Racing is unlike many other sports for many other reasons, and due to the generally complex nature of it, there exists a massive gray area within which teams may frolic and play. Literally since day one, a habitual practice became common to continually push the boundaries of ethical racing to the absolute limit. Eventually, with all the envelope-pushing, someone was bound to take a step too far and incite repercussions as rule-bending encroached on the lines of a clear violation. The problem with catching everything is, due to the extremely complex nature of the sport, the ever-growing rulebook must cover everything from tire and fuel composition to engine size down to the very cubic inch. It’s true, sanctioning bodies have been known to impose severe penalties on race teams found to be out of tolerance of engine displacement by two-tenths of a cubic inch!
With such scrutiny, you’d almost wonder why it’s worth the risk in the first place to bend or blatantly break regulations for an advantage of a mere half-second or an extra gallon of fuel. But race teams know that over the course of a few hundred miles, every little advantage that can be secured is compounded throughout the race and could mean the difference between a championship and a loss. Try as the administrative bodies may, rule-bending is as much a part of racing as the cars themselves and as long as there is a shadow of a doubt shrouding a rule, it’ll be exploited to the maximum and beyond in the name of competition.
20 Junior Johnson’s Yellow Banana
The early days of NASCAR were as poorly behaved and untamed as the wild west. Operating in the gray area of the rules was as common as the rising of the sun and race teams pushed almost every advantage they could use to gain a razor of a margin on competitors.
The 1966 Yellow Banana was a 1966 Ford Galaxy with a bright yellow paint job and, a custom-fabricated truck line that sloped up a few extra degrees to produce more down force.
The windshield was laid back over 20° and the top chopped to promote a low drag coefficient and is known to some as the most “flagrantly illegal car[s] to ever compete in a NASCAR event,” according to Fox News. It’s not a matter of what these guys did so much as what didn’t they do.
19 Clint Bowyer’s Championship Blow
When NASCAR unveiled the "car of tomorrow" in 2007, they made it very clear that tolerance violations and unapproved parts would incur strict penalties and there is a long list of prominent drivers who have been pinched by the rules; Dale Earhardt Jr. for illegal wing brackets (100 points), Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon got knocked 100 points each for fender modifications and crew chiefs were being slammed with hundreds of thousands in fines and month-and-a-half suspensions left and right. One of the biggest and heftiest punishments issued by NASCAR was laid on Clint Bowyer after his New Hampshire winning car did not pass post-race inspection. The body tolerances were found to be out of spec and he was docked 150 points which essentially nullified his win. He started New Hampshire in 12th, shot up to second after the win, and went right back to 12th place after the penalty with no chance of climbing up the leaderboard thereafter – the championship effectively now out of his reach.
18 "Tainted” Fuel
February 2017 – Michael Waltrip is amidst what was called NASCAR’s biggest cheating scandal (it’s always the biggest cheating scandal). It was one of the most significant rulebook thumpings in history and five teams in all were caught up in the crossfire.
Racing fuel formulations were found to be tampered with and tampering with racing fuel formulations is a big, fat no-no in NASCAR.
Racing fuel is formulated strictly to produce power but the blend must be uniform to all the racers to provide a level playing field. Two-time Daytona 500 champion Waltrip lost two crew members in suspensions and was allowed to race at Daytona but had to be coaxed into it by his family and team – “I didn’t want to damage the integrity of the sport…I came real close to not running today.”
17 Cut It Out (Literally)
NASCAR takes pride in the deliverance of high-performance racing with high-performance standards – and heavy is the hammer of justice. Roush Motorsport’s Jeff Burton and his team saw their $150,000 racecar chopped up and torn apart after it was determined by NASCAR inspectors that the racecar did not conform to technical regulations outlining placement of roof flaps. Burton’s were assessed as being 5” forward of the regulation spec. Intent on sending a strong message, rather than fines, points deductions and suspensions alone, nothing less than the removal of the Roush racecar’s roof sufficed, destroying the car in the process. NASCAR essentially just hacked the roof off the racecar because they could.
16 Dream Ending Cubic Inches
Carl Long’s love of racing runs deep, and with 35 years invested into the motorsport he claims is an addiction, it’s hard for him to stay away from. Carl Long was hit with a record-setting punishment for an engine size exceeding 358cid.
200 points were deducted along with a 12-event suspension and an ultimately un-payable $200,000 fine that barred Long from racing for almost eight years.
Unlike most big-box racing teams with unlimited budgets, hefty NASCAR penalties can be devastating for smaller teams unable to match the solvency of the big boys. The oversized engine that cost him his dreams for nearly a decade was over the legal limit by 0.17cu/in (not even 358.2cid).
