Could NASCAR Be America’s Blueprint for Driverless Ethics?

New Yorker, April 17, 1995, Leo Cullum

Years ago I wrote about the cheating of NASCAR car drivers. And recently at the last BSidesLV conference I pointed out in my talk how human athletes in America get banned for cheating, while human car drivers get respect.

Anyway I was reading far too much on this topic when I starting thinking how NASCAR studies of ten years ago to end cheating could be a compelling area of research for ethics in driverless cars:

Proposed solutions include changing the culture within the NASCAR community, as well as developing ethical role models, both of which require major action by NASCAR’s top managers to signal the importance of ethical behavior. Other key stakeholders such as sponsors and fans must create incentives and rewards for ethical behavior, and consider reducing or ending support for drivers and teams that engage in unethical conduct.

That’s some high-minded analysis given the inaugural race at Talladega (Alabama International Motor Speedway) had a 1969 Ford with its engine set back nearly a foot from stock (heavier weight distribution to the rear — violating the rules).

This relocation of the engine was easily seen by any casual observer yet the car was allowed to race and finished 9th. Bill France owned the car. Yes, that Bill France. The same guy who owned the track and NASCAR itself…entered an illegal car.

An illegal car actually is icing on the cake, though. Bill France built this new track with unsafe parameters and when drivers tried to boycott the conditions, he solicited drivers to break the safety boycott and issued free tickets to create an audience.

NASCAR retells a story full of cheating as the success that comes from ignoring ethics:

“I really admired that he told everybody to kiss his ass, that that race was going to run,” Foyt said.

The sentiment of getting everyone together to agree to an ethical framework sounds great, until you realize NASCAR stands for the exact opposite. It seems to have a history where cheating without getting punished is their very definition of winning.

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