Commentary by: Corey Latham ~ corey@RACE22.com
Winston-Salem, NC(January 18, 2011) — As I sit here anxiously waiting on the 2012 racing season to start, I have nothing else to do but sit back and think. While that in itself is scary as all to most, it has gave me time to remember back to some moments of 2011 that stuck out to me. Maybe not the biggest highlights of the season but just some things that popped into my mind………..hey It’s Winter, I don’t have anything better to do.
Shiver Me Timbers
First off was the Winter Heat series for the Legends cars in January of 2011 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I’m not the biggest fan of the cars persay but after covering them at the Summer Shootout series I was ready for a racing fix, just not sure I wanted it that bad with the way the weather was. I had never seen cars race in the wet until the heat races for the Legends Million in 2010, and the first week of 2011 saw something else new….racing in the snow. It didn’t flurry, it snowed hard, very hard, and the results were the same as when they ran in the rain, not good at all. Something I could mark off my list I had never seen before though and as cold as it was something I never want to experience again.
Ronald Hill Monster Truckin’
We then get to the season opener at South Boston, and while the entire field tried to kill themselves with a few laps to go, the biggest incident came much earlier in the race. South Boston had gotten a little “tame” to me over the past few years, but the 2011 season had more excitement than the past five years combined, as was evident with the big wreck between Ronald Hill and Kyle Hall in the opener. While battling for position Hill climbed onto the side of the Hall machine and then over it, leaving tire marks on the top and side of the roll cage by the young drivers head and destroying the entire body of the car. When asked what happened Hall said “I have no idea, I just know something hit me and then I looked up and saw tires and exhaust, I knew that wasn’t good”. Yeeeahhhh, that never is.
It’s Not Our First Rodeo
We love that tracks welcome us to them, we love to give racers and tracks exposure, we are fans of the sport first and foremost and just want to see the sport prosper. We also love that Cup tracks have accepted the little guys more and more, Martinsville is the king of hospitality and common sense while Bristol and now Richmond have tried to follow suit in recent years. What we don’t like is a Cup track having a small scale race and still treating it like a Cup race, to their defense they just don’t know any better because they have never done it.
We get to Richmond for the Denny Hamlin Showdown and it was a cluster from the start. After finally getting signed in we have to go to a “photogrpahers meeting” for any media taking pictures at the track. No problem, each place had their own rules, we are in their house, I’ve done this many times at other tracks and respect their wishes. Well it started and we get to the part where he says “Nobody can cross the track while racing is going on, if the green is out you cannot be on the race track”, pretty sure that was when we tuned out, yeah, we have done this before, it was comical. We then get the hassle of qualifying and it changed 27 times on how they were going to do it, 23 before we got there and 4 times after qualifying was over. It was a total mess, Denny Hamlin and especially Buck Ruess with the Denny Hamlin Foundation were especially embarrassed, every year the race is ran by Ruess and without problems, this year NASCAR took over the reins and it was frustrating to say the least.
The highlight of my day came when the race started. The track has nice scaffolding around the inside to take photos from and after fighting off the track photographers I made my home high above on the inside just off turn two. I was joined by two guys, Steve Post and Dave Moody (MRN Radio) who asked if they could watch from up there with me, I already knew the Postman and of course I said yes. About a minute later the scaffold police came and ordered them down rudely because they didnt have the right credentials to be on the scaffold with me (this is a Late Model race). Steve Post looks at this young kid and says “Man, please, this is my first race, I just want to see it and learn what its about, I’ve never seen race cars before”. After me explaining who they were the guy finally loosened up and let them stay up there, it was one of the most fun races I’ve ever been at, pretty sure I have never laughed that hard in my life. If the saftey crew put one more ounce of speedy-dri on the backstretch after the big first lap wreck Moody was going to have a coronary.
The Legend vs The Student
Back in April, Ace Speedway saw one of the finest battles that any Late Model race has ever seen. It was action packed as it always is at the 4/10’s mile bullring, and on this night we got to see something special. The winningest driver in Late Model history, Barry Beggarly had came out of retirement a year earlier and began to work his magic again, his talent in the car is nothing short of a work of art. But, the youngster that has set the world on fire in 2011 was coming on strong as the kid from Asheboro, NC, Garrett Campbell had come out to play on this night away from his regular UARA Series gig. The two put on a battle that will go down as one of the best in 2011, swapping the lead, jacking each other up and banging fenders, but never racing each other dirty, it looked like a page out of 1985 when racing was pure racing. Campbell worked Beggarly over hard, raising his rear wheels off the ground many times, yet the veteran never got sideways and never gave up the position till many laps of being under attack. What was most impressive was what Campbell said after the race, not on the PA or in my interview but while we were sitting in his trailer BS’ing. “Dude, I had him jacked up so many times and could never get past him, and when I did he came right back at me and pased me on the outside, he really is the real deal, I have never seen anyone drive like that in my life” said Campbell. He took the checkereds on that night but he most definitely got an education.
