My Take on Officiating

Although I could say that the hot button issue since Toronto was officiating problems, this is in issue that has haunted the IRL and now INDYCAR since its inception. The original IRL officiating staff was created amid major back to back debacles by the, then current, USAC sanctioning staff. After blowing the lap 199 restart at the 1997 Indy 500 and incorrectly awarding the victory to Billy Boat during the next race at Texas Motor Speedway. Controversy is nothing new to an organization that was birthed from the very idea.

Currently, the officiating seems to be especially bad. There is no consistency from race to race, and even from incident to incident during the same race. The famous first example of the year was the penalty for Paul Tracy, when he attempted a pass in the final hairpin at Long Beach. Contact ensued and PT dutifully served the punishment. Castroneves, also, initiated contact but was given no penalty. The reasoning from upstairs was that Helio was already at the back of the field so a penalty would serve no purpose. It is these kinds of statements that really call the credibility of the officiating staff into question. The purpose would not have been to penalize Helio, but to equalize brain detached driving among the field. This is especially true in this case, given the shared, controversial, history that PT, HC, and race control have. It is not about reacting to the current situation; it is about equal treatment for equal crimes. At times is seems as if officiating is ran by a shadow organization, hell bent on punishing the old guard even though most are old guard themselves!

During the Canadian swing, last year, there were the same types of ridiculously inconsistent moments of officiating. I very clearly remember during Toronto, Justin Wilson was leading the pack during a late race restart. He was getting heat from Power and, in my opinion and one that was shared with race control, defended his line entering the corner. Power completed the pass, with no contact, on the outside and no penalty was given. During the next race, Helio was memorably black flagged for performing the same move on Power going into the corner on a restart, although this incident was not without contact. Black flag was thrown for blocking and Helio was relegated to the back of the pack for the official results, despite crossing the finish line first. The contact does make the two incidents appear quite different, but the reason for the penalty on Helio was blocking, not contact. The action was the same, moving over the invisible Cotman line down the center of a track entering a corner, in an attempt to defend his position. The rule was never spoken of before Edmonton, despite being broken many times in the past.

Why pull it out that week? No one will ever know. Why Tracy and not Castroneves? Again, it is anyones guess. The face of the racing has changed because of these two incidents and others like them that we are subjected to at every race. Many prerace minutes are devoted to “no blocking zones”, and “no passing zones”. This is all ok, only if it is consistently done from race to race. I commented last week that the officials should have been commended in Toronto because of the consistency of the no call. I still stand by this and will continue to stand by it if the “boys have at it” attitude continues. If it does not, it needs to be consistently called clean. Not when the officials can find the black flag at their leisure.

Eric Hall



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