TJ Salango tells his side of the story with the Fastrak valve spring infraction

TJ Salango plans to file an appeal of his 1 year suspension; Looks to change the penalty structure

Two weeks ago, TJ Salango from Beckley, West Virginia changed the valve springs on his FASTRAK crate engine. He then raced it that weekend and passed tech via the pressure test. On Saturday June 16th, the following weekend, Salango went on to pick up the win at Tyler County Speedway.

“That was my first win at Tyler County. I’ve raced there, very frequently. I’ve been going there for several years trying to win. I’ve set fast time and stuff like that, it just ain’t ever worked out,”  TJ Salango tells .

“Long behold, the biggest win of my career is now taken from me.”

Salango was found to have illegal valve springs. The infraction wasn’t discovered at the track or the week before when they pumped his motor. It was discovered on Monday after the win upon an inspection away from the track. An inspection process that the driver himself suggested.

He left the track with the trophy and the check. However, he’s now soon to send back the winning check, pay a fine of $1,000 and serve a 365-day suspension from all FASTRAK races.

“When we went to tech they of course checked everything: carburetor; valve spring; motors. Just as I had been tech’d the week before at a local track, where they pumped my motor.”

“They even pressure tested the valve springs, at the the track, several times and compared them to a competitor of mine. They all fell within spec on the car at Tyler County Speedway,”

“One of the things that threw him off was… he says he wasn’t sure about the color of the valve springs. I cooperated with Brad Hibbard of Race-1, that’s who did the tech. And I had full confidence that the springs were correct.”

“So, I actually came up with the idea of him taking one back to his shop with him if he was unsure. It was my idea, it wasn’t even his.”

“He says, ‘Everything’s probably fine. You passed the pressure test.’ ”

“I went to Tyler County’s payout window and I didn’t honestly think I was going to get paid. I told them, ‘Brad took two of my springs. He was gonna keep one and send one to my engine builder.’ She said, ‘I have your money right here. They didn’t disqualify you. If they didn’t disqualify you over there, the money’s yours to spend all you want.”

Sunday, TJ didn’t hear from the tech guy. Though, he did speak to the engine builder who was told that everything was still ok.

“Monday comes around, they had an issue with a certain measurement of the spring. I feel like I was declared the winner. But, at this point, I’m just trying to be able to race locally, with FASTRAK and with my friends and stuff.”

TJ Salango
TJ Salango

The springs

“This spring issue, it’s all about numbers. When they got the thing back, there was some variance in numbers. Due to a certain measurement. That’s where the springs fell out of spec.”

“Crate racing’s about numbers. They had some differences in numbers, not by a lot. I’m not going to say how much but it was very marginal. All the people involved will tell you the spring didn’t cause me to win the race.”

“I put the springs on. I was the one that installed the springs. I can never neglect that I was the one that put the springs on there. We do valve springs every 10 races.”

“I want to move on. But, I want everybody to know that we have to keep integrity in crate racing.”

“It wasn’t like it was a huge performance gain. It’s wasn’t like I put a thousandths more cam in it. It was just that we had good springs. And the springs passed tech.”

“I don’t think there was any question about me winning until Tuesday.”

You mentioned that the springs were a different color. Was that from manufacturing or was that from wear?

“They appeared to be a different color. To me, by my eye, I didn’t think they were a different color. That was one of the things that Brad wanted to tech. They did pass pressure testing.”

“I’m probably one of the most upstanding people as far as tech goes. If they didn’t meet it, they didn’t meet it. We have to figure out why. I’m working with FASTRAK to present my evidence. They were very open and cooperative about an appeal process.”

“This penalty that they have on valve springs… When you’re dealing with GM valve springs, you’re talking about parts that the series make us run. They have so much variance in them that you have to buy 17 sets of springs just to get 1 good set.”

“Most of them that you get are less poundage than what you’re taking off your motor. They’re just junk. The inconsistency in the manufacturing is just off the charts.”

The Penalty

“At the same time, the penalty for Fastrak and almost every other crate series when it comes to valve springs in considered ‘cheating within the bolts’ which to me is not within the bolts. Because they motors are sealed. Valve springs are one of the few things that you can change, by yourself.”

“Therefore, the penalty for that is 1 year suspension and $1,000 fine. I have talked to all parties involved, I plan to file an appeal, seeking a lesser penalty.”

“I’ve crate raced for 9 years now. I’ve been a part of FASTRAK. I’ve raced all over the East Coast. Not one time have I ever been found in a rules infraction.”

TJ Salango finished 6th at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the Dirt Track World Championship. In 21 years of racing, he hasn’t been found illegal in the tech line.

“I’ve had my motor tech’d numerous times. Probably, one of the most tech’d crate racers in West Virginia. But, I’ve never been found in a rules infraction. It’s unfortunate that this has happened to me at this time.”

A solution?

It sounds like the issue stems from springs being inconsistent. And everyone trying to find the max from those inconsistencies. So, how do they fix that issue?

“I’m not sure there’s a fix. Other than you just gotta be more careful. We do try to get the max out of everything that we do in crate racing. Down to every pound.”

