Book Review - Cheating
An Inside Look at the Bad Things Good NASCAR Winston Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed
by Doug Belliveau

December 23, 2002

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Cheating - An Inside Look at the Bad Things Good NASCAR Winston Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed

By Tom Jensen

Youíve read the NASCAR announcements before. Ones that read like ď Crew Chief Joe Smith of the no. 07 car has been fined $25,000 for using a non-approved springÖ..Ē. Last November, Mark Martinís point penalty almost decided whether he would win the championship. Have you ever wondered how NASCAR determines penalties or why race teams would risk punishment and do such illegal things? If so, this is the book for you.

Ever since the first sanctioned stock car race in 1949, drivers, mechanics, suppliers and owners have pushed the limits of NASCARís regulations in order to gain an upper hand against the competition. Letís face it, anyone involved with the racing community has one goal in mind Ė winning. In many cases, that resulted in bending or circumventing the rules. Other times, it involved blatant cheating.

Cheating is a wonderfully written history of the never-ending search for ways to obtain a racing advantage. The author uses his four year experience as the executive editor of NASCAR Winston Cup Scene to help him obtain a great deal of first hand information for this book. During his research, he interviewed (formally and informally) dozens of the biggest names in NASCAR, some of which have since passed on. Some were willing to share their recollections, while others were reluctant to elaborate on certain incidents. Nonetheless, this book contains the most comprehensive information ever published on the subject of cheating in NASCAR.

Numerous NASCAR officials inspect the cars for even the most minor rules infraction.
Photo by Doug Belliveau

The book spans the entire history of NASCAR, from its humble beginnings at Daytona in 1949, right up through the 2002 season. Incidents involving many of the most famous names in racing are discussed, such as Smokey Yunick, Junior Johnson, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Darrell Waltrip and Jeff Gordon.

With such a perceived high degree of cheating, many opponents of stock car racing discount NASCAR as a legitimate racing series. Conspiracy theorists claim that the fix is in because the organization cannot police itself with consistency. Members of the NASCAR media (including me) and most NASCAR fans will tell you that this is not the case. What is fascinating about Cheating is that by referencing examples, it explains the fine line between working within the rules and breaking them. Also, the book does a remarkable job of highlighting how many innovations came into being because of racerís quest to push the envelope. The stories of the birth of fuel cells, the roll cage, body templates and the use of wind tunnels are all woven seamlessly into the text.

The repeated theme throughout the book is quite obvious: the more NASCAR tried to tighten the reins, the more homework the teams had to do to get to the front of the pack. In the early years, cheating wasnít really cheating because NASCAR had so few rules to break. Race teams got away with flagrant performance boosters such as hidden superchargers, extra weight that fell off the car during the race and automatically lowering front ends. My favorite story involved a race car that had hollowed out frame cross members for storage of extra fuel. Can you imagine driving around a racetrack with gasoline in the frame of your car? That would be like driving a pipe bomb around the track and waiting for it to ignite!

Over time, the NASCAR organization evolved and became more sophisticated with its inspection process. Originally, only the total weight of a car was obtained, and inspections only took place before the race. Today, weight is measured at each wheel, and inspections take place all race weekend long. A handful of templates were first used at Daytona in1967. Currently, inspectors may use upwards of 30 templates at any given race. You might not realize how formidable a task it is to inspect 45-50 racecars down to an amazingly slim tolerance on a race weekend.

Templates, templates, and more templates.
Photo by Doug Belliveau

All the major scandals are here for your perusal, including Junior Johnsonís infamous Yellow Banana car that was chopped, Bill Elliottís overly amazing 1985 season, Jimmy Spencerís controversial plate race wins in 1994 for McDonalds and Jeff Gordonís 1998 Tiregate, in which Jack Roush insisted that an undetectable illegal chemical was being used to enhance tire performance.

I could write volumes about all the wild and wacky things that have occurred over the past 53 years in NASCAR, but that would defeat the purpose of getting a copy of this excellent book. The book is easy to read and entertaining, without getting bogged down in too much detail or technical jargon. For long-time fans, it serves as a stroll down memory lane and provides answers to some of those burning questions never answered years ago. For new fans, or fans that never get to visit the garage, the book provides a great deal of insight to the inner world of NASCAR. Either way, this book is a must for any NASCAR fanís library.

The author can be contacted nascar@autoracing1.com

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