CEDAR RAPIDS — NFL great Joe Montana, possibly borrowing a quote from NASCAR legend Richard Petty, once said “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.”
In the sports world that can range from doping scandals to spit balls.
At Hawkeye Downs Speedway, that could range as wide as a driver’s imagination, although it rarely does.
“The guys don’t try that stuff anymore,” said Doug Simon, who is in his third year as an inspector at Hawkeye Downs.
Simon would know the type of things racers used to try. He won 11 titles racing and helping other drivers at the half-mile asphalt oval since the 1990s.
Now the mechanic of 40-plus years uses his knowledge to keep the current drivers in check.
“First thing we always check is the weight,” Simon said. “The rest varies week to week.”
Last Friday, Simon was checking carburetors. It’s kind of like random drug testing athletes.
“Sometimes we’ll have them pull the valve cover off and make sure they aren’t running illegal stuff up inside there,” Simon said.
Usually they don’t find anything.
“I try to run as legal as I possibly can,” longtime driver Greg Hentrich said after passing inspection.
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“I have different rules because I have an old IMCA motor,” Hentrich said. “I have to use a smaller carburetor, while the rest of these guys have bigger carburetors. That’s the way it is.”
One reason Hentrich doesn’t mind the difference in equipment is because he has what some might consider a different advantage. His racecar is a 1984 Monte Carlo with a Spaw chassis that was started by local racing legend Johnny Spaw in 2006, before Hentrich took it home and “put the rest of it together,” finishing the car in 2009.
Like Hentrich, most drivers spend too much time on their cars to waste time getting disqualified.
“It’s a lot of work to be successful out here,” Simon said. “Sometimes drivers don’t want to do the homework, but those who do annihilate.”
As a driver turned inspector, Simon appreciates when the racers are honest with him.
“I tried to do everything legally and if I had to do something illegal, I told them before the race what I had done,” he said. “Things break and sometimes the only way I could make it work was to do something illegal. I’ve had a few guys do that with me.”
With high car counts at Independence and Benton County tracks, Hawkeye Downs also is trying to draw more local cars from venues that race opposite nights.
“We want the dirt guys to come out here with the dirt modifieds,” Simon said. “Usually we just scale them and try to make sure an asphalt guy doesn’t have an advantage. We also don’t want to make them spend two hours cleaning their car and changing their tires. Most of them just use their dirt tires until they are ready to change and then put fresh tires on for Hawkeye Downs. That way they don’t have to buy extra tires to race here.”
As for clarifications on any rules, Simon has them posted with the help of his wife.
“I sat down for hours and redid the rules to what they were back in the day,” Simon said. “Then I posted them because someone usually asks about a rule that will benefit them. This way, everybody knows everything. We show what legal and illegal parts are and that way people can walk over here and see the rules without question.”