Defining cheating in NASCAR is as much an art as getting away with altering a shock, fuel line or ride height.
We can all agree that cheating happens when you break a rule. But there are a lot of gray areas in motor sports, though NASCAR does have that clause in the rule book-which we've seen, but weren't supposed to, since it's secret-regarding "actions detrimental" to the sport. That can cover anything.
But for decades, mechanics and crew chiefs have done their best to work around NASCAR's rules. Every year, the NASCAR rule book gets a little thicker, a little less gray. "It can be frustrating," says Chad Knaus, crew chief for five-time champion Jimmie Johnson. Knaus has had his share of run-ins with NASCAR inspectors. "But it would be more frustrating to give up trying to make our car better."
The first recorded instance of cheating in NASCAR came on June 19, 1949, when the very first NASCAR race was held in Charlotte. N.C. Founder Bill France insisted that since the "SC" in NASCAR stood for "Stock Car," his race would not be populated by backyard-built hot rods, but by cars that actually looked like cars driven on the highways and biways.
The race took place on a three-quarter-mile dirt oval track for 150 miles. The winner was Glenn Dunaway, who drove Herbert Westmoreland's 1947 Ford all 200 laps, finishing three laps ahead of second-place Jim Roper, who had read about the race in a comic strip and showed up in a Lincoln.
When the dust cleared, it was Roper who was declared the winner, because there was evidence that Westmoreland's Ford, a genuine moonshine-runner, had modified rear springs.
Dunaway ended up last, and Roper won the $2,000 purse. Westmoreland promptly filed a $10,000 lawsuit, which was thrown out of court.
This was a good thing for Bill France. He went into his second race with the courts having already affirmed his right to throw out a competitor.
But with as few as 15 cars showing up for the rest of the eight-race 1949 season, France wasn't anxious to kick out any other competitors.
Today's stock cars are designed and scrutinized to the last nut and bolt to keep owners, crew chiefs and drivers honest.
The latest miscues come down to money, not honesty in competition. Michael Waltrip Racing and Penske Racing tried to improve their team's chances of winning this year's championship. Only 13 drivers can gain a shot at the title, but fortune was changed not by chance, but greed.
Team owners and drivers are worth millions of dollars, but the price of a title has gotten more expensive due to conniving in the pit box and penalites being handed out by NASCAR.
Let's get back to racing for the thrill of competiiton, not the ringing of the cash register.
Contact Eddie Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org