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Late Model points leader ‘banned for life?’
May 15, 2006 - updated May 15th, 2006 10:06pm
Web posted by Kelly Snow, C-T Sports Editor
Rougemont, NC. --
There may be a bounty at Orange County Speedway that never gets paid.
Jonathan Cash, a three-time winner in the Late Model division isn’t expected to return to the Rougemont track after being disqualified during post-race inspection Saturday following the featured 150-lap event in the NAPA 330.
The driver of the Strutmasters.com No. 7 car was ruled to have both “improperly ported (carburetor) heads and a stroked crankshaft” according to a release sent by Orange County Speedway owner Vance Agee Monday.
According to the release, “the car’s management refused to give up the non-conforming parts or to complete the remainder of the inspection”.
Cash had won the first three Late Model events of the season, and edged Person County driver Ronald Hill for the victory in a race that included a $1,000 bounty for whoever defeated the Oxford competitor if he finished.
Before Saturday’s disqualification, Cash was the points leader in the Late Model division at Orange County Speedway as well as South Boston Speedway.
Banned for life?
There are conflicting reports as to the severity of the penalties levied against Cash Saturday after post-race inspection. Posts on the message board Racerap.com have suggested that the Strutmasters competitor has been “banned for life” from the three-eighths of a mile track.
Cash believes his suspension is just that.
“Vance told us that if I walked out with the heads, I would be breaking a track rule,” Cash said. “He said I wouldn’t be able to race there anymore. I asked him ‘ever?’ and he said yes.”
His car owner backs his account.
“Jonathan said ‘if I take my heads, what’s going to happen?’,” car owner Chip Lofton said. “(Agee) said, ‘you won’t be able to come back again. (Cash) thought for a second and said ‘if I take these heads we can’t come back ever?’ (Agee) said ‘that’s right’. There were a bunch of witnesses that saw that.”
Agee denies leveling any punishment against Cash or the Strutmasters.com team other than the race disqualification and insists that any possible sanctions for the driver have not been decided upon.
“I think they tried to make me say he was banned. I never said it,” Agee said. “They elected to ban themselves.”
“We are in counsel with the advisory committee to come up with the appropriate penalties and fees.”
According to Chip Lofton, Strutmasters’ teams will not be returning to Orange County Speedway. Cash will continue racing at South Boston Speedway and occasionally at other tracks in the area including Caraway Speedway in Asheboro and Southern National Speedway in Kenly.
Cash initially wasn’t planning on running a full season at Orange County Speedway, but has competed in all four of the events this season.
“After he won the first race, people started thinking it was a fluke, then he won another and another,” Chip Lofton said.
“Jonathan needs to run NASCAR sanctioned tracks anyway. It’s not a huge deal (not to race at OCS- an ASA track), but if you’re winning the points at South Boston and were the track champion at OCS- two (championships) is better than one, even though one isn’t NASCAR sanctioned.”
Cash admits that he will miss competing at the Rougemont track.
“I’ve got mixed emotions about it,” Cash said. “I would like to come back and race against good guys like Ronald (Hill) and (David) Triplett (Jr.), but I just can’t afford to go up there and lose (winners prize) $2,500 and heads every time out. I just don’t want to go up there and feel like I’m getting picked on.”
Cash’s teammate in the Late Model Division Craig Moore is expected to compete some at Southern National, while Limited Sportsman driver Matt Lofton will continue running at South Boston, while occasionally racing at Southern National. Moore entered Saturday’s race fifth in points at OCS and led early on before falling out of contention midway through the event.
Matt Lofton was seventh in the Limited Sportsman division standings entering Saturday’s race.
“We let the team decide. We didn’t just say ‘to hell with it, we’re not going back’,” Chip Lofton said. “The consensus of the team is that with that kind of treatment, they were being pointed out and dealt with individually for whatever reason. The consensus of the team is that none of them wanted to go back.”
Cash’s team was not pleased with the way post-race inspections were handled following his victory and believe its car was wrongfully disqualified.
According to Chip Lofton, the technical inspectors didn’t use the proper tools to check the carburetor heads and crankshafts.
“We asked (the technical inspectors) ‘where are your tech tools?’,” the Strutmasters.com team owner said. “They said, ‘we don’t use tech tools, we just stick our finger in here, and you’re illegal.’
“The tool he used to check the stroke of an engine isn’t much more than a carpenter’s ruler,” Chip Lofton added. “They need dial indicators and special equipment.
Agee insists that dial indicators were used and that his team followed the protocol for post-race inspection and that the results were accurate.
