They call it door-to-door road racing for a reason. Racing is an aggressive sport and sometimes those two doors, well, in a hard-fought road race, they touch, and when they do, damage generally occurs. To be clear, this is not what the National Auto Sport Association is looking for. NASA wants a safe, fair and competitive environment for people to race in. They want everyone to remain healthy during a race weekend and they also want to keep costs down for racers, because fixing body damage can get expensive.
It is for these safe and sane reasons that NASA has numerous Club Codes and Regulations regarding passing rules and body contact. If you aren’t familiar with those rules, shame on you. It is the responsibility of every competitor to be extensively familiar with the CCR. Even if you do everything right on track — and especially if you don’t — you can find yourself in a situation where body contact can occur. When that happens, a number of CCR immediately come into play and you are required to do certain things — go to impound, complete forms — in a certain timeframe — 30 minutes — to not generate the unwanted wrath of the Race Director. Nobody wants that.
The process for what to do after you have been involved in an incident on track can be a bit daunting for the first-timer. To provide you with the correct things to do and some helpful hints to get through the process, we spoke with NASA SoCal Race Director Shawn Meze. Shawn is a man of many titles, besides being a Race Director since 2007, he is also the NASA Spec E30 National Director and a Super Touring SoCal Series Leader. Like all race directors, he has the power to change race results, revoke your competition license and/or just publicly shame you during driver’s meetings. I can attest to the public shaming component because I have been subject to it on many occasions.
According to Meze, his number one goal as a Race Director is, “To make the fairest decision I can.” Though Race Directors wield a lot of power at an event, they do not rule like a dictator. They use the rules put forth in the CCR. Specifically for passing, they look at 26.0 APPENDIX A, which has outstanding illustrations of proper and improper passing attempts, and section 27.11 Issuing Penalties, which designates proper penalties for infractions. When Meze makes a decision on fault after a car-to-car incident on track, it shouldn’t be a surprise to the competitors because his decision will be based on the rules in the CCR. Meze supports good competitive racing.
“You can race people hard, you can run close, you can even touch,” he said. “But if you take people out, that’s problematic. I want gentlemen racing. That’s where you race hard, but clean.”
Based on the CCR, you are required to go to impound and complete a Body Contact Report form after an incident on track. According to Meze, the biggest mistake most drivers make is they fail to complete a form at all.
“Drivers will have a minor incident on track and think it’s no big deal,” said Shawn. “The two drivers will work it out amongst themselves and decide not to complete a report. But then one of the drivers will actually complete a form. If Driver A fills out a form and Driver B does not, then it’s Driver A’s word. His word is law because we never received a form from Driver B. I have seen situations where Driver A was actually at fault for the incident, but because Driver B didn’t report, Driver B lost a grid position for the next race.”
The lesson here is to complete the form and ensure your version of the incident is documented. Secondarily, the report forms help NASA track driver behavior.
“I’m interested in the drivers who are always hitting other cars because obviously that is a problem, but I’m also interested in the not-at-fault drivers who manage to get hit over and over again,” said Meze. “If that’s the case, we probably need to work with them as well. Why are they always in a position to be hit?”
Completing a Body Contact Report form is not a difficult task. You do not need a Harvard Law degree to get through the process. Most of the descriptions of the incident only require circling a response. For instance: “My car was … ahead / along side / behind … the other car.” This is important information if you are familiar with 26.0 APPENDIX A, which requires passing vehicles to be in sight of the other driver, not in a blind spot. Meze says one of the most common things not filled out on the form is the driver’s cell phone number.
“Things are busy during a race weekend. I may not get a chance to look over a report for some time, and if I have follow-up questions for the driver, I would like to be able to call them and discuss it,” said Meze. “I need them to put their phone number on the form for that to happen.”
Often, drivers will skip over a lot of portions of the report, when they should be more detailed in completing it. According to Meze, it doesn’t mean you need to write a novel.
“Just be intellectually honest about what happened,” said Shawn. “What is your perspective about what happened? Some people don’t want to complete the form until they see the video. But you need to fill out the form based on what you think happened and get it in within 30 minutes of the checkered flag. If the video shows something different from what was put on the form, that will not harm your reputation. All of the evidence will be reviewed. You will not be punished if you said it was the other driver’s fault and then you watch the video and you agree it was your fault. Completing the form will not harm you. In reality it can only benefit you.”
