SNOWBALL DERBY COVERAGE
By Mike Twist, Elgin Traylor and Jason Buckley
Wauters Team Tossed Out of 41st Annual Snowball Derby
Soaked Tires Is Reason; Owner Explains and Fumes
“We caught him (Wauters) with two sets of soaked tires yesterday,” said Wauters. “He said that was all he had. We, of course, have a no soaked policy and we told the drivers they would be escorted off the property [if they were caught with soaked tires]. We went over there to tell him and he came up with four more sets of tires that he wanted to put into impound, and we said no you’re leaving.”
Wauters met with Brooks for approximately 30 minutes behind the team’s hauler on pit road right after the pits opened on Friday morning. The conversation was a private one between both men, but it appeared to remain civil.
“He was pleasant, he knew he got busted,” said Brooks. “It’s something that should have never been questioned. It’s just real crazy.”
“I talked to him and I didn’t fight with him a bit,” said Wauters. “He’s got a hard-on for me. I got into it with him several years ago and every time I’ve come here, he has had a problem with me. My car went through tech legal and there were no problems or issues. They had to find something.”
Richie Wauters (left) discusses the tire issue with Ricky Brooks (right) Friday morning. (51 Sports Photo)
Immediately after the conversation, Speed51.com asked Wauters about the situation. At first, Wauters responded with a four letter word, that couldn’t be printed here and really did not appear to be directed towards anyone in particular. He then headed into his trailer without further comment.
Meanwhile, in another area of the infield pits, 51 caught up with a very surprised driver – and broke some unpleasant news to him inadvertently.
“I didn’t think you (Speed51.com) were being serious when you told me,” said Sieg. “We weren’t even really that fast yesterday on old tires. We put on stickers to get to the top of the chart. I guess he brought tires from two years ago, and he’s trying to use them up in practice. I knew we had a quick car, but what can you do?”
The entry list for the 41st Annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, dropped by one on Friday morning. The #5 Richie Wauters-owned team loaded up their Super Late Model to head back to their shops in Mooresville, North Carolina. It wasn’t a wreck or a mechanical failure that ended their weekend early though. The team, along with driver Shane Sieg, will not race in the Derby because of something found by the technical inspection crew.
Late on Thursday, track officials discovered that the team was in possession of soaked tires. On Friday, head technical Inspector Ricky Brooks made the ruling that the team would be disqualified from all weekend activities and that the team would be escorted from the pit area.
As the discussion continues between Richie Wauters and Ricky Brooks, team members start loading up their rig. (51 Sports Photo)
Sieg then headed to the #5 transporter and met with the Wauters team.
Later, we did catch up with Wauters as he was pushing a tire cart through the pit area as part of the team’s process of loading up. He still didn’t want to discuss the situation…yet…but offered a little bit more this time.
“It ain’t worth talking about,” said Wauters. “They caught other people with soaked tires and didn’t do nothing to them. Then they threw me out.”
On Wednesday, the first day of technical inspection, there were in fact two teams that did originally fail technical inspection due to tire issues. Gary St. Amant and Stephan McCurley were those two drivers.
McCurley, who was the first driver in line to the tech station, was caught by the sniffer on a tire. McCurley said their ATV was just topped off with fuel and gas had spilled out of it onto the whole floor of their hauler. That got on the tires and that is what he said the sniffer caught. Further testing by the technical inspectors confirmed this scenario. McCurley was cleared and that set of tires was then released to his team to use.
“I wasn’t in the driver’s meeting,” said Wauters. “That’s another thing that need to do. If they are going to have a drivers’ meeting like that, they need to call it a driver and crew chief meeting. They need to mandate that everyone goes over there and check everyone’s name off a list. Just like NASCAR does.”
In the Friday morning drivers’ meeting, Brooks was even more direct.
“Unless you have stupid written on your forehead, what part of no tire soaks do you not understand?” Brooks said in the meeting.
Brooks also told teams that he will be walking around the pit area specifically to check for soaked tires today and emphasized a zero tolerance policy on the issue.
Meanwhile, Wauters was over in the frontstretch section of the pit area helping his team load their transporter. After having some time to think about the situation, he more than made up for his early silence on the issue by explaining his account of what had happened.
Richie Wauters carries tires back to his trailer after being told his car will not compete this weekend. (51 Sports Photo)
St. Amant told 51 that after wrecking out of last year's Derby, he had a bunch of unused tires. After a year of sitting, the tires get hard, so to make them softer and emulate current new-tire conditions, they softened up the tires. The team was only going to use the tires during the testing here at the track and not in racing conditions.
On Thursday morning, in the drivers’ meeting, Brooks addressed the tire soaking issue in no uncertain terms – and threatened teams with some big sanctions if they chose to use any treated tires.
“Yesterday was on us,” said Brooks in that meeting. “Today is on you guys. There will be absolutely no soaked tires on the property. Anyone caught having any soaked tires will be escorted right out of the track.”
But Wauters didn’t hear those words.
“I brought a set to the impound area to have them dismounted and stickers put on and they told them that I had soft tires,” said Wauters. “So they came over here and I told them that I had several sets of soft tires, but they were all two lap scuffs from the year before. They weren’t sticker tires. I wasn‘t hiding them. They were out in front of my truck in front of God and everyone. Everyone could see them. I wasn’t trying to get away with anything; I wasn’t trying to sneak tires through impound. I wasn’t trying to set a land speed record. All that I was doing was trying to utilize the tires that I had bought last year.
“Every year, you always bring stickers or a couple of sets of soft tires because you don’t know what it’s going to do. We didn’t bring stickers. I brought used tires.
“If I was trying to get away with something, I would have put them in the truck. I wouldn’t have gone over there and asked them to mount sticker tires on. It was my error for bringing them back over there.”
This marks the second straight year that Wauters has gone home with his team without racing in the Snowball Derby due to a technical inspection issue. In 2007, his entries for Kyle Busch and Steve Wallace was disqualified on the Saturday of the Snowball Derby. [Click here to revisit that story]
“My side of the whole deal is that they have a hard-on for me – no matter what I do or who I bring here,” said Wauters. “I’ve got good cars and I don’t need to cheat to win this race. We’ve won and run second three years in a row. I had some soft tires. They were old tires from last year because I didn’t want to buy 15 sets of tires and give the tire truck more money. I went out for the very first practice with them and I was junk. I was 38th fastest. Everyone looked at the scoring monitor and could see that I was junk. Then we put on a set of sticker tires and I was second fastest in one session and fastest in the final session. They checked my tires both times and they were legal.”
There are definitely some hard feelings after this incident as well.
First off, Wauters harbors some strong, ill feelings towards Brooks, whose “day” job is working for Super Late Model competitor Donald Long.
“I don’t know how Ricky Brooks can be on Donald Long’s payroll and then come here to tech the field. That’s a conspiracy against the rest of the drivers. Who knows what the hell that Donald Long is getting away with or what kind of tires he has? That isn’t right. No tech guy should be able to work for a race team and then come here to be the head tech guy. That is why he is the way that he is.”
And finally, after two straight years of having tech problems, Wauters doesn’t plan to return to the Snowball Derby next year to have a third year of problems.
“I’m done,” said Wauters. “I’m filing a lawsuit now. I talked to my lawyer already and I’m going to take this as far as I can take this. If they throw one guy out, they need to throw everyone out who had soft tires.”
Stay tuned to Speed51.com’s Trackside Now coverage of the Snowball Derby weekend for any additional developments on this story. If you would like to discuss this story, visit the Speed51.com Snowball Derby discussion forum at MotorsportsLounge.com by clicking here.