Magnets and Dynomometers

I have never seen Robin Pemberton looking so disgusted as he did during an interview replayed on NASCAR Now Monday evening. (Well, maybe not since Daytona 2007.) NASCAR did a chassis dyno test after the Michigan race on a number of NASCAR Nationwide cars. They found 1/4-inch-thick magnets underneath the accelerator pedals of the 18 and the 20 Joe Gibbs Racing cars. To their credit, JGR took responsibility, apologized and started an internal investigation to figure out who was responsible.

You may have heard some strong reactions from some of the other owners. One of the reasons for the animosity is that Toyota runs the same engine in Cup and Nationwide, whereas the other manufacturers have to maintain separate engine programs for the two series. I know that some of the companies that run both series have 90% of their engine shop dedicated to Cup engines, so there’s some resentment that Toyota only has to run one program.

The facts: The purpose of the magnetic shims was to prevent the accelerator pedal from being pushed all the way down. In a carbureted engine, pushing the accelerator pedal opens valves in the carb. The more you push the pedal, the more the valves are opened. The valves regulate how much of the air/fuel mixture enters the engine. The wider the valves are opened, the more air/fuel mixture goes into the cylinders and the more energy is produced. If you prevent the pedal from going all the way to the floor, the throttle doesn’t open all the way and you produce less horsepower.

As you probably remember, NASCAR gave Toyota a more tapered tapered spacer than the other manufacturers after engine dyno numbers showed that the Toyota engines had a 15 hp peak horsepower advantage. The cheat was an attempt to have the Gibbs Toyota engines show lower horsepower than the engine actually was capable of and (I guess) either make NASCAR feel guilty that they penalized Toyota too much, or prevent further reductions of the tapered spacer. Some thought must have gone into how thick a magnet they needed: If they had knocked the horsepower down too much, it would have looked suspicious.

Why magnetic shims? You could have accomplished the same thing with a non-magnetic shim; however, you would have had to have come up with a way to hold the shim in place, like glue or tape. NASCAR mandates the use of magnetic stainless steel in the car. A rare-earth permanent magnet will stick really really well to magnetic stainless steel. I have a couple neodymium-iron-boride magnets that you literally have to keep a piece of cardboard between becuase if they get stuck together, you’re going to have a very difficult time getting them unstuck. So all the folks who are wondering if those magnets they claim you can put around your gas line to save money actually work, forget it. They don’t. The only reason a magnet was used was because it could be put there quickly, would stay put, and could be removed quickly. They could have used plastic or non-magnetic metal and had the same effect on the throttle action; however, the high heat in the car might have softened any adhesive or tape used to stick it in place or the driver might have knocked it loose.

Every report I’ve heard says that the magnets were in place during the race. (correction) As the story has evolved, it appears now that the crew members derived a ploy about needing to retrieve a forgotten notebook to get into the car after the race, so it now appears as though the magnets were NOT in the car during the race. (correction) Given how closely the cars are watched (especially the 20, which finished 3rd), there wouldn’t be many possibilities to slip something in place (although doing so would only have taken a very few moments). At Milwaukee, where NASCAR did engine dyno tests, the cars pulled off the track and headed toward their haulers, but the NASCAR officials stopped all the cars just inside the garage gates. None of the teams seemed to know what was happening until they got the word that there were going to be engines selected for dyno testing. The only other possibility I can think of would be the driver moving the magnet into place after the race and I just can’t see Tony Stewart going for that.

What makes the decision to try this even more questionable is that this was to be a chassis dyno test, not an engine dyno test. In a chassis dyno test, the cars are rolled up onto a mobile chassis dyno, which is a platform that has a large massive drum on which the rear wheels are placed. The car is strapped onto the platform and when the throttle is pushed, the rear wheels turn the drum instead of moving the car. If I remember right, NASCAR uses a DYNO-mite dynamometer.

