AUTO RACING PACKAGE: The Warehouse of Illegal NASCAR Parts
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ From the outside, it looks like your basic garage that might be found anywhere across the United States: 16-by-24 feet, burnt red clapboard siding and dark gray fiberglass roof shingles.
Inside, however, it contains not cars, but car parts. And not just any car parts. Illegal car parts. Tons of them. The work of legions of creative would-be geniuses who crossed the line and were caught.
It is, quite simply, a sort of cheater’s hall of fame for stock car racing’s top circuit.
``You name the infraction, and we’ve got it here,″ Dick Beaty says.
As he speaks, Beaty swings open the door to the hall of infamy, which is actually just a storage facility for parts confiscated during his 13-year tenure as the top cop on NASCAR’s Winston Cup series. There are no tours, and the garage, which is on private property, isn’t open to the public.
``I haven’t even been in here myself in probably three or four months,″ Beaty says.
Beaty, who retired at the end of the 1992 season, had the garage built while he was NASCAR’s competition director. Illegal parts that were confiscated before he joined the sanctioning body in May 1980 were often stored in assorted warehouses or given away to auto racing museums.
Beaty wanted a central point to put the stuff, so the garage was built and he lined it with shelves that reach all the way to the rafters. It turned out to be a prudent move.
Today, the garage is jammed from front to back and floor to ceiling with hundreds upon hundreds of parts. Each one is tagged with the number of the car from which it came, the date, the violation and the fine.
The parts range from tiny _ illegal bolts _ to large _ trunk lids and engines.
Likewise, the offenders cover a wide spectrum. It’s a parallel to the 1995 Winston Cup season, when not even the team of points leader Jeff Gordon has escaped the long arm of NASCAR’s team of inspectors.
Probably the most notorious violation that ended up in Beaty’s garage is the engine Richard Petty used in winning the October 1983 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. During the post-race inspection, the engine was found to be larger than the approved 358 cubic inches. Petty was allowed to keep the victory, but he was fined $35,000 and assessed 104 points _ at that point the most severe penalty in NASCAR history.
Browsing around the garage, a visitor notices several other tags with ``No. 43″ on the car entry line.
``Yeah,″ Beaty says with a playful chuckle, ``ol’ Richard was a bad boy.″
Ask Beaty who was the most persistent offender during his era, and he says he’s can’t be certain. There’s no index to the parts stored in the garage, so the exact number of parts and their origin cannot be easily verified.
Ask him about the most common violation, and that’s easy. ``Fuel,″ he says. ``Fuel consumption and fuel storage. Everybody’s always looking for an edge there.″
Inquire about who was the craftiest crew chief, the one who made the NASCAR inspectors scratch their collective heads the most, and Beaty immediately fires back two words that may catch you off guard: Gary Nelson.
Nelson is the man who succeeded Beaty as top cop.
``Gary had a wonderful imagination _ not dirty, mind you, but very resourceful,″ Beaty says. ``He kept us on our toes.″
These days, other crew chiefs are trying to keep Nelson on his toes, and Beaty’s enjoying life as a retiree.
``I don’t miss all the traveling and the long hours, getting up at 4 a.m. and all that,″ he says. ``But I miss the people. The Frances were wonderful people to work for, and the way the organization was set up, I think we had the respect of everybody in the garage. They didn’t always agree with everything we did, but I think they respected us. And that’s what’s important.″
It’s uncertain what will happen to all the contraband in the garage. NASCAR says it’s planning to build a central storage facility for all the parts from the Beaty and Nelson eras, but the project is still in the planning stage.
Meantime, NASCAR continues to go after cheaters with the same philosophy as it did during the Beaty years.
``Words like `unapproved’ and `non-conforming’ don’t mean anything,″ Beaty says. ``If it hasn’t been approved, it’s illegal. It’s as simple as that.″
As Beaty gets ready to close the garage door, he acknowledges that yes, somewhere inside _ he’s not sure exactly where or what it is _ there’s a piece confiscated off a car prepared by then-crew chief Nelson.
``You’d have to ask Gary what it was,″ Beaty says. ``I’m sure he’d remember.″
Nelson broke into a smile when asked about his previous transgression. Those memories, he says with an ever-growing grin, are no longer clear.
End Adv for Thursday July 27