Thursday, October 27, 2011

Racing Needs An Ethical Refresher

The NASCAR community has an important decision to make; a decision that will determine whether stock car racing ever achieves the legitimacy of football, baseball, basketball and hockey.

While clearly the leading motorsports sanctioning body in the country, NASCAR still struggles with its image. A quick look at ESPN’s SportsCenter any Monday morning during the season reveals a few brief highlights from the previous weekend’s race, delivered by anchorpersons who periodically struggle to pronounce the names of the sport’s leading athletes. For every 15 seconds of NASCAR, there are 15 minutes of Major League Baseball and NFL coverage; a situation that has improved only slightly in the last decade.

Sadly, the sport does little to help its own cause. In truth, we are often our own worst enemy.

When Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Raphael Palmiero and Jose Canseco were revealed to have taken illegal, performance-enhancing drugs, they were ostracized from the game of baseball. Once thought to be first-ballot Hall Of Famers, McGwire and Bonds now sit and wait, receiving only a small percentage of the vote in each year’s balloting. Pete Rose’s decision to bet on baseball cost him a lifetime ban from the sport, and Dwight Gooden’s infatuation with alcohol eventually made him persona non grata with the game, as well.

Baseball, like virtually every other professional sport of note, has little or no tolerance for cheaters. Stock car racing, unfortunately, takes the opposite view.

In our sport, cheaters are not ostracized. They are coddled, justified, even embraced. There’s an old racing adage that claims, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,” and that attitude continues to relegate stock car racing to the ranks of second-string sports.

When Chad Knaus instructed driver Jimmie Johnson to intentionally damage the rear of his car following Sunday’s race at Talladega Superspeedway, it constituted – at very least – a willful intent to conceal the true dimension’s of Johnson’s championship contending Chevrolet. In most sports, such conduct would have been met with immediate disapproval. Among race fans and competitors, however, it was greeted with the kind of “wink and a nudge” attitude that has governed this sport for far too long.

In stock car racing – and only in stock car racing – is willful, out-and-out cheating considered to be an acceptable way to do business. We embrace rule breakers and cheats as heroes, saluting their ability to rob the sport’s bank without ever getting caught. On the rare occasion when a crew chief or driver is found with his hand in the communal cookie jar, he serves a brief, four to six-week suspension, pays a fine and is welcomed back with open arms. This attitude is so firmly entrenched that now, any team that succeeds for any period of time is presumed to be operating outside the rules.

“Everyone does it,” we say. “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t competin’.” That attitude needs to change.

If Albert Pujols’ bat shatters in tonight’s sixth game of the World Series, unloading its corked innards all over the infield at Busch Stadium, he will face the immediate ire of the game, its competitors and fans. In this one area, NASCAR has something to learn from Major League Baseball.

This sport needs a morality lesson; an ethical refresher course in the difference between right and wrong. It’s time to cast off our long-entrenched “cheater’s mentality” and begin supporting those who do things the right way. For far too long, we have embraced those who get ahead by taking short cuts. This debate is bigger than Jimmie Johnson or Chad Knaus. It's bigger than Gary Nelson, Junior Johnson and Smoky Yunick; all reknowned in their day for creative interpretations of the rules.

Only when our collective attitude changes can NASCAR truly take its place among America’s major league sports.

28 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:34 PM

    So with your position on auto racing ethics, then Nascar should produce the cars like the IROC series and teams draw a number for their car and go racing. I believe pushing every aspect of the envelope is what raises the bar in our sport at every race. Either ur advancing or your going backwards.

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  2. Is it possible to "advance" without breaking the rules? I would certainly hope so, but until we break the attitude of "cheating is OK," we'll never find out.

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  3. Anonymous3:42 PM

    You forgot to mention how they LIE about people they don't like, and how they don't follow federal guidelines on their so called drug testing policy!!!

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  4. Anonymous,
    That's an easy diversionary argument with no substance to it. NASCAR has tightened the box that these teams can play within over the years. They are also seeking legitimacy against the NFL, MLB, and assorted other "Major Sports."

    Using the same argument one could say that Bernie Madoff shouldn't be in prison because he just "pushed the envelope" of the rules he was given. You & I both know that isn't true. The competition for sponsorship dollars should be the driving force for what the Godfather is talking about. However, it's being used as an excuse, along with "Everyone else is doing it", to continue this behavior.