15 Black Tire Affair
Of all the things to get tight on, NASCAR has a holy rule that thou shan't tread upon: engines, fuel, and tires are a definite no-fly zone. Regulation violations in these areas incur hearty, three-course punishments, usually suspensions, fines and point deductions. Tire bleeding involves drilling small holes in the tires to dispel air as the car races. This is done to offset the negative effects of the expansion of the air in the tire as it heats up. By bleeding tires, teams can maximize grip by minimizing the deflection of the contact area as the air expands. The 75-point, $125,000 infraction ranks as a five out of six on NASCAR’s infraction severity scale.
14 Jeremy Mayfield’s Long Journey
Being the man or woman you are today is an accumulation of the decisions you’ve made in your life up until this point. NASCAR heroes often are larger than life and sometimes that heroic aura blinds us from true colors. In Jeremy Mayfield’s case, those colors are printed on a long rap sheet that extends well beyond the NASCAR-sanctioned rule of authority. Felony larceny and substance possession along with $100,000 in stolen Red Bull audio equipment make something trivial like fuel tampering seem like child’s play – definitely not punishable by the 20-year prison sentence he could have been facing if his personal decisions all came back to haunt him at once. Indeed, you’d almost expect a man like this to tamper with his fuel, wouldn’t you?
13 Spacing Out
Mark Martin’s racing resume goes on further than your professional one. He’s raced since the early ‘80s and has been with big-brand teams like Roush, Dale Earnhardt, Hendrick, Stewart-Hass, Michael Waltrip and Joe Gibbs Racing. Seemingly congruent with the impact that the penalties of high-press scandals seem to have on racing seasons, a debacle about carburetor spacers being welded in place docked the team 46 points. Martin would go on to lose the championship by a mere 26 points. The modification was later admitted to not technically be against the rules but the damage had been done and Mark Martin’s championship was not to be.
12 Restrictor Plate Shenanigans
Restrictor plates, typically installed between the carburetor and intake manifold, limit the air/fuel flow into an engine and therefore reduce the power potential of any given engine setup. Sanctioned racing events implement this type of power-limiting device for safety but the WRC Toyota team was about to have none of this restrictor plate nonsense.
Having some of the best engineers in the world, Toyota brains designed a variable restrictor plate that, when disassembled, appeared to measure out within spec.
Once installed and torqued down however, special springs and clips integrated into the design would effectively bypass the restrictor plate altogether in a design that was undetectable to even the best techs and judges who scrutinized the components. An estimated 25% more airflow was gained with the illegal restrictor plate that is considered one of the best racing cheats of all time.
11 Smokey Yunick’s Custom Chevelle Mods
The infamous number 13 that sported a modified bumper increased by 2” and recessed into the body were just the tip of a long list of racing modifications that may or may not have been "approved." Extensive weight and balance modifications were made to shift the center of gravity around favorably including moving the entire body back a few inches on the frame. Yunick's noted for other antics like custom-building his own frame and using the 454cid Chevy as a structural cross member to further strengthen it. One final straw for Smokey was when NASCAR officials told him before a race that his car failed inspection. Angered, he fired up the Chevelle (that was supposed to have no fuel in it) and drove off on the extra five gallons of auxiliary fuel hidden in the frame rails.
10 Diversionary Cautions
Cautions either work in favor of or against a racer, especially towards the end of the race. Sometimes you need a caution to tighten up the pack, sometimes you’re praying for green to the checker.
Drivers have been known to cause all types of diversions like throwing trash and even cushions out their windows to simulate this race-halting condition to their favor.
Ken Schrader, low on tire life and in the lead with only laps to go, was being quickly closed in on by the second-place car. Grabbing his in-car fire extinguisher, he positioned the nozzle out the window and pulled the trigger, simulating a blown engine. The second-place car backed off enough, thinking Ken was out, to allow him to blast his way to a questionably-deserved first-place finish.
9 Ride Height on the Fly
Many racers have tried adding fuel to chassis components or dumping excess ballast halfway through a race for a lighter car, but Gordon Murray took racing shenanigans to stratospheric new heights with his mid-race, adjustable suspension for his Brabham BT49C Formula car in 1981. Minimum ride height for Formula cars was 6cm from the ground, but a static measurement was the only qualifier of an intolerant racecar. Knowing this, Murray devised a system with a bleed hole that would allow the suspension to drop the car below legal limits during a race. Once at a state of rest, the car’s suspension would rebound to the regulated 6cm making this aerodynamic cheat nearly impossible to detect by race officials.
8 Acid Droppin’ Sunco Camaro
Racing promotes some of the most resourceful methods of increasing competitive margins by sheer ingenuity on a highly technical level that you can’t help but admire at times. The 1968 racing season for the Sunoco Camaro meant that all the tricks they’d learned over the ’67 season were coming to a head in the next first-gen racecar.
