The term 'cheating' doesn't really apply to racing. Now, before anyone starts complaining and lecturing us about the purity of true champions, let us explain. Every race team out there has to push as far as they possibly can in order to win. This doesn't just mean pushing the car and the driver to their limits, but also the interpretation of the rules and how the regulations are applied to the cars they put on the track. In the words of Darrell Waltrip, after he got caught for using nitrous oxide in the 1976 Daytona 500: "If you don't cheat, you look like an idiot. If you do it and you don't get caught, you look like a hero. If you do it and get caught, you look like a dope. Put me in the category where I belong."
Of course, we don't condone cheating, but it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the real trick to winning in motorsports is figuring out how far the rules can be bent without breaking them. After all, in motorsports, another word for cheating is 'innovation.' When it comes to finding tenths on the track, the guys in the pits, the designers, engineers, strategists, and mechanics are collectively more important than the man behind the wheel.
In a high-speed world where a tenth of a second can be critical, there's surely no motorsport category untainted, so let's take a closer look at some of the more spectacular, brazen and ingenious examples of, ahem, rulebook interpretation the world of racing has ever seen.
25 Smokey Yunick’s Basketball In The Gas Tank
NASCAR mandated how much gas the tank could hold, which leads us to one of Smokey’s most well-known tricks. Basically, it involved shoving an inflated basketball into an oversized fuel tank before the car was inspected by scrutineers. When they filled the tank up with fuel, the tank would appear to conform to regulations.
After passing the tech inspection, Smokey would then deflate the ball when no one was looking, pull it out of the tank, and fill the regulation-plus-basketball-sized fuel tank for the race, giving him a nice fuel capacity advantage.
24 Waltrip's Heavy Metal
NASCAR weighed the cars before the race to make sure they were at the minimum, but not after. Darrell Waltrip's team would fill frame rails with BBs or buckshot to meet the weight requirements, then during the race, he'd pull a wire that opened a trap door in the frame rail, and the BBs would scatter behind him on the back straight.
However, one time, a crewman washed the car and got the BBs wet. They stuck together and didn't escape until Waltrip was driving down pit lane, with BBs pelting crew members from other teams as well as NASCAR officials. Busted!
23 Ferrari's Flexible Floor
The efficient passage of air over and under a formula one car is critical to its performance. There are many restrictions imposed by the technical regulations, one of which prohibits certain parts of the bodywork from moving in order to gain a performance advantage.
The floor of an F1 car is a critical area and Ferrari incorporated a clever spring fastener that allowed the floor of their car to flex more than it should when at speed, but which was perfectly legal when measured while the car was stationary.
22 Red Bull's Formula 1 Front Wing
Aerodynamics is the name of the game in the ultra-high-tech world of Formula 1. Already at the top of their field, the 2011 Red Bull Formula 1 team employed a dynamic front wing. In order to skirt the rules set forth by the FIA, the wing was not influenced by the driver the only input was the airspeed over the wing.
At a standstill, the wing sat in a legal location, with ride height in spec. As the flow of air increased with speed, the wing would deflect down and close the gap between the car and the asphalt.
21 Toyota's WRC Restrictor Plate Bypass
Toyota's devious cheat was so ingenious, Max Mosley, head of FIA at the time, had to admit begrudging respect. Toyota's system bypassed the restrictor plates used to keep speeds down during the 1995 season of the WRC and was virtually undetectable by inspectors. A series of perfectly-balanced springs moved the plate in question out of the way while the car was at full throttle, producing 50 horsepower more than the competition who were capped at 300 horses.
While at rest, it took special tools to even budge the plate and disassembling the turbo revealed almost no evidence of tomfoolery. Once caught, the FIA banned Toyota until 1998.
20 Roger Penske's Acid-Dipped Camaro
Roger Penske and Mark Donohue contacted Lockheed Aerospace in order to have their Chevrolet Camaro acid dipped before the 1967 SCCA Trans-Am campaign. The process meant the car dropped almost 400 lbs from its curb weight and made its structure so flimsy that a massive roll cage had to be installed as a secondary frame.
SCCA stewards banned the ultra-light Camaro, but that didn't deter Penske or Donohue from engaging inspectors in a game of cat and mouse by entering the car alongside another "legal" Chevrolet at future races and moving numbers and other identifying features back and forth between the two cars.
19 Ken Schrader's Seattle Smokescreen
When NASCAR's Ken Schrader was competing in a short track event in Seattle, he realized that he didn't have enough tire to last the 10 laps that stood between him and the checkered flag after a restart bunched up the field.
Six laps later, after the second place car had almost caught him, he decided to "simulate" an engine failure by grabbing his in-car fire extinguisher, pointing it out the window and pulling the pin. Thinking the smoke was a sign his motor was about to blow, his competitors backed off just enough to let him first across the line.
18 Audi's WRC Swap-Meet
In 1985, WRC cars didn't carry TV cameras, and helicopters didn’t shadow competitors across stages. Audi works driver Michelle Mouton started an Ivory Coast WRC stage with a seriously ill Audi Quattro, with engineer Franz Braun’s mechanically-similar support car right behind.
