Your race team has worked hard to prepare for the upcoming season, squeezing extra horsepower from the engine and tweaking the body to gain that slightest aerodynamic advantage. As the mechanics put the finishing touches on the car before a test session, you notice a guy from another team taking pictures ... of your car. So what do you do?
Richard "Slugger" Labbe, crew chief for the No. 15 NAPA Chevrolet of driver Michael Waltrip, found himself in that situation at Daytona during the preseason.
"I had one of my guys chase the guy through the garage trying to get his camera," says Labbe, grinning. "Just messing around, you know, but it did happen. Then sure enough they had pictures of our race car in one of their shops, blown up, trying to make their car like ours. That's part of it. It's good that people want to copy us."
Spying, or merely checking out the competition's equipment, is as old as the sport itself because there's no quicker way to gain attention at the racetrack than to put a fast car on the track. Once a team does that, it can soon watch the competition come around looking for ideas.
That has been especially true at Daytona over the past couple of seasons, where Dale Earnhardt Inc. cars have dominated. Spying is perhaps even more common during Speed Weeks, which culminates with NASCAR's season-opening event, the Daytona 500.
"You go to plate races last year and the 8 and the 15 (cars driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Waltrip, respectively) were always up front," says Frankie Stoddard, crew chief for Ward Burton's No. 22 Dodge. "You didn't walk by their cars and put your blinders on. Those are the two cars that you went and looked at."
If a team visits the wind tunnel, tests its equipment, conducts aerodynamic research and development, but nothing seems to add speed, then the next best option is to send someone out to look at what the competition is doing. "When you don't run good, you've got to look at other people's stuff," says Labbe. "We always look around and try to see things to get better. That's just the nature of the beast, you know?"
A Wide ViewAlthough much of what teams look for points to the importance of aerodynamics in stock car racing, sneaking a peek for aero tips is not the only form of garage area spying.
"Virtually everything that you can see about your competitor's car is what you're going to want to take a look at," says Nick Ollila, senior engineer for Roush Racing.
According to Ollila, that includes the size springs the competition is using, the length of the upper control arms, the size of the air cleaner, the size of the cowl opening, the shape and width of the fenders, how the fender openings terminate, how the A, B, and C posts are shaped, and so on. "You want to look at everything you possibly can," he says.
Some consider it crucial that spies in the garage area are taken into consideration whenever a team finds an advantage.
"You're in such close quarters and not working behind closed doors," adds Ollila, "that your competition can walk around and look at your cars, so you hide things. (The presence of spies) is something that's taken into consideration all the time, so when you do come up with an advantage-be it mechanically or aerodynamically-you're only going to have it for a short period of time until the competition finally does get a focus on it and is able to copy it. You want to hide it as long as possible, so you've got to come up with ways to disguise that.