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Contact: Mark Bergfelt, Executive Director

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This article appeared in the Spring 2013 issue of American Muscle Kart and examines the UAS Executive Directors position on making tough decisions at a racing event.

Tough Calls

by Mark Bergfelt


About ten or twelve years ago, on the Friday afternoon of Labor Day weekend,  I headed for home after spending a very hot day getting ready for my classes to start the next week at Carrick High School in Pittsburgh.  I was kind of in a daze as I started the mundane 50 minute commute.  It was a very warm day, and there was a glare on the windshield as I headed in a predominately Westward direction.  One of the four lane highways through that section of Pittsburgh that I traveled all the time has several side street intersections controlled by traffic lights that are almost always green for the main highway.  I usually did not pay a lot of attention to them.  On that particular day, there was a person waiting to get on the highway from the side street.  I missed the part where my light turned red, hers green and she pulled out just as I entered the intersection.   CRASH.  That sound is awful, and the airbags left a mark.


I could swear that she ran a red light, but witnesses cussed me out and were not bashful in pointing out that it was me who was the offender.  I quietly, but slowly came to the conclusion that it was my fault as I was interviewed by one of Pittsburgh’s finest officers while waiting for a tow truck. 


Then I thought, “Well I certainly didn’t mean to run a red light and smash up two cars.”  “Who actually intentionally does something like that?  Not me, that’s for sure,” but the reality, what the officers dealt with and witnesses observed is I did in fact run that light.  It was my fault.  My intentions and the fact that I did not attempt to wreck were absolutely irrelevant.  I was charged with a driving infraction, fined and points against my driver license were accessed and my insurance premiums went up.  Challenging the matter with a judge would have been foolish.  I realized that the reason for what I did was irrelevant as far as the law and the other person were concerned.  The reason was something I had to deal with.  It was not the other people’s problem.  It was mine.


Ask just about any sane person the question, “Are you perfect?” or “Do you ever make mistakes?” and I guarantee that the answers will be something like; “Of course not, I make mistakes all the time.”  The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that when a person’s mistakes are called to their attention, it is far too common that the person will almost naturally take offense to that correction.  Over the years I’ve given that phenomenon a lot of thought and I am of the opinion that the reason for our irrational resistance to correction is foolish pride.           
During my 30 year tenure as an inner-city “shop” teacher it was an integral part of the job to handle disputes.  That was one of the most stressful and often unpleasant aspects of that job that occurred too often for my liking.  Although I have retired from that daily adventure in the classroom, I am often called upon for input in resolving various disputes that occur with-in the UAS.  In many ways it is not unlike what I had to deal with in school.  The problem is universal.  People too often want what they want when they want it and selfishly often do not stop to think how fulfilling that desire will affect other people.  Leading those people to realize and then appreciate that is an important step in resolving many conflicts.  Another part of dealing with student infractions is basing decisions of what educators call “observable behavior”.  Observable behavior is the actions and reactions that another person can actually watch.  Since the thoughts and feelings of the actors are not observable they are not part of the immediate course of action.  I’m pretty sure law enforcements officers receive similar training as well. Those kinds of things are for therapists to deal with LATER.


I don’t watch a lot of sports on television often, not even racing.  I’d much rather participate than be a spectator.  With that said, during the times I have watched various events in other sports I could not help but notice how often rule infractions are called out and penalties are immediately imposed. In the vast majority of cases the penalty is the absolute end of the dispute and some long drawn out drama DOES NOT result.  If the dispute does result in some blow up, it is big news because those types of blow-ups are rare.  The rarity is what makes it news.


Now let’s take a look at our sport.  One of my motivations for starting the UAS is that I got sick and tired of how often kart racers think it’s ok to drive dirty.  Of course it’s ok for them, but when the other guys retaliate, well that is just unacceptable.  Fortunately a more sportsman like attitude prevails in the UAS at large but that selfish, one sided attitude is still far too common in kart racing.  The reason is not all that complicated.  It lies in some aspects of basic human nature.  As a self-preservation measure people tend to shy away from confrontations.  Karting officials are often volunteers or very low paid people and most often do not want to confront those who break the rules.  Life has taught them well that human nature’s pride infects people and makes their reaction to correction unpleasant, sometimes downright nasty and not worth the hassle.  Whenever officials do man-up and make the tough call, that’s what makes news, what gets talked about ad nauseam, and sadly that is because it is so rare.  It is not rare that infractions occur.  What is rare in our sport is that something is actually done about them.  That should change.  The UAS is doing its part in that effort.


When driving infractions are called out, too often officials try to make the judgment call that the infringement was unintentional, or the offender tries to justify his actions with the statement “I didn’t mean it, it was an accident.”  That type of judgment is not acceptable for race officials, just as it was unacceptable for me handling disputes in the classroom and the officers who handled my traffic accident.  Officials just like prudent teachers and law enforcement people need to deal with the behavior they can actually observe.  There is no way a race official can see intentions.  All an official can and should base their calls on is what they observe.  The infraction occurs, the penalty imposed, the competitor accepts it, that’s it. Period.  That procedure needs to become common place in karting just as it is in other sports.
Only after an event is over do the intentions of those who have committed rule infractions may become relevant.  That’s when the offender should go to those adversely affected to apologize.  A true spirt of sportsmanship demands it.  A racer who did commit an infraction demonstrates true sportsmanship by accepting the penalty for their actions whether intentional or not.


Finally, the racer who is penalized for a driving infraction should not automatically jump to the conclusion that their sportsmanship or integrity is being called to question, but should keep in mind that the prudent and fair official bases their judgments on what they can actually see.  They can see the nose of a kart contacting the left rear corner of another kart.  They can see the resulting spin.  It is their duty to make a call on the situation.  It is unjust, unreasonable and not fair to expect an official to base their calls on an unobservable intention that only the competitor himself, and God really knows for sure.