The Frontstretch: Matt McLaughlin Mouths Off: Mayfield Innocent Until Proven Guilty by Matt McLaughlin -- Thursday May 14, 2009

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News broke shortly before last weekend’s Darlington race that owner/driver Jeremy Mayfield had tested positive for a banned substance after a random test conducted under NASCAR’s new drug program. Mayfield was the first driver to run afoul of that new testing program and, obviously, the news raised some eyebrows.

Let me go on record as supporting the new drug policy. While players in stick and ball sports generally harm only themselves and the rules of fairness when they take performance-enhancing concoctions or illegal drugs, in racing drivers are often running door-to-door with their competitors at high rates of speed. A driver who is in any way impaired could seriously injure or even kill another innocent driver with one simple mistake. And, as we saw recently at Talladega, even the fans are at risk after a particularly bad wreck.

Unlike back in my youth, we now know that impairment goes beyond the period when a driver is actually drinking or taking drugs. If a guy goes out and ties one on the night before or gets stoned, he might not be visibly impaired come race time — but his reaction times are still compromised, thus rendering him unfit to compete. (Or operate a vehicle on the road, for that matter.) The good old days of guys like Curtis Turner and Joe Weatherly partying until hours before a race are behind us. How different are things now? Buck Baker once admitted prior to a race on a hot afternoon it might be nice to enjoy some cold beer during the event. Thus, Baker recalled, he filled a “douche bag” with beer, put it inside his car, and rigged a hose so he could have a sip of beer whenever he chose. As it turned out, the constant vibration inside the race car rendered the beer too foamy to be fit for consumption, so Baker was only able to enjoy a few sips during the pace laps. One can only imagine how NASCAR and the fans would react now if we found out one of the drivers had rigged up a system so he could drink during a race…

NASCAR’s new drug policy, enacted this year, was borne off former Truck Series driver Aaron Fike’s admission he had used heroin even on days he raced. The old drug policy had been that if a driver appeared impaired, he could be asked to take a drug test. Fike slipped through the cracks on that one; needless to say, the new policy is better.

But the new policy is also imperfect. It needs to be fixed… and fixed right now, given that a driver, even one of Mayfield’s journeyman stature, has his entire career hanging in the balance. Mayfield says he applauds the new drug policy and that the only “drugs” he took were an over the counter allergy medication and a prescription allergy medication. I can vouch for something like that being possible. As an allergy sufferer myself, this seems to be one of the worst pollen seasons in recent memory — at least in these parts. At times, there’s a green fog of pollen you can see blowing across the rear fields here on a breezy afternoon. So far this year, I’ve taken more of my preferred over the counter allergy medicine than I did all of last year just to stay functional.

Although NASCAR has indefinitely suspended Jeremy Mayfield from competition, Matt McLaughlin says he should remain innocent until proven guilty.

NASCAR won’t say what substance Mayfield took was discovered in the test. Nor will they even say what drugs are on their banned list — other than telling drivers they will be looking for steroids, speed, and recreational drugs. That’s not good enough. There needs to be a list of banned substances, so if a driver tests positive he can have his own independent test done in an attempt to prove he was clean. If, in fact, there are over the counter cold and allergy medicines or legal dietary supplements or energy drinks that will trigger a positive test, NASCAR participants need to know what they are so they can avoid them if at all possible. A list of banned prescription drugs should be a matter of public record, as well.

Now, most drivers are smart enough to know that if they’ve been prescribed “Oxycontin” for pain, they shouldn’t be racing. In fact, any medicine that states in the small print “Don’t operate a car or heavy machinery (especially at 185 miles per hour an inch off another guy’s rear bumper…)” should be banned during race weekends. But I think we can all recall many Olympic athletes who were banned from competing at events or stripped of their medals when the only “drugs” they took were prescription inhalers for their asthma they didn’t know contained banned substances (like tiny amounts of steroids.) The Olympic committee has since continually upgraded and made available to competitors and the media lists of banned substances, ones that include dietary supplements you or I could walk into a health food store and buy legally — if not wisely.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if the banned “substance” that NASCAR discovered was Claritin, an OTC allergy remedy that is a featured sponsor on Carl Edwards’ car? Likewise, I have to wonder if some of these new super energy drinks that are sponsors or co-sponsors of other entries might, in fact, be banned. Last summer, my buddy offered me one of those little vials of “energy” they sell at the counter of convenience stores to get my notoriously late sleeping butt going during a vacation. I ended up with such a case of the shakes, I decided I was unfit to operate a jetski and had chest pains bad enough that I almost went to the hospital. And that’s from someone who routinely downs 60 ounces of coffee a day… before noon.

