Motorsport needs personalities. It needs rivalries. It needs drama and excitement.
Motorsports also needs officials that know where the line is when enough is enough, and it needs sanctioning bodies that have the courage to levy a hefty penalty.
Take the case of Bubba Pollard, for example. The Georgia racer is unquestionably one of the most successful, most talented and most watched short track stock car drivers of this generation. The bullet points on his resumé already rival some of the all-time great pavement drivers like Butch Lindley, Dick Trickle or Junior Hanley. He’ll be coming to Barre’s Thunder Road this fall to try his hand at the Vermont Milk Bowl, and already has last year’s Oxford 250 trophy on his mantel.
But Pollard isn’t immune to mistakes, and certainly not to punishment. Last weekend, Pollard raced for the victory in a CARS Tour event in Hickory, North Carolina, and eventually finished third after a physical battle with winner Matt Craig. While neither Pollard nor Craig found issue with the contact, Craig’s father did — likely the continuation of a long feud between the two drivers.
Right or wrong, Craig’s father stood on pit road and waved his middle finger at Pollard as he drove past after the race ended. When Pollard exited his car, he confronted the elder Craig — right or wrong — and the situation quickly escalated into a few right hooks from Pollard, two of which landed and knocked his opponent to the ground. (The videos are pretty entertaining, if we’re being honest here.)
Pollard was given — by short track standards — a massive penalty by CARS Tour officials that included the loss of his $1,500 in earnings for the third-place finish and a five-race suspension.
Just a week earlier, Bowman Gray Stadium had an impromptu demolition derby of sorts between Modified drivers Jason Myers and Jonathan Brown. Again the result of a long and bitter rivalry, Myers spun Brown out during a race, and then the two drivers quite literally squared off in a head-on smash-fest while the race was red-flagged. Both drivers spun their $75,000 cars around in order to deliberately ram the other multiple times, all while track officials dodged the cars on foot, sometimes just two or three feet away from being run over.
Oh, and the penalties? Miniscule. Brown and Myers were each fined $1,000 and suspended for just a single race.
Why? Because these idiotic, despicable, dangerous — and highly entertaining — demolition derbies are commonplace at Bowman Gray and create a lot of revenue for both the track and NASCAR. I’ve been to the track twice, and both times I got to see an example of the lunacy.
Bowman Gray Stadium is NASCAR’s oldest weekly sanctioned track, with a partnership that dates back to the late 1940s. It routinely draws crowds of 10,000 fans for its regular events — 10 or 15 times the amount of people at most any other track in the country — and has often been featured on reality television shows. Track and NASCAR officials simply look the other way.
But here’s the rub: NASCAR is not consistent in these calls. If there is a penalty, it’s extreme. Former NASCAR national champion Lee Pulliam was suspended six months for a similar incident in 2011 — one that was far less aggressive than the Myers-Brown fiasco. Much of the time, though, there’s no penalty at all — there certainly wasn’t one for the two incidents I witnessed in person in 2014. Most observers feel that the Bowman Gray penalties last week were only levied because of the social media backlash that followed the incident.
Imagine if, during a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race, Kyle Busch spun his car around to drive the wrong way on the track and intentionally ram, say, Jimmie Johnson. What do you think NASCAR would do? Busch would be suspended. Immediately. For a long time.
There’s nothing wrong with rivalries. But when things get out of hand, the penalties need to exist and they need to be severe and consistent. The CARS Tour did it right. NASCAR got it wrong.
Bear Ridge Speedway — Bradford
LAST WEEK: Bradford’s Richie Simmons won Saturday’s DIRTcar Sportsman Modified feature and Plainfield’s Will Hull won his second-straight Sprint Cars of New England race. Corinth’s Tad Kingsbury won the Sportsman Coupe “Madness” race, Jason Porter won the Four Cylinder feature, and Fairlee’s Matt Piper won the Twin State Dirt Stock race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with four weekly divisions including “topless” Sportsman Modifieds, the USAC Dirt Midget Association, the Granite State Mini Sprints, and kids racecar rides.
