|PHOTO: Peyton Turnage|
LASTCAR.info Guest Contributor
Short track racing. We love it because of its close-quarter, fender-banging racing. Sometimes, that leads to wrecks. Oftentimes, those responsible for the wrecks have to go to the back of the field, or, if it is their second or third incident of the night, are sent home. That rule even applies to most prestigious super late model races, as a testament to how much promoters value clean but hard racing. That buck stops once you get into NASCAR-sanctioned competition. Why? Cars are fragile enough that chances are if you spin someone out, you’re also going to have damage. Also, most drivers are mature enough to either not intentionally wreck someone or make it look unintentional.
Bring the ARCA Racing Series in to the equation. Most fans love it because it's the closest you will get to finding a local track-like atmosphere in big league racing. Similarly, local drivers often show up for one-offs at tracks that they race on weekly. It’s also grown notorious for the sanctioning body’s rough-and-tumble way of play, becoming a haven for some of the ugliest on-track confrontations in recent memory. Recall Scott Speed and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.'s tangle in 2008, after which ARCA parked Speed for the remainder of that race, showing that to a certain actions are deemed detrimental and worthy of penalty.
Two races ago at Berlin, Joe Graf, Jr. nudged not one but two cars out of the way for the win. While some viewed the move as too aggressive, others called it plain old short-track racing. While Graf was penalized heavily in the court of public opinion, no ruling came down from the sanctioning body. It was the right move because while the driver was maybe a bit too aggressive, no cars were totaled and the resulting position losses from being moved out of the groove were not enough to call for a penalty.
This brings us to last Saturday's incident in Salem between Michael Self and Zane Smith. Self was, by all accounts, not having the greatest of nights. It was his first ARCA start since Iowa, two months ago, and it was his first appearance at Salem, which is by no means an easy track to master. Needless to say, the driver of the #55 car was using the bumper religiously throughout the race. Early in the race, Smith spun Self out. Later on, Self spun Smith's #41 into the wall.
To be fair, Smith, at this point in the year, was frustrated. A rough couple of dirt races had seen him fall farther and farther behind teammate Sheldon Creed for the points lead. Although point standings from before last night’s race are unavailable, it is safe to say that Smith’s championship hopes purely relied on Creed having mechanical failures. He had also just been wrecked by a driver from his ex-team, one he left thirteen months ago.
But this was where things became unacceptable.
Back in Zane Smith's pit, the MDM Motorsports crew worked feverishly to get its only non-throwback car out on the track for the express purpose of ending Self’s night. When they got the car rolling again with approximately twenty laps to go, Smith slowly motored around the racetrack until the 55 machine passed him, something this author is liable to do in video games. He then set up an approach so that he could create maximum damage in the corner. And sure enough, just like Matt Kenseth at Martinsville, Zane Smith ended Michael Self’s race by hooking him into the wall. Self eventually slid back into the racing groove, liable to be t-boned by the field.
The 41 car then stopped in the 55’s pit to discuss things – you know, just a casual Harvick-Chastain or Harvick-Dillon deal. When later interviewed by MAVTV, Smith bragged about the incident, saying “I went back out and ended his night.” Brendan Gaughan after his run-in with Ross Chastain last year, anyone?
Potentially the worst part about this is the hypocrisy shown on the driver’s end of things. Just weeks after complaining about Joe Graf wrecking people, Smith goes out and demolishes a car. He also posted a “hate me or love me, I had to do it” post, which is about typical for someone his age and background. He was also handing out blocks aplenty on Twitter last night, unable to deal with negative attention. Smith has always been in the best equipment, the epitome of a well-groomed prospect. His cocky attitude has ruffled more than a few feathers within the racing community, and when he tries to show change, he reverses course afterwards with this.
A similar incident in Moto GP a couple weeks ago, where one competitor grabbed another’s brake lever, earned a two-race suspension. So did Kenseth’s actions on Joey Logano at Martinsville 2015. Smith’s actions should garner the same discipline. ARCA can take a stand and show that it will not tolerate unsafe behavior, nor will it be beholden to teams that drive interest. It is utterly inexcusable to do what Zane Smith did and he should be reprimanded accordingly – because real life should not be a video game.
This is also similar to Gordon and Bowyer at Phoenix, which took out innocent bystanders, and Stenhouse and Speed in ARCA in 2008, both of which received no action.
Payback is part of racing. As long as it happens at low speed and doesn’t involve anyone other than the two drivers having the issue, it doesn’t warrant anything. If they want to destroy their cars and reputations, that’s their problem. It’s only when you’re taking out other cars inadvertently or doing it at 200mph that there’s a problem. Personally if I was Smith I would’ve waited till it was a race that meant more to Self that he was leading or until he was leading the championship to have maximum effect. Personally I completely admire what Kenseth did to Logano, it was perfectly executed, but NASCAR had to take action since it was so high profile amongst so-called elite drivers.
It’s ARCA, which is hardly known for its shining driving ability. They’re called “ARCA brakes” for a reason. If no action was taken for the dirtiest move in NASCAR history, Harvick wrecking the field at Talladega for his own benefit, then this is just a passing breeze by comparison.
Zane Smith is just one of the innumerable snot-nosed rich kids who has success in ARCA or K&N but will be completely out of his depth when he moves up the ladder, so I wouldn’t be too concerned.
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