A chassis dyno test doesn’t test only the engine: it also reflects all the frictional losses in the drivetrain. So, for example, if your oil were thick for some reason, you might have the best engine, but you would see lower numbers on the dyno because some of your engine power was being used to overcome friction and that power wasn’t available to the rear wheels. An engine dynamometer measures only the engine. I can’t see that NASCAR would make decisions on engine policy based on a chassis dyno measurement since a chassis dyno measurement measures much more than the engine. It is tough to imagine that, based on a chassis dyno test, NASCAR would decide to make the holes in the Toyota tapered spacer larger again. Just for the record, NASCAR used an engine dyno when they tested NNS cars in Milwaukee and Chicagoland and a chassis dyno in Atlanta earlier in the season.

So what was really the point of this? You make yourself less competitive (unless there was some way that the magnets got put into the cars after the race) and you chance a huge fine. I’m working on a novel and this seems like a perfect revenge scheme for a disgruntled employee, doesn’t it? You compromise the performance of the car AND you create a scandal that could result in long-term suspensions for crew chiefs and car chiefs. Or it could just be someone doing something amazingly ignorant.

The penalties are likely to be major. I’m sure NASCAR has the same feeling I get when I catch a student cheating in a really stupid way. You’re incensed because they’re cheating and then you’re more incensed because they think you’re so stupid that you wouldn’t catch it. When there was a major cheating scandal in F1, they made the guilty company ineligible for the equivalent of the manufacturer’s championship. That’s a punishment for the offenders, but it also puts an asterisk next to the manufacturer that does win the championship.

The arguments that it was justified for JGR to cheat because NASCAR unfairly took away 15 hp from Toyota when they were within the engine rules is just plain bogus and I bet that most of the folks at JGR would tell you the same thing. The people who work there that I’ve met are simply too good to resort to doing something like this.

UPDATE 8/20/08 Dave Moody has a really good summary of the penalties, announced Wednesday, so I won’t type in my own attempt to explain because I think he covered just about everything. I personally was expecting car and crew chief suspensions for the rest of the season, so the indefinite suspension came as quite a surprise.

UPDATE 8/20/08 Lee Spencer has a nice article with a rational description of the incident, the penalties and why this is all such a big deal.

UPDATE 8/23/2008: Mike Mulhern has a great column in which he sheds a little more light on the deception. Apparently the crew members involved had thought enough about this that they had a cover story. Great, except the cover story was that (as one of the comments below suggested) they were arguing that the magnets were stops to prevent the throttle cable from being overextended. They used a magnet in the car because then the driver could kick it out of the way if they wanted to. Sounds perfectly reasonable. Except they forgot to let the drivers in on the story, so it was obvious to the Nationwide officials when they asked the drivers that the driver had no clue what was going on.


  1. just a quick clarification: you write
    “Every report I’ve heard says that the magnets were in place during the race.”

    so, this quote is from scene daily:
    “What they did was not in effect during the race,” Hunter said. “They didn’t have an illegal part or engine during the race. They tried to do something involving a magnet so that we wouldn’t get a true reading on the dyno.”
    later articles have jd gibbs stating the same thing: the magnets were NOT in place during the race.

    not sure what happened here . . .

    also, i’ve read that there was a rumor at the track that there would be a dyno test at MIS. in your experience, is it likely that teams would have known in advance (even if “only rumored”) about the test?
    another report says that, even if the teams didn’t have an inkling before the race, the trailer for the dyno apparatus is very conspicious b/c it’s so large.

    i’m just trying to figure out how one or two someones from jgr managed to get those magnets into the cars without being seen by a nascar inspector at some point. i certainly can’t see either stewart or logano doing it: in fact, jd gibbs is intimating that he knows who did it and there will be consequences.