    It's not about making the sport into another IROC, Which was a great series that deserves a better legacy than your statement alludes to. It's about manning up when you're caught and meaning it when you say "I won't do that again." It's about the garage having a lower tolerance for "innovation" and more integrity, simple as that!

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  5. Anonymous4:33 PM

    I have a question here. The example was given of Chad/Jimmie. But was the car ever truly looked at? Oh yeah it went through inspection but was it looked at with the same microscope as Clint Bowyers last year? What about the three windshield offenders? What about the offenders that Nascar decides there will be no penalities for. Why is one set different than any other set?

    Then you have the manipulation of race and championship results by manufacturer reps who say Hey we didn't give any orders. When people who have driven for the team say they are given for every superspeedway race.

    It leads people to draw all kinds of conclusions that seem to be logical because of the cheater mentality. Conclusions like it's who you know and how well did you pad their purse.

    Sadly, the sport has gotten way above it's raising. Drivers who don't sign autographs for fans unless the camera's are rolling. Officials that decide when and where to turn a blind eye. Competitors that are told who they can race and who they can't.

    I think it's wonderful for everyone to have a favorite. But when you are the sanctioning body you simply can't play favorites in the public eye or behind closed doors. And there is little doubt that is happening every week after what we saw this past weekend. Or is there? It's a question that Nascar brought on itself.

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  6. Anonymous4:41 PM

    Cheating is as bad as stealing. Driver are awarded winnings and when they cheat and get better positions, they steal winnings from other drivers who play within the rules....

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  7. Anonymous4:55 PM

    Moody- you are 100% correct. Cheating is wrong, but the racing mentality needs to be changed. I propose Nascar require ETHICS EDUCATION of each license holder prior to receiving a license. Further Nascar should require Ethics testing to receive a license and continuing ethics education, every 3 years to renew a license.

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  8. Anonymous5:13 PM

    Cheating is wrong- gray area is a fun creative necessity to run competitively. @badream

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  9. Anonymous5:47 PM

    First I think it apples and oranges, cheating in NASCAR is not the same as taking an illegal drug, not just illegal to the sport but federal law, to enhance your physical strength, is, IMO, totally different than using an "unapproved" part, or "modifying" a certian part. If a NASCAR driver is tested and is shown to have taken a illegal drug, they get the same treatment most professional sports players get, "most". Second, if a MLB player is caught modifying equipment or using un-approved gear, they get fined and/or suspension, same as NASCAR. Example..Sammy Sosa in 2004 was caught using a corked bat, he was suspended for 8 games then it was reduced to 7. Nascar teams that get caught using un-approved equipment get in my opinion less a penalty than Sammy recieved, unless of course it is such a blatant violation, but when was the last time a driver was suspended for driving an un-approved car?

    Here's my main argument with this whole article, which I must say was well written Mr Moody! When Mark McGwire or Jose Canseco or any of the pro athletes that are caught using PED's who cares, really, the media thats who! Most casual fans don't give a flying flip who's taking what steriod etc. I ask, I do really ask fans when this topic comes up and in my findings more than half of all the people in the conversation don't care period. I understand the sports writer media type's have a job to do, and thats fine, but us common folk really don't care. Actually many have stated "hey if the guy wants to ruin his body by the age of 50 so be it, his choice. And many also say it makes the game that much more fun to watch.

    I just don't get the whole argument over all this, Pete Rose deservers the Hall of Fame, but will never be there, for what, making a bet? With that said, all those NASCAR inductee's, and future inductee's, is NASCAR gonna tell Chad and Jimmie, "sorry you guys were caught cheating once, no HOF for you"!

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  10. Anonymous6:46 PM

    I hear all the time from many, "you cannot compare NASCAR to stick and ball sports, can't do it"! But yet everybody seems to want just that... they want the comparison in many ways, they want the penaties, the TV time, the fan base, the attention... at the same time not wanting anyone to compare NASCAR to stick and ball sports? By gosh your gonna have your cake and eat it too!!

