Grundy County Speedway street stock drivers and promoter Tom White are in agreement that the track was unsuitable for racing immediately after showers interrupted the May 31 program.
Whether it remained that way when the division's feature was eventually run is a matter of debate.
At least one street stock driver feels that a series of hot laps meant to dry the track and the waving of the green flag that followed were inappropriate. Aaron Shelton entered the night second in the division's points race, but he opted to leave the track early after the feature had begun.
"I've never been scared to get in a race car. That is the first time that's happened," Shelton said. "Some guys felt like their hands were tied. I've been racing hard for points this year, but points don't mean too much to me in a situation like that. I would love to take home a championship, but I'm not going to risk my life to do it."
According to White, when the street stock feature began, there was no more risk for the drivers involved than normal.
"It was never my intention to run the street stock or any other race in an unsafe situation," White said. "When we finally did get the track dried, I asked for opinions and got the thumbs up, so we proceeded to start the feature."
White says that early in the day, given the forecast, he thought the program would have to be canceled. Then he watched on radar as a pack of storms seemingly bound for Grundy County broke up en route. He and the Grundy Fair Board decided to hold the program as scheduled.
Throughout the preliminary heat races and trophy dashes, there were no problems — even Shelton says "the races were great." Rain hit during intermission prior to the start of the first feature race, which put White in a bind. After it stopped, he says, he consulted with other race officials and gave the go-ahead for the pure stock division's feature. Pure stocks do not use the same type of specialty tires, what are best known as racing slicks, as the other classes and are thus better equipped for wet conditions.
Once the pure stocks had finished, the street stocks were called onto the track for their feature. At that point, Shelton was not the only driver to question — at least to themselves — management's decision.
"I mean, they had brought all of us out there and announced that they were going to start our race. When we had out there initially, my thought was, 'We're going to race like this?'" driver Cheryl Hryn said. "I was going to just tool around in the back and get my points. I wasn't going to go full steam on a track like that."
Instead of beginning their race after a regular warm-up period, the street stocks continued to circle the track under caution. They continued to do so for what Shelton estimated to be 30 to 40 minutes.
Shelton and David Einhaus, a former street stock driver who now races in the late model division, contend that it was unfair that the street stocks were made to dry the track for so long — and do so while burning their own expensive fuel.
White says the street stocks were made to go out because few other drivers were willing to help dry the track. Shelton feels that street stocks were the ones forced into doing so because drivers in the late model and Mid-American divisions have "too much money" invested in their cars. White says it is "unfortunate" that the responsibility fell almost solely to the street stocks but says that happened only because their race was next.
"We probably should have had more drivers willing to go out and help dry the track," White said. "but the drying process itself is common practice at virtually any race track in the midwest."
According to Shelton, the attempts at drying the track did not result in suitable conditions to race.
"It was way too hot and humid to really dry the track," Shelton said. "The guys running real hard for points, we kind of had our hands tied. You can't get enough guys to form a wall and say no.
"It's a safety issue for the drivers, and it's disrespectful for the drivers and for the fans in the stands. They'd understand. What they usually end up doing is a night of double features — two features for each class instead of one. It all works out even in the end. I don't know why (White) wanted to push so hard."
White says that when the rain came, too much of the program had been completed for rain checks to be issued. And with a special event on the schedule the following week — the speedway will host an on-track autograph party this Friday — he wanted to have as few make-up features as possible to worry about. But, he says, none of those desires were enough to trump safety.
When asked if she felt the conditions were unsafe at the time the street stock feature started, Hryn responded, "No."
"I don't think (White) would have sent us out to race our race under bad conditions," Hryn said. "Of the four classes, street stocks are third on the totem pole, but he doesn't think any less of us.
"Tommy has been around for a very long time, longer than I've been around. We had one guy leave the track was all."
Josh Nelms was one of the few Mid-American drivers that helped with the drying effort.
"I went out on the track just before they had taken the green flag," Nelms said. "We were just getting up to speed. Tom White was down on the infield at that point, and I actually stopped next to him and said, 'I don't know what we're waiting for. We need to go racing.'
"The fastest lap during the feature was one-tenth of a second slower than in qualifying. I don't know how the track could be deemed to be unsafe with that being the case. If it was indeed unsafe, the drivers would have gotten together and not gone out there. Drivers will stick together."
Einhaus kept his late model at home May 31 due to the forecast, though he did attend the program. He says one specific problem created potential danger Friday — and creates potential danger at the track often following rain.
"The track wasn't horrible. The problem is that turn two is seeping water. You can either try and straddle the water, go down below it or hit it head-on," Einhaus said. "I mean, it's frustrating sometimes to try and go out and get a read on the handling with your car and you can't even diagnose it to its full potential because the track is so bad.
"I'm not badmouthing the track, and I'm not badmouthing Tom White, but something has to be changed."
To White, what happened during the street stock feature — which had to be stopped early when more rain came, but counted — is strong evidence that conditions were suitable for racing when the green flag waved.
"There were no yellow flags for anything related to the conditions of the race track," White said. "There was one yellow flag thrown when two drivers happened to get together. That's all."