At the beginning of the 2018 season racer and promoter Ray Cook instituted a rule he believed would improve the safety of Dirt Late Model racing. Now known as the “droop rule”, the stipulation called for cars running on the Schaeffer’s Oil-sponsored Southern Nationals, Spring Nationals and Fall Nationals to attach a chain from a collar or bearing type mount on the left rear axle tube between the birdcage and the edge of the left rear bell of the axle housing, and to the left rear frame directly above the chain mount on the rear axle.
This move would limit the vertical travel of the cars as they raced in the turns with the end result being that the left rear would not be lifted so high in the air. Cook hoped the number of roll over crashes would be lessened, and thus, the number of driver injuries would also be reduced.
For the most part, the rule appears to have been beneficial.
“We actually had a roll over in the very first race we done it,” Cook recalled in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “Shanon Buckingham rolled over at Senoia on a restart. It had nothing to do with the track being rough, or the droop rule, or nothing else. He went into the corner and Bloomquist spun out in front of him and he spun to keep from hitting Scott and somebody scooped him up with their nose piece and just rolled him up on his lid.”
That one instance aside, the dangerous flips that seemingly come from nowhere appear to have been reduced. And while the rule cannot guarantee that a flip won’t occur, Cook says the decrease in chances of such incidents have made the rule worthwhile.
Further, the Brasstown, NC native offers a comparison to another safety device that no driver would consider doing without in modern-day racing.
“As far as the multiple flips where people go in there and take off and flip multiple times, we have not had none of those in two years,” Cook declared. “That’s what I’m the most thankful for. Yes, they can still turn over. I’ve compared it to firesuits, I mean after two minutes you’re going to get burned with it. It lowers your chances of getting burned and gives you time to run. That’s all the droop rule does is lowers your chances of turning over but it doesn’t mean that you can’t turn over.”
The promoter who also has significant experience behind the wheel of a race car believes experimentation with setups two years prior to his rule implementation led to more dangerous situations.
“In 2016 and 2017 we reached a peak in our sport of people getting hurt,” the Tarheel Tiger pointed out. “I hope that we have reached that peak and that we never see that again. In 2018 it got better and I think in 2019 it got even better. I think 2016 and 2017 was a transition time in our sport where everyone was experimenting with how far to go and I think that’s why people were getting hurt because we were reaching that max.”
A late night conversation with the boss of Capital Race Cars led Cook to ultimately make the decision to put the droop rule in place.
“I knew I had to do something,” he said. “I knew it might not be popular but somebody losing their life wasn’t going to be popular either. I told Marshall Green one night on my way home that I was going to do something and if it runs me out of the sport then maybe it’s time for me to go. When you have wives and girlfriends and family members coming to you and blaming you for people getting hurt because it’s your race, it’s no fun. But I think our sport’s better now.”
And there were others who offered advice as Cook searched for answers.
“This thing wasn’t really just my idea” he added. “I had a lot of input from a bunch of people that I felt like was smarter than me when I implemented it. Marshall Green had a lot of input, Scott Bloomquist had a lot of input, David Bryant had a lot of input. I talked to Penske Shocks and Gary Winger with Integra Shocks and I spent probably six months talking to everybody I could. I also talked to Dale and Shane McDowell. There were a lot of people who had ideas but I guess I was the only one who was dumb enough to put them together.”
On Tuesday, the World of Outlaws Morton Buildings Late Model Series and the DIRTcar Racing Series moved to implement a droop rule similar to that of the Southern Nationals family of series, becoming the first national touring series to do so. Cook praises WoO Late Models official Kenny Kenneda and the entire organization for the move.
Further, the long time promoter says his series will match the slight differences in the WoO rule book.
“I’m glad that Kenny and the Outlaws have stepped out and done it,” he offered. “I don’t think it’s a mistake. They’re changing it a little bit- they’re going to give them another inch which I think is fine. I’m actually going to match that with my series.”
Cook has had discussions with both the WoO Late Models as well as the Lucas Oil Late Model Dirt Series over the past two years about the possibility of one or both adopting the rule.
“I told both national tours two years ago that if they wanted to take it and refine it to whatever they think it needs to be that I would join them,” he explained. “I just wanted to do something. I’m glad they’re taking it and fine tuning it a little bit. I think there’s a lot of people on board with this. I just want whatever makes our sport better, that’s what I’m for.”
According to Cook, not only has the racing been made safer, but it has also been made more competitive.
“It puts more lap time difference throughout the night,” the promoter stated. “It creates more of a spread from the beginning of the night to the end of the night with more fall off. Before we were just running wide open all night long.”
The 48-year-old owner of western North Carolina’s Tri-County Race Track says he will assist the DIRTcar and the World of Outlaws during their portion of Georgia-Florida SpeedWeeks at Volusia Speedway Park in February.
“I’m anxious to go to Volusia and see how it goes,” Cook offered. “I told the Outlaws I would help them anyway I could. I don’t have all the answers but I’m glad they’re doing it and I hope more of them follow suit. It’s very simple and it’s not hard to check. And one thing I noticed was that our car counts didn’t really change that much. Our car counts have been within two cars of what they’ve always been.”
Further, his series will cooperate with the WoO organization.
“In the southeast, between our races and the World of Outlaws, there’s a lot of races where people can go and we’re going to be on the same tire rule. I’m going to pretty much try to mirror their whole rule book so guys can come and race and not have to worry about anything.”
Overall, Cook is pleased that his rule is no longer just his rule.
“I guess inside I’m happy that I’m not on an island by myself now. But we’re not spiking the ball or doing a bunch of I-told-you-so. I’m just grateful that they’re doing it.”
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