Last weekend’s Import versus Domestic World Cup Finals in Maryland will go down as one of the finest in its 22-year history; from record-breaking performances to on-track drama and ultra-tight competition between highly-polarized engine and vehicle combinations, this edition had it all. And it all came to a close in the most controversial of fashions, when a pair of uber-competitive drivers defied not just one another, but race director Jason Miller, as well, setting off a firestorm of finger-pointing and harsh criticism.
And Miller was having none of it.
Wild Street racers Haley James and Steve Oliveira had marched their way through the early rounds to set up an as-advertised import versus domestic matchup for a trip into the final round. Oliveira, in his turbocharged ’95 Honda Civic, had qualified No. 1 at 7.63, and James, in her turbocharged Fox body Mustang, slotted in fourth in the 29-car field at 7.74; and on paper, this one was to be a dogfight.
The Maryland International Raceway’s 1 a.m. curfew had loomed large all day and night, leading promoter Jason Miller to take the microphone for what he says was “two solid nonstop hours” urging drivers and teams to carry out their routines with a sense of urgency, adding that “we wanted to get the race in.”
The pair sat in pre-stage for 30 seconds at approximately 1:05 a.m. before Miller stepped in and made his final intervention. At 39 seconds, Oliveria finally bumped in, although it was all for naught at that point. Oliveira and his car remained in place on the starting line for a number of minutes before backing away, while James did a five-point turn on the starting line, eating up precious time that Miller insists he no longer had, all to “create more drama”.
…they’re going to come do this and ignore us three times? I wasn’t going to reward that behavior, especially after they didn’t bother to back up. – Jason Miller
Miller, cognizant of the entertainment aspect of this and any drag racing program, knows that burndowns are part of the appeal for both racer and spectator, but he says this was neither the time nor the place for such games.
“When we get burndowns here and there during the event, we’ll rile them up a little bit and let the fans get in the there, as long as it doesn’t take too long. And I’ll be honest that this burndown wasn’t any longer than any of the others we had,” Miller says. “What mattered in this one was we were past curfew. And any minute could have been my last — the track could have shut us down, and I had all of the other finals behind them ready to go. I motioned for them to stage three times and they wouldn’t listen to us and go in. Once they should have gone in, twice they should have gone in, three times they should have gone in and still didn’t, so I was going to back them up, run the other finals, and then give them a chance to run. When they were both hesitant about backing up and not doing it in a timely manner, I said double-disqualification and it was done. I was going to let them play their games after the other finals but when they acted the way they did, that was it.”
“I didn’t go on the PA and tell everyone no burndowns — that should be given when we’re stressing about the curfew,” he adds.“We were telling people to fire up when we tell them, pull up when we tell you and all of that, and then they’re going to come do this and ignore us three times? I wasn’t going to reward that behavior, especially after they didn’t bother to back up.”
James fired back at Miller on social media, saying, “There is no rule against burndowns, it’s part of the sport and spectators love that [expletive]. I realize it’s the officials’ decision on what happens to the racers in the event of a burndown, however we were not sitting there for longer than 20-30 seconds before we both got DQ’d. None of my temps even went up a degree in the amount of time we were sitting in pre-stage. I’ve been in multiple burndown situations that went on for 10 times longer and never once has the official made such a ridiculous call after so little time. It was [expletive], as the entire crowd of booing spectators could probably show you. Your 1 a.m. curfew isn’t my problem, I race my car the same way in an elimination round regardless of what time it is. I was not going to give that guy the opportunity to burn me down just because you wanted the race to end. In conclusion, we will not be traveling 30 hours each way to be the recipient of some [expletive] power trip just because two competitors decided to not stage first for a whopping half a minute.”
I’ve been in multiple burndown situations that went on for 10 times longer and never once has the official made such a ridiculous call after so little time. It was [expletive], as the entire crowd of booing spectators could probably show you. – Haley James
Speaking of their hesitancy to leave the starting line, Miller says, “they did it on purpose, 100 percent. Steve…I’ve never seen a car back up as slow as he did.”
With the disqualification, No. 13 qualifier Shawn Finn got an uncontested freebie to the Wild Street crown in his ’69 Corvette.
In a different scenario, earlier in the day with time to spare, Miller insists he would have allowed them more time — “maybe another 30 seconds or so. We had several burndowns during the weekend, and every single time when I pointed them in the first time, they went in. Every single one of them. Three times, after curfew, that was enough.”
Miller added, “we had hundreds, literally hundreds of messages and emails after the race from people who said it was the right call and agreed with us. I wanted to see the final as much as anybody, it was going to be one of the best races of the weekend, but the finishing of the race is more important when I don’t know when the track is going to shut me down.”