Secondly, NASCAR needs to make public what substance it is they say that Mayfield or any other competitor tested positive for to earn their punishment. NASCAR might wish to cite privacy concerns — but that all goes out the window when a suspension is announced. At that point, the driver is publicly humiliated as is an intended part of the process. The wheels of justice might turn slower in MLB, but when Manny Ramirez was recently suspended, it was clearly stated what substances were found and how much of the stuff was found. Ramirez sheepishly admitted he had, in fact, ingested that chemical as part of a legal dietary supplement marketed nationally. He admitted his own ignorance in not reading the label or consulting his trainers because he, in fact, knew the substance was banned.

Editor’s Note: The U.S. Government also enacted recent privacy laws that make this an even tricker subject for NASCAR. View them here; as you can see, there are certain legal issues at play here the sport does need to contend with.

I’m not saying that Mayfield is innocent. Maybe he’s been caught red-handed. But Mayfield is innocent until proven guilty, and the fact NASCAR says he failed the test is not proof of guilt. If you or I are ticketed for speeding by an officer wielding a radar gun, we have our day in court to try to show that radar gun was calibrated incorrectly, used incorrectly, used by an untrained operator, or might have been clocking another car running in a lane beside us. If we can convince a judge or a jury of our peers that was the case, the mere fact we signed the ticket isn’t proof of guilt. As an aside, the presumption of innocence is under serious attack in places other than the halls of NASCAR. Here in Pennsylvania, our cars carry plates only in the rear. Red light cameras installed in the area show a picture of a car and plate rolling through a red light… but contain no image of the driver. Under current law, the registered owner of the vehicle is ticketed, and the cops say it’s up to that driver to show who was driving the car. Well under our Constitution, it’s up to the cops to prove who was driving the car — and I take that as a serious affront. Yeah, that’s my car, and it went through the red light. But given the presumption of innocence afforded me, you need to prove it was me at the wheel. Continuing along those lines, the ownership and possession of a handgun used in a felony, combined with forensic evidence that weapon was used to commit a crime, is not enough evidence to convict. Then, of course, we have the whole suspension of Habeas Corpus and the Patriot Act… but I’m not going into politics here.

Instead, my chief concern is reminding us all NASCAR’s track record in drug testing is less than perfect and, in one instance, was used to destroy the career of an innocent driver they didn’t care for with premeditation and malice. Even the media has its own list of mistakes. As recently as last year, Truck Series driver Ron Hornaday was accused in a story of using steroids. It seemed a slam dunk case, an aging athlete using a performance-enhancing drug to compete against younger men. Hang him! Only the steroids in question were a topical cream prescribed by a doctor to treat a somewhat serious medical condition, not a performance enhancer.

Then, we had the sad case of Tim Richmond. Richmond missed the start of the 1987 Cup season and clearly wasn’t well. Even when he did return, it was clear that something wasn’t right with his health. It all came to a head when Richmond overslept in his coach and almost missed qualifying at Michigan. There were rumors Tim was using drugs, including heroin and cocaine fueled by his partying lifestyle and connections to Hollywood. (And a good deal of jealousy about the company he kept.) Only Tim wasn’t on drugs… he was dying of AIDS. At that point, AIDS was commonly referred to as a “gay flu” or Divine punishment by an Old Testament God for needle drug users. At that point, few people realized that AIDS could be transmitted by good old heterosexual sex. To admit he had AIDS would have further fueled the rumors Tim was a drug addict (nobody with half a brain was going to think he was gay, given Tim’s taste for pretty women…and lots of them.)

After missing the last half of 1987, Tim Richmond announced he was going to try to compete in the 1988 Busch Clash, a relatively short race that would give him a chance to access his abilities to compete in longer events. He had a car lined up and ready to go, as well as a sponsor to support his effort. But before allowing a return to competition, NASCAR decided to make Richmond take a drug test. Well aware that finding AZT in his blood would reveal his secret, Tim had stopped taking it a month before the race weekend. Having been threatened with drug tests before, that same day he provided a sample to an independent lab before his NASCAR-mandated pee test.

