Other racers had equally inventive ways of cutting weight at the track. "When I was working at David Pearson's shop," McReynolds says, "I was in the parts room one day and found an old helmet lying on the shelf. I thought, What in the world is this old thing doing back here? I picked that thing up and it must have weighed 70 pounds! It was filled with weight, and they would hang it in the car as it went through inspection. Then, all of a sudden, right before the race they would have a radio problem or something and have to get the backup helmet. Well, they went and got a helmet that weighed about 65 pounds less."
These tricks from racing's "good old days" make for great stories, but they also prove the point that NASCAR is tougher than ever on cheating. You don't hear about lead-filled helmets or other such outlandish things these days because they would never get through the tech line. NASCAR's tech officials have improved tremendously since then, and where teams could once get away with breaking the rules by a yard, today's racing teams can't get away with fractions of an inch.
Making It Public
Many of the people we spoke with for this article pointed out a major change in the way both the public and race teams view cheating. That's because of NASCAR's relatively recent policy of announcing which teams are caught cheating and exactly what they did. It's one thing if your indiscretions are kept behind closed doors; it's quite another when it's aired like dirty laundry for all the world to see.
Therefore, with NASCAR's incredible growth and popularity, a lot more people take notice when a team gets caught cheating. "One time [NASCAR] caught me infringing just a little bit with soft tires and a big motor," racing legend Richard Petty says of an infamous incident after a win in the 1983 Miller High Life 500 at Lowe's Motor Speedway. Petty's comments are comically understated; he was caught running softer left-side tires on the right side and with an engine that was 382 cubic inches-24 over the allowable limit. "At that time we were working with STP, and they loved it because it was in the newspaper and they were getting their name out. But that won't work with [current sponsor] Cheerios. They won't tolerate it."
When Petty was caught in 1983, racing news was so limited that anytime a sponsor found itself in the news it was at least considered publicity. But now, as race coverage is commonplace in major print and broadcast media, sponsors are understandably much pickier about how they are presented to race fans. With the money at stake, few are willing to be associated with cheaters-even if the method of cheating was something treated with a mere wink in years past. And teams, which are more dependent on sponsorship money than ever before, are listening to the wishes of corporate sponsors in ways they never listened to the rule makers.