If you've been so busy making tender love to your fake girlfriend and you've been unable to catch the news let me fill you in: Lance Armstrong admitted to cheating. Many of us did know that Lance Armstrong doped throughout his career, and a few nights back, he finally fessed up.
Cheating in sports is unfortunately far more common than most realize. Usually, it's only those with an intimate knowledge of the sport that truly know, and they often ignore it in an effort to avoid alienation from the hand that feeds them.
Motorsport is no exception: Cheating is rife. Always has been, always will be. I've been there. I've seen it.
An engineer's job is not to cheat. It is, however, to bend the rules as much as possible without breaking. That line can often become blurred, as an unwavering determination for victory surpasses an individual's moral value. They justify it by proclaiming that everyone does it, and that it's what you have to do to win. Sound familiar, Lance?
Of course, you also have heavy hitters like A.J Foyt spouting off, "If they don't catch ya, it ain't cheatin'."
Speaking of A.J, in 1981, a brash journalist by the name of Robin Miller wrote in the Indianapolis Star that Foyt's straightaway speed was causing a stir around the paddock. Having heard this, Foyt proceeded to beat the crap out of Miller on pit road. Miller retaliated by writing about how Foyt's legacy had always been cloaked in rumor and innuendo, and stated he had cheated throughout his career.
Did he? No proof has ever been offered (to my knowledge) but in my opinion, I would be more surprised if he didn't. And no doubt the rest of the teams up and down pit road were playing games of their own, too.
These tricks still go on today. Just recently, one of the big debates in IndyCar was over push back brake systems, which pull the pads back from the brake discs on ovals to increase speed. This has always been done legally in qualifying, but in the race, it was extremely illegal — for obvious reason such as having to spend over a second pumping the brakes before the driver had any stopping power whatsoever. Not ideal when there is a wreck occurring in front.
IndyCar driver Tomas Scheckter recently stated on twitter that "I cheated. I was in a sport where they took brakes away to get speed. And I pushed the team to do it because everyone was doing it."
This was said in response to the Lance Armstrong fiasco. His point being that, yes Lance cheated, but so did everyone else. That is the way it is in cutthroat sports. And, ignoring the lying and bullying part of the Lance story, which is another issue, he is right.
I know of an Indy Lights team that ran different exhaust headers for the ovals and got away with it because of "connections" within their team. I've raced against (now) very famous drivers who had highly illegal (and obvious) bits on their cars, and never got caught.
In all likelihood, I may have raced for a team over the years that used something illegal on the car without my knowledge, performance enhancing or not. In many respects, it is considered the art of a good engineer to get away with it.
It all starts in go-karts, where 10 year old kids are soaking their tires overnight in solutions to make them extra soft, and running known engines that produce a wealth of illegal power. This is common practice, even today.
Formula One teams are at it, too. Allegedly, one team (a number of years ago) ran a bypass system for a "pop off" valve to enable running higher boost for the entire race. Some have also been accused of using traction control in an era when the systems were banned. A level of cheating is detected every given year, as engineers consistently push the boundaries of legality.
In the 1995 World Rally Championship, Toyota pulled a humdinger of a cheat. To keep speeds in check, the FIA mandated the use of restrictor plates on the turbo units. Toyota's Celica GT-4 had been winning for years, and the engineers within the team were some of the very best. The ingenious nerds figured out a way to bypass the seals around the restrictor. In addition, using special springs and clips, when the car was moving and the turbo engaged, the restrictor plate would be moved back a couple of inches, entirely nullifying any effects.
This reportedly gave the turbos an additional 25 percent of air, equaling 50 extra horsepower. Despite some of the best tech inspectors on the planet, it went unnoticed for some time. Eventually it was figured out, and FIA president Max Mosley stated it was "beautifully made," and one of the most "ingenious and sophisticated devices" they had ever seen.
Of course, NASCAR is littered with stories of cheaters. One classic is when legendary mechanic, Smokey Yunick, installed an "anaconda sized" fuel line that stored an extra five gallons of fuel. During inspection, NASCAR removed the fuel tank but could not find the trick. So, Yunich jumped behind the wheel with the fuel tank still on the floor, and drove off.
Oversized (illegal) fuel tanks were implemented in IndyCar racing by a couple of cheats in just the last few years, so this is still an ongoing way teams are trying to dupe the system.
Smokey also — in what is quite possibly the funniest NASCAR cheat ever — built his '66 Chevelle to exactly 7/8's scale. Reportedly, other teams knew something looked off, but could never put their finger on it, as tech inspections did not involve the measurements they do today. Cutting a smaller hole through the air, Smokey's shrunken car demolished the opposition.
The main difference in this kind of cheating is it's often clever in ways performance enhancing drugs rarely are.
Back in the day, NASCAR used to weigh the cars before the race but not after. There is an old story of a team that got their racecar up to weight by filling the chassis tubes with buckshot. The idea was that the driver would release the BBs by pulling a lever at the right opportunity during the race, leaving them to roll down the banking and safely into the infield. Unfortunately, the driver misunderstood and did it heading into turn one, spewing thousands of BBs in front of half a dozen speeding racecars.
Modern NASCAR crew chiefs are still at it. Just look at the Wikipedia page for Chad Knaus and you'll see the multiple bans and suspensions.
Like Marion Jones and Dwain Chambers, Floyd Landis and Diego Maradona, or the 1919 Black Sox scandal – sports such as cycling, racing, baseball or soccer, will always have cheats. Some scandals will be bigger than others. Some will get caught. Others won't. As technology improves, the opportunity to bend the rules becomes slimmer, but people will always try.
In racing, there are a vast number of components, big and small, making the opportunities to undetectably cheat far more likely than in a sport such as cycling, where today's athletes have a biological passport, eliminating the rifeness that took place in the Armstrong era.
As we now know, and have long suspected, Lance Armstrong did indeed cheat. We also know that 99 percent of the pro peloton were also cheating. Our racing heroes may well have cheated. They possibly still do, to some degree. A.J says, "If they don't catch ya, it ain't cheatin'," but I don't buy that. It's always cheating. Regardless of whether you get caught.
What it shows is how winning becomes a disease. People are willing to risk it all in the name of victory. And that extraordinary desire it not going anywhere, regardless of stricter regulations. Competitors will always stray, but racing, perhaps even more so than other sports, will forever be filled with cheats, constantly searching for that extra hundredth of a second.
But unlike other sports, it's often not the athlete doing the cheating. It's the group of intelligent nerds in the corner, channeling Smokey Yunick, and hoping they don't get caught.
Photo Credit: daredevil26, Getty, AP