For whatever reason, there seems to be an uptick in penalties this season in NASCAR when it comes to car specs. Cup has had Martin Truex’s low car, the Penske boys having questionable rear ends at Texas, Johnny Sauter’s bad fuel cell, and finally the amazingly harsh Matt Kenseth ruling (Taking away an owner license? Did anybody think NASCAR could do that before this season?). Many, namely NASCAR themselves, will claim that these guys are just low down, dirty cheaters. However, to assume that shows you are ill-informed about this sport’s history.
Smokey Yunick, in my mind, is the god father of everybody in the Cup garage, and he made a lot of different “inventions” that would more or less be cheating these days. He even created a SAFER Barrier that NASCAR never used. Heck, he was driven out of the sport because he got tired of Bill France Sr. and his ever increasing rulebook, and his name has been more or less wiped as hard as possible from history. Sure, he might have a mention or two in some NASCAR Hall of Fame exhibits if you look hard enough, but has he ever been nominated for the NASCAR Hall of Fame? No- and he won’t for awhile. Smokey, unlike many legends who walk away, refused to make peace with NASCAR, even to the grave. In fact, the only certifiable legend who never came back outside of Smokey was the 50 years too early owner Carl Kiekhaefer, but I digress.
So, what would Smokey Yunick say about all of the “dirty cheaters” today? The following are a few excepts from his great book Best Damn Garage in Town: My Life and Adventures, the single greatest book I’ve ever read, in particular from the chapter “It didn’t say you couldn’t”. This isn’t an advertisement of any kind, because I’m speaking the truth. Click on that title, buy it, and spend 2 months reading it (Yes, it will take you that long). Now, two things before we dive into this: 1. Smokey, while a pretty great writer, isn’t the greatest at grammar or spelling (He only had a 10th grade education), and the book was printed unedited as he wanted. You’ll get the idea of what he has to say. 2. Smokey wasn’t exactly the most cleanest when it came to language. While I do censor the big word (It starts with the letter “S”) reader discretion is advised. Now, let’s begin:
“Gary Nelson, I hope you got more class than to get pissed about this, but somebody ought to ask him what he knows about Richard Petty ‘s 4th of July (During President Reagan’s visit) race winning engine, under oath, with Bobby Allison as a sworn witness. Gary’s biggest achievement as a cheater? I couldn’t tell you…….. Hopefully that ‘sinner’ will choose to cleanse his soul with his own explanation some day. And then again maybe best idea is to ‘let sleeping dogs keep sleeping.’”
What is Gary Nelson up to nowadays? Why, he’s only one of the chief inspectors for the Sprint Cup series. Hmmm……
“So, if [a] inspector is qualified, and enforces rules fairly, he still only has one brain, where as the potential cheaters have about 60 individual brains at work. People like Yates, Elliott, Johnson, Roush, Pittman, Evernham, Childress, Foyt, and others plus the high performance wizards at Ford and General Motors and now Chrysler. How does one ex-bank robber outwit all the nations peer group of bank robbers? Can’t be done by any one man. So in spite of everything, cheating is here to stay. Even if the prize is for who goes the slowest.”
This is what happened to Kenseth. It needs to be remembered that it isn’t always the team, it could be the make. Just ask Robby Gordon.
“I really just read the rule book carefully. If a nut, bolt, or part wasn’t speficially mentioned, or a measurement wasn’t given, I assumed those items were ‘fair game’……. as a result of my reading of the rules, I think that by 1970, one half of the technical rules section of a NASCAR rule book was dedicated to me- quite an honor actually.”
Back in the wild west days before today (Where the NASCAR rule book seems just as large as the tax code), crew chiefs- more accurately today car chiefs- made their money by exploiting a gray area of the rule book. What did the Penske boys do at Texas? They didn’t break the rules- NASCAR just didn’t like their rear ends. AKA, they hadn’t made a rule about that yet.