Unfortunately, NASA Race Directors get a lot of forms where people skip over completing entire portions of the report. It is important to be thorough. Even if you don’t know the exact car number that hit you, simply describe the color and type of car. Chances are the Race Directors will be able to figure it out from that partial information.
As a person who has been clearly at-fault for contact, and a victim of on-track incident, I concur with Shawn’s assessment that it is important to complete the paperwork in a timely and thorough fashion. I recommend taking your time and using good penmanship because the Body Contact Report represents your side of the story. I also endorse taking a moment and cooling down before speaking to other drivers in your session about what happened. Yelling at other drivers, cursing, and screaming at the Race Director is not an effective way to communicate or to get your point across. Sure, you may have been the innocent victim in an incident, lost a race, lost points, lost contingency money and have thousands of dollars in damage repairs ahead of you, but that doesn’t mean you get to act like a child in impound. Remain calm, fill out your report and allow the Race Director to make a ruling.
Besides filling out your Body Contact Report to provide evidence of how the collision occurred, you will want to provide video evidence. Having a working forward-facing video camera in your racecar is not just a good idea it is mandated by NASA in CCR 15.22.
“All competition vehicles, except Time Trial, are required to use at least one forward-facing video recording device at all times while on the track. The video format must be a digital file such that it can be viewed in a MS Windows compatible viewer. The camera must capture at least the ‘driver’s eye view.’ Video cameras shall produce files with the correct time and date. Failure to comply with any part of this section will incur penalties as follows: First offense is a warning, second offense is a fifty-dollar ($50) fine, third offense will result in a one (1) race suspension form the series, and fourth offense is racing-license suspension for 365 days. Penalties may be alleviated for bonified mechanical failure, such as crashing, as determined by the Race Director.”
I have found that the front facing camera doesn’t always capture the action of an incident, which is why I run front- and rear-facing cameras. Meze says remembering to turn your camera on is your responsibility.
“If you forgot to turn your camera on, you can ask a grid worker to turn on your camera for you,” said Shawn. “That is why NASA has them there to help you before you go on track. Don’t be afraid to ask grid workers for help.”
Video evidence is clearly the best evidence to determine how a collision occurred. Ensuring your camera is on, having a charged camera battery and enough storage room on your data card is part of your responsibility as a driver. Knowing I may have to provide my data card to the Race Director, I use my favorite tool in our shop at Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, my Brother P-Touch Label Maker, to label my cards. I label each data card with the driver name, car number and class. Shawn recommends taping the data card to the Body Contact Report form.
“Besides clipboards and pens, impound will have blue tape as well,” said Shawn. “Grab a piece of blue tape and stick your data card right to your Body Contact Report form. By the end of the weekend, I will get it back to you.”
Some drivers want to review their video before they fill out their form. In most cases there isn’t time for that. On my team, we have a grid backpack worn by a crew member, which has a few tools in it for ensuring the car gets on track before a session and a few tools in it for after a session in impound. One of the things in our grid backpack is a laptop or a tablet where we can quickly view in-car footage from the SD cards from our GoPro cameras. I can watch the video quickly as I am filling out my Body Contact Report and then I can rename the file to help the Race Director see what exactly he or she needs to look at.
When I give my Body Contact Report form and my SD card to the Race Director, I ensure the form is complete, my SD card is labeled and the video file tells the Race Director the exact time on the video of the incident. This is to make the Race Director’s life easier. A happy Race Director is a good Race Director. And, if I’m at fault for an incident, I am extremely forthcoming about my responsibility.
Not only can your video help determine what happened in a car-to-car contact situation, but other competitor’s videos, even if they weren’t involved, also can help. CCR 27.3 Data Collection states, “If a competitor needs to collect data from another competitor or official to prove his or her case, the Race Director has the power to collect such data if deemed necessary.” A recent incident in Honda Challenge wasn’t easily resolved by the front-facing cameras of two cars that collided with each other. However, a front-facing camera from a competitor driving behind the incident provided clear evidence of what actually occurred.
The Honda Challenge field was heading into the Esses at Buttonwillow on the first lap of the race. After a car-to-car incident occurred, causing one car to spin and lose positions, the perception of what had actually occurred was completely different by the three drivers.
