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Saugus Racer Sees Red Over Yellow-Flag Decision

<i> Special to The Times </i>

Race driver Will Harper of Tarzana can be forgiven if he seems haunted by yellow flags. The one he saw Saturday night at Saugus Speedway cost him at least $850 and first place in the season points standings.

Harper was leading the Winston 100 Sportsman Division race at the speedway until the 93rd lap when he spun into the middle of the infield after a collision with Craig Rayburn. Harper quickly recovered and re-entered the race in second place behind eventual winner Dave Phipps.

Track officials, however, waved a yellow flag that signals caution and forbids passing. Because the accident occurred in the last 10 laps of the race, Harper was sent to the back of the pack. He finished 11th.

If Harper had placed second he would have collected a $1,000 purse. Instead he picked up $150 for finishing the race, plus $460 for leading for 92 laps ($5 a lap).

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Because the Winston 100 is a double-points race, Harper was hurt in the points standings. He entered the race in first place, 13 points ahead of Gary Sigman. He’s now fourth, 12 points behind Keith Spangler, who leads with 248 points.

Harper claims that after the race both fans and drivers told him he was short-changed by track officials.

“There were a hundred people in my pit telling me I got robbed,” he said.

Harper, who does not blame Rayburn for the accident, claims the yellow flag was not called until after he was out of danger and back on the track. He also claims that track officials should have placed him back at the front of the pack because the accident was not his fault. Failing that, he should have been allowed to stay in second, he said.

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“It wasn’t until I got back on the track and going that they decided to throw the yellow,” Harper said. “The time to throw a yellow would be if I was stuck on the middle of the track or on the racing surface. But I never was.

“But every other time there was a wreck they waited to see if the guy could get going before they threw the yellow. I have it on videotape. The whole race it shows guys spinning out, sitting next to the track with cars going by for a lap, but no yellow.

“I think (the official) probably did what he thought was right at the time. But afterward he should have admitted that it was a mistake to call a yellow and say ‘put him back where he was.’ I’ve seen them do it before. . . . They can do that when they feel it’s right.”

Saugus Racing Director Monte Monteleone defends the track’s decision, which he characterized as a judgment call. In addition, the move which sent Harper to the back of the pack is standard operating procedure, according to Monteleone.

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“During a normal program or in a race over 50 laps, during the last 10 laps, any car that brings out a yellow must restart at the end,” Monteleone said. “He would have been able to hold that position before Lap 90. “It’s not a matter of whose fault it is. What was done was racing procedure. Nobody was sure how it happened. When a person is involved in a racing incident you cannot arbitrarily put that person back in their position. If you started doing that you would spend all night deciding where to put people.”

Still, the outcome riles Harper, who has trouble accepting what he sees as an injustice.

“I can always get more money, but I can’t go back in time and get that race back,” he said. “You work so hard at something and everybody puts in a winning effort and you’re winning. Then all of the sudden someone’s carelessness takes you out of it. It hurts. That’s all I can think about.”


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