While Northern Ontario stock car racer Steve Arpin – who qualified fourth for today’s scheduled NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama – had to cool his jets because of seriously bad weather there, Toronto sports car star Mark Wilkins and his American partner Burt Frisselle finished second in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Race up in Virginia.
With a little luck, Wilkins and Frisselle – who recorded a podium finish in their AIM Autosport of Woodbridge Pacific Mobile No. 61 Ford-Riley Daytona Prototype for the first time this season – might have won the race at Virginia International Raceway, which went to Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas in a BMW-Riley DP instead.
Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli were third in a DP Ford-Dallara. Andy Lally and Ted Ballou were first in the GT class in a Porsche GT3.
Although I used the term "with a little luck," to describe Wilkins’ and Frisselle’s near-win, I could also have written that they might have finished first, "if the race officials hadn’t dithered."
With about 20 minutes left in the race (as is the case in the American Le Mans Series, Grand Am races are timed events), Pruett’s car suffered some rear-spoiler damage when he pulled in too quickly after passing a slower car and clipped the front of it.
This knocked the spoiler loose; although it didn’t fall off, it was hitting the ground and bouncing about and generally flailing around at the back end of the racer.
The question being asked almost immediately by the Speed TV commentators was whether the officials would black-flag Pruett, who was leading the race with Frisselle hot on his heels, and force him into the pits to have the broken piece removed.
In fact, a TV reporter had time to dash over, with camerman in tow, to seek comment from Pruett’s crew chief, Tim Keene, who admitted he was more worried about that happening than whether the piece might fall off and damage one of the following cars.
While – presumably – the officials were discussing this question (which would have given Frisselle and Wilkins the lead if Pruett had been ordered to pit), the piece of spoiler did, indeed, fall off and this necessitated a full-course caution to retrieve it.
Then, when the cars lined up to go racing again, the starter was extremely slow in throwing the green flag – thus stacking up the field behind leader Pruett – and several cars ran into each other in the commotion, bringing out another full-course caution.
By the time the race was restarted for good, there were only about five minutes remaining and Pruett was able to hold off both Frisselle and Taylor for the win.
Now, in the post-race interviews and commentary, nobody talked about the role of the officials. Pruett laughed that he had been holding onto the car "by a thread" and Frisselle said Pruett had done "a phenomenal job driving that (wounded) car."
In fact, Frisselle said it was a "happy day, a great day" for himself, Wilkins and the AIM Autosport car.
And I supposed it’s the sort of thing one says, and feels, after finishing second and recording the best finish for the team in a long time.
But it could have been so much better. The AIM team could have won the race and there wouldn’t have been the mess the race became when the starter fell asleep on the job if the officials had done what they were supposed to do in the first place: order Pruett to the pits to have a damaged piece of a car removed that could have inflicted serious damage and/or harm to other cars and competitors if and when it fell off.
Meantime, in Alabama, weather interfered with NASCAR’s schedule for the second consecutive week. Rain, hail and tornadoes that did serious damage to communities in Mississippi swept into the Talladega area this afternoon and everything at the track was put on hold.
Sprint Cup qualifying was rained out and the Nationwide race was postponed until tomorrow afternoon and will now be flagged off after the Cup race.
Arpin, from Fort Frances in northwestern Ontario, set the NASCAR world on its ear in the past week or two by winning two ARCA races in a row and then being offered a chance by Dale Earnhardt Jr. to show his stuff in the Nationwide Series by driving the JR Motorsports car No. 7 that was wheeled at Daytona by Danica Patrick.
He answered the first part of the challenge by qualifying fourth for his first race. How he completes the assignment won’t now be known until late tomorrow.
Because of the lousy weather in Texas, which wiped out the whole weekend, they ran the Nationwide race after the Cup race last Monday but there are lights at Texas Motor Speedway and that is not the case at Talladega. So, could the Nationwide race tomorrow be called because of darkness? It’s possible.
One good piece of news came out of Talladega today. It was announced that Daytona International Speedway will be repaved in time for next February’s Daytona 500.
They apparently don’t want to take a chance of any more potholes opening up during the "Great American Race."