  2. A theory floating around of how the magnets were put in place:

    NASCAR allows ONE crewman to return to the car BEFORE post race tech to retrieve the driver’s helmet, gloves and such. Normally the crewman simply leans inside the driver’s side window and scoops up the needed items. In one of the JGR cars, the NASCAR official felt that the crewman took an abnormally long time inside the car and something wasn’t right. That NASCAR official tipped off the post race tech officials to perform a more thorough inspection inside the car, and found the magnets.

    Like I side, this is just a theory, but a pretty good possibility though.

  3. Morning, red!
    Mr. Hunter’s comments were a little odd. I though he was differentiating the penalty for being (as Mike Massaro said last night on NASCAR Now) related to “obstruction of justice” vs. having doing something illegal that would have aided them in the race. Having a magnet under the throttle pedal isn’t illegal during a race. There are a number of people making the argument that since it wasn’t something that helped them win the race, they shouldn’t be penalized.
    Do you have a link to a story with JD Gibbs talking about the magnets not being in the car during the race? That part of the situation has me pretty baffled. If the JGR car got 3rd and seventh with the magnets in place, NASCAR needs to do some more dynamometer measurements because there must still be a pretty good horsepower advantage.
    You’re right that rumors make rounds pretty quickly in the garage; also, everyone spent the last two weeks pointing out that Michigan was the first track where the Toyota-tapered spacer was likely to really make a difference, so you might have guessed that they were going to take data after the Michigan race. I could see the possibility that someone might have time to do something inbetween the end of the race and the car being grabbed, but the NASCAR inspectors keep a really close eye on the top finishing cars, which would include the 20. Having said that, all you would have to do is put the magnet in the car on the floorboard prior to the race, but not in a position to interfere with the gas pedal. Then when a crew member is reaching into the car to get the driver’s heel shields, helmet, empty water bottle, etc., you would just have to move it into position.
    Everyone sure did seem to talk about it like they knew a lot more than they were telling. It will be interesting to see whether we get the full story or if employees just disappear and pop up again at other teams. I can’t believe anyone higher up in the JGR management (including at the engine shop) would have been dumb enough to have been in on this. Then again, even the very smartest people get stressed enough to do dumb things and NASCAR is a very stressful job. Thanks for the comment, red.

  4. hey diandra! here’s jd gibbs comments from, joe menzer article dated 18 august:

    Later, Gibbs met with the media and reiterated the blanket apology.

    “For us, any violation is a serious one. Keep in mind that it wasn’t an on-track violation. In no way was the car we had on the track racing anything other than what it should have been. That would have been an extremely huge deal. … Whatever business you’re in, if you can’t come in and do it the right way, what’s the point? Throughout the years, if you ask NASCAR, we’ve tried to do things the right way.”

    i know i’ve also seen that on other online sites but i have to head out right now. i can track the others down later if needed. either way, i’ll drop by later with additional comments. thanks! –red

  5. I am trying to get into the team’s head on this, and I have an alternative theory on this whole thing:

    First of all, is this about limiting horsepower or is it about limiting rpm?

    Could a team put a magnet there during the race as a physical rev limiter to compliment the normal rev limiter? If an engine produces peak horsepower at 8,000 rpm but revs to 9,000 rpm, perhaps it would make sense to stop the driver from physically pushing it beyond 8,000-8,200 rpm. I can see three benefits to this:

    1. It saves unnecessary wear and tear on the engine, preventing it from running in a range with limited performance gains and more heat.

    2. It gives the driver an easy way to keep the engine in the peak horsepower range, without the odd, stuttering feeling that hitting a normal ignition-based rev limiter gives you. This gives the driver that psychologically good feeling of being able to “flat foot” it around the track, and the crew chief the good feeling that their driver isn’t overdriving.

    3. Using magnets would allow for easy adjustment for different tracks, gear ratios, straightaway lengths, etc. It could also be easily moved to the side by the driver if they feel they need a little extra at the end of the race.