The perception of the driver of the silver and blue Acura Integra was, “the red Honda Civic intentionally ran into the side of me like a complete mad man.” He filled out a Body Contact Report.
The perception of the driver of the red Honda Civic was, “I never collided with an Integra.” He filled out a Body Contact Report because he had damage on the left side of his vehicle.
The perception of the driver of the black Honda CRX was, “I wasn’t involved in any of that.” He didn’t complete a Body Contact Report because he didn’t have any repairable damage.
Video was secured from an uninvolved competitor’s car and provided to the Race Director. Using that video the Race Director could reconstruct what actually occurred when three drivers had varying versions of what happened based on their own perceptions of the incident.
Looking at this incident frame by frame, the Race Director could understand why the forward facing cameras of the involved parties didn’t result in clear evidence, and it also provided an understanding why the involved drivers had differing opinions of how it occurred, because two of the drivers couldn’t see the black CRX. Using video from another competitor, the Race Director was able to come up with a fair assessment of what happened and provide any penalties, if required.
Penalties are derived from CCR 27.11 Issuing Penalties
“The Race Director may choose to issue any penalty for any infraction. However, it is highly recommended that he or she follow closely with what is published in the rulebook. Any deviation from what is published without due proof of mitigating circumstance may be grounds for appeal. The following is a list of suggested penalties for the listed infraction:
1. Contact bumper to bumper with no deviation and no damage: No penalty
2. Any sheet metal contact with no damage and no deviation: No penalty
3. Any contact causing deviation, with no damage, but loss of a position: Reposition
4. Any contact resulting in ‘damage’ as defined by these guidelines: One (1) race suspension
5. Any contact resulting in a ‘punt’ as defined by these guidelines: Disqualification
6. Any contact resulting in damage and punt: Disqualification and one (1) race suspension
7. Passing under a standing yellow or double yellow: Reposition to last place (minimum)
8. Passing under waving yellow and / or over-driving any yellow: Disqualification (minimum).”
Meze said that one thing most people don’t realize about body contact incidents is that he is tracking all of it with a spreadsheet for NASA’s Driver’s Points System, which is outlined in CCR 27.12 Driver’s Points System
“The Race Director may elect a ‘Pointskeeper’ for the sake of keeping track of on track violations and penalties. Because the faults and/or penalties may be appealed, no results shall be official until personally approved by the Race Director, and published as Official Results. The Pointskeeper will keep a tally on the accumulation of driver’s points for each driver. The following are guidelines for assigning points.
1. Contact bumper to bumper with no deviation and no damage: No points
2. Any sheet metal contact with no damage and no deviation: One (1) point each
3. Any contact causing deviation, with no damage, but loss of a position: Three (3) points for the offender, one (1) point for the other driver.
4. Any contact resulting in ‘damage’ as defined by these guidelines: Three (3) points for the offender, one (1) point for the other driver.
5. Any contact resulting in a ‘punt’ as defined by these guidelines: Three (3) points for the offender, one (1) point for the other driver.
6. Any contact resulting in damage and punt: Six (6) points for the offender, one (1) point for the other driver.
7. Passing under a standing yellow or double yellow: Two (2) points
8. Passing under waving yellow and/or over-driving any yellow: Six (6) points.”
If a driver earns 10 points during a season, his or her NASA license is reviewed and can be suspended for a year. Driver points begin again at zero at the beginning of the next annual racing season. Long story short, this will go on your permanent record. The goal with all of this reporting and tracking is to have safe, fair racing.
Unfortunately for SoCal NASA, the year-ending race at Buttonwillow in October 2020 had 28 body-contact incidents in a single day on Saturday. This was an unacceptable number. Meze was not a happy camper at the Sunday driver’s meeting. He took the 28 Body Contact Reports and threw them into the air in frustration. NASA doesn’t want this, the Race Directors don’t want this, and the teams definitely don’t want this. The goal is to race, but race clean. If you want to crash stuff, head to the local county fair and enter a demolition derby. I’ve actually done it. It’s fun. But it isn’t what I want to do during a NASA weekend with my road racing car.
To wrap this up, I will leave you with some words of wisdom from Meze, who says this at the end of every one of his driver’s meetings, “Race hard, race clean and take care of one another out there on track.”