NASCAR announced Tim had failed his drug test. Once again, they wouldn’t say what substance they had found… but Tim Richmond was banned from the sport “indefinitely.” Tim was humiliated and dishonored. And naturally, he was enraged. Faced with the evidence from the independent lab, NASCAR was forced to admit later the “banned substance” found in Tim’s urine was an over the counter cold remedy.

Let me address an issue here before it is raised again. Some have defended NASCAR’s big lie, claiming they knew Tim had AIDS. If Tim was in a bad wreck and was bleeding heavily, his infected blood could have put track safety personnel at risk, the logic goes. Sorry. EMTs and police officers in our country are routinely called to traffic accidents, shootings, and stabbings involving individuals infected with AIDS. They take proper precautions. They glove up. They wash up afterwards. We as a society can not banish those with AIDS to some modern day leper colonies because we fear infection.

Anyway, Tim sued NASCAR. Their guilt was clearly evident, and he should have won millions. But NASCAR got a friendly judge to agree that as part of the suit, Tim would have to submit his medical records. To do so would have revealed Tim was dying of AIDS; he’d have been ostracized, and likely evicted from his home. An out of court settlement was reached, and Tim never raced again.

The parallels here make me uneasy. Mayfield says he took only over the counter medicines and others prescribed to him by a doctor. NASCAR won’t say what they claim they found. Maybe NASCAR can make their case and Mayfield deserves to be suspended. But until presented with compelling evidence that shows me without a doubt Mayfield knowingly violated the sport’s drug policy, I am offering him the presumption of innocence. I didn’t confer that right on him; the Constitution does, and way too many men and women have died defending those inalienable rights.

This might just become a test case that validates or invalidates NASCAR’s drug policy. Regardless, I hope they conduct themselves with honor and fairness this time. Because the only thing worse than no drug policy is an unfair drug one that destroys the careers and lives of the innocent. And full transparency is what is called for right now to prove NASCAR isn’t railroading another innocent victim.

Contact Matt McLaughlin

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05/14/2009 03:27 AM

Yet again, NASCAR itself has broken rules 12-4-a, actions detrimental to stock car racing.

I personally don’t like Mayfield. But to not even publish a list of what substances are banned? That is pretty insane. Even blood pressure medicine says not to operate heavy machinery until you know how it will effect you. Give him a chance to clear himself before ejecting him from the sport.

Way too many over the counter drugs these days that can have just about anything in them. I was a “victim” of using Met-RX back in the days it had a semi-legal form of steroids in it. Worked great too. :) But I would have at least liked to have known it was in there. I do have some medical problems that could possibly be related, but no way to prove it.

I could go on for hours about “drugs” and the legality of them. There isn’t anything stopping these guys driving hungover as hell. Someone has a “stomach bug” or the “flu” every week. But my point is that alcohol is the only “drug” that can be tested if it is currently effecting you. Who cares if a driving was smoking pot on a Monday night? But test him a week later and he still tests positive, and there currently isn’t a way around this… and I don’t think anyone is trying to find one.

Maybe Kyle Bush’s amazing abilities all have to do with those NOS Energy drinks. You always see him pounding one. And as Wallace’s 5 Hour Energy drink states, no crashes. Yeah, those others do cause you to crash. So should caffeine and sugar be banned too?

Yeah, I want the drivers to be sober on the track. Lives are at stake. But then should a driver be allowed to drive when he is sick? Isn’t that a form of impairment? Especially when it is to the point that they have a backup driver ready?

Some common sense needs to be used. …and NASCAR not being so secret about everything.

05/14/2009 07:28 AM

I agree with most of what you say, Matt, but I think it’s interesting that no one questioned the validity of the policy or the tests until a driver got nailed. What about when about half a dozen crew members lost their jobs? Does it have to be a driver for us to care about whether he’s been falsely accused?

M.B. Voelker
05/14/2009 07:49 AM

A. Nascar isn’t the government so the legal “Innocent until proven guilty” principle isn’t relevant. Nascar, a private business, has the absolute right to issue or refuse credentials for anyone for any reason or no reason.

B. Allowing Mayfield to practice and attempt to qualify while they did the retest on the B sample WAS giving him the benefit of the doubt. The possibility of a false positive is what the B sample is for.

