Here we go again.
It’s the start of a new month and we’ve flipped the page on one Stephen Nasse controversy while curiously counting down the days until the next one.
Right, wrong or indifferent, the 23-year-old Super Late Model driver from Pinellas Park, Florida is a news-maker in the world of short track racing. When fans see his name appear on an entry list, they should be compelled to buy a ticket. When media sees his name, they’re inspired to request a credential.
When fellow drivers see his name, they should be prepared for one hell of a race, and the possibility of an off-track throwdown.
“I don’t do these things on purpose,” Nasse told Short Track Scene on Wednesday. “It’s not like I set out to create a buzz. I do believe bad publicity is better than no publicity. And for every one person that has something critical to say, there are equally important people who say they appreciate the things I stand for and my take no crap attitude.
“But this isn’t something I necessarily want to be known for.”
His reputation took a turn for the worse in the 2016 Snowball Derby at 5 Flags Speedway, when after contact and a spin at the hands of William Byron, Nasse turned around and drove backwards on the track until he found the emerging NASCAR prospect and took him out.
In a Twitter storm that lasted deep into the midnight hours following the race, Nasse said he was standing up for blue collar drivers under siege by rich kids who lacked respect on the track and were just passing through on the way to NASCAR.
It earned him an obvious amount of scorn from the racing industry, but it also provided him varying degrees of appreciation from like-minded competitors and observers.
In April, he and fellow Southern Super Series champion Donnie Wilson came to blows in Turn 1 at 5 Flags. Nasse and Wilson made contact, leaving Nasse felt like he was done wrong, so he climbed out of his car and began punching Wilson — still strapped into his own Super Late Model.
It wasn’t his finest moment.
Nasse later apologized for his behavior, even though he later felt vindicated by on-board camera footage released later in the week.
Then of course, was the Redbud 400, where he sent Josh Brock around and into the Turn 4 wall on the last lap at Anderson Speedway in Indiana. Brock had executed a bump-and-run earlier in the lap and Nasse simply tried to give it right back.
Instead of a bump-and-run, it was a dump-and-run.
Nasse was confronted by Brock crew members, one of them even making death threats against his family. This time, Brock had to apologize, even though he felt like the end result on the track wasn’t justifiable.
“It’s always something with him,” Brock said after the race.
While Nasse is the first to admit that he has done and said some things he isn’t proud of over the past two years, he also believes he’s becoming something of a victim of his own reputation — regardless of whether the actions in the moment warrant such an outburst.
“It’s like the Brock deal, man,” Nasse said. “We haven’t raced each other a lot before that. He doesn’t really know me. I think, sometimes, people try hard to ruffle my feathers to see what kind of reaction they’ll get. People like to poke the caged animal.”
In talking to his rivals, people seem to generally like Nasse’s candor and affable nature off the track, but also suggest that he needs to be more proactive than reactive with his emotions in the heat of the moment.
Wilson says he needs to control his anger, especially if others are starting to poke the caged animal.
“I was aggressive when I was a kid but I didn’t take anyone out,” the 47-year-old said. “Here’s the deal: I work on my own stuff. It’s all my stuff. I care because I’m the one that has to fix it. I can’t afford to have people intentionally race me that way.
“I know he’s the same way, so sometimes when you’re under the microscope like he is, you have to race with a little more respect and then you’ll start to get it back. That’s what I would tell him if we’re just being straight.”
Bubba Pollard is the undisputed face of Super Late Model racing right now. He’s the guy that has the loudest voice and even if people don’t like him, they listen when he speaks.
As a result, Pollard can relate to a degree to being in the spotlight.
“Looking back at it, I’ve said some things I shouldn’t have,” Pollard said. “I’ve done some things I wish I hadn’t — especially now that I have a family.
“And that’s the thing you know, I’ve learned that I don’t want to do anything that I would be ashamed to show my daughter. So, you just have to get smarter as you get older with the things you do, especially now, because we always have cameras on us.
Pollard said he was disappointed in the things that were said at Anderson, adding that the vulgarity and threats of violence isn’t what short track racing is supposed to be about.
“I don’t even think it’s always his fault,” Pollard said of Nasse. “But sometimes, even when you don’t think it’s your fault when something happens, you have to suck it up and move on. I don’t want to be on the internet fighting or cussing because people will judge you based on those 30 seconds.
“And I don’t want my daughter to be one of them.”
Nasse has two nephews who are the light of his world and is often seen with them at the track. It’s the softer side of the driver that would offset his reputation to a point, if only they saw more of that, rather than the fighting.
Nasse agreed that he needs to be more reserved for their sake.
“My nephew makes me realize there’s more to life than racing,” Nasse said. “I’ve taken more time off this year. I’ve moved back home to work with my dad (at All-American Concrete, the family business). But I also want to spend more time with them.”
But at the same time, the extra time away has made him hungrier for wins. He feels like he gave up possible wins this season at New Smyrna, despite winning the World Series of Asphalt championship, Orange County and the Redbud.
He feels like getting back to Victory Lane with greater frequency would do just as much for how the racing world views him.
“I feel like if I won more, with this attitude, people would come around,” Nasse said. “It’s a lot like Kyle Busch. I’m not saying I’m him, but he’s found a way to take that chip on his shoulder and he’s made it lighthearted. He has fun with the fans, even those who hate him.
“Either way, I just need to win more. I need to make that the story instead of everything else that’s happened lately.”