“The tools used to check for improving the flow capacity of a head is port and polishing. Porting is making the circumference larger than what is allowable by NASCAR,” Agee said. “We have the NASCAR sanctioned approved heads that show flow characteristics have not been modified to improve performance. The tools that are required to do that is a sample and touching.”
Chip Lofton believes that his team’s carburetor heads were investigated more thoroughly than the second and third place cars during post-race inspections.
“The third car (Triplett) said he couldn’t afford to take his heads off and (the technical inspectors) said, ‘it’s alright, you can go’,” Lofton said. “In my opinion they were very adamant that we didn’t pass tech inspection. It seemed like from the get-go that they were bent on finding something wrong.
Agee told The Courier-Times that “all of the top-three finishers in the Late Model division were inspected the same way”.
According to Agee, the Strutmasters team was asked to leave one of the carburetor heads for inspection by “a mutually agreeable place” if it chose to appeal the disqualification. Chip Lofton contends that his team was asked to leave behind both heads in question, and Cash decided to leave with them with the understanding that he would not be allowed to return to compete at Orange County Speedway.
According to Chip Lofton, the carburetor heads in question were put back on the car in preparation for a race Sunday at Southern National.
That event was rained out, and the heads were taken off and checked by a NASCAR official from South Boston Speedway Monday, and according to Chip Lofton, “he checked both heads with tools and found everything to be legal”.
Monday’s alleged findings did not sway Agee’s opinion about the legality of Cash’s carburetor.
“We gave them the option to leave one (carburetor head) with us and take one for an independent inspection from a source agreeable to both parties,” Agee said. “Had they done that, we would have been assured that the heads that were removed were the same one used in the race. Right now there’s a credibility issue with the ones being used for inspection.”
Chip Lofton believes that the disqualification and alleged banning of his point-leading driver are a result of some bad feelings from Agee.
According to Chip Lofton, he entered a contract with Agee in July 2005 to sponsor a race for $10,000 scheduled for Sept. 22 at OCS.
The race never happened and according to Chip Lofton, repeated attempts to get his money back were unsuccessful.
“When that race didn’t happen, I asked to get my money back, but I never could get it back,” Chip Lofton said. “After giving it some thought, I decided to let it linger until the first race of this year.”
Strutmasters.com was the official sponsor for the opening night of racing on March 11.
Chip Lofton also contends that the first two $2,500 checks sent to Strutmasters after Cash’s victories on March 11 and 18 bounced. Agee did not deny that, but said “they cleared the bank” and that has “long-since been reconciled”.
The Strutmasters’ team also asked that the three lowest finishes for the season be dropped in the points’ standings after Orange County Speedway expanded its schedule by three races. Those three events coincide with races at South Boston Speedway, Cash’s home track.
“I started sending e-mails and making phone calls to try to get them to make some sort of arrangement so that Jonathan, could go after both championships,” Chip Lofton said. “Since they changed the schedule, I felt they should do something to accommodate Jonathan so he could still have a shot at the championships. This would be good for all drivers, not just Jonathan.”
According to Chip Lofton, he proposed that the drivers have the option of whether they wanted their lowest race result of the season dropped, but Orange County management still wasn’t interested.
“They were campaigning to change the points’ program midstream,” Agee said. “ We elected not to because we had already set a precedent in the rules program. We haven’t bent to any influence in which we’ve received from them.”
Chip Lofton contends that the alleged banning of his driver is nothing but a personal assault at him and his teams.
“That’s the only way I can take it,” Chip Lofton said. “Because of that Strutmasters will never be there again. We’ll never invest any effort in there again when there are good (NASCAR) sanctioned tracks running.”
Agee insists that there is no personal grudge against any of the Strutmasters’ team.
“The race track has had issues (with Strutmasters) in the past that have nothing to do with the current regime,” Agee said. “We’ve tried to maintain the integrity of the sport. We want a level playing field.”
Impact at the newly re-opened track
There may be financial consequences if Cash and the Strutmasters teams do not return to Orange County Speedway.
Cash has been a big draw in the first-four races and has a strong fan base that follows him where he competes.
“I think Vance is making a big mistake,” Cash said. “After the race that Ronald (Hill) and I had Saturday, he could have increased his gate by 25 percent. Now I know they’ll lose my 100 or so supporters that come up here from Oxford.”
Agee believes his track will survive just fine.
“(Drivers) have said that it’s been absolutely necessary to maintain a level driving field,” Agee said. “We’ve gotten calls from drivers that said that they left because they felt (Strutmasters) has gotten special treatment. They see that’s not the case, and they want to come back and challenge our great field.”
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