(012) How Motorsport Cheating Works And How It Affects Your Career

Motorsport cheating is a vastly ignored topic of discussion.

But I promise you this: cheating is everywhere. In this post I want to dive into several points about cheating and how I feel about it.

Before we get going, this is my promise to you: I, Matt Covert, will always be 100% white hat. I’ll never partake in any type of motorsport cheating and you’re welcome to tech my car any moment of any day.

This is because I believe winning races is 80% driver skill, 15% car, and 5% performance upgrades. I believe I can win more than the cheaters by simply being a better driver.

Is all “cheating” really “cheating?”

What counts as cheating is probably the most important aspect of this topic. Since this is often left to the interpretation of drivers, teams, and sanctioning bodies, let’s try to break it down into two simple categories.

Category #1 – Flagrantly breaking rules that are written in black and white.

This type of cheating is almost impossible to argue with. Since each sanctioning body has it’s own to rule book that literally spells out what is allowed in a specific type of racing, coloring outside the lines would obviously be defined as cheating.

Sanctioning bodies of extremely competitive motorsports, such as World Rallycross or NASCAR or the Australian V8 Supercar series, have rigorous inspection standards that help keep teams in line with the rules. But where there are rules, there are people who break them. And if you are purposefully operating against specified regulations, whether intentionally or not, you are clearly cheating.

Example

Most racing teams must adhere to a minimum vehicle weight limit. This helps keep well funded teams from showing up with carbon fiber everything and dominating the season.

Some time ago a NASCAR team, who’s car has being piloted by Darrell Waltrip, began implementing a strategy to beat the minimum weight limit. Before weighing in at the tech inspection the team drilled holes in the bottom of the frame rails, filled them with small ball bearings, plugged the holes, and passed the weigh-in with no problems.

At some point after the race started Darrell would tug on a device that would unplug the holes and allow the bearings to simply roll out of the frame rails and onto the track. This continued until the device failed and dumped all the bearings onto pit road during one of the stops.

Is this clever or what?? I love the lateral thought that went into this simple cheat. But the fact remains that the moment he pulled the plugs it was clearly cheating – purposefully dropping below the legal minimum weight limit. There’s no room for discussion here. This is flagrant and intentional cheating.

Category #2 – Racing the rule book.

As I mentioned before, I love out-of-the-box thinking. It’s the kind of thinking that spurs creativity, progression, and innovation. I believe that if you can gain an unusual advantage without flagrantly breaking the rules then that advantage is perfectly legal.

In other words: if the rule book doesn’t specify the allowance or regulation of something, it’s fair game. This is called racing the rule book.

Example

The late 1960s was an extremely competitive era in NASCAR. And one of the greatest rule book racers was Smokey Yunick. He gained some of the biggest advantages in history.

My personal favorite is his fuel line innovation. At that point the rule book clearly gave a maximum fuel tank volume that forced teams into the pits more frequently. The standard fuel line size was half an inch in diameter and all the teams were using them.

But Smokey noted that there was no rule governing the size of the fuel line. So he immediately designed a two inch diameter fuel line that ran from the tank at the rear to the fuel pump at the front. It was large enough to hold an extra five gallons of fuel! As you can imagine, Smokey’s car could stay on the track far longer than anyone else’s.

This is absolutely brilliant because no rules were broken. By racing the rule book Smokey Yunick was able to gain this advantage legally. This is clearly not cheating.

But here’s the problem with racing the rule book.

Some sanctioning bodies have a tendency to crack down on all creativity. Don’t get me wrong, I truly love spec racing like Spec Miata, Legends, Passat TDI cup, and the Factory Five Challenge. These types of racing series are easily accessible to the common man with a limited disposable income.

But when you’re talking about world class level racing like Formula 1 or NASCAR (the two biggest offenders) the racing is often tainted by the business end of the sanctioning body.

In other words: when racing becomes more about money than the actual racing, motorsport greatly suffers.

Equally is the motorsport money-making friend. And when a team is creative enough to gain a legal advantage they are immediately shut down and the rule book is amended to restrict their new strategy.

I can talk for days about this particular topic, so I think there may be a separate post about this in the future.

Why I think cheating is a short term strategy that can stifle your future.

While I wholeheartedly condone racing the rule book, I believe that actively cheating will completely derail your potential as a driver – especially at the amateur level.

Becoming a successful racecar driver is all about progression. There are a number of factors that can hinder your progression. They include:

  • Not taking responsibility for your actions.
  • Blaming your team for “poor set up.”
  • Being unable to adequate translate the vehicle feel into technical terms for your crew.
  • Focusing on the cheat instead of focusing on skill improvement

Don’t fall prey to the last one!

It’s so tempting to believe that tweaking outside the legal limits will get you more wins – partially because there is a small amount of truth to it. Half truths are particularly easy to believe.

But this fact remains: a better car will only make you a slightly better poor driver.

If you want to reach the next level in your motorsport world, you simply have to be more informed than your competitors. You must purposefully develop a deep and intricate knowledge of vehicle dynamics, tire management, car control, and driver skill.

If I start thinking that the cheat will fix my problems, I remember this: if Sebastian Ogier was driving my car it would win every single round of my racing season.

Motorsport cheating is a short sighted solution that takes your focus away from what is truly the pinnacle of your racing career: cultivating a deeper knowledge of motor racing than your competitors and implementing that knowledge into your racing program.

Knowledge > Shortcuts

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