They don’t want the accolades, nor do they want their name mentioned anywhere in a story. But sometimes, their role makes them part of the headlines.
Ricky Brooks (Southern Super Series), Eddie Chew (ARCA/CRA Super Series) and Mike “Lumpy” Lemke (ARCA Midwest Tour) are long-time tech directors in three of the top Super Late Model series in the United States. Each agree that their actions have become the story of an individual race, but each also admit that this is never their intention. They also agree on something else… taking a win away from a competitor or penalizing a team is never an easy thing to do.
Big disqualifications in the recent past have many questioning the technical process of post-race inspection. Chase Elliott’s DQ in the Snowball Derby (for an illegal weigh infraction) hit the big-time media; from NASCAR Sirius/XM Radio right to FOX Sports 1. Then John Hunter Nemechek had his win stripped for an illegal driveshaft at Fairgrounds Speedway Nashville in the second Southern Super Series event of the 2014 season.
The questions are, does the punishment fit the crime? Was the illegal piece on the car a performance enhancement? And, why not fine the driver or penalize points instead of taking a win away?
The answer when you talk to the three tech directors is simple… it’s about cost.
“A lot of things in short track racing now deal with cost. How much does a part or piece cost,” said Lemke, who is the ARCA Midwest Tour Tech Director. “My feeling is that if we don’t start reducing costs, cutting costs, and keeping costs stable, we won’t have short track racing. That is why the penalties have to be what they are.
“The bad part is if a team can afford the parts to begin with, it doesn’t make a difference how bad you hit them in the wallet; they don’t care. Too many of these teams do it for the trophy. And for it (the trophy) to sit on the shelf and be able to say, ‘I won’ (despite an infraction), well, by taking it (the win) away, they have no longer won.”
Eddie Chew, Tech Director for the ARCA/CRA Super Series, agrees with Lemke and feels that a disqualification sends a message that they are trying to keep costs down.
“The perception is if you penalize them with a fine, they can still get by with running it and still get the accolades of winning a race,” Chew explained. “It’s purely cost-based on a lot of things like that. We really have to stand our ground for people to understand that it is important to keep the costs down in Super Late Model racing and you have to disqualify to get that message across. It’s a bad deal and it’s the worst part about this job when you have to DQ somebody.”
Brooks, Tech Director for the Southern Super Series and the Snowball Derby, who was ultimately responsible for the DQ of Chase Elliott and John Hunter Nemechek, echoes those same sentiments.
“You have to draw the line somewhere and the rules clearly do that,” Brooks said. “Everyone is always trying to find a performance advantage and we are trying to eliminate the need to bring in expensive parts to the sport. We are trying to eliminate the need to spend $60,000 on a motor."
And as for whether or not the part was a performance advantage, Brooks responds by saying, “You could have still won with a different part, but the rules clearly stated that the particular part isn’t allowed, and that is because we want to keep the high cost of that specific part out of Super Late Model racing. Everything is done for a reason.”
Chew said that while the higher levels of racing allow for more advanced parts, it is their job to decide what is best for their divisions of short tack racing.
“It’s really hard to police because not it’s not just the cost involved with the part, but also the knowledge behind it as well,” Chew explained. “When they bring in that knowledge, you have to be aware of that because time is money and we even have to bring more people in to analyze it. It is a critical area to go along with the part itself. There is a lot more knowledge that trickles down from NASCAR and we have to determine which ones want to battle for cost-effective measures.”
Lemke feels that these recent issues will make the teams self-police themselves.
“I think just about everybody has it under control, especially over the issues we have had as of late,” Lemke said. “I am sure that the teams have self-policed themselves. It will probably be another two or three months before we find a big issue. The teams will clean themselves up a little bit, change their ways and figure out what they have to do to stay even.”
Brooks, Chew and Lemke do stay in communication with each other throughout the year.
“Communication is key and it has helped us tremendously,” Brooks said. “The longer I have been teching and have gotten to know Eddie and Lumpy, it has gotten better. The first year I teched the Snowball Derby, only 16 cars passed the first time through, now they all go through.
“With the three of us in communication, it is now easier for a Southern Super Series team to go up north and race in an ARCA/CRA Super Series or an ARCA Midwest Tour race and the same for when a team comes from the north to a Southern Super Series race. It really helps us all get these cars on a level playing field.”
Lemke feels that a lot of the post-race issues are avoided because more is done now in pre-race tech.
“I get pretty hard on my helpers if we find something in post-race tech that we should have found during pre-race tech,” Lemke said. “The key is to have the right equipment to check it, so people know they can’t get away with it so they don’t try it.”
“We hear the chatter that people think someone is cheating and we have no problem to go through the car and prove them wrong. It validates our job,” Brooks said. “Sometimes when we do that we find something else, and when that happens, we just have to stop. It’s not worth going any further.”
For Chew, he has a simple goal at the end of the day.
“I want to have everyone on the same level playing field, consistently checked across the board with everyone that comes and races with us. At the end of the night, we all can say we had a good race and it wasn’t won by something the car had in it. Everyone can know the driver won it because all the cars are equal.
“But we always need to stay on top of it, because if you don’t, you will have that one person that will have something that we don’t want on our side of short track racing. My integrity is what I worry about and I can measure that by what we did to have a level playing field at the end of the day.”
Brooks sums it up with a simple question.
“If we didn’t do what we do, how bad would it be right now?”