Cheryl Walker · Monday May 23, 2005
Recently, Jeff Burton, a driver who is considered by many to be the mouthpiece for safety in NASCAR racing, announced his recommendation that drug testing for drivers become mandatory.
This declaration was met by NASCAR fans with various opinions; on our own Frontstretch.com message board it was picked apart pretty thoroughly. From cheers on proactive thinking to jeers at the squashing of people’s personal rights to do what they want in the hours when they are not working, everyone had a fairly strong opinion. Burton’s motives were questioned; and some folks suggested he must be aware of an ongoing problem for him to bring this up and speak publicly about it. Even these hypothetical thoughts were scrutinized, with some saying that if Burton knows someone is ‘drugging’ while driving, he ought to just turn that person in, instead of calling for an all-out change in NASCAR policy on drug abuse.
Strangely, when this topic came up, I found myself in my driver safety classes back in high school. I do not even recall exactly what prompted the question, but a classmate was complaining about some prohibition or rule of some sort about driving. I remember our teacher saying approximately the following, “Yes. But you must remember: it is not your right to drive; it is a privilege. Therefore, looking at the situation that way, it’s hard to challenge the rules. If you want to enjoy the privilege of driving, then you must abide by the rules and expectations, or you just can’t do it anymore.”
I am sure there are other societies in the world that would accept and understand that reasoning much better than us Americans, as driving and owning a car is considered by many in the U.S.A. to be imperative and part of life itself.
Based on that thinking, however, then driving a racecar is a privilege, too. No one argues that is extremely difficult to land in the three top NASCAR series, and that one must work hard, know the right people, and be willing to put one’s heart and soul into the prospect. But nowhere is it written that a certain number of people HAVE to be stock car drivers, just as it is not mandatory to be an electrician, stockbroker, or a mail delivery person.
When you become a driver, you know that certain expectations are asked of you. You must be a responsible and intelligent driver; you must be respectful and loyal to your sponsors; and you must follow the rules, whatever they may be.
If we expect a driver to be all that, why is it such a leap to think that his sobriety and drug usage not be mandated as well? The high speeds and dangers of this sport are realities, and alcohol or drugs not prescribed by a doctor have no part in that. Businesses of all types across our nation want their employees to be responsible, sober, and not under the influence of drugs; and if you want the job, you adhere to the axioms and expectations.
Also, consider the outrage if a driver were killed in an accident on the track determined to be caused by illegal drug usage, or by a driver under the influence of alcohol? The clamoring for drug testing or breathalyzer tests, and why they hadn’t been implemented in the first place, would be shrill, accusatory, and unforgiving.
It is my opinion that driver who has nothing to hide has nothing to fear. If he or she knows they’re going to be tested randomly, they are much less likely to do drugs; and if they know there is a breathalyzer test prior to every race, you won’t show up drunk (and will make the nights that they do imbibe heavily in the middle of the week, instead of the nights before races).
The testing should be done by a firm independent of NASCAR, for those who would cry that the ‘evil-doers’ that lead NASCAR might falsify reports for superstar drivers, or otherwise tamper with results.
Yes, this is a radical change from the days when drinking while driving (on and off the track) was as close to accepted as possible, with just a wink and a smile. But sometimes change is very, very good.
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