Saturday, May 31, 2008

Culture shock is sending cheaters home

The hardest thing in the world to change is culture. That doesn’t mean that it’s sometimes worth the effort.

After 12-plus years of covering NASCAR, I believe that the sport of stock-car racing badly needs a culture change. And there’s really one way to make it happen.

Here’s the problem. Cheating is more than accepted in the sport, it’s revered. People who’ve spent a big part of their careers trying to outflank the rule book are held up as the great examples, the heroes who should be emulated.

I have never, ever understood that.

Smokey Yunick, for example, was without question a total genius in what he could do with an automobile. He did so many things that advanced the science of the race car and the automobile itself. But all you ever hear about him is how he drove a race car from Daytona International Speedway to his shop in Holly Hill with the fuel tank pulled out of the car.

Why is that?

Why celebrate those who waste – and that is precisely the word I want to use – their time, effort and money working on things that aren’t legal? Why revere those who decide to take paths outside the rules to try to get ahead of those who have the integrity to play by the rules?

I am not against innovators. In fact, I am standing up for them. The true innovators are those who find new ways to do things that are legal, that do get approved through proper channels and who don’t have to live their lives worrying about what an inspector might see.

I have said this before, but the example still holds. The engines in a stock car are, by a huge multiplier, more powerful and more durable than they were 20 years ago. But how many times in the past 20 years have engine builders been suspended and/or fined for breaking the rules?

Not many. The engine departments have worked to find better ways to do things and generate more power that lasts longer. They’ve done it, in 99 percent of all cases, within the rules and within the processes that have been established for bringing new ideas into the sport.

So why shouldn’t people who work on suspension elements or the cars’ bodies be held to the same standards?

If you’re messing with the rear-wing mounts, as NASCAR said the Haas CNC Racing teams that got penalized this week were, even if you completely get away with it and race with for 100 straight races what have you truly accomplished?

Where’s the pride in that? There wouldn’t be any if integrity and honor were cherished as much in stock-car racing as they should be.

That’s the part of the culture that I think is off-kilter. But I think it could be changed, and I don’t think it would take a whole lot of time.


Simple. Start sending cheaters home.

If you come to the race track with a car that doesn’t pass inspection to the point that NASCAR rules it will not be allowed on the track, that team does not race. Period.

At any point now where NASCAR would impound the car and force the team to use a backup car, that team should just be told to pack it up and leave.

Send home a couple of teams for not playing by the rules and you begin to change the way that kind of foolishness is regarded inside the garage.

Until that happens, you’re never going to change the culture. And that’s where it all needs to start.


Anonymous said...

You're right on the money as usual, David. As soon as a crew chief had to explain to his owner why they weren't racing that weekend, and then the owner had to go tell the sponsor that they were getting zero exposure that same weekend, things would stop.

If the $20 million price tag for a primary sponsor for a full season is accurate, that's about $526,000 per race if you include the Daytona qualifying race and the All-Star race. I don't know too many companies in today's economy that can afford to write $526,000 checks on a weekend when they're getting nothing for it...

Anonymous said...

D. Poole - "I am not against innovators. In fact, I am standing up for them. The true innovators are those who find new ways to do things that are legal, that do get approved through proper channels and who don’t have to live their lives worrying about what an inspector might see."

If the above is true David why toss rocks Smokey's way?

Was his car that had many yards of fuel-line installed to bypass the tank size limit illegal?

No it wasn't, he found a hole in the rules.

Was the [in]famous 7/8ths size '66 Chevelle outside the rules? No to that also, but it's appearance preceded NASCAR requiring each race car's roof, hood, and trunk to fit templates representing the production car's exact profile.

To quote Smokey: “If you did something they (NASCAR) didn’t like, which was pretty much up to Bill France, they would fine you or throw you out of the race as ‘being outside the spirit of competition,’ even though there was no specific rule against the supposed infraction.”

