Southern All Star Series

Who's To Blame For Dale McDowell's Southern All Stars DQ At North Georgia?

Who's To Blame For Dale McDowell's Southern All Stars DQ At North Georgia?

Dale McDowell was stripped of his Southern All Stars win Saturday at North Georgia Speedway for exceeding the series nightly tire allotment.

Apr 18, 2024 by Kevin Kovac
Who's To Blame For Dale McDowell's Southern All Stars DQ At North Georgia?

Dale McDowell crossed the finish line first. He celebrated in victory lane and did an interview to talk about his triumph. He went through postrace technical procedures including have tire samples taken for laboratory testing.

But as McDowell’s race team — fielded by his brother Shane and his wife Sara — readied to leave the pit area Saturday after scoring an apparent $10,009 triumph in the 49-lap Bill and Frank Ingram Memorial at North Georgia Speedway in Chatsworth, Ga., Coltman Farms Racing Southern All Star Series officials visited with the news that McDowell had been disqualified to last place and Ray Cook was declared the winner. McDowell had violated the circuit’s rule that restricts entrants to using six tires per event.

Thus what would have been a triumphant return to SAS competition for the 57-year-old veteran from Chickamauga, Ga. — the tour’s 1994 champion and third-winningest driver all-time with 45 victories — devolved into one of the most controversial disqualifications for a relatively minor offense in recent Dirt Late Model memory.

Was McDowell and his team to blame? Did SAS officials handle the situation incorrectly? Why did it take so long after the race for a DQ to be announced? There were so many questions for a rules infraction that would seem cut-and-dried because it’s purely visual and has nothing to do with doctoring tires or running an unapproved compound.

“It was a mess, it really is,” McDowell said as he looked back on the episode. “It’s sad. It was a mistake on both parts really.”

“From talking with Shane and my official,” offered SAS director Dewayne Keith, “it was an honest mistake by the driver and a miscommunication lapse during pre-race tech.”

Indeed, both sides in this story have culpability. It boils down to a question of whether it’s entirely on the team to know the tire rule or whether series officials bear responsibility for allowing McDowell to start the feature after checking his tires in pre-race tech.

That was the crux of the debate between the McDowells and SAS officials in the wake of the penalty — an argument that even boiled over to a back-and-forth in Facebook comments between the team and Keith.

McDowell and his brother decided to enter the event because of the five-figure first-place payoff and, even more specifically, their connection to the North Georgia oval.

“North Georgia was actually one of my home tracks,” McDowell said. “It’s here at home, so we always like (racing there). It’s a new promoter, just his second year, and I do some schools down there and have some track rentals down there, so we like to come down here and race.

“I worked there as a kid for Ronnie Johnson’s dad, Joe Lee, before I even started racing. And our dad raced there when we were kids.”

McDowell didn’t actually realize that running the race would mark his first start in a SAS show since Sept. 25, 2021, at Smoky Mountain Speedway in Maryville, Tenn., where he was victorious in his last appearance that season before undergoing successful prostate cancer surgery two days later. But he knew it had been a while since he ran under the SAS banner, so his team made sure to check the tour’s rules in the days leading up to the event.

They didn’t notice the six-tire limit, however, because it was not listed in the rulebook available on the series website. It was written in an event bulletin posted last week to the SAS Facebook page and it was mentioned in Saturday’s drivers’ meeting, but the team didn’t see the post nor attend the meeting.

“So when we come down (to North Georgia), it was really unclear what (the tire limit) was, and we were parked all the way around (in the pits) and they didn’t have anybody to tell us when the drivers’ meeting was, they had nobody running around on four-wheelers,” McDowell said. “They had the drivers’ meeting and I missed that, and to be honest with you, I don’t pay much attention to the rules because Sara gets everything off the website for everywhere we go. That’s her and Shane’s deal. He says, ‘Hey, print off the rules for this so we know everything about what we have to do.’

“Well,” he added, “there’s nothing in (the online rulebook) about that rule.”

Keith said SAS officials have teams bring four tires to them for marking before the start of qualifying. Teams are then allowed to change two tires of legal compounds for the feature, which means two of the marked tires must remain on the car for the A-main.

When McDowell left his trailer to line up for the headliner, the only marked tire on his car was on the left-front corner.

“We pulled up (to stage) for the feature, and Shane changed three tires before we went out, so with that three, we did use seven, unknowingly of the actual rule,” McDowell said. “So when I pulled up to the back gate, (an official) walked around and looked at our tires and then gave me a thumbs-up and motioned me to the racetrack. I thought they were just checking compounds, not the actual number of tires you were using.

“So (next) I went to the racetrack, they lined up on the front straightaway, and one of their officials come up and he walked up to the window and said, ‘Did you flip-flop tires?’ They were talking on the Raceceiver and my motor’s running … and I said, ‘What?’ And he said, ‘Did you flip-flop tires?’ I said, ‘We changed tires.’

