The Black Flag Debate in Racing
I made my first trip to North Central Speedway in Brainerd on Saturday. I have further thoughts about that trip later, but one thing stood out to me watching the features: the flagman’s use of the black flag. I have a FanCeiver which allows me to listen to the Raceceiver Communications between the official and drivers, and sometimes it gets pretty interesting.
This guy at North Central didn’t mess around when it came to using the black flag. A Mod 4 driver was DQed for something he did under caution (I didn’t see it, and I caught the tail end of the comment on the Raceceiver which told the driver to go to the pits) — he had previously been charged with the caution that resulted in a multi-car pileup (and left a lot of cars with crunched sheet metal.).
He used it three times in the Sport Compact feature. Once driver was black flagged about halfway through the race for rough driving on Lap 2. Keep in mind he had raced several laps after that until a caution came out. Another driver was black flagged for having a damaged rear suspension — in that case a safety issue. On the last lap of the feature the car running in second got into the leader and loosened his car — if you need a visual imagine Dale Earnhardt racing at Bristol back in the 1990s — and even though he crossed the finish line first, was disqualified for rough driving.
Being a flag man is a hard job, and usually some driver is upset with you at the end of the night.
Saturday got me thinking about the black flag and its usage at RaceChaser area tracks. Some tracks don’t use the black flag at all. They may put a driver to the back for spinning someone out but rarely, if ever, use it for rough driving. They may use it if a car has damage (flat tire, bent/broken suspension, smoking engine) but not much for actual on-the-track incidents.
My view: Use it for rough driving, and use it for serious cases of unsportsmanlike conduct — especially cases where people in the pits and track officials could be in danger. I’ve seen a few postrace tantrums this year that should warrant a disqualification — in my personal opinion — but didn’t get it.
The black flag should be a deterrent for rough driving. We don’t need drivers using another car for their brakes, or deciding to turn the race into a demo derby. There is a lot of time and money poured into these race cars and to have people disregard others’ equipment on the track is simply wrong.
Plus, in the lower budget classes like the Short Tracker/Mini Stock/Hornet class, a driver could be one wreck away from being done for the year. Which would be unfortunate.
I think some flag men try to give the offending drivers the benefit of that doubt, that they weren’t trying to wreck people. There is also a fear at tracks with smaller car counts that if you black flag a driver, he/she may get pissed and not come back. I think there are more cases of the latter.
Look wrecks and pileups happen in racing regardless of how hard people try to avoid them. Stuff happens. But there’s some that are avoidable with clean racing, and using the black flag as a deterrent is a way to ensure a little more of that.
Thoughts on North Central Speedway
Saturday as I mentioned was my first trip ever to North Central Speedway. It’s a pretty decent drive from Fargo — about 150 miles — although you do get to drive through some scenic lakes areas along the way.
It is a nice facility with a ton of seating which didn’t make social distancing an issue. I bought a pit pass so I could walk around, and there is plenty of room in the pit area, too.
I’ll be honest, the racing reminded me a ton of Buffalo River Race Park near Glyndon: several support classes which seem to bring the crowd, more of a grassroots feel. The track’s shapes are different and so are the surfaces but as a fan the atmosphere had a lot of the same feel.
I recognized a few RaceChaser area drivers — Travis Scott of Glenwood in the 71X super stock, Chris VanMil of Barnesville in the 40 sport mod and Curtis Huseth of Underwood in the 00H sport compact. Plus, Dean Larson, a long-time veteran out of the Pennock area, is a guy I’ve seen race for more than 20 years in the Mod 4s. A guy who simply loves to race.
Billy Kendall won the IMCA Modifieds, and he has a win at Red River Valley Speedway this season.
Another thing I noticed about NCS is there are several female drivers, which I think is a great thing for dirt-track racing. Five were racing on Saturday in the Mod 4s and Sport Compact and three finished in the top five of their features. In fact, Jenna Hagemann of Fort Ripley and Alyssa Nelson of Merrifield, are running first and second, respectively, in the IMCA Sport Compact point standings after Saturday.
Travis Scott, by the way, finished a solid third in the super stock feature while VanMil was fourth in the sport mod feature. Scott is a super stock rookie.