1997 Bud Nats Time Trial Controversy

Early in our research, we formed an email chain of several long-time Speedbowl alumni whom I’d throw out questions to every now and then to get some feedback on certain things we came across.  By far, the inquiry that got the biggest response involved Tucker Reynolds Jr’s blazing fast SK time trial lap of 13.965 set on opening day 1997 during the inaugural $5K Modified Nationals event.  That time remains the quickest of all recorded SK time trial laps at Waterford.  It’s also noticeable because no other record holders have held the fastest time in their division for nearly as long.  Another interesting note about that day is that the inaugural Modified Nationals event is commonly referred to as the first ever SK time trials, meaning Tucker’s been the only record holder for the SK Modified division at the Speedbowl.  With so many intriguing elements, I decided to take a closer look into the situation.

The first thing we discovered was that there actually were SK time trials held at the track before the 1997 Budweiser Modified Nationals.  Although billed as Connecticut Modifieds at the time, during the 1991 season there were two events held with time trial qualifying.  Jimmy Broderick established the first-ever SK fast time with a 15.000 effort while qualifying for Blast Off ‘91.  That same year, the late season Showdown – The Waterford 200 had time trials for all 3 weekly divisions, with Ted Christopher driving Ron Berndt’s #54 to fast time honors with a 15.040 lap.  In 1992, the August 1st weekly event was to feature time trials for the Connecticut Modifieds, but those time trials, along with ones originally scheduled for the Late Models on August 22, were both postponed and then eventually cancelled.

Fast forward to opening weekend 1997.  The Pennzoil sponsored Modified Nationals would officially be the 3rd event held at the Speedbowl with time trials for their premiere division.  Many different variations of what happened during qualifying can be told, as we found out rather quickly from our email chain response.  One thing was for sure… everyone remembers this day.

Tucker’s time seemed to be immediately in question from the moment it was announced.  Indeed it was an eye-opener.  No one had ever had a sub-15:00 mark during an SK time trial at Waterford, nevermind a sub-14:00 lap.  However, many people believe there was some issue with the equipment used for recording the times that day, an error that resulted in the first 6 to 10 qualifiers (Tucker being one of them) having times anywhere from 1.5 to 0.5 seconds quicker than their actual time, depending on who you ask.  How you could ever prove if there was a malfunction or the exact time differential it produced in is beyond our capability, but this was noteworthy as the most common account of that day’s activities, including from several people in Speedbowl management at the time.

Still there are others that believe in varying degrees of human error involving the officiating staff, none of which were later brought to the competitors or spectators’ attention. Despite many in disbelief at the times being announced, the track officials deemed the results official.

There’s another group within the racing community who adamantly believe that Tucker was just that fast, including the #34 SK Modified team themselves.  In the late 90’s, Tucker Reynolds Jr was indeed was one of, if not, the fastest modified on the track. Many who claimed to have witnessed his time trial run with their own eyes point to his success at the track over several seasons as credibility towards this remarkable lap time.  In fact, there is little debate we can find that Tucker wasn’t the fastest that afternoon, most believe he was… the debate is how fast.

Now over 25 years later, it seems many around the track believe that Keith Rocco’s fast time of 14.056 (set during the 2012 Speedbowl.com 300) is the current SK track record. And although the Speedbowl staff in 1997 did declare Tucker’s time official, current Speedbowl operating regimes have consistently referenced Rocco’s time when time trials are held, as it’s the quickest time trial recorded since the implementation of transponders prior to the 2004 season.  Indeed the fact that Tucker’s mark is still approximately one-tenth of a second faster than Keith’s transponder time 15 seasons later continue to fuel the debate.  A debate we do not intend to settle. Yet it’s worth recognizing the controversial event, the drivers it involves statistically and provide some of the more commonly referred accounts of the day to allow everyone an opportunity to make their own conclusions on the situation.