    I dunno, it might seem completely insane, but I thought it was a theory worth throwing out there… Honestly, assuming it’s legal, I would consider doing something like this if I were in the business for the sole purpose of saving my equipment.

  6. Hi Red: I don’t know…You can still read JD’s statement as if he’s saying only that the violation wasn’t an on-track violation – he is emphasizing that whatever did happen, it shouldn’t reflect on their on-track performance. There’s nothing illegal about putting a magnet under the pedal. That’s an important point from their point of view because any cheating incident calls into question the team’s previous (and future) wins. What we need is someone to ask the question straight out whether the magnets were in the car during the race. If anyone’s seen or heard the answer to that, please send in the link. Thanks!

  7. The teams knew it was coming. Or at least I’m 100% sure I heard a comment on one of the prerace shows or web articles that the chassis dyno was there, because I was wondering what it was going to show.

    I did wonder with Michigan being a fuel-mileage track if you might not do something like that to improve your fuel mileage.

    But in any case, if they did this specifically to cheat on the dyno test they should be punished harshly. And I say that as a Stewart and JGR fan.

  8. Is there any history of magnetic shims being used on a competitor’s car in order to slow them down during a race? Unless somebody steps up and confesses to putting the shims on the pedal after the race, is there anyway to prove that they weren’t there the entire race? The drivers probably would notice a lack of power, but this was the first time the new tapered spacer was supposed to make a difference, so the lack of power could be contributed to that.
    I’m probably just a JGR fan reaching for something other than cheaters on the team…

  9. If the drivers were in on it then Diandr’as thought that the magnets may have been there prior to the race (in a position where they did not interfere with the throttle) may be ther answer. A driver could easily inch the magnet up with their foot.
    From what I have seen Cup drivers don’t care if they get penalties in the Nationwide series unless they are running for a championship. So it wouldn’t surprise me if the drivers were in on it.

  10. This infraction in my opinion was a way to reduce horsepower showing up on the dyno test therefore giving them a chance to add more horsepower to the engines if not in past races maybe in future races to come.

  11. don’t know if this helps or not but on his sirius radio show, stewart says he had full throttle during the nationwide race, that he climbed out of his car and was immediately speaking with shannon spake and dave moody (among other media folks) and he categorically denies placing a magnet beneath the accelerator. it seems rational to suggest that if tony stewart says he had full throttle during the race, then he did not have a magnet beneath the accelerator. was it somewhere in the cockpit where he couldn’t see it, waiting to be “installed”? that seems like more of a stretch than the simplier explanation of a crew member slipping the magnet in while taking driver gear out of the car. this may be as close as we get to an answer of whether the magnet was in the car during the race.

    it’s beginning to read as if the scenario suggested above by okla21fan may have validity. there’s even discussion about the belief that the 20 was almost finished with inspection when the nascar official with the 18 became suspicious of the crew member taking too much time in the car, supposedly getting the driver gear out. that led to nascar taking a closer look at both cars.

    bottom line for me is that somebody at jgr was prepared to do something to both n’wide cars in an attempt to subvert the testing that was anticipated. that “premeditation” may weigh in nascar’s decision.

    (and while i’m thinking about this: shame on andy petree and tim brewer of espn for stating on sunday that the two drivers must have placed the magnets themselves! i would be extremely surprised if stewart made himself accessible to any espn reporter for the balance of this season!)

  12. Diandra,

    I’m more confused now about this than ever. Not by your explanation though.
    Here’s what I don’t understand. If it’s legal to have a magnet/shim under the gas pedal during the race, what’s the big deal about it during the dyno? Couldn’t a team member just say that he forgot to remove it? Am I being dense?

    Now, if it is considered cheating, only JGR should have to run the tapered tapered spacer for the rest of the season. By the way, only JGR should lose owwer points. I don’t think it’s fair to punish the drivers.

  13. If JGR had intended to leave the magnet in place for the entire race, why not just adjust the throttle linkage so that the carb would not ever go to full throttle? Is this possible?

