Hello, and welcome to the first of what will be a weekly installment here on SCORacing.com, From the Tower. I hope this will become one of your favorite parts of the week.
Sometimes, as someone who watches way too much auto racing, this column will break down the latest action on the track. Sometimes, it will provide real-life context to what you are seeing on the Twitch streams. And sometimes, as the Chief of Operations of SCOR, it will start a conversation about league proceedings, or explain why the Board made a certain decision.
Enough introductory nonsense. Let’s talk about the test sim heard around the fake racing world, Calamity at the Colosseum.
If you weren’t watching last night, well, we had three test races, 75 laps apiece, at Bristol Motor Speedway. It was … something.
The good news is, it was a TEST sim, and we learned a lot from it! So much so, the theme from this week will be What We Learned from Bristol.
Arcade or Starrcade?: For the first two races, the “arcade” driving mode was utilized. The first two races were also complete clusterbombs. Granted, Bristol’s 36-degree banking has a long history of chaos, NASCAR’s version of the Thunderdome.
Still, nothing could have prepared us for what actually transpired in Race No. 1. In the 75-lap race, the yellow flag flew 11 times for a total of 55 caution laps. That’s ignoring the incidents that didn’t bring out a yellow … or the incidents happening while we were already under caution … or Niki Lauda, Jr. driving head-on into the pit wall during Race No. 2, when cautions were turned off.
In the third race, when all hope appeared lost and we had cried all possible tears of laughter, bossman Wally flipped the switch to Simulation mode. What’s the worst that could happen, right? Turns out, the racing actually resembled racing in that event, which bodes well for when the STSC actually visits Bristol in the future. It is also worth noting after visiting the archive that both the Rockford and Five Flags tests were in Simulation mode, and those were also solid races. No idea how the change got made, but let’s pray it never happens again.
Proceed with Caution: While the “Enduro” style for Race No. 2 was entertaining under the Arcade engine, it quickly lost its luster as the field spread out and you could count the number of lead-lap cars on one hand. While there was an exciting battle for the win between two guys named after real guys, Rusty Wallace and Dave Lake, it was a pretty dull watch otherwise. Don’t expect yellow flags to be turned off for future races.
Cold Blooded: Due to the general, uh, insanity of last night’s sim, all results should probably be taken with the grainiest grain of salt. However, it is worth noting that one man dodged all the mayhem to score an average finish of 3.67 over the three races – Rick James. James finished fifth in both of the “Arcade” races before dominating Race No. 3 for the victory.
On the Double: For those not as acquainted with the fine technicalities of NASCAR, there was some confusion in the Discord voice chat during the sim (which y’all should totally join next time, I’m going to make it a habit).
As you can see, one of the pre-race settings, which has been checked throughout the tests, is “Double File Restarts.” Folks were naturally confused when the leaders remained single-file on restarts, with the lapped cars lining up to their inside. Why aren’t we double file?! I explained this in voice, but for the benefit of those who weren’t there, here is why.
The sim used in this league is NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. It is, especially for its age, a damn good racing sim, and its coding went into the development of iRacing. However, that also means it uses 2003 rules, and in 2003, the restart format we saw last night was exactly what NASCAR used, and had used for decades.
In short, lining up the lapped down cars on the inside provided those drivers an opportunity to earn their lap back, battling with the leader on a restart. NASCAR didn’t enact “shootout-style” double-file restarts, with the lapped cars behind the leaders, until 2009, and it largely came as a byproduct of an incident that coincidentally happened in 2003.
In 2003, when a caution flew, the field “raced back to the line,” and would be scored in accordance to how they completed the lap following the incident. Often, this was a chance for lap-down cars to get back on the lead lap, as the leaders often slowed under a gentlemen’s agreement not to compete with each other in such a situation unless it was late in the race.
Then, the incident above happened at Loudon, New Hampshire, where Dale Jarrett crashes out of turn four after the leaders have already started the next lap … meaning they had to race by his disabled car at full speed to get back to the yellow flag. You can probably see the exact moment when Dale likely soiled his firesuit in that video. What can brown do for you, indeed.
That led to a new rule, in which the field froze at the time of caution. To make up for lapped cars not being able to race to the line and get on the lead lap, NASCAR created the beneficiary rule, better known as the free pass (or Lucky Dog, if Aaron’s is paying you enough money), granting the first car one lap down an effective Get Out of Jail Free card and putting them on the lead lap.
A byproduct of that, naturally, was it wasn’t so important to race the leader on a restart anymore as a lapped car … you only needed to be ahead of the other lapped cars to get the next free pass. Thus, it made the road to true double-file restarts that much easier, and it’s honestly surprising it took six years to happen anyways.
So, tl;dr, the game isn’t broken when those damn lapped cars get in the way. That’s the way it used to be.
On a related note, why not just turn double-file restarts off and get those lapped cars out of the way? Because, well, it doesn’t work like that in the game, either. Instead, everyone just lines up exactly where they are. In other words, if you are second when the caution comes out, and there were four lapped cars between you and the leader, those four lapped cars will still be there. So honestly, the double-file restart option is the best we have, because it at least puts the leaders together in the same lane.
Mailbag: While this isn’t anything we learned from Bristol, I did want to use this weekly space to open up the floor for questions. New to auto racing because you’re just a sim league junkie and want to know more about the sport? Want to know why Wally wrote a rule the way he did? Trying to figure out how the hell I picked the tracks I did for the Tier I schedule (Yes, that was my doing, you’re welcome)? Ask that or anything else on your mind in the comments. It’s not like you weren’t already going to comment for the TPE anyways.
This concludes the first From the Tower! Check back next week for more from your resident North Carolina nincompoop.