Sunday, April 14, 2013

From Texas To Thompson

As April thaws further out racing begins stepping up, and touring series under NASCAR sanction outside of the big three of Cup, Nationwide, and the Trucks start getting into gear. Such was the case a night after NASCAR's Texas 500, a race where a doltish Senator's demand that the race not be broadcast because of National Rifle Association sponsorship of it provided more fireworks than the racing itself - a controversy quickly lapped by bouts of "cheating by the Penske Fords before the race and then flunking of postrace inspection by runner-up Martin Truex. Keselowski in particular was angry, claiming the Penske Fords had been "targeted" by NASCAR. "We're not going to take it," he added.

The "cheating" by the Penske Fords supposedly involved beating NASCAR inspection to suppress rearend "skewing" that had become popular in 2012 by Jimmie Johnson but which now is disallowed by NASCAR; how they did it isn't clear though the story is they used a "floating" rearend.   Of course it's not a simple case of NASCAR politics or a team being brazen in its cheating, because in the heavily political and often murky world of NASCAR there's reason to believe both sides - politics in racing are as old as racing (see for just one example such cases as Junior Johnson's outsized engine at Charlotte in May 1991 and the following revealation of excessive fuel storage in his Ford at the same track in October 1991) and so is cheating - and to use an old Sam Moses line, cheating, or as Bill Gazaway would put it, fudging, or as Richard Petty put it, just trying to get an edge.  

There of course is the reality of the raceteams being ahead of the inspectors in the technology arms race, which makes things murkier - how long have the Penske guys been able to get away with rearend skew before getting caught?  And chances are other teams will slip something past NASCAR inspectors, and when the racing is genuinely good then "cheating" issues tend to alleviate themselves.  

This certainly was the case at Thompson Speedway's Icebreaker the afternoon following the Texas 500.   The Whelen Modified Tour was the primary feature but multiple racecar classes strutted their stuff, with two great battles in particular standing out - the limited sportsman feature was decided in a terrific five-lap shootout won by Larry Barnett, who raced nose to nose with Jesse Gleason - Gleason and Barnett drove mid-80s Monte Carlos, but Gleason's car sported a 1988 Buick nosepiece, a charming hybrid surpassed only by Seekonk's Late Models where several have 1990s Monte Carlo noses but latter-80s Monte Carlo bubble-glass bodies - with Gleason killing Barnett high in One and Two - sporting a somewhat pronounced dip in the middle - but Barnett beating everyone alive on the backstrtech.  

The second thriller was the SK-class Modified shootout.   Keith Rocco, Woody Pitkat, and Kerry Malone got into an exciting battle for the win in the final ten laps and there were some three lead changes involving crossover passing - except Pitkat's last crossover crossed him out of contention off Two with three to go.  

Not that the Modified Tour race was any slouch.   Numerous cautions flew thanks to a rough day for Gary McDonald, but the worst yellow came near halfway of the 150-lapper thanks to a nasty crash in One involving Ron Yuhas - unsung hero of New Hampshire International Speedway in 2006 - and Ron Fuller, a crash necessitating a red flag.

Lap 111 saw another yellow and Mike Stefanik - the polesitter who got knocked out of the top six on the opening lap - got tires while Rowan Pennick and Chuck Hossfeld gambled on tires and stayed out.   Several late yellows helped Stefanik close up on Pennick, and the final restart with 11 to go was decisive as Pennick surprisingly lost the lead despite starting on the outside row - the preferred line for most of the day.   Even with losing the lead Stefanik's new tires didn't allow him to get away from Pennick, as Mike won by only a couple of lengths.

Curiously, Stefanik was self-depricating in victory lane about the whole thing as he posted the win with a new team.

Before the race Justin Bonsignore stated the Hoosier Tires the Tour runs, "They'll last at least eighty-five or ninty laps if we have at Thompson you probably want new tires."   It certainly proved the case, and also showed "there's a lot of good quality cars (in the Modified Tour).....There's still ten to fifteen cars that can win every week."  

The Tour has often been seen as the red-headed stepchild in the NASCAR scheme of things, and "the cost of racing has gone up, but the cost of everything has gone up," says Bonsignore.   "I think it's a little out of hand now.   If they make big changes to try and cut costs, it's going to cost us more up front again.   It might save you money in the long run."

One such area is spec motors, which seem to be creeping into the Tour, though there also seems to be a diversity of engine builders/suppliers still.   Billy The Kid engines and Bob Bruneau, long-time engine figures on the Tour, are still common in the garage area, and some Tour cars run Rahmoc engines - yes, the company that once upon a time fielded super-strong Pontiacs for Neil Bonnett and Morgan Shepherd.    A Grand National Series branded spec motor built by Roush-Yates is also to be found in the Mod Tour garage area.  

The cost issue plagues racing at all levels, but in the end exciting finishes such as seen at Thompson's Icebreaker make the hassles all worth it.

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