Wallace Boys In Hot Water (With Help From FX)

SpeedReading

By DAVE MOODY

For perhaps the first time in history, Kenny Wallace ranked as the soft-spoken member of his family this week, after older brothers Rusty and Mike both found themselves in hot water over comments made in the heat of battle.

Rusty Wallace stirred-up a hornet’s nest with remarks in a Dodge press release that accused Chevrolet teams of outright cheating at Daytona. "Four or five of them were cheating really, really hard and didn't get caught,” said Wallace. “The NASCAR guys know it, and they're out for them when they get to Talladega."

Wallace’s accusations struck many as a case of the pot calling the kettle black, since his Roger Penske-owned team was caught with an illegal carburetor at Daytona. Wallace forfeited his starting position for the Daytona 500 after being forced to start at the rear of the field, and his team paid a monetary fine, as well. In subsequent days, the Missouri veteran attempted to back away from his comments, initially claiming to have been misquoted by his own PR staff. Eventually, however, he was forced to admit that his mouth had outrun the facts.

"I'm not making comments about any Chevrolet team,” said Wallace. “I want to put that on the record. I just
thought there were a lot of peculiar things going on, and NASCAR has informed me they're going to be looking for everybody at Talladega."

Just like always.

Days after Rusty removed his nomex-clad foot from his mouth, middle brother Mike found himself embroiled in a controversy of his own, receiving a $3,000 fine from NASCAR for using “inappropriate
language" during the television broadcast of the NASCAR Busch Series race at Rockingham.

Wallace and sophomore driver Shane Hmiel exchanged nose-to-nose pleasantries after crashing in the race’s middle stages, unaware that an FX television crew had arrived on the scene with its cameras and microphones in tow. When Wallace dropped an ill-timed - though perhaps well-deserved - “f-bomb” on Hmiel, the cameras were rolling, with Wallace’s head soon to follow.

The next day, NASCAR lightened Wallace’s wallet by three grand, citing dog-eared Section 12-4-A of the NASCAR rulebook governing "actions detrimental to stock car racing." Hmiel was not penalized, despite the fact that he had crossed the track to confront Wallace, and reportedly used language much worse than Wallace’s.

The difference? Hmiel popped off before FX had time to pump-up the volume.

"Every interview I did -- on radio and TV -- was very polite and proper," complained Wallace afterward. "This is an emotional sport, and when they're not interviewing me, I don't expect to get sabotaged from behind like that. I blame the television network. It was something they picked up from a distance. It was a two-sided conversation -- it wasn't one-sided. If somebody is running their mouth toward you and you respond, what do they expect?”

Wallace’s fine illustrates a growing problem in NASCAR-land. Should drivers be held responsible for comments overheard by snooping media members? Is “ambush” audio fair game, or do FOX, FX, and NASCAR’s other television partners bear some responsibility for what they put on the air?

In this writer’s opinion, FX made a conscious decision to crank up the volume at Rockingham, knowing - perhaps even hoping - that the profanity might flow. It was “ambush television” at its best, as invented by the other Mike Wallace; the one on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes.”

“What did they expect my brother to say,” joked youngest brother Kenny Wallace this week. “’Excuse me, Mr. Hmiel, but I’m extremely miffed at the moment, due to the fact that we have just wrecked our race cars and caught on fire.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Despite a series of fines levied for similar instances of “blue dialogue” over the years, NASCAR has no real problem with swearing. It happens every weekend, over in-car radios, between crewchiefs, and behind the scenes in the garage area. What NASCAR has a problem with is swearing on television, or over the radio, a situation that can only exist when drivers and media members meet under trying circumstances.

If a driver pops off in an interview, when he knows the cameras are rolling and the microphones are hot, then he deserves to be fined. If, however, that driver is blind-sided by a telephoto lens and a shotgun microphone, the offending media member should split the fine, or pay an identical amount as the driver they choose to ambush.

NASCAR has given the media unprecedented access to its athletes; before, during and after race events. With that access, however, comes responsibility. And at Rockingham, FX dropped the ball. NASCAR needs to have a heart-to-heart talk with the “talking heads,” to be sure it never happens again.

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IMPORT UPDATE: Toyota is reportedly purchasing a 240,000-square foot building on a 124-acre plot of land in Charlotte, NC, as part of its continuing efforts to field a NASCAR Winston Cup team in 2004. The Japanese automaker may also be in the market to build a test track in the area.

NASCAR team-owner Chip Ganassi is said to have cashed a $35-million check from Toyota, to serve as the brand’s primary team, and Toyota officials are lobbying NASCAR to allow fuel injection in its upper divisions for the first time. NASCAR has traditionally mandated carbureted, 358-cubic inch racing engines only, but the Daytona Beach sanctioning body is reportedly considering the change, in an effort to ease Toyota’s introduction to American stock car racing.