Mouton emerged from the stage after losing a lot of time, her car miraculously cured and no sign of Braun’s support car. The official explanation: a faulty oil pump had been replaced. There would later be accusations of not just an engine swap, but of a car swap; the rally car’s panels had been transplanted onto the healthy support car.
17 Brabham’s "Water-Cooled" Brakes
By 1982 the turbo era had begun, but many stuck with the naturally-aspirated Cosworth V12 rather than the turbo V8s. Unable to compete on outright power, the V12 teams found another way to improve power-to-weight.
Lotus designer Colin Chapman is credited with the idea, but Brabham’s Nelson Piquet arguably put ‘water-cooled’ brakes to best use, winning the ’82 Brazilian GP... temporarily.
The "new technology" had nothing to do with actually cooling the brakes. During the early laps, the water was dumped from the "brake reservoirs"—some say 60 liters. Post-race, the teams topped up all fluids as the rules dictated - thus meeting the minimum weight requirement.
16 Volvo's Angled BTCC Head
Who doesn't love Volvo’s BTCC entries of the 1990s? Those boxy wagons are legendary. The body wasn't the only thing that was special with their cars though, they performed some tricks on the engines as well.
Basically, there were restrictions on the angle of the valves inside the head. Volvo—or more likely, TWR’s legendarily conniving boss Tom Walkinshaw—circumvented the rules in the most literal of senses: if you couldn’t change the angle of things inside the head, then change the angle of the head itself to create a more advantageous inlet and exhaust valve angle.
15 Blue Thunder’s Lack Of Reverse Gear
Cheating on a racing technical inspection, or during scrutineering, is a lot easier when the tech inspectors won't even check half of the vehicle requirements. Not only was Blue Thunder being sketchy about their money to pay for the racing, and beating top teams, they used a transmission that was known for not being able to handle the torque of the V8s, yet theirs were very reliable.
There was a reason for that, they removed the reverse gear, which was illegal, and that allowed them to run slightly beefier gears and tech inspection failed to check that the entire season.
14 Jimmie Johnson's Adjustable Rear Window
Chad Knaus, the crew chief behind Jimmie Johnson's four Sprint Cup championships, had run-ins with NASCAR inspectors almost nonstop, at least until the current "Car of Tomorrow" became more tightly defined. In fact, Knaus was suspended four times in six seasons.
When Jimmie Johnson won his first Daytona 500 in 2006, he did so without crew chief Chad Knaus, who was sent home from Daytona International Speedway, fined $25,000, and suspended for four races. During post-qualifying inspection, the rear window of Johnson's No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet was found to have a device mounted to it that changed its angle, making it more aerodynamic.
13 Smokey Yunick's Size Trick
Few, if any, could bend the rules like Smokey Yunick. According to urban legend, Yunick built a 7:8 scale version of Curtis Tuner's Chevelle, but the urban legend exaggerates a little.
Yunick actually moved the body back on the chassis to improve weight balance and aerodynamics, he raised the floor and smoothed it out to enhance air flow. The roof and glass openings were modified to create as little drag as possible. Even though it looked like it, the car was no longer a stock Chevelle. NASCAR figured out Smokey's shenanigans and instituted the use of templates that had to fit perfectly over each vehicle during inspection.
12 Richard Petty's Tire Swap
Another day that lives on in NASCAR cheating infamy was October 9, 1983, at Charlotte Motor Speedway, when Richard Petty sailed to a win. NASCAR inspectors found two reasons; Petty's crew had put left-side tires on the right side, and vice-versa, which would have made for a nice, if brief, advantage.
For an even bigger advantage; Petty's engine measured 381.983 cubic inches, compared to the legal 358. Petty ended up being fined and docked 104 points, but he was allowed to keep the victory - amidst great complaints from all his rivals.
11 Tyrrell's Lead Shot
In the mid-80s, F1's Tyrrell Racing was having trouble keeping up with the rest of the pack, which were all using turbochargers - a technology that Tyrrell couldn't afford. Given that the lack of forced induction meant that the team's car was lighter than the series spec, it began to use ballast tanks filled with water... and lead shot.
It turned out that by dumping 140 lbs of lead into the tank at the very end of the race, the team could fool officials into thinking the tanks hadn't been bled dry during the event itself, dropping the car underweight.
10 McLaren's Extra Brake
In 1997 McLaren's MP4/12 was brand new and raced by Mikka Häkkinen and David Coulthard. It was also exceptionally good at going around corners. Maybe a little too good. The MP4/12 had been outfitted with a unique braking system that allowed its pilots to activate just one of its rear discs if they wanted to, in effect smoothing out understeer and improving the car's ability to pivot.
It came to light after Darren Heath, an F1 photographer, snapped images of the McLaren's rear brakes glowing red hot despite the fact that the car was in the middle of rocketing forward.
