The concept of motorsports isn't new. In fact, it's been around ever since men learned how to drive. Currently, there are quite a few of them out there, but perhaps, one of the most well known is the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, also known as "NASCAR."
What started out as a small band of thrill seekers in the 1940s has now turned into a racing empire worth a billion dollars. The league currently sanctions the Sprint Cup, Nationwide and the Camping World Truck series with the France family as the majority owners of the league. It now has millions of fans all over the world, and surely, where there is popularity, there's also controversy, and NASCAR has surely had a fair share of those. Ever since its inception, there have been events and drivers whose names have stood out among some of the most controversial tales in NASCAR history. That's why we did some digging and came up with 17 of the most famous controversies that have surrounded NASCAR in the past and in recent times. So, whether you’re a fan of NASCAR or motorsports in general, you want to sit down, relax, and enjoy this one!
Off the track, Tony Stewart is a nice, funny, and generous guy. On the track, however, he has an entirely different persona, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde sort of situation. This Tony has a terrible temper, and you don't want to piss him, off even in the slightest.
Throughout his racing career, he was notorious for starting fights with other drivers and even members of the press.
In 2009, Stewart stopped racing himself and became a team owner, something that most people thought would help calm him down, but things couldn’t be more opposite. He still doesn’t hesitate in punching journalists or other team owners. Very recently, after a race event in California, Stewart didn’t even think twice before starting a fight with Joey Logano after accusing him of foul play.
The year 2016 was full of some of the craziest controversies in NASCAR history. One of these was the Sprint All-Star race, and while everything should’ve been fine, things didn’t really go according to plan because Sprint and NASCAR decided to move some of the rules around.
Teams had to make multiple pit stops, and the field was shuffled, which resulted in a lot of confusion among the drivers. Chase Elliott even ended up causing a huge crash during the event. To decide the number of teams that needed to pit before the final segment, Greg Olsen of the Carolina Panthers was called to pull a random number. The notorious Tony Stewart remarked that this was one of most screwed-up All-Star races that he had been a part of.
Do you remember Angela’s Motorsports? Well, it’s okay if you don’t because the whole thing was a disaster from start to finish. The story begins with Fatemeh Karimkhani, who also went by the name of "Angela Harkness," and when she was working as a stripper in Austin, Texas, she ended up meeting the branch vice president of Well Fargo, Gary D. Jones.
Together, they formed Angela’s Motorsports for which they ended up purchasing cars from Robert Yates Racing. They assembled an excellent team and made a debut at the NASCAR Busch Series in 2002. Something that both of them didn’t realize, however, was that staying in the NASCAR business required a large sum of money—$6 million, to be exact. This was an amount that the owners didn’t have, and Angela Motorsports ended up being kicked out of the league.
The story of Jeremy Mayfield is a sad one involving numerous drug-related scandals throughout his life. Initially, he was notorious for squabbling with his own teammates and switching teams every now and then, something which would cause a lot of trouble for so many other people.
His career, however, came to an end when NASCAR decided to suspend him indefinitely on May 9, 2009 after he failed to pass a methamphetamine drug test. He continued to plead innocence after that, but soon, other scandals came to light, one of the most notable ones involving his arrest for possession of drugs and stolen property. We can only hope that he's able to kick his drug addiction and return to the world of NASCAR someday in the future.
The 2007 Gatorade Duel was one that proved to be the setting of yet another big NASCAR scandal and controversy. During the event, a penalty of 25 championship points was put on Evernham Motorsports after officials had discovered an illegal modification done by the team.
Countless individual penalties were also handed out, including those to Kenny Francis and Robbie Reiser, both of whom were penalized 50 championship points. The competition director of Michael Waltrip Racing and Michael Waltrip himself were ejected from the track after an unknown substance was discovered in the intake manifold of their car. What’s crazy is that the same thing was found in their backup car after which the drivers who were involved were suspended from racing.
The Petty family is among some of the most well-known family names in the history of NASCAR. They were also one of the first few people to take part in racing as a means of living, and it all started with the great Lee Petty.
He was a pretty controversial figure during the 1950s simply because of his aggressive style and attitude when he was out on the track.
This obviously didn't sit too well with some of the other racers since Petty would often put his and their lives at risk. In 1957, NASCAR decided to issue him a warning with a letter which read, “We have received a great many complaints this season about rough driving on your part, and they are now piling in so fast and from so many different directions that it is going to be necessary for someone to put the ‘eye’ on you for the next several race meets.”
This was perhaps one of the biggest cheating incidents to occur in the history of NASCAR. At the time when Richard Petty was racing, the legal engine size allowed by the league was 358 cubic inches.
Turns out that the car Petty was driving had a much larger engine, 31 cubic inches larger, to be exact.
Later, it was also discovered that Pretty’s pit crew had also cheated by placing left-side tires on the right side of his car, something that would provide him with an additional advantage on the track. One would assume that Petty’s win would’ve been canceled right there and then, but instead, NASCAR went on to maintain it saying that they didn’t want fans to read about a change in the decision on the media.
In September of 1961, two drivers by the names of "Curtis Turner" and "Tim Flock" decided to form a union with some of their other fellow drivers. It was called the "Federation of Professional Athletes," and the point behind it was to start a movement that would result in bringing to effect better conditions for the race drivers.
Many of them were interested in the idea and ended up signing on to the union; however, Bill France decided to ban both Turner and Flock from NASCAR.
His famous statement, which went something like “After the race tonight, no known union member can compete in a NASCAR race. And if this isn’t tough enough, I’ll use a pistol to enforce it,” effectively put an end to the union. The drivers were reinstated later on and were allowed to resume racing.
