NASCAR Flexes its Technical Muscle Before Every Race
Most race fans have all heard the term, “It’s only cheating if you get caught,” or the ever popular saying, “There are grey areas that certain crew chiefs have found, and that’s why they are able to win,” at one time or another.
Smokey Yunick and Junior Johnson were the innovators when the time came to see who could pass NASCAR’s tech inspection, without getting caught bending the rules, in order to give them an advantage over the rest of the drivers.
Yunick was best-known as a mechanic, builder, and crew chief during the early years of NASCAR, and he was always one step ahead of the inspectors.
Yunick would really trick something up that was fairly easy for the inspectors to find.
And while they were busy patting themselves on the back for having "caught" the wily innovator, they would completely overlook the real work he'd done deeper within the car.
The changes he'd made in those less obvious "grey areas" were the ones that would win him the race.
Yunick once said, “I'd been reading the rule book to see what it said. And all along what I should have been doing was finding out what it didn't say.”
Johnson, on the other hand, was best known for his driving skills, which he honed on the back roads in the rural South while running moonshine during his early years.
It was because of Johnson that NASCAR mandated the teams to run their exhaust to the side of the car from the engine.
NASCAR found out Johnson ran his exhaust out the back of the car because the hot dirty air would affect the way the car behind him ran.
The inspection process is broken down into a multiple of groups that focuses on different components of the race car.
During this process, inspectors will check the car’s body, mandated safety features, undercarriage/chassis, engine, full cell, height, weight, and measurements to ensure they meet NASCAR requirements as set forth in the rulebook.
About half of NASCAR's 70-page rulebook focuses on precise technical guidelines for car construction.
And any fan with a garage pass can get an up-close look at the inspection process, since the procedure is not done inside some hidden away tech station.
Watching a car go through tech inspection not only enhances the NASCAR experience, but it can also serve as a very educational experience, with the inspectors willing to answer any questions you may have.
Tech inspection is used to make sure each team is within the perimeters to keep a team from having a competitive edge, and it is also used to make sure the cars are safe to drive at the high racing speeds.
Preparing the car for Inspection
Before a car is sent through the rigorous steps of a NASCAR tech inspection, it is first unloaded from the hauler, and prepared for whichever track the team may be running at that weekend.
Since each track is different, chassis setups are the most important if a team expects to contend for a win come race day.
The car is then taken to a NASCAR inspection bay where it will begin its journey.
This is where the team will find out if everything was done according to the specifications that NASCAR has set forth, in order to compete in that weekends race.
These are the templates which will be used to make sure the car is within the guidelines, which NASCAR has mandated depending on what series, and what type of car will be racing that weekend.
These particular sets of templates were used for the K&N Pro Series race cars, which were run for the All-Star Showdown at Toyota Speedway of Irwindale in January.
At one time, NASCAR utilized over 32 different set of templates, measuring each car to make sure it met NASCAR specifications.
Each manufacturer had its own set of 14 color coded templates, which made it easy for the inspectors to know which set to use depending on which car was going through tech inspection at the time.
When NASCAR instituted the C.O.T. for full-time use in the Sprint cup series, they did away with the templates, and now the inspectors use a single template which is actually 19 individual templates welded together.
“The Claw” fits over the entire car, and now all the inspectors have to do is check each specific point and look for any inconsistencies.
Roof, Hood, and Trunk Template
This long aluminum template goes over the nose, roof, and trunk of the car.
The inspector slides a small guide between the template and the hood, and this same process will be repeated for the roof as well as the trunk.
This template is used to make sure the rear bumper, along with the rear section of the fenders are not sticking out to far which can give the car an aerodynamic advantage.
Each team carries a set of tools with them when going through inspection, just in case an adjustment needs to be made.
This particular car did not pass the inspection, and the crew had to use a hammer to pound part of the rear fender in, so the car could eventually pass inspection and move on to the next step.
The next step is to make sure the nose piece is also within NASCAR’s guidelines.
With aerodynamics playing a big part in how well a car will handle once out on the track, NASCAR takes no chances by doing all it can to make sure each car has an equal advantage.
Front Bumper Template
This template is also used to make sure the air flowing over the front of the car, is equal with the rest of the competitors.
NASCAR spares no expense when it comes to keeping the competition as equal as possible.
Body Side Template
This particular template attaches to the front and rear wheel hubs on each side of the car.
Once attached, the inspector slides a bar back and forth over the fenders to make sure they don’t stick out to far.
Air traveling down the side of the body, can be greatly affected and give the driver a big advantage if the fenders are not within the standards set by NASCAR.
Once again the crew used a hammer to pound in the front fender, so the measuring bar could slide freely over the fender.
The inspector is checking the rear end height of the car. If the car is too high the crew will make the necessary adjustments, and the same goes if it is to low.
Since the cars have adjustable suspensions, it doesn’t take long to make the proper adjustments.
Overall Height Check
The crew pushes the car underneath the blue frame, which has a piece of metal hanging from the center of it.
Once the car is stationary on the platform, the inspector checks to make sure the center of the roof is at the right height.
Adjustments can be made, if necessary, if the car is either to low or to high.
This is the end of the line as far as tech inspection goes.
The car is pushed onto the scales, where it is weighed before heading out for practice or qualifying.
The NASCAR inspector reminds the crew to make sure they haven’t left any tools inside, since the scale will measure the extra weight which can result in the car failing inspection.
Once the car is found to be within NASCAR’s weight limits, it is given the okay for the crew to push it out to the staging area.
Pushing the Winning Car to the Track
The crew is seen here pushing the car to the staging area where the cars will line up to qualify, after it succesfully passes tech inspection.
TCR driver Auggie Vidovich would qualify the No. 59 Chevrolet sixth, before going to victory lane in the King Taco 200 on July 3rd at Toyota Speedway of Irwindale.
The End Result, A Fast Safe Racecar
Here is the end result, and the reason behind NASCAR’s strict tech inspections.
With the speeds these drivers race at, it’s easy to see why NASCAR wants to make sure each car is safe before it goes out onto the track.