Yesterday, NASCAR banned driver Ross Chastain’s “Hail Melon.” Chastain used a jaw-dropping video game move to race his way into the championship. But going forward, the wall-hugging action will be a penalty.
Last October, Chastain was on the verge of playoff elimination at the Martinsville Speedway. He remembered a move he used as a kid playing Nintendo GameCube with his brother, Chad. He floored the gas pedal—and deliberately smashed his car into the wall. The energy of the crash sped his car past his rivals. (For further info, read Flashy Racing Moves Explained.)
Turns out, the wall trick worked just like it did in the video game. Suddenly, on the final half-lap, Chastain’s car looked as though it were going hyper-speed while everyone else was poking along.
He passed five cars in a matter of seconds. He claimed the fifth spot in the title race—and propelled himself into the finals the following week in Phoenix.
Motorsports figures globally lauded the move. Race analysts and fans critiqued and dissected every aspect of the shocking feat.
In the social media frenzy after the race, one fan suggested the odd name for the odd move. The suggestion was a mashup of the football term “Hail Mary” (a desperate throw late in a game) and a nod to the Chastain family watermelon business. The name stuck.
But some of Chastain’s fellow NASCAR competitors weren’t impressed. Many thought the Hail Melon was both dangerous and not in the spirit of fair competition.
Joey Logano finished second at Martinsville, a few spots ahead of Chastain. He said during a news conference, “It was awesome. It was cool. I mean, it happened for the first time. There’s no rule against it.” Logano even admitted he’d thought of doing it himself.
But he continued, “There needs to be a rule against this one because I don’t know if you want the whole field riding the wall coming to the checkered flag. I don’t know if, for one, it’s the safest thing for a driver or the fans, right, when you got a car right up against the wall haulin’ the mail like that.”
Elton Sawyer, NASCAR’s vice president of competition, says NASCAR waited until after the season to collaborate, study data, and dig into the rulebook.
Officials found NASCAR rule 10.5.2.6.A: “Any violations deemed to compromise the safety of an event or otherwise pose a dangerous risk to the safety of competitors, officials, spectators or others are treated with the highest degree of seriousness.”
Sawyer says, “We will penalize for that act going forward. Basically, it would be a lap or time penalty at the end of the race.”
The Hail Melon rule wasn’t the only change NASCAR made going into the 2023 season. Others include guidelines about mufflers, restart zones, timings, and even flame retardant undergarments. One change involves a “large increase” in the number of drivers who will wear mouth-piece sensors at races. The devices will provide data about drivers’ experiences during races, specifically in crashes.
But few rules will be talked about more than the Hail Melon.
As amazing as it was, fellow driver Logano seems glad to see the Hail Melon banned. He imagines scenarios in which a car hugging the wall catches on a fence or gate. “That’s a big, big risk that Ross is willing to take,” he says. “And God bless him and that’s awesome, but I don’t think we need to do that every week.”
(NASCAR Cup Series driver Ross Chastain speaks during the NASCAR Championship media day on November 3, 2022, in Phoenix, Arizona. AP/Matt York)