9 Michael Schumacher's Launch Control System
Michael Schumacher's first world championship in Formula 1 came in 1994, the same year his team, Benetton, was implicated in a scandal involving an illegal traction control system installed in Schuey's car.
Electronic driver's aides were against the rules for '94, but the Benetton car had raised suspicion that it might be using a launch control system due to Schumacher's incredibly quick starts and pit lane escapes. The team refused to hand over the engine management source code, only doing so after an FIA deadline had already passed. Officials could only prove that launch control was 'available', not that Schumacher used it to win the championship.
8 Gordon Murray's Adjustable Ride Height F1 Car
The amount of air passing underneath a car is at least as important as how air flows over it when it comes to competitive aerodynamics. This is why there's a minimum ride height. Of course, the only way to measure how high a given race car is off the ground is to wait until it comes to a complete stop.
Gordon Murray designed a Formula 1 car for Brabham in 1981 that used air pressure to drop it below the six centimeter limit on the course. Once back in the pits, the car's shock absorbers used a hydraulic reservoir to push back up to spec.
7 Ford/M-Sport Surge Tank
The M-Sport Ford’s Mk1 Focus WRC of 2003 sort of circumvented the WRC’s restrictions on how much air could flow into the turbocharged engine. By 2003, the first gen Focus was an elderly machine in WRC terms, and M-Sport sought to level the playing field with some boost-based shenanigans.
The cars had a 45L ‘surge’ tank hidden behind the rear bumper, connected to the inlet manifold, it filled with pressurized air directly from the turbo when off boost. Opening the valve at high revs would release a considerable volume of air back into the engine - and in turn a much-needed spike in performance.
6 Brawn's Double Diffuser
In 2009, Formula 1's rules explicitly stated how big the rear diffuser could be, but Brawn F1 managed to contour the shape of the car to act like there was a second 'double-decker' diffuser area stacked on top of the one the rules intended. Other teams protested it was illegal, but it secured Brawn the championship.
To win a championship on a tight budget, Brawn used this formula: use Honda's money to develop an innovative new car that may or may not adhere to the rules, then buy the team for one pound once the Japanese got fed up with Bernie Ecclestone.
5 1933 Tripoli GP Race Fixing
According to a 1958 book by Mercedes-Benz’s legendary team manager Alfred Neubauer, a wealthy fan promised driver Achille Varzi a lot of money for winning the 1933 Tripoli GP.
Varzi went to Nuvolari and offered part of the cash if he let Varzi win. Nuvolari, in turn, included Baconin Borzacchini and Giuseppe Campari, reducing his share but increasing the odds of payday.
Campari led the race until his engine suddenly "failed." Borzacchini crashed with only two laps to go, and Nuvolari ran out of fuel with the finish line in sight. Varzi won the race, but many drivers shared in the spoils that day.
4 Stan Stephens and Bob Farnham's All-Conquering Yamaha LC
Two-stroke tuner Stan Stephens is famous for extracting extra horsepower from his customers’ motors. But he thought he’d better find a few more when it was his turn to race. Stan and Bob Farnham entered the 500km endurance event at West Raynham in ’82. One problem: they weren't very good.
The 250cc production class didn't allow extensive tuning, still, Stan and Bob got to work on their Yamaha 250LC. The finished bike pumped out 55bhp, 83% more than it should have. They finished in ninth place, destroying not only the 250 class but also the 350, 500 and 600 classes. They were never officially caught.
3 Honda's "Expanding" Gas Tank
The 1980 Isle of Man TT race rules stipulated a maximum tank size of 24 liters, necessitating two stops for fuel in the six-lap race. Race-winner Mick Grant’s Honda RS1000 had a considerably bigger, endurance-spec item, which enabled him to stop just once.
Team manager Barry Symmonds put ping pong balls inside the tank so it would only hold 24 liters for tech inspection, but that didn't matter much when the tank was so thin and lightweight it would expand when they forced more fuel into it - in reality, they put 28 liters in a 24-liter tank.
2 Smokey Yunick's 11-Foot Fuel Line
Smokey might have lived in the gray area of the rule book, but he always maintained that he followed the rules when they were clear. When the fuel tank size became regulated in NASCAR, Smokey installed a regulation-sized fuel tank.
However, there was no regulation on the size of the fuel line. He made a fuel line that was two inches wide and 11 feet long, which was closer in dimension to an anaconda than a fuel line. Although it sounds pretty funny, the monster fuel line held an extra 5 gallons of gasoline, which made a very real difference on the track.
1 Tim Flock's Wooden Roll Cage
In an effort to save weight in his stock car in 1952, Tim Flock was caught by officials with a roll bar made entirely out of wood that had only been painted to look like it was regulation steel.
It goes without saying that having a wooden roll cage wouldn't be of much help in case of an accident, so Flock is perhaps the perfect example of how important it is to cross the line first. Sacrificing safety in an era where accidents happened frequently—often with calamitous results—is nothing short of madness.
Sources: Jalopnik, Autotrader, Which Car