There was a time when poor sportsmanship that led to physical altercations was commonplace in stock car racing. That was before large scale corporate sponsorship, before the sport supposedly became professional. Some of the drivers in the NASCAR Canadian Tire Series don’t seem to grasp the concept of professionalism, let alone sportsmanship.
Leading up to the green flag at last night’s Wild Wing 300 at Barrie Speedway, there was a lot of buzz in the paddock as teams wondered just how rough the race was going to be. Most of the drivers I spoke with agreed that the key to success was going to be avoiding the inevitable contact that traditionally happens on the tight 1/3 mile tri-oval.
With pole sitter Scott Steckly leading the field, the first caution came out at 35 laps as Hugo Vannini spun. On the restart at lap 45, the gloves came off and things started getting rough. They made it all of 3 more laps until the next yellow. This was a common thread through the evening.
A strange twist mid race came when Pete Shepherd lost a wheel, which Scott Steckly narrowly avoided. Not long after, Steckly also lost a wheel. It is amazing and a bit frightening to see how long a tire can keep rolling.
The petty bumping and banging continued until lap 196 when Ron Beauchamp Jr spun on the back stretch, which created The Big One. Jason White in the #21 had been having a strong run until hitting the wall hard after avoiding Beauchamp’s #60. Further back, the rest of the field was collected as they all tried to avoid the mess. The worst damage in that pack was to Steve Mathew’s in the #15 who had been running in the top 3 all night and was looking good for a podium finish. The #59 of oval rookie John Farano also fell victim to the incident.
In the last third of the race, the rubbing got more serious as past grudges came to the surface. During one yellow, Kerry Micks began harassing JR Fitzpatrick in retaliation of a perceived slight, at one point pulling up beside the 84 to yell at him. Over the radio, Micks was warned by NASCAR officials that he would be moved to the back if he continued. During the last dozen or so laps, the 02 of Micks could be seen tagging the back of the 84 several times a lap. On lap 298 of the 300 lapper, DJ Kennington was turned around, which set up a green/white/checker situation.
When the green fell for the final time on lap 309, Micks tagged the back of Fitzpatrick hard enough to turn him around in turn 1 and prevent him from leading the field for the rest of the lap, handing the win to Mark Dilley. Jason Hathaway was moved up to the second spot while Micks secured third.
As the track went under yellow once again, Fitzpatrick took off around the track at speed in hunt of Micks. Just as he was about to reach Micks, the 02 dove down pit lane at speed. Not surprisingly, Micks got out of the car and headed straight to victory circle, while his crew went to Fitzpatrick’s pit to stir up trouble. Understandably hot, Fitzpatrick had a bit of a fit when he got out of the car and then went running down pit lane to find Micks. In the end, there were lots of words and a bit of shoving as the teams showed their contempt for each other and the NASCAR officials attempted to keep the drivers apart.
All in all, both drivers and their teams should be embarrassed, as should NASCAR for allowing the rivalry to get this out of hand. I’m sure the corporate partners will be impressed when they see the race. That said, I would expect the cheering fans disagree with me.
To quote Tim Daland in Days of Thunder:
“I had sponsors in from all over the coast and I’m hugging, and holding hands, and praying for a good showin’. And what do we do? We end up looking like a monkeys fucking a football out there.”