Devil’s Bowl Speedway — West Haven
LAST WEEK: Middlebury’s Justin Comes won Sunday’s Sportsman Modified feature and Benson’s Anthony Ryan was a first-time Limited Sportsman winner. Fair Haven’s Chris Murray won the Super Stock race, Highgate Springs rookie David Sartwell-Cornell won the Mini Stock feature after post-race inspection, and Fletcher rookie Evan Roberts took his sixth 500cc Mini Sprint win. THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 6 p.m. with the $10,000-to-win “Battle at the Bowl” Big Block/Small Block Modified Challenge and the King of Dirt Racing Crate Modified Series.
Thunder Road Int’l Speedbowl — Barre
LAST WEEK: Barre’s Jason Corliss won Thursday’s Late Model race and Williamstown’s Mike MacAskill took the Flying Tiger win. Barre’s Tyler Pepin was the Street Stock winner and Northfield’s James Dopp took the Road Warrior win. On Sunday, Graniteville’s Frank Putney won Sunday’s 35th annual Enduro 200 and St. Johnsbury’s Kasey Beattie won the 50-lap Street Stock special. THIS WEEK: Racing is Thursday at 7 p.m. with three weekly divisions including the championship finale for the Myers Container Services Flying Tiger Triple Crown Series.
Albany-Saratoga Speedway — Malta, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Mike Mahaney won Friday’s DIRTcar Modified feature and Bennington’s Scott Duell won the Sportsman Modified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with six weekly divisions and the CRSA Sprint Cars.
THIS WEEK: Wayne Helliwell Jr. took the $10,000 victory in Saturday’s Midsummer 250 at White Mountain Motorsports Park after a late altercation took Scott Payea and Jimmy Hebert out of contention.
Claremont Speedway — Claremont, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Dana Smith won Friday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified feature and Aaron Fellows won his 11th race in 11 Late Model Sportsman races. THIS WEEK: Racing is Friday at 7 p.m. with five divisions and the STAR vintage racers.
Fonda Speedway — Fonda, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Stewart Friesen won Saturday’s Modified feature and Tim Hartman Jr. took the Sportsman Modified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 7 p.m. with championship finales for all six divisions, plus the Mohawk Valley Vintage Dirt Modified Series.
Glen Ridge Motorsports Park — Fultonville, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Rocky Warner swept Sunday’s Modified and Crate Sportsman features; Warner has won a combined 11 of 13 races at Glen Ridge in 2019. THIS WEEK: Racing is Sunday at 5 p.m. with seven weekly divisions.
Lebanon Valley Speedway — West Lebanon, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Kenny Tremont Jr. won Saturday’s Big Block Modified feature and Brian Sandstedt won the Small Block Modified race. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 5 p.m. with weekly divisions.
Monadnock Speedway — Winchester, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Todd Patnode and Ben Byrne split Saturday’s NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Sportsman Modified double features and Vernon’s Solomon Brow grabbed his ninth Late Model Sportsman win in as many races. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with five weekly divisions.
Plattsburgh Airborne Speedway — Plattsburgh, N.Y.
LAST WEEK: Lance Willix won Saturday’s DIRTcar 358 Modified race and Jamy Begor took the Sportsman Modified win. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 7 p.m. with five divisions.
RumTown Speedway — Rumney, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Sharon’s D.J. Robinson won Saturday’s Sportsman Modified feature. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 4 p.m. with weekly divisions.
Speedway 51 — Groveton, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Mike Clark won Saturday’s Tiger Sportsman Triple Crown race, St. Johnsbury’s Dean Switser won the Street Stock feature and Shelburne’s Kaiden Fisher took the Daredevil win. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with Supermodifieds and weekly divisions.
White Mountain Motorsports Park — North Woodstock, N.H.
LAST WEEK: Wayne Helliwell Jr. won Saturday’s Midsummer 250 for the American-Canadian Tour Late Models. Barton’s Shane Sicard won the Flying Tiger race and his brother Adam Sicard won the Strictly Stock Mini feature. THIS WEEK: Racing is Saturday at 6 p.m. with the first-ever event for the new Bullring Bash Quarter-Mile Challenge series Modifieds and Legends, along with the weekly Late Model and Flying Tiger divisions.
Justin St. Louis is a motorsports journalist, publicist, broadcaster, historian, and former driver. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / Twitter: @Justin_StLouis