The roll cage was extended forward through the firewall to the frame and to the rear suspension as well.
This gave the car additional rigidity so the body could actually be acid-dipped to reduce weight as much as possible. Once the entire car was underweight the team could then go about adding ballast to ideal locations to perfectly configure the car to their liking at the minimum weight.
7 Wooden Roll Bars
"They never said I couldn’t" is the type of crafty mind state that seeks to expose the chinks in the regulations' armor. So, if those regulations include a provision that roof supports must be installed on all racecars and your racecar happens to have none, you can either quit right there or fabricate some yourself. Last minute fabrication can leave little in terms of options. One crafty driver found himself one roll bar short of a legal racecar and faced disqualification. Rather than throw the towel in, he haphazardly installed a pair of wooden ones in which he went on to claim the victory with until officials realized what had happened and stripped him of the first-place win.
6 Smokey Strikes Again
“If the rules don’t say you can’t do it, then that means you can do it,” said Smokey. The ambiguous, gray-area operator was famous for circumnavigating the rules wherever he could to maximize his advantage – one of his favorite tricks was hiding fuel in places fuel has no business being, like cross members underneath blistering-hot engines and inside boxed and sealed frame rails. When it was common practice to examine the actual capacity of a fuel tank, tricks like inflating basketballs for inspection and deflating them before the race gave an edge in fuel capacity as well as using oversized fuel lines (like five gallons oversized). Hey – the rulebook technically didn’t say you couldn’t, right?
5 Logic Software
The 1994 technical regulations for Formula 1 cars effectively banned computer-controlled interference systems including launch control, ABS, power brakes and active suspensions.
This was implemented, as the official story goes, out of fear that electronically assisted systems were diminishing the importance of driver skill by allowing the racecar to compensate for the lack thereof with computer logic.
Needless to say, the 1994 season was also a season marked with a huge scandal revolving around the continued use of the now-illegal computer systems during races. Many of the cars tested for illegal programming could only be determined to “have the ability to accept and run the program” with no further substantiation of rule breaking.
4 Hidden Brake Pedal
Why, you ask, would a racecar want extra brake pedals? More accelerators would make more sense, but the magic lies in the function. In the summer of 1997, Darren Heath was taking pictures mid-race when he saw something peculiar on Mika Hakkinen’s McLaren; the car was mid-corner with glowing brake disks.
It was typically uncharacteristic for Formula drivers to brake during the middle of corners so this raised a hair of curiosity that led to the quest for answers.
Those answers were found in a "fiddle brake" or extra brake pedal that activated only one of the rear brake calipers (selectable to the desired side). The design was used to counter the inherent understeer condition and shaved about a half-second off of lap times on average. At the time of discovery, this system was technically completely legal.
3 Variable Ballast Systems
During the mid ‘80s, Formula One regulations specified a minimum weight that cars must adhere to for legal operation during a race. This weight limit was somewhere in between the weight of the turbocharged and non-turbocharged cars, the naturally-aspirated of the two being the lighter car.
This led the non-turbo crowd to use this weight gap to their advantage in more clever ways than just creatively placed ballast.
Variable ballast became the new fixed ballast and Ken Tyrell’s non-turbo Formula car was caught red-handed using improperly secured ballast when his dumping system malfunctioned leaving his dumped load of lead pellets all over pit lane, rather than the middle of the racetrack far from prying eyes.
2 Burnout Blindness 19
One thing that’s been bothering Dale Earnhardt Jr. for years is a now-common practice of celebratory tire blowing after a long, post-race burnout. The veteran racecar driver cites nefarious intentions behind the behavior that has become more and more prevalent since the introduction of the gen-6 racecar in 2013. The logic is that, in an effort to hide illegal car modifications, racers blow their tires and destroy whatever evidence may be lingering beneath the surface. Little is confirmed beyond an accusatory finger of suggestion, but any wrong-doings up to this point are just speculation until we hear about the next "biggest scandal in NASCAR racing history."
1 Cheating From the Very First Green Flag
Perhaps the best way to wrap this feature up is with a little bit of perspective into the relationship between racing and the rule-bending that goes along with it. June 19, 1949 was the date of the very first NASCAR-sanctioned race held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The foundation of the race was embedded into the very name of NASCAR – National Association for Stock Car Racing, with emphasis on the Stock Car part. Despite all this, the very first NASCAR winner was a moonshiner with modified rear suspension meant for hauling heavy loads of the good stuff. Upon this revelation, the car was failed at the post-race inspection and the win was given away by NASCAR. In conclusion, it was the very first NASCAR winner of the very first NASCAR race that the very first punishment for cheating was delivered.
Sources: espn.com, washingtonpost.com, foxnews.com, motorracingdigest.com, foxsports.com, usatoday.com, complex.com, carthrottle.com.