DC on racing and wrecking and the blame game

Where there's racing, there's wrecking. For a reason best left for those who study the mind, substantial bodies of people attend races in the hope of seeing one. Drivers know this to be true and, one guesses, the "wreck factor" isn't something...

Where there's racing, there's wrecking. For a reason best left for those who study the mind, substantial bodies of people attend races in the hope of seeing one. Drivers know this to be true and, one guesses, the "wreck factor" isn't something that eludes promoters or sanctioning bodies.

In the aftermath of those wrecks comes the blame game. To those in the media who cover racing events, it's so rare for a driver to 'fess up and claim blame that one nearly feels faint to hear such.

Somewhere, sometime, someone in the head-shrinking business said that a denial of self-responsibility is a quality found most commonly in wildly successful professionals of any ilk - something else always is to blame for best-laid plans gone awry. Yes, yes, "personal responsibility is a virtue" most of us have been told most of our lives, additionally noting that most of us have been relegated to watching races; not being in them.

Trust me: to a vast majority of drivers, only overwhelming, absolutely incontrovertible evidence found on a video replay provided by 16 different camera angles simultaneously recording the exact same moment of the exact same accident will even get them remotely close to falling on their own sword.

And so it was Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway after the Rolex Series Gainsco Grand Prix qualifying session ended, coincidentally about the time five Daytona Prototypes -- three running a Crawford chassis - were being returned under something else's power from an on-course altercation after which blame was largely being apportioned to No. 60 Flight Options Lexus-Riley driver Oswaldo Negri.

"He ought to be kicked out of here and sent back home. I've got three crashed cars here and he's still going to be in the race," Crawford car designer Andrew Scriven said after the race accident ruined for 40 people (and various, assorted media types, too) what likely would've otherwise been a perfectly good, fun-filled Phoenix evening.

No, all three cars didn't really belong to Mr. Scriven. But as the car's designer he'd be going from one car to another, trying to figure out what replacement parts each would need and, as importantly, coming up with them.

One car with which Mr. Scriven (a note: Scriven is an Englishman; he has a stiff upper lip and, well, one just is inclined to include "Mr." when referencing him) is closely associated, the No. 4 Howard-Boss Snowplow Motorsports Pontiac-Crawford, is campaigned out of the shops of his bosses, Max and Jan Crawford.

Given that it was her car, with Andy Wallace behind the wheel (co-driver Butch Leitzinger was elsewhere, singing his own brand of blues), involved in the accident, Jan Crawford had a slightly different take.

"With all the parts we'll be selling, it'll a good night for Crawford Composites. Unfortunately, all of those profits -- and then some - will likely be exhausted in fixing our car."

A tight 1.51-mile course - which some Rolex Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve participants compare to the ½-mile "bull ring" Bristol Motor Speedway from which NASCAR teams expect to emerge with used-up cars -- it at least draws favorable reviews for the technical expertise needed in running it, even though short in length by usual sportscar racing standards. The track doesn't offer many passing opportunities and, with an infield section bordered by concrete barriers, one doesn't want to stray too far from the racing line lest serious car damage occur.

It was at a place just a few hundred feet shy of an exit onto Phoenix International Raceway's backstretch where too many cars trying to navigate a too-narrow space would set off the melee that everyone pointing fingers at others -- including sanctioning body Grand American.

Given the green following a mid-race caution, a trail of 23 Daytona Prototypes (a car-class alone having more in number than some other series' entire fields) were making their way through the technically challenging, right-turn double-apex number 6 and 7 turns -- with concrete walls substantially narrowing at the exit of Turn Seven -- when the disputed matter at hand arose.

"I was on the inside and Christian was to my left," Negri said after the race, using his hands to illustrate the relative positioning of Christian Fittipaldi's No. 39 Eddie Cheever Racing Crown Royal Special Reserve Porsche-Crawford.

"We came out of the turn and he chopped down on me. He spun sideways across my front and we hit even harder on the right front of my car. If he had've waited for another moment and given me some room, we would've gotten through it without a problem. But he didn't want to give up his position. I had taken the line from him and he wanted it back."

Before fans could say "drivers never claim blame" even one time, Andy Wallace's No. 4 Pontiac-Crawford, Darren Law's No. 58 Porsche-Fabcar, Chris Bingham in the No. 40 Preformed Line Products/Coyote Closures Pontiac Riley and, perhaps most important of all, Alex Job Racing's No. 23 Ruby Tuesday Porsche-Crawford, driven by Marcel Tiemann and in the midst of a fist-place fight for the season-long DP points championship, were tore up.

Fittipaldi made apparent his feelings immediately after the accident by breaking free of safety workers' attempts at constraining him and strolling toward a then-slowed field of approaching DPs behind the Pontiac GTO pace car. As tough a matador about to deliver a coup de grace on a suffering bull, Fittipaldi raised both arms high above his head, singled out Negri's No. 60 Michael Shank Racing-prepared car and used downward-thrusting index fingers to identify the object of his ire.

Though unavailable for comment after the race, Fittipaldi's fellow drivers had plenty to say -- and not necessarily directed at Negri or Fittipaldi.

"I do believe these qualifying races are the most stupidest thing I've ever seen in motorsports," said Andy Wallace.

"Now, don't you believe that these things (qualifying races) shouldn't be held?" asked No. 58 Brumos Racing's David Donohue, who along with Wallace, were two of the many drivers and owners finding fault in the new system of pre-main event qualifying races.

One journalist, known for eschewing a race-long sit in media center chairs in favor of walking the track and pits, by the qualifying race's second lap had noticed a less-than-enthusiastic Scott Pruett behind the wheel of Chip Ganassi Racing's No. 01 CompUSA Lexus-Riley.

"I had decided even before I went out onto the track for the race that there was no sense in doing anything but trying to maintain my second-place starting place for Saturday's race," Pruett said. "No, I wasn't myself because we didn't need to tear up a perfectly good car in a qualifying race. So, we were happy with staying in second-place before the race even started."

SunTrust racing crew chief Tony Kenter said essentially the same thing.

"Before the race Max (Angelelli) told me that he was more interested in preserving an excellent car than wrecking needlessly in an attempt to advance our starting position," Kenter said while a crew member waxed the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac-Riley's nose as frenzied crewmembers in the next garage over worked furiously to repair damage resulting from talented drivers coming together and, afterward, wondering why someone else had started it.

For now, who knows what'll come out of tonight's main-event race -- or even which if any of the four injured qualifying-race cars will make it to the main-event grid - but Friday's qualifying race strained some relationships and made for hard feelings that presumably won't be easily buried.

Unfortunately -- in one of the rare Rolex Series races not broadcast live this season - fans not in Phoenix won't be able to see the race for the first time on Speed until 3 p.m., Sunday.

The rest of us will be looking forward to relatively cooler 90-degree nighttime temperatures that likely won't do much to keep cooler heads on at least a few drivers.

Parting shot: isn't it ironic that a car insurer, Gainsco Auto Insurance, is the race's sponsor?

-Exclusively Written for Motorsport.com by DC Williams

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Chris Bingham , Butch Leitzinger , Eddie Cheever , Christian Fittipaldi , Marcel Tiemann , Scott Pruett , Darren Law , David Donohue , Oswaldo Negri Jr. , Chip Ganassi , Alex Job , Michael Shank
Teams Williams , Chip Ganassi Racing , Alex Job Racing , Michael Shank Racing