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Opinion: Rules are rules for the sake of integrity after Thanksgiving Classic

Matt Weaver | STS

What is a game without rules?

Total chaos.

That is what the result of Sunday night’s investigation into the finish of the Thanksgiving Classic has the potential to unravel within local short track racing.

Immediately after the race, Southern National Motorsports Park co-owner Michael Diaz knew he had made a mistake by essentially pardoning Matt McCall for winning with an illegally-placed transponder on his Late Model Stock.

But he also felt it would have been a mistake to disqualify him too. It was for all intents and purposes a no-win scenario.

Diaz cited ‘common sense’ officiating in his heartfelt statement to the media following a three-hour teardown in Tech that provided no other reason to disqualify the race-winning No. 51. Diaz said the unjust application of a black and white rule book is one of the biggest things wrong with the discipline, and he’s certainly onto a topic worth discussing.

I personally remember covering a Southern Super Series race at Pensacola back in 2013 where race winner Augie Grill was tossed for having a trace amount of VP-110 fuel in his tank instead of the mandated Sunoco Purple.

At the time, I felt like it was an unjust disqualification because I truly believe there was no intent to gain a competitive advantage, nor do I believe it provided one in the first place. But rules are rules, so Grill was stripped of his victory and all earnings.

Then there was the 2015 Snowball Derby that saw flagged winner Christopher Bell get disqualified for a weight violation. The balance on the left side of a Super Late Model is supposed to account for 58 percent of the overall weight.

Bell and his Kyle Busch Motorsports No. 51 Toyota tipped the scales at 58.3 percent. The reason was rubber build-up from his polish victory lap around Five Flags Speedway.

At the time, I felt like it was an unjust disqualification because I truly believe there was no intent to gain a competitive advantage, nor do I believe it provided one in the first place. But rules are rules, so Bell was stripped of his victory and all earnings.

RELATED: Disqualifications are an necessary part of Snowball Derby

Then there was the double-disqualification of Ty Majeski and Stephen Nasse in the World Series of Asphalt this past February for the removal of the Oberg Valve — a fire safety device.

That ended, what up until that point, had been a fantastic championship battle between the two and Harrison Burton.

At the time, I felt like it was an unjust disqualification because I truly believe there was no intent to gain a competitive advantage, nor do I believe it provided one in the first place. But rules are rules, so Majeski and Nasse were stripped of their results and all earnings.

See a trend?

In each of those instances, Ricky Brooks crafted a rule book and enforced them to the latter of the law. Each of those disqualifications were not popular decisions but they were easy ones. The teams were in violation of the regulations and thus were punished accordingly.

It’s black and white.

Legal or illegal.

Pass or fail.

With that being said, all disqualifications are not created equal in the sense they are not necessarily the result of blatant cheating. But the moment that tech becomes a judgement call, a track loses all of its integrity.

That’s the issue here.

McCall had the fastest car all weekend in Lucama, North Carolina. He showed it by leading two practice sessions, made a mistake in qualifying but showed it again during the race when he won by 1.5 seconds over a frustrated Justin Johnson.

Johnson maintained, and has a point, that the only reason he lost the lead was due to the placement of McCall’s transponder. The fastest cars all struggled on the top throughout the race. Diaz says because McCall won by 1.5 seconds, that it was proof that the transponder wasn’t what took him to Victory Lane.

But is it?

Johnson finished the first 100 laps in eighth and only inherited the lead due to an eight-car invert at the halfway break. If he had the fastest car, shouldn’t he have won the $2,000 bonus paid out at Lap 115? Suddenly armed with the bottom of the front row on each restart, Johnson looked unbeatable. The bottom was that advantageous all afternoon.

Once McCall got the bottom, he was unbeatable too.

McCall got that spot with 20 laps to go because of his illegally-placed transponder. That was in violation of the rules. That’s a disqualification at least 90 percent of the time at tracks and sanctioning bodies across the country.

But if Diaz takes the win away from McCall, he’s the latest in the long line of promoters who adhered to the rules in defiance of common sense. He’s the bad guy. But instead, he chose to believe that the transponder didn’t win McCall the race because he ran away over the final 20 laps. It also makes him the bad guy.

The truth is, he isn’t.

As a track promoter, Diaz would never do something to intentionally harm the reputation of Southern National. He isn’t playing favorites. He just wanted to make the rational decision. He wanted what ultimately played out on the track, what the fans paid to see, stand on its own.

However, at the end of the day, rules are rules.

Rules need to be explicitly stated before the race, something that may not have even happened in this instance, and they need to be evenly enforced. If the NASCAR rule book says 14.2 inches from the leading edge on the right rear, then that’s the rule. If the track rule says the right front kick, then that’s the rule.

But rules need to be clear and to be policed.

Because a game without rules is total chaos and that is what unfolded on Sunday at Southern National.

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Matt Weaver is the owner and founder of Short Track Scene. Weaver grew up in the sport, having raced himself before becoming a reporter in college at the University of South Alabama. He is also the associate motorsports editor of Autoweek Magazine and its website, which allows him to cover the highest levels of the sport.

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