In recent days, IndyCar race control has been low-hanging fruit as far as finding something to disparage about the Verizon IndyCar Series. In Toronto, the main criticism really wasn’t whether to run in the rain or not, it was the apparent waffling on the subject. The cars were on the track. They were off. The race started. No, it didn’t. You guys can start in your regular positions. No, you have to go to the back. You guys cannot work on your car, but you guys can. Yikes. Perception does become reality to many people. The problem is that perception is often not reality.
I don’t pretend to have any special insight into IndyCar race control, but I do know a little something about officiating. Here are a few things to keep in mind the next time race control gores your particular ox.
1. You can’t call it all. In the NFL, officials can call holding on every play. They don’t do it because they know better. If they did, then new officials would be hired. Like water, the game finds its own level where the players and officials understand what is acceptable. Racing is the same. You can’t call everything because every pass, every defensive move, every decision could be seen as violating some rule. You officiate the spirit of the rule. No harm, no foul.
2. Owners and team managers, like coaches, don’t really know the rules very well. Exceptions like Dale Coyne notwithstanding, owners and team managers think they know the rules. Ask any official in any sport if most coaches get deep in the rulebook. They don’t. And that’s too bad, since knowledge of the rules can benefit you like working under red flag conditions truly benefited Sarah Fisher at Toronto. Never assume the owners know what they are talking about.
3. Don’t trust the announcers. The only ones who know less about the rules than the owners are talking heads and ex-drivers. The ex-drivers knew some of the rules when they drove, but I can guarantee that they only quote the rulebook when someone points out the rule to them.
4. Let’s talk ox goring again, shall we. Any official’s worst nightmare is the coach or player who wants every violation called on every play. They never shut up. Of course, they never want the same thing called on them. Not mentioning any names, but IndyCar is full of drivers who see the world as against them all the time. According to them, they are always innocent and everyone else is always guilty. Be honest, how many drivers and owners came to mind? More than one, right?
5. No official sees it all. Instant replay and slow motion have ruined the integrity of officiating in all sports. We no longer trust the officials to get it right. Actions take place at full speed in any sport, and that full speed in IndyCar renders real-time calls almost impossible. I don’t care how many cameras IndyCar has, the crew in race control will never see everything. Never. A basic rule in officiating is to call it, you must first see it. Guessing is not allowed. When you add the idea of intent, then you have opened yourself up to second guessing from people who neither know the rules or are capable of interpreting them.
6. One problem in racing is that decisions are often reached by committee. Beaux Barfield may make the call, but he has input from the other stewards. This is not a criticism of the decision makers; it’s an acknowledgement of the difficulty of reaching a consensus decision. Having multiple voices in race control is endemic to auto racing, so there’s no changing it. It also offers a little protection for the derriere. And that’s important. Officials need to believe they can call them like they see them.
7. Officials can’t fight back. Derrick Walker, other than an occasional ill-timed presser, has been solidly in race control’s corner. His defense of the decisions made by Beaux and the boys goes a long way to silencing the critics. Nothing is easier than sniping the decisions of an official. The series needs to zip the lips of the teams in this regard. You don’t see much official disparaging in the NCAA, NFL, NHL, or NASCAR because the league punishes this quickly and strongly. Don’t allow the pot-stirring.
So cut the boys in race control some slack. Whether you like the job they do or not, they are going to continue to call ’em as they see ’em. As they should.