One time, way back when I was racing, I was hauling my supermodified across the border and the customs officer looked at me and said, "Are you planning to leave anything in the United States?" and I replied: "Maybe a little oil on the track."
He didn't think that was funny and I, along with my crew, was held up for two hours being grilled by U.S. immigration officers while the customs officers went through my trailer with a fine-tooth comb.
After that, I kept my big mouth shut.
So last Sunday morning, on the podium at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Martin Brundle was interviewing seven-straight race winner Sebastian Vettel about his dominance and Vettel casually said (paraphrase): "Of course, I have traction control," and I immediately thought of my smart-ass remark 30 years ago about oil on the track and I said, "Uh-oh."
Sure enough, all of a sudden the F1 paddock whispers that have been around for several years now started popping up in columns and blogs and you can bet that from now until the end of this season and, depending, maybe even into next the Red Bull racing car of young Mr. Vettel is going to get a going-over like it's never gotten before.
Traction control speculation is nothing new, of course. Ever since computers came into play in Formula One in the 1980s, there have been suspicions of hanky panky when it came to regulating power going to the rear wheels.
But traction control was banned by the FIA in 2008. One way of policing is that all teams use the same engine control unit and they are inspected at every race.
But there is now suspicion, fueled by former F1 team owner Giancarlo Minardi, that Red Bull has somehow managed to link the suspension of Vettel's car to the KERS system, which - if true - could pretty much do what classical traction control does without breaking any of the current rules.
This speculation raises one major question, however: If it's as seemingly simple as described, why haven't the other F1 teams done it too?
My guess is that it's all a bunch of hooey. Sebastian Vettel is a cut above the competition in F1 at the moment and the people he's beating are looking for excuses and suggesting it's because the world champion and his team are cheating.
The real reason, of course, is that they're simply not good enough to beat him and are grasping at straws to explain their deficiencies.
Roger Penske must be wondering what he did to deserve it.
He was supportive beyond belief when driver Helio Castroneves fell afoul of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and held a seat for him when he went to trial in Florida for tax evasion. After he was acquitted, Castroneves immediately paid $5 million in tax. The IRS wanted more but eventually settled for another $260,000.
Now, new Penske hire (although current NASCAR Sprint Cup driver) Juan Pablo Montoya is in trouble with the IRS and has been asked to pay $2.7 million in taxes and penalties.
According to an article in Forbes magazine, the IRS says Montoya had $9.5 million in taxable income in 2007 and 2008, nearly four times the $2.4 million he and his wife reported on their joint tax returns for those two years.
Forbes says that in a previously unreported lawsuit filed in U.S. Tax Court, Montoya conceded that in those two years he had nearly $800,000 more in gross receipts, interest and partnership income than originally reported, but challenges the IRS’ other, even bigger dollar adjustments.
The case is way too complicated to go into here. But there is a similarity between Montoya's and Castroneves's in that they both involve offshore corporations set up to shield them from American taxes.
As my late mother, Grace Dorothy McDonald, a bookkeeper and tax accountant, was want to say: there is nothing wrong with seeking to avoid paying taxes. Where you get into trouble is when you seek to evade paying them.
The most prestigious of the year-end Athlete of the Year Awards is the Lou Marsh, named for a long-ago Toronto Star sports editor with the winner selected by an ever-growing (it seems) group of primarily Toronto-based sportswriters and broadcasters.
The Lou Marsh is followed by the Canadian Press male and female athletes of the year, which are selected by a nationwide vote of newspaper and radio/TV sports editors with some public input.
In the tradition of the late entertainer Jimmy Durante's famous observation that "everybody wants ta get inta da act," all-sports broadcaster Sportsnet has now come up with a fan vote for Canadian Athlete of the Year and Canada's most successful racing driver these days is on the list.
James Hinchcliffe of Oakville, who had a breakout year in 2013 winning three of the 19 IZOD IndyCar Series races, is one of 16 athletes nominated for the honour.
Others on the list include figure skater Patrick Chan, NBA basketball star Anthony Bennett, bobsledder Kaillie Humphreys, golfer Graham DeLaet and old standbys Joey Votto (baseball), Georges St. Pierre (martial arts) and Jonathan Toews (hockey).
It's unlikely Hinchcliffe will win. For instance, Paul Tracy deserved to win the Lou Marsh a couple of times but the only auto racer I can think of who was awarded the honour (and who won the CP vote too) was Jacques Villeneuve, who won it twice (in 1995 and 1997), which elicited the famous quote from baseball player Larry Walker, who had a career year in '97: "It's the only time in my life I've lost to a computer."
Hinch, however, is thrilled to be included on the Sportsnet ballot.
"It's an honour to receive a nomination and I'm simply proud to be on the list in amongst so many outstanding Canadians," he told the IndyCar Series PR staff in a release.
"We can all be super proud of our accomplishments as athletes this year and it shows the strength and determination of Canadians to succeed in competitive environments.
"Even better, it's a fan vote and in my opinion, that's all that matters as they're the people who matter."
As I am primarily a fan, I voted for him just before sitting down to write this column. I suggest you go to sportsnet.ca and cast your ballot for Hinch, too.
- NORRIS McDONALD