Thursday, August 25, 2022

OPINION: ARCA is not perfect, but knee-jerk reactions are not warranted

Longtime series veteran Brad Smith will
make his 400th ARCA Menards Series
start this weekend at Milwaukee
PHOTO: @DriverBradSmith 

by Ben Schneider Guest Contributor

On Sunday, the ARCA Menards Series race at the Illinois State Fairgrounds came to an abrupt end when a frightening accident occurred on the frontstretch. As Venturini Motorsports teammates Jesse Love and Buddy Kofoid found themselves in a heated battle for the lead in what had become a timed race, Kofoid ran into the back of Bryce Haugeberg’s car, which had slowed rapidly. The result was a massive crash that red flagged and, in effect, ended the race, with scoring reverting back to the previous lap. Most importantly, both Kofoid and Haugeberg walked away unharmed.

Within 24 hours, Twitter users took to social media to offer up their hot takes on how the series is supposedly a laughingstock. Many questioned series officials and race control before even seeing a replay of the incident. And one even went so far as to assert without evidence that the series has been in financial trouble for the better part of a decade and ask his viewers if they should “just get rid of it entirely.”

Let me be unequivocally clear: I would not exactly consider the ARCA Menards Series “a clean bill of health” in its current state. I’ve made no secret of my frustrations seeing short fields almost every week. I believe the discrepancy in speed between the series’ front-runners and its low-budget independents can, at times, be dangerous. I imagine it was very hard on the series’ teams to run two races in three days in completely different parts of the country, especially considering how much (or perhaps how little) prize money is currently available.

But that does not mean the series is on life support. In almost every race this season, car counts have been slightly up year-to-year. The independents are doing the best they can with what they have and sometimes even surprise us with an unexpected strong run. Charlie Krall, ARCA’s PR director, has made it clear the series is just as frustrated as the fans are with the scheduling issues and having to end races before their scheduled distance has been run. And while the race purses are not exactly ideal, “giving away more money” in any situation is much, much easier said than done.

Through its flaws, ARCA still has a clear, defined purpose as a place for both younger talent (such as Love) to gain experience before moving up the ranks and older veterans (such as Brad Smith, who will make his 400th series start at the Milwaukee Mile this weekend) who simply love to race. These are opportunities that cannot be taken for granted and are much harder to attain in NASCAR’s Truck or Xfinity Series. We cannot let our knee-jerk reactions (something the author of this very article is admittedly still prone to having from time to time) shape the opinions we share and the arguments we make with our viewers, readers, and listeners.

In the case of Sunday, I am struggling to see why it appears to have been the straw that broke the camel’s back for some people. ESPN’s Ryan McGee once wrote, “Let your mind digest what your eyes have seen.” Anyone who followed that advice would have watched the replay and seen that Sunday’s accident was simply a case of unfortunate timing that progressed so quickly that it was almost certainly unavoidable. Is that not something that happens in every motorsport series imaginable from time to time?

No doubt, we can always push to make improvements in safety and race control. But this business will always carry an element of risk that needs to be accepted by those who participate. One bad accident should not dictate one’s opinion of the series as a whole.

I do believe there is work to be done to improve the state of ARCA on multiple levels. But I also think we need to be thoughtful and precise in how we go about voicing our concerns. Uploading a video full of baseless claims less than 24 hours after the fact that is little more than a crash compilation is, as Krall put it, “irresponsible.” Calling for the series to shut down without offering up any kind of solution does nothing to help matters. So while we should not be passive and pretend everything is perfect, let’s spend our time working to find those solutions rather than shouting down the series and its personnel who spend countless hours working for the chance to do what they love.

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