Something about this very small, very tight, and very aggressive little track in Virginia seems to bring out the chaos, a little trial-and-error, and maybe even a bit of desperation.
Are these drivers having too many of the infamous Martinsville hot dogs, a delicacy that some call the most disgustingly satisfying food ever? Probably not, although that is a shout out to my fellow writer, and most successful friend in the NASCAR world, Kelly Crandall. Maybe it’s the fact this track is a traffic jam with up to 40 drivers for 400 laps and in the end nerves are shot?
Could be, but we’ve seen that happen at other tracks as well, especially ones less than a mile long.
Or, maybe its the fact that now this track is home to an illegal maneuver that for 1/4-mile was absolutely within the rulebook?
That’s it…a track that is famous for it’s hot dogs, it’s unique trophy to chime it’s way into the hearts of the victors, the disagreements, the fights, and all the calamity all got overshadowed in a matter of seconds because one man knew that desperate times meant desperate actions. But, at that time, that move was within the guidelines of the rule book.
Sure, the grey area these days has been reduced quite a bit, but that doesn’t mean it’s vanished. The grey area in NASCAR has certainly been one that drivers and teams have worked within for several years. Whether it’s keeping extra fuel in a fuel line to get just enough to make it to victory, that even when inspected and the gas tank removed, the car fired up and drove off.
The grey area is the sole reason that the “T-Rex” car came to existence. It’s a car that when built, when tested, when brought to the track, was completely legal. When the driver could not slow down for the mandatory qualifying pit stop, it still was deemed a legal car. From the start of the race, to when it took the checkered flag, it was a car that was built, ran, and performed by the rule book. That is, until that night, when the sanctioning body said it was illegal, and Ray Evernham fought a battle to say that it was built exactly by the rule book. It took four words to change that.
“It won’t be tomorrow.”
The grey area didn’t just apply to the cars, but how a race was run. Years later, one driver exploited the rules for the same race, proving that what was a crazy idea in the driver’s meeting turned out to be a brilliant idea. As it has been said since, better to be a rule maker than a rule breaker.
That’s what we saw last fall at this track. Face facts, what Ross Chastain did for the final half of the final lap at Martinsville was, at the time, technically not against the rules. He was trying to the best of his ability to have the best finish possible, so, in that case it meant shift into fifth gear, hold the car against the wall, and hope that a game one might see on NASCAR Heat actually works. Turns out, for that moment, it did.
Now, that move is etched in time. That wall has been taken out and a new one put in. Chastain’s car that made that move is preserved, never to be raced again. The “Hail Melon” is forever going to be the banzai move that this generation will forever remember.
We will never see that again, as such a move has now been outlawed. So, only way we’ll see a banzai move like that is if it’s on a simulator. At the same time, watch on Sunday, and maybe the next banzai move will instead be a bump and run, or a dump and run as we’ve seen in several years past.
We won’t be dusting off a “Hail Melon” anytime soon, but we certainly will be dusting off a shorter, possibly more aggressive, Martinsville. With 100 less laps, that’s less time to make a move forward. That is, unless, that bumper becomes a battering ram.