The 1960s in the United States were not too great, especially with racial tensions at an all-time high. Minorities, and more specifically black people, had a difficult time settling into and participating in white-dominated sports, and NASCAR was no different.
Promoters for NASCAR weren’t very comfortable with the idea of Wendell Scott, who was a black man, standing in the winner circle and ending up kissing a white beauty queen during the celebrations. This is probably why Scott’s win in Jacksonville was completely ignored even though he had done two extra laps compared to the crowned winner, Buck Baker. Four weeks later, however, the decision was overturned, declaring Scott as the winner of the Jacksonville race. Baker also accepted this decision and didn’t contest Scott’s win.
When Clint Bowyer and his team decided to pull this stunt off, they seemingly forgot that there was a camera inside the car as well. In a chase for the Sprint Cup at Richmond, Virginia, Bowyer decided to purposefully spin his car out, which resulted in a caution when there were only seven laps left.
The ensuing sequence of events forced Jeff Gordon to be removed from the race, causing Bowyer’s teammate to win as a result. The maneuver by Bowyer famously became known as “The Itch” since Brian Pattie, Bowyer’s crew chief, asked him to itch his arm, which was obviously a cue to spin the car out of control. This event was regarded as one of the most unsportsmanlike acts in the history of NASCAR.
Climate change has slowly become a global issue, and regardless of whether you believe in it or not, many big corporations are now actively involved in looking out for the environment and reducing our carbon footprint. In the automotive industry, this is being done via the introduction of hybrid and electric cars, so surely, a racing league as big as NASCAR would have some rules in place for emissions, too, right?
Well, sadly, the league has no regulations when it comes to reducing emissions or pollution.
It remains an independent and unregulated entity outside the control of the Environmental Protection Agency. Equipment such as catalytic converters or other devices that could help reduce emissions isn't used in NASCAR, which is a shame, really, since this is a billion-dollar racing empire.
Ownership and decision making is one thing about NASCAR that has remained controversial ever since the inception of the league in the late 1940s. Unlike some of the other sporting leagues where owners and players are supposed to split the proceeds and then bargain for contract rights, majority ownership for NASCAR has always been with the France family.
This also means that the league provides the participants with almost little to no bargaining power. The influence of the France family also exists outside the league where they’ve silenced entire television shows that went on to criticize the league’s policies and regulations. This abuse of power and putting the family’s interests before anything else is proof of a bad business structure and decision-making strategy.
Another huge controversy that popped up in the year 2016 was related to the Laser Inspection Station, a piece of equipment that's supposed to measure the body length of the car in a very precise manner. This usually isn’t a problem; however, this time around, multiple drivers failed the LIS, including Chicago Land Speedway winner Martin Truex Jr.
Turns out, Truex had failed the test by only 0.030ths of an inch, but despite this, fans started questioning his credibility, which led to the adjustment of penalties by NASCAR. This essentially allowed almost all the drivers to pass the inspection with the only exception being any car that was well beyond the given size limits. Thankfully, all talks of this controversy soon faded, and the season resumed with its full glory.
During the racing season of 2015, NASCAR decided to loosen up on the policy of having all five lug nuts fully secured on each wheel of the car before heading out. In early 2016, Tony Stewart, whom we’ve already talked about in some of the previous entries, had returned from a back surgery and believed that the lug-nut issue was serious and could result in a major accident.
Shortly after Stewart’s comments, NASCAR reinstated the penalty for any loose or missing lug nuts and sent out a memo to each team, asking them to ensure the safe and secure installation of all the lug nuts. Elliott Sadler ended up being affected by the penalty after two of the lug nuts on his car were found to be loose, also resulting in the suspension of Kevin Meendering, his crew chief.
Dale Earnhardt is known by many as a racing legend at this point; however, what some people might not know is that he was a very controversial figure when alive. He was hated by pretty much every other driver out there on the track simply because of his aggressive driving style.
Because of this, he had also earned the nicknames “The Intimidator” and “The Man in Black.” Earnhardt knocked other drivers out of the way and didn’t really care about the consequences. Despite all of this behavior, Earnhardt became an icon of NASCAR after his tragic death in a crash. Controversies related to him still exist. Even after his death, there were several lawsuits that occurred regarding safety equipment for drivers, and more recently, it's been about whether or not to retire his racing number from the Sprint Cup.
Junior Johnson simply didn't have a care in the world. The consequences of an action would simply be the last thing on his mind despite being aware of the fact that he could get into trouble. He was once arrested and spent a year in prison for carrying illegal moonshine. So, what does he say after he was released? Well, he simply stated that he could use a drink.
According to him, his philosophy had always been the “win at all costs” type and that failure was never an option.
After his career as a racing driver, he went on to become an owner and, in fact, was one of the first people to own two teams simultaneously. He had memorized the entire NASCAR rule book and would always use any shortcuts that he could find while still staying within the realm of the given rules.
During the 1980s, there wasn’t much research that had been done on AIDS, and to a lot of people, this new disease was quite scary. Due to his flamboyant and playboy-esque lifestyle, Richmond was eventually diagnosed with AIDS in 1986, a revelation that took the NASCAR world at the time by storm.
Richmond attempted to make a comeback in 1988; however, NASCAR officials refused to let him compete unless he decided to release all of his medical records. Richmond was obviously quite furious over this but decided to drop from the radar until 1989 when news of his death was announced. At the time, he was only 34 years of age, and his legacy went on to inspire the famous Tom Cruise movie Days of Thunder.