“I didn’t know what he was asking, because I didn’t know the (tire amount) rule. The kid probably didn’t know any better, but he didn’t tell me, ‘Hey, you don’t have enough marked tires on.’ When I said we changed tires, he looked at me and gave me thumbs up. He didn’t clarify, so that’s on them.

“That was our question,” he added. “Why did they let us continue on if there was a question on my tires?”

In his Facebook posts addressing the matter, Keith remarked that the tour’s pre-race tire inspection “is only a courtesy check, not the official postrace tech.” According to Keith, McDowell “had plenty of time to clarify with the official he wasn’t understanding what was asked.”

Keith claimed that he had discussed rules by phone with Shane McDowell earlier in the week, the tire limit was posted on Facebook and “23 other drivers that took the green were in compliance.” Added Keith: “Did the team race knowing the rules and resulting consequences? Yes.”

McDowell said that after his team “dug a little bit,” they discovered that there were other instances in SAS event where drivers were given an opportunity to change a tire after an infraction was found before the start of a race. Keith, however, said one previous violation the McDowell team was “calling in question” was a case of an incorrect compound on the left-rear of the car that was caught in qualifying and the driver was put to the rear for the B-main.

Whatever the case, there was no doubt that SAS officials did not make an immediate call on McDowell’s infraction even after the feature.

“They never said anything to us when we crossed the scales,” McDowell said. “We went through droop check. We was on the front straightaway (for victory lane).

“So after the race the official comes over (in the pits) and says, ‘You used too many tires.’ Shane says, ‘We changed three tires.’ So he said, ‘Well, we marked four, and then you changed three, so that makes a total of seven.’ So we was like, ‘OK, but why did you all guys not stop us? We went through tire tech twice, pre-race tech.’

“So they DQ’d us, and I said, ‘Before you DQ us, send Dewayne over to here to talk to me.’ So he came over, we told him what we done, and the officials were there, and we talked about all the words that were exchanged and everything that had been done, and they agreed to it and Dewayne said, ‘Well, we dropped the ball on that and let you race, so you’re the race winner. That’s on us.’

“Then 30 minutes later, we’re already loaded up, (Keith) came back over and said, ‘Hey, we gotta throw you out. You used seven tires, that’s just wrong,’” he continued. “So that’s the part that we didn’t actually understand, after we had talked and the way everything had gone.”

Keith acknowledged in Facebook posts that the issues with his officials’ apparent miscommunication with McDowell before the feature have “been addressed and handled internally.” But even though McDowell’s disqualification was initially waved off by Keith, the series director ultimately decided the call had to be made in order to “maintain the same accountability we have had with all of our drivers all season.”

While McDowell and his team argued that leaving one of their four marked tires on the car and changing three actually amounts to using six tires over the course of the night, they understood the mandate that two marked tires must be on the car for the feature. Their frustration was over the fact that McDowell was not specifically informed by officials that he wasn’t in compliance during the pre-race check.

Keith remarked publicly he wasn’t pleased that the McDowell brothers and crew members using “vulgar language” with him and his officials while arguing the situation. McDowell’s team responded in a Facebook post that the heated words resulted from them being understandably “mad” with how the situation occurred and the “wishy-washy” nature of the tour’s decision-making on a disqualification call; as the team wrote, “Basically it’s OK for (series officials) to make a mistake, but we should know the rules better than they know how to tech!”

After having time to absorb the sting of the DQ, McDowell was able to take a calm view about the turn of events. He certainly wasn’t over the loss of what would have been his second victory of 2024 and the $10,009 check, but his lengthy experience told him it was time to move on.

“It is what it is. It’s all behind us. No sense crying over spilled milk,” McDowell said. “You’ll have that sometimes when you run different series and communication is not plainly delivered to you. That was just the case. But the down side for us was, we went through three or four tires and 50 laps on the engine for absolutely nothing.

“I guess when you get out on the road (to run national events) like we do, the rules and the clarity are so much more clear and written and stone. In (SAS’s) defense, they did say (the tire limit) in the drivers’ meeting, but I didn’t even know it happened. I didn’t have anybody notify me. If I had gone, I would have never went back and questioned it because I know Sara pulls the rulebooks … and it was not on their website or in their rulebook.

“I don’t like for anything to happen like that even if we’re not involved, because there’s so much at stake with a small mistake. I mean, it was $10,000 for a mistake made by the series, and we gotta take part of the blame, too. We didn’t know exactly what the rules were, but we thought we went about it the right way by going to the official website.

“I hate it for everybody, all our sponsors and partners,” he added. “You got so many people out there who are talking about cheating on tires, wrong compounds, but it was not anything to do with any compounds or anything like that. I guess you kind of learn from it, and hopefully they’ll make it better on their end and get some clarity for people who don’t run a lot of their series races.”

Concluded McDowell: “The unfortunate side is I started running Southern All Stars races years and years ago, and probably the last Southern All Stars race I ever run in my career ends in a DQ. I don’t foresee us running any more of ‘em.”