“They just dropped the bomb on us over there.”

That is what ASA veteran Greg Stewart told a couple of his crew members after leaving Thursday afternoon’s mandatory driver’s meeting at Lakeland (FL).
six “green flag” laps and the best lap will be the team’s qualifying time.  The cars will be sent out in intervals, but the groups will be determined by a random draw.  Should the caution come out due to a spin or accident, the cars will remain on the track or be brought down pit road and sent back out to finish the remainder of their six laps.

The second rule change comes during restarts.  The restarts will now be double file, however, the leader will be the only one able to choose his/her racing line.  Depending on whether they choose the inside or outside lane, the rest of the cars (including lapped cars) will alternate all the way through the field until everyone is double file.  For example: if car A and car B are one-two on the track before a restart and car A chooses to restart on the low groove, then car B must start on the outside and car C will start inside of the second row.  If car A chooses to restart from the outside lane car B will then move to the inside of the front row.  Lapped cars will be mingled in during the restarts.

Both rule changes were met with very harsh criticism from many of the drivers right from the get go of being announced during the meeting. 

“Change is ok as long as it doesn’t screw someone,” said Bryan Reffner, one of the most vocal drivers during the meeting.  “If a guy works hard while racing to get to where he deserves and gets it all taken away from him, then that isn’t right.  I’m just looking out for all of us drivers.  If you screw up your own, then shame on you.  If you get screwed because they way they have the rules, then that isn’t right.  If you can’t win races by having the fast car, then we shouldn’t even be out there.

“Let’s put on a show.  Is that code word for lets put on a wreck fest?”

“I don’t care what they do.  They will do what they want and we will just have to follow,” said Sauter.  “I don’t know what they are trying to accomplish with this one.  They say they’ve watched reruns of the races and they want to get rid of the cars that are lagging back and tighten the fields up during restarts.  That’s bulls**t.  Park them!  They will learn how to start a race.  That is what NASCAR does.  I know this isn’t NASCAR, but they have to learn somewhere.  That is what they say they are training these guys for.  Why not teach them the right way?
That bomb consisted of two new and drastic rule changes the series will be implementing in 2004, on a trial basis of course, beginning at the ASA opener at Lakeland this Saturday.

ASA Race Director Dan Spence and ASA Operations Manager Joe Balash told the drivers the rule changes were made to both save time and put on a better show for the fans.

There had been rumors floating around regarding qualifying procedure.  Those rumors proved true.

Cars will now be sent out in “groups” of four.  They will run
ASA's Joe Balash announced the new rule changes at Thursday's driver's meeting.
“I’m knocked off of my feet by both of these rules,” said Kittleson, who said too much change is just too much.  “I was ok with the whole new paint scheme.  It puts the sponsor on the side and it makes us different.  I can agree with that.  But this qualifying with four cars for six laps… I’m not digging it. 

“The main part about qualifying is that you go out there and you give it your all and you have two laps to give it your all.  That is your job as a driver, as a crew chief and as a crew to get the car the best for those two laps.  You have two laps to do it right.  Not six laps. 

“You are going to have guys like Mike Garvey go out there with some rookie and you know Mike is going to be fast and he is going to have to worry about trying to deal with a car that is off the pace or slow.  He isn’t going to get the time he deserves. If he is being held up for two or three laps, those last two or three laps aren’t going to be worth a damn.  It is crazy as hell.”

Other parts of the new rule say that a driver doesn’t have to take all six of the laps if they don’t want.  Also, if a driver causes a yellow, either by spinning or crashing or dropping some fluid, their time will be disallowed and they will be a second round qualifier. 
Most Have Strong Feelings About New Qualifying, Restart Rules
While being the newest rule and the most surprising, the new qualifying rule wasn’t criticized by everyone, baring it is done a different way than proposed by officials.

“I’m not in favor of it by random draw,” said returning 1999 ASA champion Tim Sauter.  “I would be ok with it if it were the done by taking the fastest four and putting them together and so on.  Don’t stick them out there with someone who is a second slower.  Someone is going to drop some fluid and someone is going to destroy a car and it will be no sweat off of ASA’s back.  That is the problem.”

The restart rule, which drivers knew was going to change after last season, was much more condemned by the drivers.  The biggest problem being, on a one groove track,
You can see the displeasure on the faces of Toby Porter (left), Tim Sauter (center) and Mike Cope (head down) during the driver's meeting.
the guy who has worked hard to get to the front is shoved up into the outer groove. This will now be at a serious disadvantage as he has a distinct possibility of getting “freight-trained” to the back. 

Since lapped cars will be mingled in with the rest of the cars during restarts, the chances of a lead lap car getting stuck behind one or more lapped cars in a given lane while the other lane might include several lead laps cars right in a row could cause a lot of troubles, as could two slower lapped cars starting side-by-side in front of several lead lap cars.

“You can bet if I’m running third and the second and first place cars are in front of me, I’m not going to be trying to get that second-place spot because during the next restart, I’m gong to want to start on the inside groove behind the leader,” said Stewart during the meeting.

“I understand making it a show. I’ll all for making it a show for the fans, but this isn’t the way to do it,” added Kittleson.  “We are already risking our equipment to put on a good show, now we are gong to have to risk our equipment even more for things like these restarts. 
“Years ago, back in Wisconsin, they had a similar rule.  It was a true choose rule though.  The lead lap cars had the choice of where to start… inside or outside.  Why not do that?  You can’t let someone else make up your mind for you.”

Reffner was just as adamant about the restart rule as anything.

“If you get stuck on the outside behind a lapped car, no one is going to let you in and you can’t go around them on the outside.  Before you know it, the guy in second or the guy that is on the outside will become the guy in dead last because he’s stuck on the outside.

“I know when we get to a tighter track and you aren’t able to pass on the outside, a guy like Butch Miler who is running third is going to be happier than hell to see me running second and going up to the outside of the track on the restart.  He’s been waiting all day to get me out there.  He ain’t going to let me in and the guy behind him isn’t going to let me in. 

“I just don’t get it.  You spend the entire race trying to save your equipment and be there at the end of the race and if they are just going to try and take that away from you.  I just don’t think that is right.”

Spence and Balash said that officials will meet before Saturday morning to discuss any possible changes to the rules after listening to the drivers.  Officials may talk with ASA owner Steve Dale about the situation.  Dale wasn't present at the track on Thursday, much to the dismay of many of the drivers.

However, Balash said that the driver’s shouldn’t say too much yet because a tire hasn’t turned on the track with the new rules in effect.  The qualifying and restart rules were the easiest they could come up with.

Reffner wasn’t buying it during the meeting.

“You don’t like our solutions because it is easier for you, not easier for us.  Is that what you are saying?”

“Then blindsiding us with all of this stuff at a meeting the day before is a bad way to run an organization.  That is like a dictatorship.  They just show up and tell you what you are going to do. 

”They want input but to me they have already made their mind up.  I’m pretty disappointed in that whole deal.  I hope they think about what they’ve done.”

Several other drivers, including Stewart, Rick Beebe, Toby Porter, Todd Kluever, Travis Kittleson, vocally made their displeasure of their situation known to the ASA officials during the meeting.
Bryan Reffner was very unhappy with the announcement and let it be known.
Not only were the veterans mad, but so where some of the young guns, like Travis Kittleson.