NASCAR Has A Cheatin’ Heart

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - March 23, 2005
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With the country stuck to the right and athletes doing the steroidal two step before Congress, it’s nice to see there are still those in sports who continue to flaunt the rules and take pride in doing so.

NASCAR hasn’t forgotten its bootlegging heritage. Tradition is important, after all. Drivers, crew chiefs and window washers are all looking for that little edge. They’re breaking rules and they’re damn proud of it. Rubbin’ is racin’, ya know.

Last week Jimmy Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus, got slapped after the car didn’t meet height requirements following UAWDaimlerChrysler 400. Not only was Knaus suspended and fined $35,000, but Johnson lost the points lead because of a scoring penalty.

Not to be outdone were the pit bosses of Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick. They were also punished for trying to tweak the rules. But have no fear, Harvick’s chief Todd Berrier is not about to let Buford T. Justice crimp his style. Talking to reporters he said if history was to repeat itself, he would welcome it.

“If I had to do it again, I’d still try to get away with it, because I know how I got caught,” said Berrier before peeling out in his orange Charger. Arebel flag flying from the trunk and Free Bird kicking on the stereo.

Berrier, like shiners of old, was just looking for a bit more speed so he rigged the gas tank. Race officials weren’t buying it. NASCAR rules says all cars must complete their qualifying laps with a full tank of gas. Less gas means less weight and a faster car. So Berrier gets a few weeks vacation to figure out how he can hide bigger holes in a restricter plate.

Let’s be honest. Half the fun of racing is the cheating. Different tires, fuel additives, Jeff Gordon with an illegal intake manifold — it’s all part of the game. Some have even gotten famous because of it.

Smokey Yunick was one of racing’s best engine and design men. His NASCAR and Indy designs revolutionized the sport. But for all his innovations, Smokey may be even more famous for being one of the best rule-benders in history. We say bending because if the book doesn’t specifically outlaw something, it’s considered completely legal.

In 1968 officials pulled the gas tank out of one of his cars because it seemed that his team was able to drive farther on a tank full than the competitors. After intense arguing and tobacco spitting, Smokey passed inspection and he drove the car into the garage area. Much to the officials’ dismay, the car’s gas tank was still on the ground as he sped off.

Sure the French, the family that founded and runs NASCAR and not the nation of heavy sauce and light pastry, get their quarter panels in a crumble when race teams break the rules. Guilty or innocent, no one is getting fired because of it.

Knaus, who was first busted in 2002 said it’s not cheating, it’s really just a form of expression:

“Being creative is my job. If I am going to get fined and penalized for being creative, then that’s just part of it.”

You got to give it to him. Like they say around the track, the man’s got chutzpah.

So what to do? Nothing. Like a Gaylord Perry Vaseline ball, it’s a subject to josh about over a cold PBR. Like treating Type II diabetes with lizard spit. (Really, in an article last year in The Reporter, the Vanderbilt Medical Center publication, researchers tried to do that very thing.)

Hey, it’s just boys being boys. Fine them if you want, take away points, even disallow victories. It doesn’t matter. With cars forced by rules to be almost identical, someone will try to shave a pound here or add one or two horsepower there. It’s the name of the game.

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