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Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday September 20, 2007
When NASCAR driver Aaron Fike appeared in court this week for a plea hearing on drug charges stemming from a July arrest, it was the most recent chapter in a story that has been repeated in NASCAR over the past few years. The only real difference was that the 24-year-old Fike was caught in a public place, while Shane Hmiel and Kevin Grubb were caught at the track and their transgressions were handled by NASCAR. But unfortunately, the similarities still glare-three young, up-and-coming race drivers who somehow let substance abuse get in the way of promising careers.
And while the drugs are just one item on a long list of temptations for young men living on their own, traveling all over the country, with money to burn and questions to spare. Does my girlfriend/new group of friends want me for me or my career? What if it was over tomorrow? What if I can't do the job? Will I lose my ride? How can I get rid of this pressure? There are more questions than answers for these young drivers, and it must be awfully enticing to inhale or ingest a substance that makes those questions go away for a little while. It's not a wise choice, but it's available and easy.
And at least in part, NASCAR is to blame.
Or at least, NASCAR could take steps to prevent young drivers from taking controlled substances and to maybe stop them before they get hooked. The sanctioning body randomly inspects a handful of race cars every week: usually the race winner, the top finisher of each car make, and a couple of randomly chosen cars that get a post-race teardown. Why not do the same for drivers?
The current policy allows NASCAR to order drivers to take a drug test if there is suspicion of use. In other words, someone has to notice a driver (or crew member) acting in a manner that raises the suspicion of drug or alcohol use and report it to an official, who then decides if a test is warranted. Basically, a driver who can hide the outward effects of drug use could escape testing. And that could lead to using againâ€¦and again. Before long, it's too late for a suspension to really help. Yet that's what typically happens. The driver is suspended and then given a probationary second chance-but not put in an inpatient rehab program. They can be randomly tested at the track, but if the damage is done and an addiction has a firm hold, it's not enough. As Hmiel and Grubb could surely attest, it isn't enough.
What NASCAR should do is randomly inspect drivers the way they do cars-each day at the track, send a randomly selected group of drivers for a urine test. Perhaps five on Friday, five on Saturday, five more Sunday morning, and again after the race. Make the test policy standard in every series. And then enforce it. Suspend anyone who tests positive, and make a reputable rehab program mandatory before the driver can apply for reinstatement. NASCAR has taken a stand on safety in recent years, mandating new rules and car designs to help drivers walk away from a wreck. Why not take it one step further and aim for safety outside the cars as well as in?
A policy that randomly tested drivers every day of every race week would be the kind of proactive solution that could nip potential drug problems in the bud. If there were a constant threat of being caught and suspended, perhaps drivers would make a different choice. Sometimes that's all it takes. One bad choice can lead to another, ending in addiction and the end of a promising career. But if testing policies were more stringent, perhaps the fear of being caught would stop the first use would end a potential career and life in ruins. It's time for NASCAR to take a proactive stand that could not only keep drivers who take drugs and then race, as Shane Hmiel apparently did, from doing so, but also make young drivers think twice about even trying drugs to ease the pressure or to have a "good" time. Maybe that would be enough to save careers-and lives.
©2000 - 2008 Amy Henderson and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
“And at least in part, NASCAR is to blame.”
While I agree that a drug testing program that doesn’t rely on people “snitching” is desirable, the idea that Nascar is in any way at fault for a driver CHOOSING to take drugs is asinine.
Nascar has no responsibility whatsoever to act on drug use except for enacting a testing program designed to keep druggies from hurting any innocent people and throwing the idiots out when they are discovered.
The drivers are not toddlers. They are adults. No one with a functioning brain can make it to 12 years of age without knowing that drugs are illegal, stupid, and destructive. It it no one’s fault except the druggies own.
Kudos, however, for calling it a “bad choice” instead of a “mistake”. It really burns me when people whose mushy hearts have contaminated their brains call a deliberate decision to do something known to be wrong a “mistake”.
I am totally against any/all drug use and I have never even had a sip of beer in my life (age 58) thanks to my wonderful GOD fearing parents, who totally indoctrinated me against “the evils” of alcohol and drugs. I don’t even want to take prescription drugs or asprin. (Who cares? No one-understandable). (Stated only so it is known where this opinion is coming from).
I totally disagree with the opinion stated in the article. Drug testing assumes guilt until proven innocent. This is not the way people of “Class and Dignity” do things. Racing is a sport unlike any other, that by it’s very nature is self policing. Because so much money is required to participate, racing obviously is dependent on corporate sponsors.
Only self destructive fools, who would lose the ability to ever get a corporate sponsor again, would allow people to drive their race cars under “the influence.”
The quickest way to “lose it all,” the funding, the prestige, and the ability to ever paticipate again in NASCAR, is to let “druggies” drive a team’s race cars.
Team owners are not fools. They did not make it to “the top” in business (or racing) by being stupid. They should not be treated like children or criminals, unless there is evidence that warrants action.
Regular mandatory testing sends a “false message” to society that says, “generally speaking, NASCAR racers have a real problem with drug use.” This is definitely not a fact!
From my perspective, NASCAR’s current drug testing policy is correct.
Unfortunately in this day and age some sort of testing is required in ALL SPORTS!
However something simple like five (5) drivers, and five (5) crew members at random every race weekend should do the trick!
Nothing complicated, nothing intense!
I’m not naive enough to state there isn’t a drug problem in NASCAR. Obviously there were at least three owners and sponsors, who weren’t aware that their drivers were using illegal drugs. People function in society daily and use drugs. Drug use isn’t always obvious. Drug testing is a fact of life in all facets of society. If you want to control it, you have to have regular random testing. If NASCAR doesn’t do it soon, the scandals will increase. At this point, we have no idea how many drivers might be using. It could be that NASCAR, being NASCAR, is afraid of what they may find.
One other point we might want to keep in mind is the attempted lynching of Tim Richmond. NASCAR falsified the test results to make everyone believe Richmond was on drugs, when it was only legal cold medication. Drug policys are sometimes used for purposes other than drug enforcement.
Drugs are everywhere! We all konw lots of doctors.lawyers,policeman,politicians that are using drugs and we don’t know it.
I think you missed the biggest thing here. It’s one thing for the driver to put his own well being at risk. That’s his decision. The problem is he’s putting everyone else’s life, drivers and crew members alike, at risk.
Unlike the stick and ball sports NASCAR actually punishes drug users. It is a major deterrent to know that if you are caught, you are gone – PERIOD!
Recent articles from Amy Henderson:
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Announces Partnership with Cessna, Textron
Fans To Decide Format of Sprint Unlimited at Daytona
UNOH and Kentucky Speedway Extend Sponsorship Agreement
Earnhardt Out For Charlotte and Kansas After Talldega Concussion
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Want to know more about Amy or see an archive of all of her articles? Check out her bio page for more information.