    This would have prevented them from getting caught with a “device,” and would have been easier to explain if detected.

    By the way, this site is awesome.

  14. and here’s yet another supposition that’s made it’s way into the conversation:
    ” . . . the spacer was inserted into a pre-made slot on the firewall and not on the underside of the pedal.”

    from the science point of view: could such a scenario have done what was intended: to impact the dyno readings? how powerful a magnet would be required to do that?

    not saying i’m believing it yet but i’m looking for information and trying to understand if this explanation is plausible. if it is, it may answer a lot of the questions that have arisen as to the “how?” of this mess.

    again, i’m not saying it’s accurate or that i believe it: i’m simply trying to find out if it’s even a plausible scenario, even with just that one sentence and no supporting information.

  15. Hi red:
    I read that report too and, as of 8/22, haven’t been able to confirm it with any of my reliable sources. If the magnet was in a slot in the firewall, it’s not clear to me why they needed a magnet.
    The spacer is a mechanical fix: It merely prevented the throttle from being opened 100%. The magnetic nature of the spacer shouldn’t have any effect, so the strength of the magnet should be irrelevant. The only reason I could see using a magnet is to keep the spacer in place. The pedal would be moving up and down and if the spacer weren’t fixed in place, the pedal could move the spacer out of the way. Assuming, of course that the spacer was there during the race.
    What troubles me is the quote from JD Gibbs that’s been widely reported saying “It was a really, really poor decision by some of our key guys at Joe Gibbs Racing”, which makes me wonder how high up the responsibility ladder this goes. The idea of it being a rogue employee makes less sense based on that statement. DLP

  16. thanks for the response, diandra. and i have felt from the beginning that this action was not the work of the infamous “rogue crewmember” but jd’s statement makes me sad: that it came from so far up the corporate ladder in such a great organiztion is just depressing.

    what is THE most confusing part of all of this mess is why nascar won’t/can’t just flat-out say “this is what happened; this is how it happened; these are the people involved; and these are the penalties.” all the conjecture swirling around could be easily cleared up and conspiracy theories eliminated if nascar would just release the information.

    after all, their inspectors caught this so good for them! why not celebrate that by saying “here’s what was attempted and we caught it! woo-hoo for us!” or somesuch (not that i could see pemberton actually saying “woo-hoo!” . . . )

  17. Diandra,
    I was listening to sirrus NASCAR thursday night, They had Joe Ballsih (Nationwide Director) on the show. Buddy Baker was asking him several questions regarding
    JGR and the magnets.
    Ballish confirmed that the drivers
    had nothing to do with putting
    them in the car,He also said
    that he has a real good idea
    who put the magnets in the cars.
    Ballish said NASCAR got the
    Dyno numbers they needed and a
    all the Nationwide cars including
    JGR feel within the numbers
    NASCAR was looking for.
    So basically JGR cheated for
    nothing. Thats like puring
    salt in a wound.

  18. Steve – thanks for updating the situation. I added a link up above that says that apparently the crew members that thought up this ploy had a cover story — they just neglected to tell the drivers about it, so when the Nationwide officials asked, the driver was pretty clearly as surprised as anyone else. DLP

  19. Thank you for the link. I have seen the horsepower figures,
    I thought my kids could tell a wopper. Wow my kod don’t hold a candle to the JGR crewman.

  20. Diandra, congrats of all the places and of all the people (some weren’t people!) I read on this issue you’re the only one to offer the “alternate universe” so to speak.

    That being, they were placed there as a way to show a reduced hp output with the idea they could make a case for returning to the previous spacer.

    What I really want to see is the dyno figures, as I understand it NASCAR has the two engines, they should be tested in the R&D shops and the hp output published.

    One last thing on the stupidity of it all, with the magnet in place it’s damn obvious the less than expected rpm range would have been VERY obvious and clued someone into a potential problem.

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