There are roles in racing that have been distinguished since the beginning – the officials create the rules, while the crew chiefs and teams job is to discover an advantage.
At the beginning of a race season, teams, no matter the level of game, read over the rules to see what they’ve got to follow. Though, sometimes, they’re not just thinking about what’s on the surface; sometimes it’s not what’s on the surface. The geniuses of racing are always looking between the lines, trying to find what they can do, without being called a cheater. Simpler, we can call this “creative interpretation”, as per short track racer Brian Love calls it.
Throughout the racing game, the rules have been subject to this “creative interpretation” as there have been those who’ve come up with their own ideas.
Smokey Yunick was one of the most famous people for doing this as he always was looking to see what he could do within the rules. There’s a story where in tech inspection, NASCAR removed his fuel cell and Smokey turned around, asking, “Are you done yet?” and they told him. He then proceeded to drive away from the officials, but how’d he do that?
He had a fuel line of 11 foot coils of two inch diameter (equaling five gallons) and had enough fuel still in the car. He did that to therefore gain more fuel millage but most importantly, because the officials forgot to write that rule. Now if you read the rulebook, you notice there’s a length specified.
Then there was Ray Evernham, who came out with the car T-Rex at the 1997 Winston, dominating the show. After the show, Evernham was pulled aside and NASCAR specifically told him that he was not to bring that car back.
“We went through the rule book and wherever there was a real gray area or no specifics regarding certain components, we worked hard in that area with new things,” Eddie Dickerson, manager of Chassis Engineering at Hendrick Motorsports, said in an article on NASCAR.com. “There are no major changes you can make to components on these cars. So we worked hard in different little areas. It was a combination of things. … [But] we did not do anything illegal with the car.”
Now-a-days leading the charge is Chad Knaus, who has pushed the envelope to help his driver Jimmie Johnson score his four-championships in a row. Yes, Knaus has been caught and suspended. Though he said that he is doing it as that’s what he’s paid to do by Rick Hendrick – find an advantage and win races; sometimes you get caught while sometimes you don’t.
Robbie Loomis, ex-crew chief for Jeff Gordon and now a lead executive at Richard Petty Motorsports, agrees with the sediment.
“I think that’s our job, to find those areas of interpretation, the gray areas, and do just that,” Loomis said in an article. “Interpret. There is a lot less room in there to find an advantage than there used to be, but that’s part of the challenge.”
There are list of others that have pushed the envelope in the past, including NASCAR’s own employee now, Gary Nelson. That’s probably one of the reasons why Nelson was brought on.
So is it cheating? According to top NASCAR team owners, it’s not cheating unless you get caught.
“I’m going to sit here and lie to you,” Robert Yates said in an article on NASCAR.com. “I’d never cheat.”
Richard Petty is quoted in the same article as saying, “I always told my guys, ‘Cheat neat and you’ll get by with a bunch of stuff.’ I don’t particularly tell my guys to cheat. I just tell them not to get caught.”
Some would even say that those who push the rules are not rule breakers, yet they’re rule makers. After some of the antics pulled by the names mentioned above, more rules were enforced by officials to keep them more so in-line.
Some would also add that people whom do push the boundaries will always be remembered as they’ve left something that’ll always be implemented on the sport.
This same theory extends to the short track realm, where there are teams that push the rules. There are some that try to do things to the car and then some that will even bring stuff up to the officials to see if they’d be able to get away with it. Then when drivers do this and begin to gain the type of advantage, they’re purely accused of the cheating and called out for it.
Though if you look towards the NASCAR stars, they’re normally applauded for finding an advantage. Why is it different in the two different levels of competition?
Welcome to how perception works on this theory called, “Creative Interpretation”.
So, now that I’ve laid the frame work, what’s your take? Do you like “creative interpretation”? Or do you feel that it’s something that shouldn’t happen? Also, how far do you like to see the theory go?