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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Fine line Between Innovation and Cheating

It is that time of year again, in Nascar where the inevitable will happen. That time honored tradition where Nascar Inspectors will find, confiscate parts, and penalize a handful of teams for what has been commonly called, 'cheating'. But many times, the Nascar faithful and the pundit's opinions they get their wisdom from, have trouble discerning the difference between 'innovation', and 'blatant cheating'. They simply prefer to take the easy route and paint with a broad brush and label the driver/team a bunch of cheaters.

I would hate to lump every team that has ever been fined/penalized by Nascar as simply cheating, as one really needs to look deeper into each individual case in order to pass a fair judgment. But first, lets clear up a few definitions.

'Innovation': Webster's defines it as "something new or different introduced". But lets apply that a bit further not only to Nascar, but to other sports as well. 'Innovation' could also be defined as 'using legal means (or parts or equipment) in a fashion that they were not intended to in order to gain a perceived advantage'.

'Cheating': Webster's defines it is "to violate rules deliberately".

Even by reading the Webster's definitions one can see that there is a distinct difference in the two.

Since 'Cheating' is considered by many as "Baseball's oldest profession", here are a few examples from that sport and apply them to the definitions above. (and I'll omit the obvious such as using a corked bat and such)

1) During the 2002 season, the Colorado Rockies began storing their supply of game balls in a humidor in order to combat a century old problem for 'high altitude' home ballparks. What the humidor accomplished was significant and the effect were noticed almost immediately by the team. Exactly what the Rockies did, was to store their baseballs in a climate-controlled room at 40% humidity to keep the balls from drying out in Denver’s thinner, drier air. The idea wasn’t to make the balls dead, but to make them more like the ones used at lower altitudes. Offensive power number and total runs per game immediately began to drop.

survey says? Innovation, as no current rules have been broken and the team was not directly applying any foreign substance to the baseball. As long as Major League Baseball does not have a specific rule pertaining to the storage of game balls, I'm sure the Rockies will continue this practice.

2) In the early 1980s St Louis Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog began to instruct his grounds crew to 'rake the base paths only in a certain direction'. Herzog instructed his grounds crew to only stand on the 'foul side' of the base path and only apply the rake to the ground in a motion that was towards them. Sculpting the baselines in this manner over time created a slight and subtle incline, sloping towards FAIR territory. By doing this, the result was to aid a bunted ball down the baseline into staying in fair territory. Because the Cardinals of that era were comprised mostly of a 'speed and station to station' team, many bunted balls that may have normally rolled or bounce foul, stayed fair for base hit bunts.

survey says? Innovation, as no current rules were broken (even applies today) and both teams could take advantage of this equally.

3) The 1951 NY Giants placed an assistant coach in the center field stands, stealing the opponent's catcher's signs and relayed them to the Giants' bench, as they made their magnificent comeback to force a playoff for the pennant with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

survey says? Cheating, as even back in 1951 (as today) all coaches must be stationed during play either in the bullpen/dugout area or while the team is at bat, in the first or third base coach's box.

4) Gaylord Perry was caught numerous times using Vaseline, emery boards, and thumbtacks to scuff, cut, scar, and slather, the ball in hopes of making it move erratically on the way to the plate.

survey says? Blatant cheating, applying a foreign substance or defacing a baseball in any way is clearly a violation of the rules.

Applying the same definitions and premises to Nascar, lets take a look at a few examples as well. (again omitting the obvious such is running an illegal carburetor and such)

1) In the early '60s, the Wood Brothers saw the importance of faster pitting and not only started rounding off the wheel studs, so the lug nuts could thread faster and easier. They also began using another legal 'part', or in this case, silicone (use mostly for gasket forming) to stick the lug nuts to the holes on the wheel of the tire going on the car. Gaining a significant time advantage during pit stops.

survey says? Innovation, as the Wood Brothers were not using any illegal parts, nor were they altering any part beyond legal specification.

2) At the Dover race in 2005, the 48 team found a way to trick shocks that raised the rear of the car each time the car rolled over one of the many 'concrete expansion joints' during the race, giving it improved aerodynamics. Other teams were aware of the technique used to make a shock work in this manner, but could not take advantage of it and still make the car handle properly. All the parts and pieces used in the making of these shocks were within the confines of the rulebook.

survey says? Innovation, at least for that weekend. Nascar after the race, confiscated the shocks, examined them, and later determining that manufacturing a shock that responds in this manner (being a
spring assist or a jack to raise the car), that shocks should be a device that absorbs the bumps. Thus if any team attempted this type of shock after this race, then yes, it will be using illegal equipment, and should be considered cheating.

3) In 1983 at Charlotte , Richard Petty was caught using too soft of compound tires (more grip) and also using an engine that was over the cubic inch limit.

survey says? Blatant cheating. (stating the obvious)

4) In 1995 at Talladega, Owner and driver Ricky Rudd was caught using a hydraulic lift in the rear deck lid which improved the aerodynamics on the super speedway. (how did he get that in there in the first place!)

survey says? Cheating, while the innovative thought was there, a hydraulic lift kit is not an approved piece of equipment anywhere on a Nascar race car.

So if one choses to paint with that broad brush, I guess all 8 of these examples could be considered 'cheating'. However if one was ever to take out 'innovation' in just about any sport, football would still be basically 'bad Rugby', Basketball would be a lot of two handed jump shots, baseball would even more boring than it is today, and Nascar would still be getting stuck in the sand in turns 3 and 4 on the beach course.

It is just a fine line.





3 comments:

Gvav1 said...

Kenny Rogers sang it best..."You picked a fine time to cheat on me loose wheels"!

Jamie said...

Not so fast my friend.

Gaylord Perry admitted to doctoring the ball after he was elected into the Hall of Fame but I do not believe, to the best of my memory, that he was caught doctoring the ball during his playing days. If he had, I highly doubt he would've been elected to the Hall. You may want to double check that.

As for the 48 team, the reason everyone labels them with the term "cheaters" is because they are repeat offenders. It seems every season they are caught doing something that is not within the rules.

Nascar usually has a habit of suspending the habitual offenders. First time caught is probation, second one is suspension. Knaus has been suspended, and Todd Berrier on the 29 team has too. He has been a repeat offender as well.

Nascarjoe said...

Garlord was a cheat and he was caught before his career ended. Don't even get me started on JJ! I guess by your definition it was not cheating, but that doesn't make it right in my mind.

But I have to habd it to ya, good food for thought and I have enjoyed your blogs these past months. Keep up the good brain food.