Update: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the structure of the technical inspection team for the 2022 Snowball Derby. Joe Balash is the competition director. Every member of the team has equal roles under the supervision of Balash.
For the most part, there were no major issues on pre-inspection day for the Snowball Derby and Snowflake 100 on Wednesday at Five Flags Speedway and ateam in the shed were able to inspect every car pretty seamlessly.
The team was put together by STARS Super Late Model Series operations director Joe Balash -- and he was proud of what they accomplished.
"A lot of these officials have come together over the summer and worked some events together," Balash said at the end of the night. "As we've wrapped up the end of the season at Winchester and the All-American 400, we've pulled these officials together and they've worked together, and it's a good compliment of people."
Balash said the crew worked under the pressure that they were a new team under a certain degree of scrutiny, and they met the moment.
"When you’re the new guy, until you go through a new process, you don’t know what questions to ask," Balash said. "Obviously, I’ve done a lot of races over my career but I’ve never done the Snowball. We have had a lot of meetings, a lot of conversations, but until you actually do it, there are some things you would do different that second time around."
By in large, racers offered no problems with how pre-inspection went. First, crew chief and car owner Jamie Yelton of Fathead Racing
"The Derby is going to be tough no matter who is doing it," Yelton said. "Tech is a double-edged sword because everyone knows Ricky (Brooks) isn’t here and it’s a big topic. ... Everyone has an opinion, too many rules, not enough rules, no rules, but at the end of the day, rules are a good thing and keep everyone on a level playing field when they are enforced properly."
Bubba Pollard had mixed emotions on Wednesday, recognizing how tough the subject is to discuss, but definitely wanting to see more of how this crew handles the entire week.
"I don’t know how I feel, it just started, it’s day one," Pollard said. "It could be good and it could be bad. You just hate that the Derby is the first race where everything changes. That’s my deal. Look at what happened at 4-17 Raceway (with the Ty Majeski disqualification) and I wonder if they felt like they had to throw someone out just because Ricky wasn’t there and to make a statement.
"That bolt deal was dumb. My theory on that is, if you want to get technical, fine someone because that wasn’t worth taking the win away for a damn bolt. … I think that was the wrong way to do it. They’ve made it to where you have to treat short track racing like it’s a full-time job. It was one bolt and credit to Toby (Nuttleman) for owning it, but one bolt didn’t win them the race, and I don’t want to see this race come down to something like that, especially if they think they have to make a statement because Ricky isn’t here."
Chris Cater, now with Michael Hinde and previously with Stephen Nasse when they ran afoul of Brooks so often, says he’s had no issues with the process on Wednesday.
"They’re checking a little bit more than they usually do but it largely feels the same from Wednesdays in previous years," Cater said. "There are always some new twists and turns to go through but everything is going really smooth."
Does the expectation Cater and other races have match those from the new team?
"Are you asking if there’s going to be gotcha tech after the end of the race?"
That’s one way of putting it.
"They may or may not, it’s hard to say," Cater said. "Ricky has his things he’d try, and we all know that, so we try to stay within the law. Some people might try to skirt the rules, thinking they might not check it, and hopefully that’s not the case."
Balash says they want racers to have each day of the week to continue improving their cars, but also have the opportunity to get right before hopefully having a chance to get torn down on Sunday after the race.
"We believe in inspect early, inspect often," Balash said. "Look at the car really hard in the beginning. It may take a little longer to do that. Give the teams a chance to make those adjustments. When you get to the next inspection on Friday, that’s another chance to look at the car, and then whatever you can do.
"We don’t want gotcha moments, no official does. Officials want really good clean inspection, consistency amongst all the cars and knowing they are in the best condition they can be before the race starts.
"We don’t want inspection to be the story. We want the competition to be the story."
The most notable thing that happened on the day in inspection was a big meeting in the pits between Donnie Wilson Motorsports and Balash. Wilson said they were clear on the rules and that they appreciated the dialogue from Balash. He also said the process had gone well.
It wasn’t anything Balash felt was out of the norms of competition either.
"Look, the teams are trying to get all they can," Balash said. "We have a rule package we’ve throughout the year but there are questions that come up. Say, we have measurement A and measurement B and measurement C and you can’t maximize all of those and be in the same box.
"So they had to make some adjustments on the car, and they were cool with it once we explained the rule and how it was applied."