for a couple of reasons. The first is that without sponsorship dollars it is very costly to race and since the race purse has been cut 10% to 20% has affected how you race and since Revolucion has not been able to come up with the money we agreed on at the being of the season Jack Mcnalley has said he cant afford to race out of his pocket. So we are currently working with Revolucion to get this problem fixed before Bristol. The second reason we run about 30 to 40 laps is we put a race set up in it and we are trying different things with the setup and so far I'm very pleased with the way the car has run. The whole team is looking to racing the rest of the year but we need to get the funding in place before we can. I will keep everyone updated as we get closer to Bristol."

I tend to cheer for underdogs in sports and although I dont like the practice of 'start and park' I do appreciate the explanation and the perspective from an underfunded team.

Kevin F.