I came across an interesting article recently about the Ferrari-McLaren spying scandal that rocked Formula One last season. For those that don’t know, McLaren was discovered last season in possession of 780 pages worth of Ferrari documentation regarding their Formula One car. The FIA stripped McLaren of their Constructors points and fined them $100 million. NASCAR has seen its own fair share of alleged “spying” incidents over the last few seasons.
Earlier this year, Jack Roush accused a Toyota team of stealing a sway bar from one of his Cup teams and attempting to have it reproduced for their own use. We later found out the Toyota team was Michael Waltrip Racing and the sway bar was eventually returned. No penalties were levied by NASCAR, and the sanctioning body has no specific rules against these types of occurrences.
In 2006, a former engine builder for Joe Gibbs Racing was terminated from Richard Childress Racing after he refused to divulge information to his new employer regarding Gibbs engine department. The employee, Tony Corrente, eventually sued Childress for wrongful termination and accused the team of cheating at Daytona in 2006. The suit was later settled out of court.
NASCAR has always had an open garage policy. Garage stalls and inspection areas are open so that teams can see exactly what is going on with each other’s race cars. But that doesn’t mean that teams don’t have secrets. In today’s ultra competitive environment, any advantage that can be gained will be guarded. The recent development of “crabby” cars was first discovered by teams observing Carl Edward’s #99. Since then, most teams have adopted the alteration his team made to the rear end. This weekend’s Coke 600 will be the last race for “crabby” cars though, as NASCAR will implement a maximum degree of rear end angle for the Dover Cup race.
Spying and the theft of a team’s information doesn’t just happen at the race track. There are plenty of stories of crew chiefs and other employees taking notebooks worth of information with them when moving from one team to another. Most employees sign confidentiality agreements when they are hired, but unless something is extremely blatent, I can’t imagine these agreements would be of much use in court. Other legal documents can be used such as contracts and non-compete clauses but the spying continues anyway.
Teams spend millions of dollars developing engines, chassis, and bodies to try and be better then the next guy. And, as we’ve seen with other professional sports, people will go to extremes to try and gain even the smallest advantage over their competition whether it be through cheating, spying, or performance enhancing drugs. Spying on other teams is nothing new and it will continue to be a nasty part of the sport because there is so much at stake on race day.