If you put 20-plus trucks on a one-mile short course off road track, there will be contact. Oh, yes…there will be contact. If a truck finishes with all its bodywork intact, it's unusual. That likely indicates a driver who started out front, got the jump and didn't have to work his or her way through traffic on the way to a flag-to-flag victory. For everybody else, it means some time replacing fiberglass and maybe a little cutting and welding to boot.
But if contact is expected, how do the officials draw the line between good rubbing and bad smashing? Where does it go from racing incident to something black-flag worthy?
“It's probably a little unorthodox for some people, but I look at every one of those teams as our customers, and those people will be treated as customers,” says Series Director Ritchie Lewis as he talks about rules enforcement. “But when they get on the racetrack, they'll be treated as a number. We're not going to the racetrack looking to throw someone out, but we're going to the racetrack to be fair. We're going to watch everyone with eagle eyes at all times and do what we can to create a fair and equitable environment for everyone to compete. It doesn't matter to me if you're the guy that pulls in in five haulers or the guy that pulls in on an open trailer. When it goes green, you're going to live and die on your own merits.”
Competition Director Greg Foutz (RIGHT) is the guy with the eagle eyes, watching the action on track to see who's driving clean and who is crossing the line. He's also responsible for rules compliance and determining if those who present trucks outside the rules make it on track or not.
“When they bring the trucks through for the first time on a weekend, they'll check a lot of things for safety and some things for compliance,” explains Foutz. “They may say, ‘Hey, a number plate needs to be an inch bigger,' or something, and they'll write a warning that says fix this for the next race. Then there are things like helmet restraints, neck restraints, window nets, seat belts…you can't enter the track if you have a safety issue, period.
“The second phase of that is they cam through the tech area every time they enter or leave the track. The tech director, Gary [Lane], will decide to check something – ride height, tire width, wheel base…. If a vehicle comes into tech pre-race and their ride height is wrong, we won't let them enter the track until they correct it. It's pretty black and white these days.”
When it comes to on-track infractions, though, things get a little grayer. Foutz says there's been much debate about that. The officials – Foutz in the tower and the other observers posted around the track – are looking primarily at three things: circumstances, intent and what a driver may have done, or not done, to avoid an incident.
“If you have three vehicles coming into a corner and the lead vehicle over-rotates or loses traction and spins a little bit and the second and third vehicles collect him, that's not their fault; they had nowhere to go,” Foutz says. “On the other hand, if the first vehicle comes in and he's on the normal line and the second vehicle comes in doing 10 or 15mph faster than he needs to be, that's intent. He went in there hot and spun the guy around and ended up with the position because of that. That's a different scenario and will likely end up with a black flag.
“Even if they don't collect a pass or gain a position, but if they drive in hard and T-bone the guy in the door, if there's no way that vehicle could make that turn without the other car being there to bounce off of, they're going to get a black flag for that.”
Even if the car in front messes up, there may be penalties if the following driver doesn't try to avoid contact. Back off the gas, you're good, Foutz says. Hammer it, throw roost off the tires, drill the guy and then go on your way, that's intent.
One thing is for sure: The officials will have plenty to watch for as the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series heads to the tight Glen Helen Raceway Park in San Bernardino, Calif., this weekend for two nights of racing in the dark. Gates open to the public at 2 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, with opening ceremonies at 7 p.m. following the kart races. This weekend also marks the first time the Pro Lite Last Chance Qualifier Race will be used. Those races are scheduled at 4:20 both days.