“When you’re in crate racing you’re racing for tenths and hundredths of a second. So, we try to minimize everything. And try to get the most out of that motor that you can get. Sometimes, things don’t go right.”

“Just like all those guys that had tire samples fail. At the end of the day, you can spend thousands of dollars trying to fight it. But, we’re local racers. You don’t have that kinda money. You need those thousands of dollars to race somewhere else.”

“With the springs… The important part is that the springs passed everything at the race track. And that the track declared me the winner and paid me.”

“They say I didn’t win. I guess I didn’t win. But, I was declared the winner, more than one time, that night.”

“Cheating in racing or getting caught being illegal, it’s not a fun thing for anybody. Whether you did cheat or didn’t cheat. Honestly, you’re at the hands of so many other people, other than yourself.”

“As a racer, we like to beat people. We don’t like to win on infractions.”

“But, it’s a necessary part of the game so we have to do it. I’ve given my life to this sport and I’ll continue to do so. We’ll make crate racing better, through all this. Somehow.”

Essentially, the tech officials took the springs to the R&D Center. The penalty was then announced following an in-house inspection. I’ve not heard of this in dirt racing in the past to be honest.

TJ Salango - Dirt Late Model
TJ Salango – Dirt Late Model (2016)
A change to the penalty in the future?

“I really think that racing series should look at their penalties for this offense. Maybe consider changing them to a first offense, second offense, third offense. It’s affected my family, my son’s racing stuff because I’m not allowed to race at any local tracks.”

“You have to have rules. If you give somebody two or three thousandths here and two or three thousandths there, before you know it it’s 4 or 6 thousandths. Then, there’s no need in having rules.”

“I’m all about having rules. I’m all about having numbers. If you don’t meet the numbers then you gotta figure out what went wrong. And you’ve gotta figure out how to fix it.”

“I want to try to keep my integrity through the whole situation. I’m not gonna ruin friendships over it. We have to work together to make sure we keep this tight knit on crate racing.”

What would those offense penalties be?

“I’m pushing Fastrak to have a $1,000-$2,000 fine and 30-day suspension for first offense. Second offense being $1,000-$2,000 and 365-day. Then, third offense being indefinitely.”

“Every other rule in the rulebook from shocks to tires has the escalating penalties. On valve springs, there’s not. That’s why the penalty looks so severe. The more severe the penalty the more it looks like I’m cheating. It makes me look worse.”

“But, there’s only one penalty for it.”

“I hope Fastrak will consider changing their rule or giving a first offense that is severe enough but doesn’t destroy local tracks. At our tracks, we’re suffering for car counts anyway. 6-8 cars at a race track.”

“Now, you’re going to take away 1 car. Plus, my boy runs mini-wedges. So you’re going to pull one out of that class also. He’s going to have to travel the road with me.”

“You can hurt local tracks for 30 days. But, to hurt them for a full year — It really hurts a lot of people and businesses involved in the whole grand scheme of things.”

Fastrak already has a first, second and third offense type of penalty for tires and many other rules.

“To me, if you’re going to cheat tires or valve springs, it’s the same thing. Because tires and valve springs are both outside of those seals.”

“In a crate motor, those seals are sacred ground. My motor’s double sealed. Outside of those seals, where your average local racer is in control of which is valve springs, shocks to tires — I feel like there should be a first, second or third offense.”

“You don’t only have to have the wrong valve spring. There’s an installed height on that valve spring. That installed height could be off by one-thousandths of an inch. It makes the springs smaller. .170 is the installed height. It could be .1779 and it’s wrong. You’re failed.”

“$1,000 fine, out for three hundred and sixty five days, over one thousandths of an inch. I really feel like there needs to be a slight bit of leeway but still strict enough that nobody wants to do it.”

“When it comes to shimming valves, your fate is in a lot of other people’s hands. I really think you should get a chance or two before you absolutely just get caned.”

Where are you going to race now? Or are you not going to race much at all?

“We’re going to run some steel block stuff around the area. I-77, we can run with steel blocks pretty good up there because it gets slicker. And we’ll probably do some SECA stuff down in North Carolina somewhere.”

“We’re going to have to travel a little bit. But, hopefully we can get this resolved and only have to be out a few weeks. We’ll just have to see if they have leniency on us.”

“It’s definitely heartbreaking because that was the biggest win of my career. You have to have rules. I think the penalty though — I don’t mind taking the fall. I just don’t feel like I should have to fall off the Empire State Building.”

A few hours after this interview, TJ Salango had plans of filing a formal appeal with the series on Tuesday evening. He isn’t exactly trying to have the penalty reversed in full. But, he did pass the pressure test at the race track. He might have a case for a lesser penalty.

There’s also a separate case to be made that perhaps valve springs shouldn’t be labeled as ‘cheating within the bolts’ which brings an automatic 1 year suspension. As valve springs are outside of the sealed engine portion.


Related: Fastrak announces 365-day suspension of TJ Salango 


TJ Salango | Tyler County Speedway | Fastrak