In a highly unusual move for such a close-to-the-vest organization, NASCAR has even gone public about its "search and reveal" mission for these clandestine traction enhancing electronics. The public grumbling from some major NASCAR competitors and team owners in its top three divisions alluding to ETC aiding and abetting some racers' performance needed some tempering, or at the least spin-doctoring, it would seem.

The first spin-control salvo was at the Martinsville spring race in 2002 where Mike Helton placed the drivers publicly on alert in the drivers' meeting by brandishing a couple of ETC devices NASCAR had procured, and he made it clear his inspection force was on the prowl and the penalties would be appropriately high for anyone caught with it. Then, at the Pepsi 400, all the major NASCAR brass from Bill France Jr. on down attended an innocent sounding "Competition Update" press conference before the race to inform the media that NASCAR was on top of this perceived ETC problem, to display less than state-of-the-art ETC hardware (likely by choice--they know what's on the market), and to indicate they are going to step up their rules and inspection measures to keep out the digital devil.

Head Winston Cup Inspector John Darby reiterated the penalty for getting caught with it would likely be the most severe in NASCAR history. The threat of making the record book as the team/sponsor receiving the largest fine or suspension or points penalty in NASCAR history is the prime deterrent NASCAR has. Nevertheless, you can take it to the bank that they wouldn't expend all this inspection and public relations effort to catch an electronic "bogeyman" if it weren't in use.

Where Is ETC Being Raced?

Underground ETC use is not confined to the upper reaches of U.S. touring series; it is pervasive in U.S. racing even to the grass roots level. In my researching and writing about ETC over the past two years, sources racing in Winston Cup, BGN, DIRT Modifieds, Silver Crown (using magnetos), dirt Late Models, big-block pavement Late Models, IMCA-type Modifieds, and other car types have acknowledged the use of ETC. It's even making its tentative way into boat racing, where engine power is being modulated based on rpm "jitter." Publicity about ETC policing isn't confined to NASCAR either.