|"Hey! That guy's got a laptop!"|
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point leader was fined and placed him on probation until Dec. 31 for having a cell phone aboard his Penske Racing/Miller Lite Dodge Sunday at Phoenix International Raceway. NASCAR said Keselowski violated Sections 12-1 and 20-6.7A of the Sprint Cup Series rule book, which states “cars and drivers will not be permitted to carry onboard computers, automated electronic recording devices, electronically actuated devices, power distribution modules, power conditioners, micro-processors, recording devices, electronic digital memory chips, traction control devices, digital readout gauges and the like, even if inoperable or incomplete.”
That came as a surprise to those who recall Keselowski snapping pictures during a red-flag stoppage during the Daytona 500 and posting them to Twitter. NASCAR did not sanction Keselowski at that time, and actually applauded his initiative in interacting with his fans.
That policy has changed. Here’s why.
NASCAR director of communications for competition Kerry Tharp said today that the sanctioning body has had to police the flow of digital information, including the use of cell phones by drivers. “Brad Keselowski’s tweeting at the Daytona 500 was our first introduction to the magnitude of the social media phenomenon at the race track,” said Tharp. “Especially the way we saw it play out that evening.
“We encourage our drivers and competitors to participate in social media. It’s one of the best ways for them to communicate directly with their fans. In the days and weeks following the D500, we talked to the teams and drivers and said that while social media was encouraged/promoted at the race track, the language in the rule book was clear – drivers cannot carry electronic devices such as cell phones while on the race track.”
Tharp said that while transmission of information from garage stall to team transporters is commonly done wirelessly, NASCAR requires the actual downloading of the ECU to be done with a hard line connection. The rule banning electronic devices from the cockpit is part of that initiative, though Tharp said NASCAR has told drivers “it is OK for someone to hand them a phone when they get out of the car.”
He said drivers were informed months ago that cell phones in race cars would no longer be allowed.
“I specifically recall NASCAR having conversations with the drivers and teams about this at some of the early races like Phoenix and Las Vegas. This simply is a competition issue and the reinforcement of an existing rule that has been in the rule book for quite some time.”
Adding another level of intrigue to the issue, multiple reliable sources tell SiriusXM Speedway that at least one NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team has downloaded CPU information from its cars wirelessly in recent weeks, in violation of NASCAR rules. Wireless transmission of information from garage stall to team transporter is legal and commonly done, but downloading information from the car is required by NASCAR to be done via hard line connection.
Sources say at least one team has circumvented that rule, in an effort to expedite the process by obtaining information on pit road or while en route to the garage, saving time and allowing more efficient adjustments in practice.
Interestingly, sources say that when an opposing team learned of those clandestine wireless downloads, they obtained a wireless system of their own, hacked the opposing team’s security and gained access to the information for themselves.
NASCAR’s Tharp said the sanctioning body has “absolutely zero knowledge” of data piracy in the Sprint Cup garage, adding, “At the end of the day, the information contained in the ECU is fairly common knowledge in the garage area.”
The bottom line, he said, is that teams are responsible for keeping their information secured.
Clearly, NASCAR has an interest in controlling the flow of digital information through the NASCAR garage. Clearly, teams have an interest in harnessing and utilizing that information as quickly and efficiently as possible, and are not above swiping another team’s information if they catch them with their digital pants down.
In the end, Tharp stressed that Keselowski’s fine “has nothing to do with social media. We do not want to restrict any type of driver/fan access here.”
Photo: Stephen A. Arce/CSM Landov