PENSACOLA, Fla. — Column by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — Bill Gamblin photo —
In a matter of minutes on Sunday night, Christopher Bell’s jubilation at defying all odds and winning the 48th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway turned into heartache at having it stripped from his fingertips.
Bell crossed the line first in his first attempt at the prestigious super late model classic, but was thrown out during post-race technical inspection by lead official Ricky Brooks after he crossed the scales with too much weight balance on the left side of his No. 51 Phoenix Construction Toyota.
The car read 58.3% weight bias on the left side. The maximum limit as outlined in the Snowball Derby rulebook is 58%.
Period. As in, no more than.
Brooks gave Bell three different chances to pass over the scales for legality. The Norman, Oklahoma driver was unable to make the numbers line up.
(Just to clarify, that 0.3% that Bell was over the limit equated to roughly 7.5 pounds of extra weight on the left side of the car, according to multiple reports.)
As such, he had the win taken away and Chase Elliott received the Tom Dawson Trophy for the second time, ironically after he himself had a win stripped in 2013’s Derby for an illegal tungsten weight in the front corner of his machine.
Sure it was a different rule that was broken than what occurred on Sunday night, but the end result was the same.
Brooks said on Sunday night, in explaining why he made the decision to DQ Bell, that the call was made to enforce a “zero-tolerance policy” for technical infractions at the Derby, whether the infraction in question is a performance advantage or not.
Basically, if you’re illegal, you’re done. No ifs, ands or buts.
The call sparked an outcry from both team members and supporters of Bell and Kyle Busch Motorsports, who claimed that the call robbed a young driver of his moment in the sun, and that it was a ridiculous decision because of the fact that — according to KBM crew chief Chris Gabehart — the extra weight likely came from a combination of fuel burning off and marbles picked up during the young superstar’s reverse victory lap.
Even team owner and reigning Sprint Cup champion Kyle Busch got in on the discussion, chiming in on Twitter after the decision was handed down and explaining his view of what happened to cause the issue.
“[A] DQ,” Busch said. “Sounds about right. Thanks, Ricky. Love you too.”
“Our car passed pre-race [inspection]. During the race, you burn fuel and gain tire rubber on the chassis. After the race, you can’t add fuel, the weight shifts to the left side as the fuel burns off and we ended up 0.3% too heavy [as a result].”
Busch closed with a sarcastic quip: “Ah, the joys of ownership. [I’m] not sure why I continue the aggravation.”
However, Brooks didn’t care about the explanations from the team or the team owner’s opinions. And quite frankly, neither do I.
What Busch failed to note in his comments is that while the car did pass pre-race technical inspection, it barely passed, according to a report by Speed51.com and corroborated by Brooks in his post-race quotes, which said that the No. 51 was already very close on the legal side before the drop of the green flag. Point being, they were toeing the line from the very beginning.
That left them minimal room for error or adjustment as the race wore on, which Busch admitted in his explanations is part of a typical Derby during long runs.
As a team, one should always look to account for those types of changes no matter where they are racing, but they should be especially wary of them at the Derby when preparing to head into Brooks’ “Room of Doom”.
They call it that for a reason. The man doesn’t let anything go, and as he expressed again on Sunday night — if you’re illegal, there’s zero tolerance.
Brooks’ standing is exactly the same as my opinion on the issue. I don’t care who you are or what your issue is. If a car comes through tech after the race and it’s found to be in violation of the rules, whether the specific violation in question is a performance advantage or not, it should be immediately tossed out of the results — no questions asked. It’s black and white.
NASCAR doesn’t have that policy. They have a longstanding belief that the fans deserve to leave the track knowing exactly who the winner was, and if that car is later found to be illegal in tech, then a fine and points penalty is assessed to “right the wrong,” so to speak.
Ricky Brooks is the exact opposite. His belief, ever since he started as a tech man in the sport, is that the first legal car across the line should be the official winner of the race. He’s upheld that for years at Five Flags Speedway, in the Southern Super Series and at the Snowball Derby. It’s why he’s thrown out four of the last 10 drivers who crossed the line first at the Derby — including two KBM cars in Brian Ickler (2008) and Bell (on Sunday) — and why he continues to not take excuses when it comes to his methods of inspection.
“If (Bell and KBM) were too close, they shouldn’t have taken a backwards victory lap and put rubber on the tires,” Brooks said on Sunday night. “Every car had rubber on their tires, the other two cars were well within the limits. They said they burned fuel, well they pitted on lap 265 and they were really close on the total weight at the start of the race, so you can’t blame it on fuel burn off.”
“It’s written blatantly in the rule book. There’s no tolerance. There’s no refueling. Nothing. Everyone here knows that.”
To simplify everything above: to Brooks, a rule is a rule. If you break one, you pay.
I’m in total agreement. A rule is a rule. Regardless of whether it was intended to be broken or not, Christopher Bell’s car broke the weight rule in post-race technical inspection Sunday night. As such, he lost the win.
So I don’t want to hear people whining and complaining that the call Ricky Brooks made was wrong, and that Bell should have kept the victory.
If Brooks had allowed the win to stand, what happens next when someone is four tenths out of tolerance, or five tenths? Should that be allowed to pass as legal as well? Absolutely not.
The call was the right one. The rightful winner left Five Flags Speedway on Sunday night with the Tom Dawson Trophy in Chase Elliott, who can sympathize with what Bell has gone through and felt over the past several days after having felt the same way two years ago.
I do find it unfortunate that even now, three days after the event, there are still people making a far bigger fuss about all of this than needs to be made. To all you race fans that are complaining about the situation with Busch and the KBM team: just let it go.
Elliott and supporters of the No. 9 team were disappointed, yes, when the same thing happened to them in Derby lore. But they bowed their heads, went home, made sure the issue would never bite them again and ultimately came back to the Derby better then ever. They were rewarded for that loyalty with the win on Sunday night; having one “given back to them,” in a manner of speaking.
Christopher Bell will have his day in the sun, and likely win a Snowball Derby down the road. But Sunday, with an illegal car in the end, was not and should never be the way that day goes down. And I for one, am glad that things fell out the way they ultimately did.
It’s not a question of tolerance, it’s a question of black and white, right and wrong. And on this night, Chase Elliott’s car was right and Christopher Bell’s car was wrong.
That’s it. Let’s move on towards Christmas and get excited for 2016. It’s certainly a far more productive effort than all this fussing everyone’s done over the past 12 hours.
Keep it off the wall guys, and I’ll see you at the race track.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.
About the Writer
Jacob Seelman is the Managing Editor of Race Chaser Online and creator of the Motorsports Madness radio show, airing at 7 p.m. Eastern every Monday on the Performance Motorsports Network. Seelman grew up in the sport, watching his grandparents co-own the RaDiUs Motorsports NASCAR Cup Series team in the 1990s.
The 21-year-old is currently studying Broadcast Journalism at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., and is also serving as the full-time tour announcer for both the United Sprint Car Series and the Must See Racing Sprint Car Series.
Email Jacob at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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