Speed Zone: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly — 2015 Bojangles’ Summer Shootout Edition

Jacob Seelman Carolinas Racing, Featured, Jacob Seelman Blog, Southeast, Staff Columns, US Legends/INEX 2 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — Column by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — CMS/John Davison photo —

Oh boy, it’s that time again.

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is back with a look at three thoughts floating around in my head following the conclusion of the 2015 and 22nd annual Bojangles’ Summer Shootout Series for Legends Cars and Bandoleros at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, and trust me — with the amount of chaos and surprise winners we had this summer — there’s plenty to choose from.

Sit back, relax and enjoy — and let’s see if you agree or disagree with me.

The Good:  Winning Means Something Again!

Back in the good ole’ days of the Shootout from about 2004 to 2007, when you could often find 200 or more cars in the garage area across seven divisions of Legend Cars, Bandoleros and Thunder Roadsters (does anyone remember those?), the points battles coming into round 10 were tight and parity and competition were rampant throughout the series.

There were numerous times, even as late as 2009 and 2010, that several classes would need B-Mains to set their field and you would see 26 or even 28 cars starting the feature events on the quarter-mile (and those were some scary times indeed).

But, as car counts dwindled and drivers found other places and other classes of race cars to compete in, the luster of a Shootout win (in my opinion) began to dull slightly as the depth of field became shallower.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not saying that a Shootout win doesn’t mean a lot in the present atmosphere, because it absolutely does! Charlotte Motor Speedway is still the biggest stage for a USLCI driver to win on, anywhere in the country! I just feel that of late, the weekly and even season-long outcomes have gotten slightly more predictable once you see who rolls into the pit area on week one.

That’s why it was so refreshing for me that the championships in the top three Shootout divisions (Legends Pro, Legends Masters and Legends Semi-Pro) became winner-take-all spectaculars during Tuesday night’s finale.

The points were so tight that any of nine different drivers between the three divisions could have won a title belt at the end of the night, and they all knew they had to take the last checkered flag of the season in order to do it. Jordan Black (Pro), Tom Pistone (Masters) and Sheldon Crouse (Semi-Pro) accomplished that mission and each one had high emotion in victory lane after doing so.

Those wins meant even more than normal because they sealed the highest prize for those three drivers — but the points going into the event also proved that wins during the first nine races are important again as well. Every driver in those three points battles won at least one of the first nine races to put themselves in championship contention. No driver in any of those divisions won more than three of the first nine races. It was a spectacle that kept fans (and me) guessing until the last corner of the last lap.

This year was proof, in my mind, that winning a Summer Shootout race is getting harder and harder to do once again. The competition level is back on the way up and that led to high drama and high stakes all season long. Everyone savored each win because they didn’t know if they would be able to get another one before the end of the season. And first-time winners showed all of us that a single breakthrough can make the hours of heartache and toil spent at CMS worthwhile — as Jordan Stillwell, Joey Padgett and Crouse, among others, all will attest to.

Winning has always meant something at the Shootout, but it meant more this year — and that was a great thing to see.

The Bad:  Car Counts Are In A Scary Place

For all the good that the tight points battles brought, the lack of cars in the garage area — quite honestly — scared me to death.

As I said up above, there was a time (that I remember quite clearly) at the Shootout where you could see anywhere from 150 to 250 cars pack the pit area on a given night — all to compete for a trophy at Charlotte.

There would sometimes be a list of drivers missing the show nearly as long as the list of drivers who made the A-Mains, that’s how crazy the annual summer series was back in its heyday.

So where have the cars gone?

There were less than 100 total cars in the pit area on several occasions during the second half of this Shootout season. That hurts my heart, and it should everyone else too.

If this is still the most prestigious gathering of Legends Cars and Bandoleros in the world, why are we averaging 13 or 14 cars for the Young Lions and the Masters divisions — which both had upwards of 30 entries per race just six years ago. How is a 10 car Pro division (the highest class of all) field acceptable when that championship is supposed to be the toughest to win in all of grassroots short track racing?

The year INEX graduate and current NASCAR Truck Series driver Jordan Anderson won his first Pro title in 2008, the class averaged 26 cars per race starting the main event, with several weeks requiring B-Main events to set the final starting spots in the field. Where have those days and cars gone?

Obviously, the simple answer is that like Anderson, those drivers have moved on to bigger things in racing — but why should the fields have to die away as a result? What is turning so many people away from the divisions and the series that was the powerhouse of the Southeast less than a decade ago and keeping new faces from coming in and taking the place of those that have forged forward up the ladder?

Whatever the answer to that question is, INEX, I’m begging you — figure it out soon and pull the “next generation” back in.

Otherwise, my biggest fear is that before long, the series that I grew up watching religiously every Tuesday night as a kid and have covered faithfully since 2012 may become nothing more than a distant memory.

The Ugly:  When Did Driver Safety And The Spirit Of Competition Become Anything Less Than The Number One Priority?

I saw two things go out the window on Tuesday night during finale night that absolutely, unequivocally pissed me off.

Sorry to those of you readers whom that language might offend, but I’m just being honest.

The first thing happened during the drivers’ meeting, when for the first time in 18 years, the annual Tom Van Wingerden “Spirit of a Legend” Award was not given out as part of the final festivities before racing got underway.

