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 Columns & Editorials

July 16, 2001

Last Minute Sportsman Driver 'Meeting' - Say What?

by Jack Smith

What in the world has happened at Charlotte County Speedway

The thought of the cops macing the cow outside Charlotte County Speedway still leaves me in somewhat of a state of disbelief. The concept of a cowardly con-artist really thinking he was clever enough to commandeer (steal) a speedway is good material for A & E's Investigative Reports.

But the so-called Sportsman 'drivers meeting' called at Charlotte County Speedway 10 minutes before the blazing fast division was scheduled to take to the track for a 35 lap midseason showdown will forever be stuck in my mind as the height of absurdity at a Saturday night track, and for several reasons.

The young man known around Charlotte County Speedway as Flyin' Bryan may not have expected a warm welcome back from his year long suspension from some quarters, but the welcome he was to receive on Saturday was probably beyond his imagination.

The cow? As the KARNAC.com loaded with cameras, recorders and notepads approached the entrance to Charlotte County Speedway we noticed several Charlotte County Sheriff's deputies and County Animal Control on the side of the road with another Deputy approaching. As we came closer Rick and I were yelling at Bill Hunt, our trusty photographer, to get his camera out. We fully expected to see a huge gator, or maybe a python on the loose, but we never expected to see what we saw. As I pulled the ole' Rivera along side the cruisers it became clear there was a need for lessons on the old farm for the Charlotte boys. Here were three cops and a guy whose job was to deal with really nasty animals squaring off against a cow. You would have thought they were up against an unruly race fan that contributed too much to the Bud till. The cow was confronted with one cop standing 6-8 feet away half hidden and crouched down pointing his fully loaded canister of official issue Pepper Spray. I'm still mad a t Bill for not getting the arm of the cop in the picture, but we had a 'meeting to go to', not that we knew that at the time.

I could go on with things that made me wonder if I was in some sort of weird dimensional shift Saturday night, things such as the track's wrecker running out of gas, but I won't. Instead let's get to this impromptu 'meeting'. Impromptu generally means some dumb thing to do that somebody dreamed up at the last minute because of incredible organization or perhaps, just perhaps occasionally as a spark of genius. I'll let you decide which use for this occasion.

Bryan Beckner is a youthful 19 year old that has been racing at Charlotte County Speedway for as long as anyone down there can remember. He doesn’t have much money. Maybe a total of $6000 in a banged up Sportsman. "Flyin' Bryan has a really bad habit; he likes to try to win. Which from what I hear he has done a bit of. One year he and his father Dave raced neck and neck all year and Bryan had to settle for second to his dad in the pure stock division at Charlotte County Speedway. Now mind you, on the track this kid is no saint. Neither is Jimmy Cope, Wayne Anderson, David Rogers, Wayne Jefferson, Gus Coorssen, Junior Purcell, Jimmy Spencer or Tony Stewart. I'm sure most of you have a better list of "aggressive" drivers than I do. What in the heck is an aggressive race car driver anyway? I believe the dreaded "Man in Black" made an unmatched legendary career by being aggressive.

It seems that Bryan has developed enough of a reputation as an "aggressive driver" to cause a suspension earlier in the year followed by getting sent home for the year. Sort of like getting sent to your room for being too rough with your brothers or something. This all happens while the owner of the track is up north undergoing surgery and recuperating. Not that Glen VanHorn was the guy who oversaw the racing rulebook at the 3/8 mile (so they say) track with an inside and outside wall and shallow banking that just seems to love to collide with racecars. If I owned Charlotte I would sell the inside wall to Bronson Speedway, but that too is a whole other story. So while the owner is up north, there is this guy named Abernethy that starts running the show who is quickly changing nearly everything he can about the successful speedway's operations. Brian receives a hand written yearlong suspension signed by the management. Based on some facts we have unearthed down at the Punta Gorda Playground, it seems the letter was instigated by driver complaints to the "management". The management being a hard person to put your finger on.

Seems this guy Abernethy was busy with lots of things to improve the speedway like making lots of phone calls at other peoples expense to exotic places like Panama, Venezuela, Guatemala and Columbia and continuing to convince Glen VanHorn he was a real 'business man' trying to buy the track. In with the new, firing everybody in sight and inserting his own people. The track went out of control. You can read all about the sleazy dealings of Abernethy on KARNAC.com very shortly. But then the "old man" (I do mean that with the greatest respect) gets wind of the conspiracy to steal his track and his money, and comes back we find that Bryan Beckner along with the rest of the folks who had been run off, were now being quietly invited back.