Toyota may not be the only “rice burner” looking to invade NASCAR in the near future. Nissan may also attempt to field a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series entry next season, in an effort to promote its new, full-sized pickup set to debut later this year, Nissan spokesman Larry Dominique said NASCAR has contacted the automaker to ask whether it is interested in the Truck Series, but added there are a number of technical and monetary obstacles that would have to be overcome first. Dominique said Nissan told NASCAR it wanted to ”keep the dialogue open.”


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Short (Track) Subjects…

…We’re not psychic, but sometimes it looks that way. One week ago, we predicted that a rival promoter might attempt to purchase North Carolina Motor Speedway at Rockingham -- if the track loses one of its Winston Cup dates -- with an eye toward moving the remaining race to another track. This week, rumors circulated that if this fall’s race at “The Rock” does not sell out, International Speedway Corporation will sell the track to promoter Bruton Smith.

Mere moments later, Smith’s Texas Motor Speedway will have its second race date.

…The American Canadian Tour has announced a new, four-cylinder novice division that will compete weekly at Thunder Road and Airborne Raceway this season.

"The rules will soon be available," said ACT President Tom Curley. "Our goal is to make it more affordable for beginners to get involved. The key is to keep it very, very simple, and strictly stock. Any American or import four-cylinder car will be allowed, although turbo or super-charged engines and four-wheel drives are out."

Experienced ACT drivers will not be allowed to compete in the new division, which Curley said will be named by a fan contest or ballot. "Roll cages, helmets, seat belt harnesses, and window nets will be required, and a claiming rule will be implemented," Curley said. The new division will debut Saturday, May 17 at Airborne Raceway and Thursday, June 5 at Thunder Road.

…Airborne and Thunder Road have added the Chitwood Thrill Show to their 2003 schedules. Led by Tim Chitwood, America’s leading auto stuntman, the Chitwood’s will appear at Airborne on Saturday, August 9, and at Thunder Road on Sunday, August 10. Long a favorite of local fans, the Chitwood show features high-speed reverse spins, precision jumping, two-wheel acrobatics and the Chevy Thunder Jet Truck, billed as the "World’s Fastest Street Legal Pick-Up."

…There may be more than one brand of spec engine in ACT competition this season. New England Dodge Motorsports rep Lou Rettenmeier said recently that his company is working on a crate engine of its own, with on-track testing scheduled to begin as early as April. The automaker hopes to have at least one motor under an ACT-sanctioned hood by midseason; a powerplant comprised of what he called “a blend of factory and after-market parts.”

Don’t look for a major influx of Mopar crate motors in the near future, though. The company’s primary focus remains on manufacturing new parts for current model-year passenger cars, pushing aftermarket racing parts further down the priority list.

…Former Flying Tiger champion Cooper MacRitchie has his eye on Phil Scott’s Thunder Road Late Model crown, and the Williamstown driver said he will forego a full schedule on the New England Dodge Dealers ACT Tour this season in order to concentrate on the weekly wars. MacRitchie won two events at Thunder Road last season, and will campaign a Dodge Intrepid-skinned entry in search of 2003 “King of the Road” honors.

…Looking for a way to beat the winter blahs? The seventh annual Champlain Valley Motorsports Show is set for the weekend of March 28-29 at the Crete Memorial Civic Center in Plattsburgh. The show opens Friday, March 28 at 6 p.m., and runs until 10 p.m. Saturday hours are 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a number of area asphalt and dirt teams on hand to showcase their new machinery. One of the featured attractions of this year’s show is the Bob Scheefer-owned ‘57 Super Comp Altered roadster drag car that earned best-engineered car honors at the spring NHRA Open at Lebanon Valley Dragway.

…Team Rensi Motorsports will make their NASCAR Winston Cup debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend, with Bobby Hamilton, Jr., piloting a No. 35 Ford Taurus, sponsored by the team’s NASCAR Busch Series backers; the United States Marine Corps and the Timberland Company.

…The 2003 White Mountain Motorsports Park schedule is out, with the season-opening car show set for Sunday, May 11, and the annual Open Competition event scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, September 27 and 28. Six divisions of racing will be featured throughout the season, including Late models, Super Streets, Strictly Streets, Strictly Mini's, Mini-Cups and the Kids Truck Division. The regular season will kick off on Sunday, May 18 with “Littleton Chevrolet Day at the Races.” Sunday racing will continue the following week, before racing heads under the lights on Saturday, May 31.

The New England Dodge Dealers ACT Tour will make two stops at WMMP this season, on Saturday, June 7 and Saturday, August 23. ACT’s Subway Tiger/Sportsman Series makes it first White Mountain appearance on Sunday, July 6.

...And finally, how’s this for customer service? After going belly-up more than a month ago, the Canadian-based International Stockcar Alliance has finally responded to complaints from fans who had already purchased tickets for a series of announced ISA events this season.

“We regret to inform you that ISA Racing has ceased operations,” reads a notice posted on the sanctioning body’s website. “If you purchased tickets for an ISA race, please contact your credit card company directly, advise them that the race series has been cancelled, and they will process your refund.”

Hey, thanks for the help, fellahs.