That's not to say something obviously outside the rules, "Jet Fuel" in the tank for example, shouldn't be dealt with swiftly but the problem arises with the ambiguous nature of some of the rulebooks contents.

And having the book spirited away under the cover of a "pay per view" scam doesn't help matters any.

okla21fan said...

Ahhh, that fine line between cheating and innovation.

Was it cheating or innovation when the 48 and 5 cars figured out how to make legal shocks raise the rear end at Dover a few years ago? nope (of course it is now though)

or when the Wood Brothers used silicon (a legal substance) to attach or 'glue' their lugnuts to the rims making for faster pits stops? nope

but somehow there are those who think the former is cheating and the latter is not.

that fine line.

That Girl said...

You're absolutely right

Anonymous said...

Mr. Poole, I am Smokey's daughter. I usually enjoy listening to you on Sirius. I heard you last week when you talked about Smokey.

Smokey's position was that he never cheated. If the rules forbid something, he did not do it. But, he was the master of reading between the lines. At the time, things weren't nearly as sophisticated as they are now, requiring permissioning of a part before it's use. Therefore, while not prohibited in the rule book, very often things became illegal on Monday after he ran them on Sunday.

To say that had he paid less attention to cheating, his cars might've done better does him a grave disservice. To say had he been less of a cheater, he might've gotten along better with the Frances is just a waste of breath.

By the way, that Chevelle story is certainly one of the most often repeated Smokey stories. Unfortunatly, it is like many urban legends, too juicy to be true. I always hate seeing the folly repeated. Smokey told the real story in his autobiography. If you need a copy just let me know.

Anonymous said...

Smokey's autobio is very highly recommended! Somehow I gotta believe that Poole will get upset by many, many things he wrote about, but it might give him a perspective on the first 2/3'rds of NASCAR that he is lacking.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU Ms. Yunick. You set the record straight much better than anyone else could. Thank you.

Unknown said...

The whole "gray area" thing has always bothered me. I hated Nascar's allowance for gray area in their ruling and was happy to see them get away from that.

There is barely a difference between "gray area" and "trying to get away with something" in my humble opinion.

The Hendrick shock trick was just that, a trick. They did something to their car that made it look legal even though they knew it wasn't. They attempted to make it legal for inspection while being illegal during the race. No gray area in my mind. That's just cheating. It certainly is innovative, but the intent is to hide or get around something. That in my mind is NOTHING like putting silicone on lugs to help pit stops.

Anonymous said...

The crazy thing is the number of teams caught cheating (Haas for instance) that are running in the back even though their cars are not legal. Are their engines and/or drivers that bad or are the other teams doing even more cheating and just have not been caught yet.

ron house said...

i ran dirt cars in the north east for 30 yrs. and i was always within the spirit of the rules.but as we always said there are cheaters and there are losers

Anonymous said...


That's about the biggest NASCAR kissass thing you've ever written, and that covers a lot of NASCAR kissassing. Innovation drove racing to the forefront. Innovation became cheating when NASCAR decided to micro-manage things. Way to go NASCAR. Let's IROC the "F" outta this puppy.

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic. How does this discussion fall within the world of drivers? Drivers don't build the cars but they sure know the mechanics behind the machines that get them to the checked flag first.

Which driver do you think was the most authentic?

Share your voice here:

Brian Mc said...

Yes David, I have to agree with the others, this is the first time we disagree. This long-time fan has seen it all and am surprised at all the rancor now. Hasen't the COT just about sucked all the enginerring/innovating juice right out of the race shops? No! It's all these quirky little "shades-of-gray"(oooh, bad words)areas that led to lots of development and rule making. Ms. Yunick is right to defend her Dad as a true innovator in the sport. "Smokey's Garage" was always a stop on the way home from Daytona. I'm surprised no one has mentioned Junior Johnson's Ford Fairlane "Banana Car" yet in this discussion. Now that was someting...! David, my friend, I think you're off the mark here. Not Na$car schilldom, but a little parochial.