I have no idea whether Richard Childress Racing’s No. 31 team is guilty of illegally altering its tires at Auto Club Speedway two weeks ago.
I know NASCAR has accused them of doing so and assessed a series of sanctions that will almost certainly be subject to appeal. Only after those appeals are heard will the word “allegedly” be removed from their sentence. That’s only fair, and it’s the correct way for the sport to proceed.
I am certain, however, that RCR’s brush with the stock car racing law has once again revealed an extremely ugly side of our sport’s collective psyche. All across North America, NASCAR fans are once again rushing to defend what appears – allegedly -- to be a blatant violation of rules by one of the sport’s top teams.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught,” they say, citing one of the lamest yarns in the history of the sport.
Say that out loud and listen to the words. “It’s only cheating if you get caught.”
That is a sad state of mind, my friends, and one that most people would never espouse outside the sport of stock car racing. It says a lot about us as human beings, and none of what it says is good.
John Wooden summed it up perfectly when he said, “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.”
The legendary UCLA basketball coach Wooden was right, and it’s time for us to follow his lead and divest ourselves of the antiquated and thoroughly erroneous belief that if you’re not cheating, you’re not competing.
Among all professional sports, ours stands alone in applauding dishonesty, poor sportsmanship and a disregard for the rules of fair play. Virtually anywhere else in the world, breaking the rules is a sign of low moral character. But in NASCAR, getting caught with your hand in the competitive cookie jar is grounds for a clap on the back and an “attaboy.” Get caught with an illegal engine, shock absorbers or tires, and a significant portion of NASCAR Nation stands and cheers.
There’s something wrong with that.
Embezzle funds from your employer, and you can check your reputation at the door on your way to prison. Steal a win at the race track and be lauded for ingenuity and creativity. Somewhere along the line, we have come to view a willful disregard for of the rules as something to be respected, rather than condemned.
It’s gotten to the point where stock car racers can now be lumped in with used car salesmen and politicians as people unworthy of our trust. And for that, we have only ourselves to blame. Sticking a needle in the sidewall of a Goodyear Eagle on race day is no different than sticking a needle full of steroids in your backside on game day. Both are against the rules. Both are done in an effort to obtain the unfair advantage. Only one, however, is endorsed with a wink and a nudge.
“It’s only cheating if you get caught.” Try telling that to your wife tonight, before grabbing an ice pack to nurse the lump on your head caused by that flying skillet.
Cheating is cheating and wrong is wrong, no matter whether anyone’s watching or not.
We all struggle with temptation, and we all stray from the straight and narrow sometimes. I’ve done it myself, making poor life decisions that – looking back – I wish I would change. Being a top NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief does not exempt someone from temptation. In fact, in an era of multi-million dollar paydays, the reward for “getting away with it” is greater than ever.
People can be forgiven for making poor choices. They’re human, after all. Patently unacceptable, however, is the belief that you’re only wrong if you get caught.