Voices From the Heartland : Special Edition! · Jeff Meyer · Saturday April 12, 2008
It often appears that the suits in NASCAR hold all the cards; they are usually confident that no matter what the circumstances, they always have four aces up their collective sleeves. But a young driver named Aaron Fike — in his bid for eventual re-instatement as a NASCAR competitor — may have just laid down a Royal Flush.
Fike's recent admission that he used heroin on days he was scheduled to race in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series before he was suspended in July of '07 has left many in the racing world stunned, and at the very least, has Brian France and his court jesters frantically searching for a napkin to wipe the egg from their faces. One of the reasons Fike's admission is so stunning is because it is a 180 degree turn around from statements he made in an Associated Press interview last year, after undergoing 4 months of intense rehab.
“I was sporadic in my use. It wasn’t every day,” the 25-year-old driver said last November. “I made sure I was clean when I went to the track. But it was definitely consuming my life.”
While part of Fike's story has remained the same since this whole ordeal started — including the fact that he was addicted to painkillers for about six years prior — he now asserts that his "sporadic" once a week heroin use became a daily habit he couldn’t kick… even on race days.
Now of and by itself, Fike's daily admission normally would not have any effect on the powers that be in the ivory towers in Daytona. In fact, they are ignorant enough, and think people are stupid enough, that they would probably sit back, dislocate their own shoulders patting themselves on the back, saying something to the effect that their enforcement of NASCAR's Substance Abuse Policy is working splendidly. The reasons that their shoulders are still in their sockets, however, can now be counted on three fingers: Kevin Harvick, Tony Stewart and Kasey Kahne.
We’ll get to that in a minute; but first, let’s back up a few years to see how this controversy began.
“NASCAR has a zero tolerance for any type of behavior in violation of our Substance Abuse Policy,” President Mike Helton,once explained. “While our primary responsibility is the safety of our drivers and our fans, we also have a moral responsibility to protect the integrity of our sport.”
Helton said that in September of 2003, following the first suspension of then-Busch Series driver Shane Hmiel. Hmiel, who was re-instated to drive in February of '04, was suspended a second time in June of that same year for violating this same policy. Ironically, Mike Helton was quoted, verbatim, of the above in March of '04, when Kevin Grubb was suspended (the first time). Having said it twice, one would think that NASCAR is super serious about all this!
In June of 2005, I penned a column here on FS that basically said that NASCAR had no intention of "seriously" policing the sport. I said back then that, while they may go after the little guy, once he gets in trouble NASCAR wouldn't dare to test any of the big name drivers for fear of what they may find. I did not say that any big names were, in fact dirty; I just said that NASCAR never would take a chance on finding out. Too much corporate money would be at stake, making it a financial risk the sanctioning body was simply unwilling to swallow. I caught a lot of guff for that column; and NASCAR, meanwhile, continued to assert that they were tough on the issue.
In 2007, after Fike's initial arrest, NASCAR's Managing Director of Corporate Communications, Ramsey Poston, once again gave us assurance that NASCAR's policy was more than enough.
“We have much broader authority than other professional leagues,” said Poston. “We can take action based on physical signs of droopy eyes, slurred speech, etc. And there aren’t many secrets inside the garage area, so in that respect, we have some help there as well. Everyone understands what it is. The action is swift and impacting.”
This brings us back to the present day. In the response to Fike’s admissions this week within that very same garage, we now see just exactly how "everyone understands what it is,” and why those three reasons I mentioned earlier (Harvick, Stewart and Kahne) make Fike's daily heroin use admission so embarrassing to NASCAR.
“In the 10 years that I’ve raced, I’ve never been drug tested,” said Kevin Harvick, reacting to Fike's latest statements. “To me, that’s not a proper drug policy for a professional sport. We haven’t made any headway whatsoever on the drug testing policy. I have been in a race with him, and I know for a fact that he’s not the only one.”
Well, so much for there not being many secrets in the garage! Even though NASCAR may have had its head in the sand, others had their suspicions.
“I definitely wondered about Aaron, so I’m sure others did,” said Kasey Kahne. “When he said he did heroin before a race, that’s incredible that no one knew. As much money as there is in this sport, I think we should take a little more effort to make sure every driver is clean.”
“I’ve never been asked to take one yet,” added Tony Stewart to the debate. “I think it should be mandatory to have random drug testing. I think it’s a great idea. The Fike situation shows that as an organization, we’re not doing a good job of seeing this before it happens.”
At this point I must say — the column that I penned in '05 not withstanding — it simply amazes me that, even though I have been proved right, the likes of Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick HAVE NEVER BEEN CHECKED ONCE! That is simply ludicrous!
How does all this play to Aaron Fike's favor? It accomplishes a small goal that he set out to do; make NASCAR rethink its current drug testing policy, something the sport had been cleverly avoiding. And it’s working; three big names have basically backed him up, exposing NASCAR's ineptitude to give his admissions maximum impact.
Currently, Fike is racing in the USAC Midget series, where he is tested each and every time he goes to the track. Could that kind of thing happen in NASCAR, at least for those that have been in trouble before? Don't hold your breath. When told of Fike's admission, NASCAR said that while they have "kept an eye on" recently toughened drug testing policies of the "Big Four" professional sports, they still think their system is working pretty well.
“No system is perfect,” said Jim Hunter, NASCAR Vice President of Corporate Communications. “Our current policy has served us extremely well. We do have discussions from time to time regarding possible alternatives, so I wouldn’t rule those out. But I think what our policy has allowed us to do up to this certain point in time has served us well.”
Yep, so well we now find out people were racing on heroin!
This isn't rocket science here, folks! Every driver should have to pee in a cup at least once a year; twice would be even better. What's so hard about that?
So, my hat is off to Mr. Aaron Fike and to the other big names that have, once again brought this up. Anyone taking wagers that we see a change in policy in the future?
If it happens, we know who to thank.
Stay off the wall,
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