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  11. Anonymous6:53 PM

    Here's the deal, The media is a select group of elite progressives, from the north east, who look down their nose's at NASCAR and its fans, "Bunch of gun totin bible fearin hillbilly's with an IQ of 50" Thats what they think of us! NASCAR could be as clean and cheatin free as the wind blown snow, it ain't gonna matter a hill a beans to those elitist. We can cry and moan over this all century, not gonna change a darn thing, it is what it is.....

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  12. Anonymous7:23 PM

    About 545 this evening I heard it said on Speedway that if NASCAR sent a popular driver home and didn't allow him to qualify, that would send a message to owners, sponsors and the nation. We all know that this will never happen, because the Top 35 has been created to protect sponsor interests, and sending a driver home would go against that theory.

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  13. Jason Schreiber9:49 PM

    Dave, you are so right.Nobody has put things into perspective as well as you have with this article,and i wholehartedly couldnt agree more.Its the same thoughts I had when Gary Nelson was hired before the '92 season. Nobody listened to me then, very very cool that NOW people are listening.If you break the rules, go home.Its either right or wrong, yes or no.Yea, you would have my vote to run NASCAR!

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  14. Anonymous10:00 PM

    I disagree with the idea in total. Nascar was born from poor farmers who became moonshine runners. They had to modify their cars to carry their goodsand out run the law. This transferrred over when the sport was founded by men who wanted to show they had the fastest car. It was about pride and the "Glory" of the victory. That tradition if you call it that has been handed down through the generations of onwers and drivers.The sport stands apart from the NFL and others because of this. Its part of the allure to most racing fans in the south.If you are intent on stopping "cheating" Send the team home and suspend the whole team for an appropriate time. i.e. in baseball a player guilty of using performance enhancing drugs get a 50 game suspension or about 1/3 of the season. Of you follow that logic it would be an 8 race suspension for the offending team.I believe Junior Johnson was the last to have a car not allowed to qualify.

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  15. Apparently Dave Moody hates innovation. If anything, NASCAR needs to loosen up the rules and allow more of that. I embrace people that get caught "cheating" in NASCAR because they are the only ones looking outside of the box. Racing, like the automobile industry, relies on innovation. There is no possible comparison to other sports.

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  16. At least this particular "elite progressive from the north east" has guts enough to sign his name to his opinions, rather than calling lobbing insults under the cover of an "Anonymous" tag.

    It's truly sad how many people see nothing wrong with lying and cheating. It shows just how much work this sport still has to do.

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  17. Anonymous9:00 AM

    What is the goal here, if the goal is not for the engineers to push the envelope for better performance, why don't we get 43 matching Camaro's and have the drivers pull the number out of a hat, to determine which car they get. Should the crew chief be sent to jail because the car is 1/32 low. Is 1/32 low or a heavy oil pan the same as a larger fuel cell or a unsafe windshield? I suspect the important question is for each rule what is the intent. If it is to ensure a consistent playing field, then NASCAR should provide all the parts. If it is to ensure safety of drivers or fans that is a different situation.

    Here is a different but similar question, if at Martinsville someone included a hybrid engine and dynamic brakes to improve fuel mileage and save a stop. Should that team be kicked out for the remainder of the season?

    Lets not confuse innovation with cheating, its a fine line.

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  18. Anonymous9:21 AM

    Robin Pemberton just called. New rule in effect for Martinsville. Like our friends in the NFL, there will be restrictions on celebrations. They will continue to allow celebratory burnouts, but the cars must come no closer than 24 inches to the wall.

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  19. Anonymous9:57 AM

    Well Mr Moody, first I was not including you in my "elitist from the north east" statement, I kinda figured you would fall into the "bible fearing" NASCAR fan group. But if you want to be considered an elitist from the north east, well to each his own. Second my opinion was not that lying or cheating is ok, but is, no matter what NASCAR does to try and improve its image, the powers that be, elite sport journalist, will never give NASCAR the credit your looking for! Mr Moody I have great respect for you and always use your logic when discussing NASCAR with other fans. With that said I think you completely took my comment, my opinion way to personal, and didn't take the time to read my comment.
    Again in my opinion NASCAR doesn't get the credit we seek because what it is, not what it or it's particapents do!
    Chris Wyatt
    PS: on your "select profile" section I don't have any accounts with those sites so I picked anonymous !

