NASCAR race today; Oswego Safety Crew rides to the rescue – again
Following a season of almost near-unanimous condemnation of his officiating, highlighted by his decision to restart a race at New Hampshire speedway in mid-August when it was raining, IndyCar chief steward and operations manager Brian Barnhart received a vote of confidence from his boss, Randy Bernard, who said he had no plans to make staff changes.
That was before Barnhart called for the green flag on a restart Sunday at the Baltimore Grand Prix while a safety vehicle was still on the track (video here). Graham Rahal came very close to colliding head-on with that truck.
As you can imagine, the boo birds are out in full force again.
"That was the last straw," read one tweet. "Fire him."
"Get rid of that incompetent a–h—," read another.
"Bye-bye, Brian," was yet another. And so-on.
It’s easy to say that. Even I have suggested that Bernard consider making a change. It’s not good for the business of racing (or any sporting business, for that matter) when an official gets more attention from the media than the drivers.
It started with Barnhart back in 2002 when he made the call that robbed Paul Tracy of the Indianapolis 500. Last year in Edmonton, it was Barnhart who robbed Helio Castroneves of the race win there.
This year, right from the start, it’s been his wrong calls, or non-calls, that have infuriated the race drivers and fans of the series. And Bernard’s reluctance to fire Barnhart has been curious.
Many years ago, when CART was still in business, the series went to England to race at the Rockingham Motor Speedway. The operations manager was Kirk Russell, a good and faithful servant of the series who did a variety of jobs.
A problem with "weepers" (water coming up through the pavement) forced a cancellation of the scheduled race. Fingers were pointed and Russell was fired on the spot by then-CART CEO Andrew Craig. In fact, the termination was so decisive and sudden that Russell had to pay his own way back to the U.S.
So why hasn’t Bernard tied the can to Brian Barnhart’s butt?
Probably, as a friend of mine explained at the weekend, because he can’t.
Not yet, anyway.
My friend is someone who’s been around Indy car racing for years and years. This is how he explained it:
"When the George sisters convinced their mother that their brother, Tony, had to go, it was because he’d spent millions and millions of family money on the war with CART and Champ Car. When Randy Bernard was hired, he was told to promote the series but mainly he was told to get the budget under control. So he’s limited in the amount of money he’s got to spend.
"Brian Barnhart has had his job for years. In fact, for a few years there, he was president of the IRL. He’s a long-term employee who undoubtedly makes a lot of money, likely in the hundreds of thousands. To get rid of a guy like that is going to cost a bundle and Bernard probably doesn’t have that kind of money. So, in the short term, he’s stuck.
"Bernard has said that over the next winter, they (meaning he and some special advisers) are going to take a hard look at the rule book to, as he says, ‘help Brian.’ What that means is they are going to rewrite the rule book to take a lot of the power out of the hands of the chief steward.
"Right now, everything in that rule book can be interpreted, or not interpreted, by the chief steward. In short, he has all the power to make any decision he wants, right or wrong. So they’ll change that. They’ll get rid of all the grey areas and make it more black and white.
"Meantime, Randy will start to squirrel some money away to offer Banhart a buyout. If he takes it, great. If not – and he probably won’t – then IndyCar, the drivers and the fans will just have to put up with Brian Barnhart for a while longer."
I thanked my friend for his explanation. I didn’t like it, but it makes sense.
Notes on the IZOD IndyCar Series Baltimore Grand Prix:
– A fabulous crowd and a fabulous first event. They have some work to do on the design of the circuit but other than that, it was a dynamite spectacle.
– Will Power won the race, with Oriol Servia second and Tony Kanaan third. Alex Tagliani of Montreal finished seventh, with James Hinchcliffe of Oakville 24th. Danica Patrick was top woman, finishing in sixth place after starting 24th. Simona de Silvestro was 12th and Ana Beatriz was 16th.
– Kanaan drove from last place (27th) to finish third in a spare car that was set up for the ovals. An incredible performance. He lost his brakes at more than 160 miles an hour during the morning warmup and was forced to sideswipe Helio Castroneves to slow himself down enough so that when he hit a series of tire walls his car came to a stop. It was too badly damaged to enter the race, hence the spare. Whew.
– Dario Franchitti, who finished fourth, still leads the standings but Power is just five points behind.
– In the American Le Mans Series race on Saturday, Kyle Marcelli of Barrie stood atop the podium for the second time this season, partnering with Tomy Drissi of Los Angeles to finish first in the Prototype Challenge class and third overall in the feature race, which was won by Humaid Al Masaood of Abu Dhabi and Steven Kane of Northern Ireland in a P1 Lola.
Wolf Henzler of Germany and American Brian Sellers won the GT class in a Porsche 911 while Tim Pappas of Boston and Jeroen Bleekemolen of Monte Carlo were first in the GT Challenge class, also in a Porsche 911.
That race was carried live on Sporrtsnet 1. I'm sorry to report that Sportsnet 1 did exactly what TSN has been doing for years: as soon as it could, it cut away from racing to join a recorded soccer game. I wish they'd stuck around long enough for the recap. Oh well, I guess you can't have everything. And I guess all the soccer fans in Canada were flooding the switchboard, demanding to know when soccer would be on. I mean, that sport is only available on - what? - five or six other channels at all hours of the day and night?
Notes on NASCAR:
– The Sprint Cup race from Atlanta has been postponed twice because of rain and is now scheduled to get the green flag at 11 a.m. today. Carl Edwards won the Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Saturday night and Ron Hornaday was first in the Camping World Truck Series race last Friday night.
Notes on all kinds of other racing:
– Last July (as in 2010), I wrote a feature about life on the road with the World of Outlaws. I focused on the son of a friend of mine, Darryl Turford of Stratford, who is the chief cook and bottle washer (and mechanic, and cheerleader, and friend) for driver Sam Hafertepe Jr. of Sunnyvale, Tex. Well, on the weekend, at Skagit Speedway in Washington State, Hafertepe won his first World of Outlaws feature race and the $20,000 that went with it. Darryl was thrilled, you can bet. And his dad, my friend Peter Turford, is undoubtedly proud as punch.
– Otto Sitterly of Canajoharie, N.Y., passed his teammate, Mike Lichty of Kitchener, on the last lap Sunday to win the 55th Budweiser International Classic 200 for supermodifieds at Oswego Speedway in New York.
It was the first time a Classic win had been decided on the last lap and, so far as anybody could remember, the first time team cars had finished 1-2 in the big race.
Lichty was hired by team owner John Nicotra on Saturday when regular driver Davey Hamilton was unable to travel to Oswego because of commitments he has with the IZOD IndyCar Series, which was racing in Baltimore. Hamilton takes corporate guests for rides in the two-seat Indy car and is the on-site PA colour commentator and analyst on the IndyCar radio network.
Randy Ritskes, formerly of Brockkville, finished third. He won the pole and led the most laps. Track champion and Indy 500 veteran Joe Gosek finished eighth. Former NASCAR star Johnny Benson Jr. was 13th; his dad won the Classic in 1966. Dave McKnight Jr. of Brampton was 18th and Gary Morton of Stouffville was 24th.
– The Oswego Speedway safety crew was at it again on the weekend. The best short-track safety team on the continent went into action on Saturday night when modified driver Jake Rought of Rome, N.Y., suffered a heart attack in the pits. Rought flatlined but his heart was restarted by paramedica George Feeney and others before he was taken to Oswego hospital and then Syracuse where he underwent a triple bypass.
If I’m hurt, or fall ill at a race track, I want George and the boys around, I’ll tell ya.