I’m Not Tim George
In July at the Rusty Harpe Memorial race at Caraway Speedway, we were treated to a great race with BJ Mackey picking up the win over Lee Pulliam and Alex Yontz. The funniest thing of the night happened in the middle of the pack tthough as Ty Dillon was making a rare start away from his ARCA schedule in his own car that is usually rented out by Tim George Jr. Just before the halfway break Robert Tyler was charging through the field when he came up on Dillon, hit him, hit him again and then finally hit him hard enough to move him out of the way. Not impressed in the least, Dillon catches Tyler the very next lap and takes him for a ride all the way up to the turn 2 wall getting past on the inside. As they race down the backstretch with Tyler on his rear once more Dillon reaches out the window with his left hand and points to the top of the car. At the halfway break I had to know what that was all about so I went and asked, what in the world were you pointing at? A still angrry Dillon said “I don’t know what he’s thinking running all over me like that, I don’t drive this car much anymore so I pointed at the name above the door, it don’t say Tim George tonight and I wanted him to know that”………..pretty awesome right there.
At Bowman Gray rivalries are nothing new. We have had them for years, for me it started in the early 80’s with Satch vs Brinkley, then the “original” Jimmy Johnson (to ME the best driver that ever lived) vs. the field, Jr. Miller vs Gary Myers, then Jr. Miller vs. ANY Myers, and now Tim Brown vs. Burt Myers. While the rivalries have calmed down in the top division with Burt and Tim still friends but hard racers, the other divisions show lots of hatred for others still. That really came out this season in the Street Stock class with the crowd favorite Matt Cotner in his awesome looking Ford Falcon vs the veteran family of Bowman Gray, the Gregg’s, with this episode involving Billy Gregg. These two went at it all season tooth and nail, wrecking each other, protesting each other, their fans fighting in the stands, people trying to fight them after the race, it was wild. Matt playing the good guy and Billy the guy in black, always the jokester Gregg won a race this season and donned a cape as he exited the car, you gotta love the play on the crowd. It came to a boiling point on July 9th as the two were fighting for the lead with Gregg being the one dishing out the punishment this time spinning Cotner from the top spot. Cotner came back around and while Gregg was stopped talking to an official on the frontstretch, he tried to swerve around the official and hit Gregg in the door. It worked decent, he swerved and hit the Gregg machine, only problem was he ran over the officials leg in doing so as pictured to the left. It looks as if Cotner is moving up to the modified division in 2012 so that rivalry is dead, but it was awesome while it lasted with some great racing and drama.
The Race Of All Races
Martinsville. I really don’t need to say a any more. It’s the most historic track in NASCAR and to me and anyone else that has been there, it has the best racing no matter WHAT is running there. While other big races in the country rival it, the action and competition from the “Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 300” can’t be touched. This year was no different as it had a little bit of everything, dominant cars having problems, side by side racing every lap, crashes, bumps and bruises and a last lap, last turn bump and run for the lead as they crashed across the finish line in dramatic fashion. The lap before the white was just as exciting as picture here. It simply can’t get any better, Im a little tired of those not giving this race the props it deserves, if you find a better race let me know, I’ve been to many and watched others on video and while exciting, none come close. I’m already looking forward to 2012 at Marty, to us racing die-hards It’s our yearly vacation. Hopefully we can get another finish like we had this past year, or the year before, or the year before…….
The Travesty At The Beach
Myrtle Beach is the most unique track there is, none other is as worn out and the racing is just totally weird, cars riding, cars going, it’s really odd to watch. What was even odder than the racing itself was what happened in the Southeast Limited race involving the leaders. First off, the fact that Late Model veteran and multi-time winner Jason Calhoun was racing at all was odd, but thats another story for another day. He jumped every restart…..BADLY…. but after about the third one we didn’t really sweat it, the officials were letting it go and it doesn’t matter there anyway as you can go from last to first in two laps or vice versa. While Calhoun was wearing his tires out running away from the field (something else very weird as he is a veteran there compared to the rest of the field) the rest of the pack was coming, one of those being Ryan Glenski. Glenski moved into the top five right after halfway and after numerous cautions he would jump to the lead after Calhoun began to fade. A few late race cautions saw champion Chris Chapman take the lead and with a few laps to go we get a restart, Chapman spins his tires and Glenski beats him to turn one by half a car with a car on his rear bumper. This is where it goes all wrong.
The restart was the best one of the day, when I say Calhoun jumped all the previous restarts I don’t mean by a little, I mean by 15-20 cars by the time they got to turn one, it was really bad. Glenski had a half car lead on Chapman to the inside with Chapman spinning his tires, the next lap the black flag is displayed, we have no idea for who. It was Glenski, they said, with just a handful of laps to go and the race on the line that he jumped the start. It got even weirder the next lap as the black flag came out for another car, it was for Calhoun….for jumping the start, not that start but from two restarts befor that….what? We honestly had never seen anything like this, in all my years of racing I’ve never seen a driver get punished for something they did two cautions prior to the one they are on…….we could talk about rocket scientist Del Richards at Southern National but we all know the story on that deal.
The fact is the kid didn’t jump the start, tracks and series need to realize you never want the tower to dictate a race unless It’s just something stupidly obvious, it ruined what was turning out to be a great finish. The call could have flown if it had not been for letting Calhoun get a 20 car jump on every restart prior, but then to flag him also, it was just a mess. Not taking anything away from winner Tripp Massengill, he has been hard to handle lately but Glenski had the race to win or lose. It was simply taken from him by a flat-out bad call, we all make mistakes but mistakes should never be made by officials to dictate the finish of a race………ever.