Cheat Neat

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In the Charlotte edition of Creative Loafing, Tom Jensen has an entertaining history of NASCAR cheating—from Junior Johnson, who "learned about aerodynamics running whiskey on the hardscrabble back roads of Wilkes County, NC," to Fred Lorenzen, who pulled off a scam

that involved one of NASCAR's most time-tested tricks: replacing an illegal part with one even more flagrantly illegal. "One time at Martinsville, Holman-Moody's car that Fred Lorenzen drove got caught," Latford said. "It was supposed to be a 22-gallon gas tank, and there was 22.9-gallons or something like that, and they made him take it out and take it away. And the team fussed and fumed and did the work, and they put a 28-gallon tank back in. They never checked the one they replaced it with."

Though raised a Tarheel, I never spent much time in Junior Johnson's home county. But I got the measure of the place from my brother, who ran into a few of its native sons at summer camp one year. "Hi," they'd say, "I'm from Wilkes County. Wanna fight?"

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  1. Jesse:

    Updating the Wilkes County reference a bit to reflect the local economy, it’s also likely that the kids might say: “I’m from Wilkes County. Wanna joint?”

  2. BTW, an old friend of mine who specialized in Southern sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill once plotted the birthplaces of major NASCAR drives and found a clear correlation with had had historically been major areas of moonshining in the U.S. (western NC, eastern TN, Canadian border, etc.).

  3. Somewhere in Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby Tom Wolfe made the connection between moonshining/bootlegging and NASCAR (don’t think it was called that then). I dunno if he was the first to write about it or what but that book is still an interesting read.

  4. an old friend of mine who specialized in Southern sociology at UNC-Chapel Hill once plotted the birthplaces of major NASCAR drives and found a clear correlation with had had historically been major areas of moonshining in the U.S.

    Was that John Shelton Reed? Sounds like one of his projects…

  5. Well, from growing up in that area of NC, my family knows many of the older NASCAR drivers such as Petty and Johnson. My uncle used to race back in the 60?s and basically, they all used to cheat. My favorite story was of one of them actually putting gas in the roll cage to get more distance.

  6. Yep, Jesse, Reed was the culprit in that NASCAR/moonshine study. To his credit, however, he never argued the correlation proved casuality one way or the other. Perhaps driving real fast just makes you thirsty. Or perhaps these backcountry Scotch-Irish brawler types were predisposed to enjoy anything dangerous and annoying to coastal and big-city elites. (Gratuitous dig: that’s probably the real reason why the libertarians among them/us favored the war.)

  7. My favorite cheating story involved the late Smokey Yunick.

    He built a perfect 7/8 scale race car, it looked perfect. At that time many teams would try to narrow the fenders, or chop the top. all of these would distort the look of the car. A 7/8 scale car put a smaller hole in the wind, yet had the perfect look that fooled the inspectors.

    It fooled them until the car got on the track and was 15 mph faster than any other car. The inspectors got out the templates and realized the car could go through them without touching at 150 mph.

    Regards

    Joe

  8. “Perhaps driving real fast just makes you thirsty.”

    I think the deal was that they drove fast because they were trying to outrun the cops & revenue agents. It would give them an advantage over weekend speedsters because they made their living driving fast.

  9. Everybody’s favorite NASCAR story is about Ole’ Smokey. My favorite goes waaay back to when he was racing Hudsons. That old flathead six had its crankshaft offset from the cylinder center line to make things simpler for the foundry. Smokey saw that reversing the engine rotation would improve con rod angularity and thus cylinder filling, so he built an engine which ran backwards and a rear axle to correct this. Smokey also invented the extended tip spark plug and a few other items found in every modern automobiles.

    Standard answer to any question asked of an employee at the Best Damn Garage in Town was “Y’all better ask Smokey about that.”

  10. Have a drink, John.

  11. I think the deal was that they drove fast because they were trying to outrun the cops & revenue agents.

    Yes, that was the deal. Sorry for not addressing the issue with the solemnity it deserved.

  12. To quote the Simpsons:

    “Wanna fight?”
    “Them’s fightin words!”
    etc.

  13. Born and raised in Wilkes County, I heard Herb Nab, who was then Junior Johnson’s mechanic, tell about CHEATING in the early ’60s by having the race car stand the mandatory pre-race ground clearance via the use of black frame painted balsa wood at the suspension stops which would disintergrate after a few laps and let the car hug the ground better.

    PS I never asked anyone if they wanted to fight right off, like that said in one posting.

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