This is a continuation of “You and the GCR” series in Redline. You can find the previous article in the January issue.
Here is an FAQ around the SCCA penalty process. It will be of only academic interest to most drivers, who never meet a steward in any official capacity during the course of their racing careers. The rest of you (and you know who you are) might find this informative.
Penalties aren’t (or shouldn’t be) handed out capriciously. They happen in a context. They are triggered by an infraction of the rules, are applied following a defined process, are (usually) applied in proportion to the offence, and are subject to review.
Who can be penalized?
Any member who participates at an event, whether as driver, entrant, crew member, spectator, or official, can be penalized. In addition, drivers and entrants are fully responsible for the conduct of their crew members [2.2.3]. I have sat on courts which have penalized drivers for the actions of their crew. Also, anyone who signs a minor waiver is held responsible for the minor’s behavior [2.2.4].
By signing an entry form or applying for a license (including a crew license), you agree to be bound by the GCR [4.1.1].
What can be penalized?
The short answer is: any breach of the rules. The rules include the GCR and the event supps (which can specify modified or additional penalties). The GCR is basically 600 pages of rules, and any infraction of these can be penalized.
Aside from compliance issues, most penalties involve infractions of the rules of the road [6.8.1] and the flag rules [6.11.2]. There are also umbrella rules of behavior (unsportsmanlike conduct etc.) [2.1].
Who can assign a penalty?
At an event, there are two groups which can assign penalties. The first is the Chief Steward (CS) and any Assistant Chief Stewards to whom the CS has delegated authority [5.12.2.B/C]. The second is the Stewards of the Meeting (SOM), the court which enforces compliance with the rules [5.12.1.A].
What is the process for assigning a penalty?
The Chief Steward assigns a penalty via a Chief Stewards Action (CSA) after observing an infraction. The offender receives a notice form, and can protest the penalty (see below) and possibly have it reversed. An exception to this is when the CS orders a Black Flag penalty during a session (typically for a jumped start). This, too, can be protested, but has an immediate effect on the race itself. For this reason, stewards are usually reluctant to penalize someone while the race is on, preferring to assign a penalty after the race.
The SOM assign penalties following the hearing of a protest or a Request for Action (RFA) from the CS. Again, the offender receives a written notice specifying the offence and the penalty. This can be appealed.
The CS has complete discretion in deciding whether to act via a CSA or an RFA. In most cases, the CS will use a CSA, since this permits two levels of review of the penalty. However, the CS may well use an RFA in more complex or more serious cases. Also, the SOM has the power to assign harsher penalties than does the CS.
When choosing a penalty, stewards are given a fair amount of discretion, subject to review. For common infractions, there is a set of guidelines (see below) which stewards typically follow. For unusual or serious infractions, stewards try to assign a penalty commensurate with the offence.
What recourse do I have if I am penalized
The SCCA provides a process to review all penalties, both at the track and beyond the event. If you are penalized by a Chief Steward’s Action, you have the right to protest the action. You must file your protest within 30 minutes of being notified of the action. The SOM will hold a hearing and may uphold the penalty, overturn it, or modify it.
If you are dissatisfied with the judgment of the SOM on a protest or RFA to which you are a named party, you have the right to appeal the court’s decision. Normally, you have 10 days in which to file your appeal, but there are exceptions [8.4.8].
Can officials be penalized?
Yes. Officials are subject to the all the rules applicable to every participant, including the general behavior rules in GCR 2.1, which can be the basis of a protest and penalty.
Beyond any actions at an event, officials (and drivers) can be subject to an officials (or drivers) review. This is a special court convened by the Division’s Executive Steward to examine the behavior of an official (or driver). It functions in a manner very similar to an SOM, and can impose all the normal penalties, as well as revoke licenses. Its judgment can be appealed.
What are the Recommended Minimum Penalty Guidelines?
These are a set of guidelines for assigning penalties. They were established by the Executive Stewards of all SCCA Divisions, and are used throughout SCCA Club Racing. The purpose of the Guidelines is to normalize outcomes for common infractions, “... so that all participants will have an expectation of what we will do in common situations.”
The Guidelines have not been widely publicized, but neither are they secret. Copies are posted on the websites of several Divisions. Here is a link to one of them: http://sedivracing.org/2009Minimum-StandardPenalty.pdf
The Guidelines are not part of the GCR nor of any event supps. In my experience, almost every steward brings a copy to races, and consults them when assigning penalties. Note the words ‘minimum’ and ‘guidelines’ in the title.
They have been in existence for several years. The Court of Appeals has referred to them in rulings. There are several instances where the Court has reduced a penalty to bring it into line with the guidelines, but none where it has increased a penalty explicitly to conform to the Guidelines. The Court has affirmed that they are guidelines, not rules, and has deferred to the SOM as having a better understanding of the particulars of a specific case when assigning a penalty. So what does this mean for you? For most, it means nothing since most drivers never get penalized. For those who do get penalized, it means that, for example, a pass under yellow would tend to attract a similar penalty wherever it happens. I would read them as meaning, “If you commit this infraction, don’t be surprised if you receive this penalty.”
In some broader sense, the Guidelines represent an effort to produce a uniform set of outcomes, and to discourage pockets of local practice or arbitrary penalties.
“You and the GCR” is is a collection of articles exploring facets of SCCA rules and process, posted during the summer of 2009 by John Nesbitt. Stay tuned for more excerpts or see the complete guide at http://driverinfo.johnnesbitt.com/.