More than anything else, even the loss of the Tom Dawson Trophy, Stephen Nasse didn’t like the assertion that he was a cheater.
The 25-year-old from Pinellas Park, Florida knows he is a lot of things. Throughout the past decade, wrought with controversy and detrimental candor, Nasse has embraced his polarizing nature within the short track community. After all, his roof is decorated with the Classy Nasse and Nasty Nasse monikers.
He isn’t always politically correct, and he drives hard when he feels as though a rival deserves it.
But the notion that Nasse, crew chief Chris Cater and their Jett Motorsports team got caught intentionally cheating after winning the Snowball Derby last year is something the young veteran racer just doesn’t accept.
“We’re not cheaters,” Nasse told Short Track Scene on Wednesday. “To be labeled as such, it was rough. We don’t need to cheat to win. There are trolls on social media, and they like to take jabs, and that’s part of it. You’re not going to stop them.
“I try to look at as ‘any publicity is good publicity, even bad publicity.’ I can handle it. I just hate it for my team because that’s not the group of guys we have here, and they don’t deserve it.”
Nasse was flagged the initial winner at 5 Flags Speedway one year ago but was disqualified due to the discovery of titanium brake caps over the pistons in the calipers. That was in violation of the following section of the Snowball Derby rule book:
1. Vehicles must be equipped with four-wheel hydraulic brakes
2. No carbon fiber rotors. Only steel rotors are allowed (no titanium).
3 Brake fluid circulators permitted. Liquid or gas cooling not permitted
Within 30 minutes of post-race technical inspection, head technical director Ricky Brooks called track general manager and event promoter Tim Bryant over to the shed to discuss what his staff had found. Bryant deferred to Brooks and the decision was made to disqualify the No. 51 team. Travis Braden was declared the winner after passing his own lengthy inspection.”
“No hard feelings from Tim,” Nasse said. “He told me how they felt and I understand where they’re coming from. I’ve had a little bit of that same conversation with Ricky but I’m looking forward to having one more this week. I don’t want any problems in tech moving forward. When I win this race, and I hope we’re in that position again soon, I want to clear tech.
“I’m not trying to sneak anything by. I just don’t want there to be something that comes up that he might know about and he’s just waiting to pull it out when I get there.”
That’s ultimately where the animosity came from.
Nasse felt blindsided and sabotaged in post-race inspection last year. He believes Brooks was tipped off earlier in the week by PFC Brakes representative Chris Dilbeck in response to the No. 51 team switching from his employer to Brembo Brakes earlier in the season. Nasse detailed those allegations in a social media post shortly after his disqualification.
“…We left PFC Brakes because they weren’t willing to help us and were playing favorites. The first thing tech asked us to do is remove the brakes because they had a ‘tip’ from their major supporter at PFC Brakes, Chris Dilbeck. In our brake system there was a small titanium cap which does not enhance performance at all.”
Stephen Nasse's Snowball Derby paint scheme sends a lot of appreciation towards brake supplier Brembo. pic.twitter.com/WtCZl708xw
— Matt Weaver (@MattWeaverAW) December 2, 2020
For his part, Dilbeck immediately denied the rumors and again denied it on Wednesday evening when Short Track Scene inquired about the matter one year after the incident. Dilbeck expressed empathy for Nasse and Jett Motorsports and added that disqualifications were not good for anyone in the discipline.
Dilbeck had actually left Pensacola on Sunday afternoon once the race was postponed to Monday due to rain and found out about the disqualification from the office.
Brembo Brakes entered short track racing with Jett Motorsports from sports car racing and the consensus seems to be that the manufacturer seemingly didn’t process the rules for this discipline as clearly as they should have. Nasse used that brake package for much of last summer, including wins at Bristol and Winchester, and until he was disqualified for them at the Derby.
Brembo produced a compliant variation of its short track package before Nasse’s next race.
“I feel like at any give race track, the tech man works with you, even as far back as kart racing,” Nasse said. “The tech guy should work with you. He shouldn’t be your enemy.
“Unless a team is trying to sneak something big by you, you should be able to create a professional friendship. If a tech guy hears you might have something that might not pass tech, he should say something, and not keep it to himself.”
“Look, we’ll fix it. We wouldn’t have had the titanium caps in there if we had realized it. We didn’t even know. We would have taken them out and the race would have played out the same way. That’s the frustrating part.”
Nasse was adamant that Brooks knew about the titanium piston caps earlier in the weekend and just didn’t tell him as he passed through inspection during race weekend.
Brooks says he wouldn’t do that.
“If I hear something, I’m going to tell them,” Brooks said on Wednesday night. “It’s like, we had one car come through here with the wrong intake at the All-American 400. I point blank looked at it and (the driver) said, ‘we’ve already changed it.'”
Meanwhile, Braden was declared the winner but faces his own version of the internet trolls, who tell him he’s not really the Snowball Derby champion because they didn’t cross the line first.
“I still feel like we’re trying to win the Snowball Derby,” Braden said. “I don’t know that I’ve fully digested winning the race yet because I didn’t cross the finish line and have that moment. I didn’t kiss the trophy on the frontstretch. I was still processing everything that happened just to finish second.”
So now you have the winner who doesn’t feel like the winner and the flagged winner who had that moment invalidated.
“I’m going to have the talk with Ricky and I hope it goes well,” Nasse said. “I respect Ricky and I respect what he tries to do, but there has to be an agreement that we all help each other to make sure we’re clear.
“We’re in this for the long haul. We put a lot of time, effort and money into what we do here. To do stuff like this (not telling when you might know something) isn’t fair in my opinion.”