Last time I checked, U.S. Legends Cars International was founded on the principles of competitiveness, determination and sportsmanship, with the basis of promoting the the spirit of friendly competition which the division strives to uphold. (Thank you, Charlotte Motor Speedway, for still having that description filed away in your Shootout press release archives.)

When did those principles go out the window?

Is the Shootout just about fighting for trophies and points championships at all costs now, with no lessons on building the character ideals of its competitors? I mean, these drivers, young and old, are in many cases the future of our sport. Shouldn’t we continue to be instilling in them what they need to go out and make the sport we love a better place in five years, or ten years, or however long it takes?

The Spirit of a Legend Award was one of the things that taught those lessons. Renamed in 2010 for 2003 recipient Tom Van Wingerden, a long-time and valued competitor at the Shootout who had passed away earlier that year, the award used to be the highest honor that could possibly be received by a Shootout competitor or team member. It signified the ultimate portrayal of what it means to exhibit the attitude it takes to succeed in this sport at all levels. The winners were looked at as those who everyone could learn from and build off of to make the Shootout a better place for anyone and everyone that set foot on the grounds of CMS in June and July each year.

It’s a crying shame that this year’s Shootout doesn’t have one of those honorees for his or her competitors to look up to.

The second thing that got under my skin happened on the final lap of the Pro Division main event.

Jordan Black had just taken the white flag when behind him, championship contender Jared Irvan and the lapped car of Matthew Barnard crashed exiting turn four. Irvan was able to pull away, but Barnard sat stalled sideways — right in the middle of the racing groove on the bottom of the track.

Now, I understand that the rule for many years in the Shootout rulebook was that once the white flag is displayed, the field races back to the checkered flag. I’ve seen that print on the page before.

But — and again, this is just my opinion — that should go out the window when there’s a risk to driver safety on-track.

All it would have taken was one side-by-side battle to work through turns three and four and the car on the inside not be able to avoid Barnard — and you have a disaster on your hands. In fact, a couple of battles had to work themselves out by the time they got to turn three so as to avoid doing exactly that.

Here’s the deal. I know that USLCI (and numerous other series, for that matter) strives to put on green flag finishes for both the fans and the drivers. But you CANNOT EVER sacrifice driver safety for a green-flag finish. That is egregious and an absolute detriment to this sport.

Situations like what happened on Tuesday night are exactly why the green-white-checkered rule was established in NASCAR’s top three series in 2004. If you want to keep your fans and drivers from having to sit through a caution-flag finish, institute a rule that if the caution comes out on the last lap, the field gets one attempt at a green-white-checkered.

Because I understand that there are time limits in effect to keep drivers at the Shootout from driving insensibly 98% of the time, then tell them that if they’ve already hit the time limit when the yellow comes out, the race is over and they don’t get their one attempt. Revert back to the running order at lap 23, drop the caution cars to the rear and be done with it. (That rule is already kind of in place, but I really felt like clarifying this cleanly.)

I know I was appalled when the field was allowed to race through a crash zone back to the checkered flag, and many people I was standing with in the pit grandstands, drivers, family members and crew members alike, were in agreement. Pro title runner-up Michael Torres said after the race that, “It is what it is now, but I couldn’t believe it when it happened. You stop and ask yourself, ‘What if that were me?'”

Torres is absolutely right, and it reiterates the point that no matter the circumstances, driver safety should be the NUMBER ONE CONCERN in every professional and grassroots racing series in America.

Because when you have lives out on the race track competing in this dangerous sport that we all love, there’s no room for “What if?”

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I want to be clear about one thing. I’m not bashing or slamming Charlotte Motor Speedway, U.S. Legends Cars or the Bojangles’ Summer Shootout. I’m offering my opinion on how all three groups can make a series I am fiercely passionate about stronger and better going into the future.

I’ve grown up going to, and now covering, the Shootout since 2000, when I was six years old and sitting in the front row with my dad. I’ve only missed one year of competition since then. I care about this series as much or more than any other place I go and work, because like so many of the friends that I’ve grown up with at CMS over the years, it’s where I got my start in racing.

Anytime I say something, positive or negative, about it — it’s because I’ve seen where it has been before and where it can be again.

There’s good things and bad things in everything that goes on in the motorsports world. People are just always quick to point out the bad without a good reason behind it. I point it out here while also smiling about all the fantastic racing we saw this summer and at the fact that Bojangles’ has four more years to put their immense support behind this series. (Thank you Bojangles’ for your support and belief in the future of short track racing!)

The Summer Shootout was once a true palace of summertime speed and fun. I know it can be that once again.

And at the end of the day, that’s all I truly want to see happen — the Shootout return to its glory days once more.

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. He 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: speed77radio@gmail.com

Follow on Twitter: @Speed77Radio or @JacobSeelman77

Comments 2

  1. Nobody wants to hear the truth for it gets you banned for speaking your mind but i commended you…sometimes it takes a injury or life for someone to listen and in return to green white checkered restart they will say to many wrecks…

  2. Absolutely agree with you on safety. I have been the Legends flagman at Texas motor speedway off and on for 10 years now and that rule about keeping green on the white flag is my least favorite.

    I also wanted to say that whatever is hurting the summer shootout in Charolette, it’s way worse at TMS. Car counts for legends have been at a all time low. 13 legends cars, and sometimes 2 bandos show up.

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