A Misunderstanding May Cause Problems For Teams Traveling to Sonoma
Last year the word went around that the California Department of Transportation (usually referred to simply as “Caltrans”) would not allow rigs with trailers longer than 53-feet to enter the state without paying major fines. Rumor also had it that the rigs might be banned entirely. CompetitionPlus.com spent a good deal of time and effort investigating the story, but we declined to publish what we learned in an effort to help cool the situation down. In all candor, from what we were told by representatives of the NHRA, it seemed possible that if we published the story we would ultimately call undue attention to the problem, which, in turn, it was suggested, would “harden” the attitude of Caltrans. We therefore decided to hold off on the story. New developments, however, are forcing us to go with what we now know.
On April 26 the Professional Racers Owners Organization (PRO) notified its members that a committee of the California legislature had approved a length variance for motorsports rigs by a vote of 7-0. At that point, despite the fact that numerous teams had spent thousands of dollars shortening their trailers, everyone felt they could return to the California races without a problem. However, late last Tuesday the race teams received an e-mail from Graham Light at NHRA informing them that the formal bill to provide the trailer vairances had never come out of committee, and had not yet been written into the law. In other words, those racers still utilizing 56-foot trailers would be breaking the law if they entered California. Light also informed the teams that Caltrans had informed NHRA that all scales coming into California from Oregon (the natural “road” to Sonoma from Seattle) would be manned and operating 24 hours a day. In other words, it would be impossible to slide by the closed scales late at night, as some had done coming into California for last year’s Finals at Pomona.
When word of this got around Pro Stock racer V. Gaines started working the phones to contacts he has at Caltrans. Gaines has apparently gotten a senior Caltrans official to agree to issue special permits for the oversized rigs that will only cost $17. However, while permits will be issued, oversized rigs may not utilize California highways without a pilot car, meaning the racers will have to hire individuals to lead them to the track. Pilot cars generally cost a minimum of $1 per mile. Figure out how many miles it is from the California-Oregon border to Sonoma, and you’ll see what it’s going to cost everyone. And then figure out the mileage from the track back out of California. It’s not going to be cheap!
As Gaines put it on Friday afternoon, “We’ve worked very, very hard with the State of California. We’ve got a law that’s almost a done deal that will allow us to travel California as we do 47 other states. However, (even when the law is passed) it won’t take effect until January of 2013, so we’ve been trying to find ways we can work with the State of California to work through Sonoma and the Finals. We want to be legal when we go into California, and we want to race there. We’ve made an arrangement with the State to get our rigs in there until the new law goes into effect.”
Gaines says that by applying for and receiving a special permit for the oversized rigs no fines will be levied, but the pilot cars will be mandatory. The racers will obviously have to pay for the pilot cars, which are reportedly readily available through a service company that supplies them for similar problems, primarily oversized loads of construction equipment and manufactured homes, among others.
At this point it would appear that the competitors will not face major financial penalties for oversized rigs (numerous racers were frantically rushing around, filling out the permit applications and faxing them off to California), but until the new law goes into effect individual racers could face some problems. Those that fail to apply for the oversized permits in a timely fashion could face problems when trying to enter California, but at this point that’s all conjecture. What will be at least somewhat humorous is the sight of drag racing’s colorful rigs being led by little cars with flashing lights! The racers are not likely to see that as even slightly humorous.
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