For more than a year, NASCAR and other U.S. racing sanctioning bodies' tech inspectors have been:

1.Randomly cutting into ignition control boxes confirming the internals are legit;

2. Extracting car wiring harnesses and checking each wire's origin and destination;

3. Disassembling tachometers, looking for "extra" electronics inside;

4. Applying engine seals to wiring connectors to detect if they've been unplugged;

5. Using high-frequency sound detection equipment to monitor engine sounds on track; and

6. Enacting post-race "claiming" of ignition controls from racers.

These are just some of the countermeasures inspectors have employed in their quest to control the spread of Electronic Traction Control (ETC), and they're about to be stepped up.

We might soon see wiring harness routing and mounting regulated where all of it (about 30 feet total in a typical Cup car) has to be out in the open for inspection along with the ignition controls; say placing them on top of the dash. You can assume the wiring harness will not be within reach of the driver, either.

In a highly unusual move for such a close-to-the-vest organization, NASCAR has gone public about its search and reveal mission for clandestine traction enhancing electronics. The very public grumbling from some major NASCAR competitors and team owners in its top three divisions, which alluded to ETC aiding and abetting some racers' performance, needed some tempering, or at the least major spin-doctoring. The credibility of the organization was being called into question. It prides itself on being a series of drivers, not microprocessors, and they are not about to allow microprocessor regulation of engine power to assist traction.

The first spin-control salvo was at the Martinsville spring Winston Cup race in 2002, where majordomo Mike Helton placed racers on alert in their drivers' meeting by brandishing a couple of ETC devices NASCAR had procured. He made it clear his inspection force was on the prowl and the penalties would be appropriately high for anyone caught with it.

Then, at the Pepsi 400, all the top NASCAR brass, from Bill France Jr. on down, attended an innocent sounding "Competition Update" press conference before the race. It was to inform the media that NASCAR was on top of this perceived ETC problem, and to indicate it was going to step up its rules and inspection measures.

Head Winston Cup inspector John Darby reiterated the penalty for getting caught with ETC would likely be the most severe ever in NASCAR. The threat of making the record book as the team/sponsor receiving the largest fine or suspension or points penalty in NASCAR history is the prime deterrent NASCAR has. Nevertheless, you can take to the bank that NASCAR wouldn't expend all this inspection and public relations effort to catch an electronic "boogeyman" if it weren't in use.

ETC Is NationwideClandestine ETC use is not confined to the upper reaches of U.S. touring series; it is pervasive in U.S. racing even to the grassroots level. In my researching and writing about ETC over the past two years, sources racing in Winston Cup, Busch Grand National, DIRT Modifieds, Silver Crown, dirt Late Models, big-block pavement Late Models, IMCA-type Modifieds, and other racing series have acknowledged the use of ETC. The technology is even making its tentative way into boat racing, where engine power is being modulated based on rpm "jitter."

The basic physics and tactics of the microprocessor management of tire slip are well developed. Many high-performance passenger cars have ETC, and the cost of miniaturization and packaging of electronic sensing and microprocessor controlling components has become impressively affordable. So affordable that an electronic specialist can buy off-the-shelf components and build ETC-whether for sale on the open market, or for use in-house for a race team.