WATERFORD – It’s a debate that has annually thrived in the Modified racing community as the Valenti Modified Racing Series has grown in stature over the last decade.
On the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, time trial qualifying has long been the standard for setting the field for feature events. On the Modified Racing Series heat races are how fields are set.
Which format is superior? On paper it would seem better to see cars battling for position on the track in competitive heat races to qualify for events rather than watching single car time trial runs. Sure, the theory sounds good. Though the key words there are competitive heat races.
The heat race qualifying system has long been a selling point for many trying to push the Valenti Modified Racing Series format as better. Listen to advocates of the system and you’ll hear how heat races are how it used to be done in the heydays of Modified racing and how heat races give fans more head to head competition for their money.
Again, in theory, it all sounds good. It sounds good until the cars hit the track. Where it hits the snag is when it comes to drivers who, not surprisingly, want to move on to the big show with properly operating equipment.
The reality is, you have a stable of Touring division drivers who have traveled to events to make the feature. Get wrecked in a qualifying heat and there’s a good chance making the feature goes out the window. To create competition on the track you have to have drivers willing to take chances. Drivers willing to make moves that are gambles. The nature of gambling is that sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. And it doesn’t take an expert on the laws of probability and chance to understand that drivers are highly less likely to gamble for spots on the track when a losing bet could mean going home and never getting to take the track for the feature.
Was it different in the old days when 60 cars would show up for 30 starting spots? Absolutely it was because you had to fight just to get in the show. There’s no fighting today. There’s no fear of not making the show. At most Valenti Modified Racing Series events nearly all the drivers that show up know, barring a heat race wreck, they’re going to race in the feature no matter where they finish in their heat race.
You can talk about plus/minus systems all you want and how those systems promote moving up through the field in heat races to improve one’s starting position. If virtually the entire field knows they’re going to make the show before the heat races begin it’s a recipe for boredom for fans when the heat races take to the track.
More often than not of late it’s a system that has created heat races that are nothing more than exhibition parade laps for drivers just trying to keep the nose clean and move on to the feature with an unbent racecar.
What happened at the Waterford Speedbowl in heat race qualifying Saturday for Sunday’s 100-lap Valenti Modified Racing Series feature has unfortunately become par for the course at most stops on the schedule for the division.
Of the nine top-three starters in the three heat race starting lineups, eight finished in the top-three of their heat races. The three guys that started on the pole for each heat race each won their race. Starting lineup for the first heat race, Chris Pasteryak, Mark Bakaj, Jack Bateman. Finishing order: Pasteryak, Bateman, Bakaj. Second heat race starting lineup, Joe Doucette, Doug Coby, Matt Mead. Finishing order, Doucette, Coby, Tommy Barrett Jr. (who started fourth). Third heat race starting lineup, Jim Boniface, Mark McClay, Mike Holdridge. Finishing order, Boniface, Holdridge, McClay.
See a trend?
Essentially what you’re left with is fields that are, for all intents and purposes, pretty much set by the luck of draw when it comes to pulling numbers for starting spots for heat races. That’s not competition, that’s playing Yahtzee.
Say what you will about time trials being devoid of dramatics because it doesn’t involve cars side by side on the track, but at least there’s still an element of competition in a contest to see who can turn the fastest lap, and isn’t that better than a competition to see who can randomly draw a better number?
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