Charlotte had a pretty big schedule of events Saturday night with all classes running and it got really crazy when the rain forced the races to begin after 9:00 PM. KARNAC.com had lent some financial and other assistance to Bryan Becker so that he could race that night. See, Bryan didn't even have the dough for tires. Gotta have new tires for the mid-season championship. I had talked with youngsters’ parents and then to Bryan and they seemed like real down to earth folks who really, though hurt, were willing to accept whatever fate the track 'management' dealt them. No vengeance in these folk’s hearts at all.

After meeting Bryan in person and talking a bit, I found him to be a quite likeable young man with a passion for stock car racing. We were all watching the races, taking pictures and doing what KARNACIANS do on race night eagerly awaiting the sportsman race. Then the loudspeaker blares out the announcement (fifteen minutes before the class is scheduled to race) that all sportsman drivers are to report for a "driver's meeting" in the tech shed. Then a few minutes later the Owner is summoned to the "meeting". Big Stuff. Glen has to break away from entertaining his friends in the stands to attend this last minute get together. We all wondered why in the world the Owner would be called to this meeting. I though they were going to have to postpone the race due to the curfew at the track.

As the drivers assembled in the room behind closed doors for this meeting, the curious surrounded the tech area awaiting word of this important conference. Willy Tedder, the Chairman of the Board on all things concerning competition and tech at the track led the meeting. He started the meeting by letting Bryan Beckner know in no uncertain terms that "if he bumped a car, rubbed a car, or even touched another car" he would find that his number 27 sportsman with the new KARNAC.com colors would "be put on the trailer". Then the meeting was turned over to the drivers whose had had their chief spokesman one Ralph Goddard. Goddard is a 40 something racer who preceded to explain to Bryan that he didn't "want his $40,000 car tore up" by Bryan's junk. And other mean and nasty things. A few of the other drivers joined in and it became clear the purpose of this "meeting" was to intimidate and single out this young man in a group setting. Maybe OK on practice night, maybe OK at a midweek meeting. Certainly OK for Willy Tedder to do privately.

But to put this young man, already under pressure to do the right thing and 'not screw up", through this embarrassing, harassing ordeal minutes before the green flag is inexcusable. It is inexcusable for a 45-year-old competitor whose own son races alongside of him and Bryan to be that crass. This is a sport, not a place to carry out personal vendettas with youngsters. But I don't really blame the elder Goddard, because I suppose anything to get an advantage on the track in racing is acceptable. Or is it? The blame for the absurd nonsense sits right on the shoulders of Willy Tedder. Wherever the pressure came from to cause him to pull this stunt, he certainly didn't have the stamina to stand up to it.

Imagine this: Don Nerone, head of the Sunbelt Late Model Series and promoter of the FASCAR tracks at New Smyrna and Orlando calls a meeting just before the green flag at the Governor's Cup and tells Jimmy Cope, "Jimmy if you touch one car out there I'm going to put your car on the trailer, the boys don’t like the way you're racing, you're too damn aggressive". And then Dick Anderson says 'Darn right Jimmy I got too much money in this 'ole 00 and you know my car owner he don't like to have his stuff tore up so watch your step".

To bring it down to reality if the head of tech at DeSoto Speedway were to bring the sportsman drivers in and harass Lonnie Miller, Gus Coorssen, or any of the other drivers like they did to Bryan Beckner, the Sherriff's department would have to call in extras. The sportsman class at Charlotte can't hold a candle to the rough stuff in the same class at DeSoto. They complain about each other constantly. They tear up some cars. But they put on the best show of any class there and the fans love it. It's racing! And the races are decided on the track, not in a 'meeting'. Of course no body there last time I checked were bragging about their $40,000 car either.

Too funny? Too absurd!

It's racing and it is an aggressive sport. If the flagman black flags a driver for being reckless on the track to the detriment of the competition and race fan enjoyment so be it. If the Competition Director suspends or expels a driver after a few on track incidents in which the flagman had to act, then fine.

This nonsense that went on at Charlotte falls into the category of the fan's biggest complaint everywhere: favoritism by officials. Listening to driver’s complaints instead of taking on track action under racing conditions and following up with penalties where necessary by the Race Director, that's one thing , but not some group insanity called management decision based on driver complaint.

Is this a family sport or isn't it? When it becomes the Hatfields and McCoys, you can have it because Lord knows there is enough of that in the world. Family values, yeah right. I wonder how much of that is cheap talk by some to make people feel good about the crap they do.

Yeah the cow incident was bizarre, but only a cow possibly got hurt. As least in the world of humans, cows don’t feel humiliation, and loneliness.

Glen Van Horn was able to act in time to keep the track from being swindled right out from underneath his nose. He's been around more blocks than most of us and has weathered more storms than most of us. He can take good care of himself. He knows right where he stands with the world.

Bryan Beckner is a young man trying, like most his age to find the right way, understand this crazy game called life. It's time for the right thing to happen with Bryan Becker and the rest of the competitors at the track. It's time to teach our children.

It's time for change.

-Jack Smith

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