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  20. Anonymous10:18 AM

    D Wayne, I believe the attitude you speak of is relevant but the nature of the sport makes it hard to follow along the lines of what Angie had said.

    Speaking of comparisons to stick and ball sports, I have been inspired by your argument. I will no longer watch baseball nor allow my son to do so. That sport praises a practice called stealing and there is only a penalty when caught. The American pastime should be ashamed for setting this poor example for our children.

    Rob

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  21. Anonymous10:53 AM

    Great article, although long overdue.Its especially interesting to note the hypocrisy in the sport.

    On one hand everybody, especially the teams, calls for equality. The complaints about how this manufacturer has more horsepower and thats unfair, or in years past the Hoosier vs. Goodyear battle had to be decided in Goodyears favor because of "safety" and fairness.

    YET, at the same time they do everything possible to get around the equality.

    Until the sport is cleaned up, and it wont happen because of the money involved. But if you say it cant be do, just ask McLaren about that little 100 million dollar slap on the risk they got a couple of years ago.

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  22. althepal11:59 AM

    I personally get a kick out of the creative methods that some teams use to try and fool NASCAR inspectors. Post race; take that win away and suspend the driver and team (would sure stop a lot of it). Pre race; make the team go to the end of the inspection line and go through the entire inspection process again, thereby taking away valuable practice time and levy your dollar/point fines as it is now.

    But, you first have to define "cheating". Is it speeding on pit road? Passing before the start/finish line on starts/restarts? Four lug nuts instead of five? Or is it all in the car? Oversize engine, body mods, lightened mechanical parts?

    Every team out there takes things to the maximum allowable. Some teams take it just a little bit further and it usually costs them.

    Al

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  23. Anonymous12:19 PM

    NASCAR for a fact has priced itself out of contention with stick and ball sports. The drivers make too much, the cars cost too much, and NASCAR has turned it into an IROC race. You don't draw numbers for cars, but they are exactly alike. NASCAR did penalize Johnson last Sunday, they kept the caution out many more laps than they needed. That made it impossible for Johnson and Junior to have enough time to get to the front. Therefore killing Johnson's hopes for a top five, resulting in assuring that the #48 wouldn't win a 6th championship. But rest assured if they had to then they would have found something wrong with the car, or whatever they needed to deduct points. At all costs Johnson could not win another championship.
    As for Chad. While I am not a Johnson fan, I still believe that you are innocent until proven guilty. I believe Chad was just trying to protect themselves from NASCAR's cheating.
    They manipulate races with phony debris cautions. They enforce rules like passing below the yellow line, but only when it pleases them. The fact of the matter is, NASCAR us just like stick and ball sports. They all make vague rules, then enforce them at their whim to make the most money.

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  24. Anonymous3:53 PM

    This is all B.S. if you're going to make a rule, make it and stick by it. If you aren't going to enforce it its not a rule.

    Two examples - the speed limit on pit road - they give a 5mph tolerance. That's a joke, even the old fashioned speedometer in your street car is more accurate than that! Just enforce your own rule.

    And all these fancy body templates, but yet people talk about having downforce cars for some tracks, and speedway cars for others. The templates must not be that effective.

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  25. Great article! I like what you said today on the show about Richard Childress not cheating. I know that you could make the same statement about Tom DeLoach the owner of Red Horse Racing. He respects the sport too much.

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  26. I don't think it's a given that Chad was trying to cheat. I think that he was saying that they are forced by the level of competition to run close to the edge, and that the style of racing at Talladega could easily bump them over that edge.

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  27. Anonymous2:41 AM

    I normally agree with you Moody. I just don't understand your view on this, especially the idea that this "cheating" mindset would have any effect whatsoever on the sportcenter view of the sport. I think the cause of that lies in races that last way too long and racing that seems to get more boring every year. The COT doesn't produce exciting racing. Exciting races and better tv broadcasts are something we should be concerned about, not excessive cheating.
    -George, Jacksonville, Fl

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  28. papasmurf9:00 AM

    I couldn't agree with you more Godfather. I hope you keep up the pressure and don't fade under some of the heat you will take. Grey area is one thing...outright cheating just ain't cool anymore.

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