C. As Kenny Wallace said on Race Day, drivers and their doctors can discuss medications and drivers routinely inform Nascar about every medication and supplement they take so its on record just in case.

Biffle said that he didn’t get timely information about a painkiller recently — so he did the smart thing and didn’t take it. Mayfield could have made the same choice.

D. MANY common OTC meds can impair function. Due to a disability, I don’t even have a drivers’ liscence, but if I took a Benedryl and tried to drive it would be entirely just to jail me for putting others at risk that way.

Its not Nascar’s job to read the fine print on the medicine bottle for the drivers — they’re adults with functioning brains.

E. The weird obsession some fans have with Tim Richmond is completely irrelevant to the current situation. The only difference between Tim Richmond and Shane Hmiel is that Shane got caught before his disastrous life-choices killed him.

If you applied common sense, instead of fan-fanaticism and knee-jerk, anti-Nascar bias, you’d see that this strict policy protects drivers from the impulse to throw their career and life away because they can’t pretend that they won’t get caught.

F. Do a little research on that stack of forms you signed at your doctor’s office and learn what “medical privacy” means. Its not just a suggestion, its Federal Law.

Nascar CANNOT release the specifics about a failed drug test even if they wanted to.

05/14/2009 08:09 AM

None of us know what happened here. NASCAR for some reason is very secretive about its drug policy. This isn’t a medical privacy issue, MB, it is a workplace issue. Other sports reveal what a participant has taken that caused the positive results. Drug tests fail about 10% of the time and they aren’t reliable when it comes to combinations of OVTC drugs as well as some foods. Until NASCAR is more public with its drug testing there will always be questions like this. I agree, Matt, we need much more information.

05/14/2009 08:14 AM

MB, one note on your response…nascrap CAN release the results of Mayfield’s drug test WITH HIS PERMISSION. If he failed to give his permission, then it is safe to assume that he is guilty since a negative test would not have hurt him.

05/14/2009 08:52 AM

The single biggest problem here (with the Mayfield situation) is THE TOTAL LACK OF NA$CRAP CREDIBILITY!

Over the years NA$CRAP has proven time and time again they cannot consistently do ANYTHING!

EVERY move NA$CRAP makes is suspect as to intent and purpose!

If this organizing body, led by that alcoholic Brian France by the way, EVER had shown ANY consistencies in applying their rule book (oh, one does really exist? WOW! was it written in pencil with eraser attached?), then we would not be having these discussions on Mayfield being guilty or not!

CREDIBILITY here is the issue, and not credibility on Jeremy’s part!

05/14/2009 09:22 AM

Johnboy, I suggest you rewind there. Since there’s no appeal process either, Mayfield is almost certain to have to resort to a lawsuit, so there are legal repercussions to him making statements at this time. You can bet that his press release and his declining interviews is absolutely being dictated by his lawyers.

Gordon, you’re quite wrong. There have been quite a few news articles and blog posts over the last few months that criticised the lack of a list of banned substances. Go back and check out last September when it was first announced, and again in mid-February after the preseason drivers meeting.

Carl D.
05/14/2009 11:14 AM

I agree with 99% of what you say, but making public the drug that a driver has tested positive for is just wrong. I commented about this yesterday on Bowles column, but it bears repeating.

That “the driver is publicly humiliated as is an intended part of the process” is completely your opinion, unless Brian France has taken you into his confidence (fat chance). Just stating that a driver has been suspended for failing a drug test is not only embarrassing enough for the driver, he has to deal with the business ramifications of the suspension as well, and I’m betting no sponsor short of High Times magazine wants to be associated with a drug abuser.

I love this website and the commentary is always interesting and enlightening, but this obsession that the Frontstretch writers seem to have with needing to publicize the specific banned substance Mayfield tested positive for seems a bit tabloid-ish. While People magazine may be read by more people than any Frontstretch column, it can usually be found in the bathroom next to the toilet.

05/14/2009 12:15 PM

In 1990, The New York Times reported that Dr. Forest Tennant, who was at that time the National Football League’s drug adviser, “falsified drug tests” that ultimately helped shorten Tim Richmond’s NASCAR career. Washington television station WJLA-TV, in early 1990, reported that sealed court documents and interviews showed Tennant and NASCAR used “allegedly false drug-test results in 1988 to bar Richmond from racing”. Reporter Roberta Baskin stated that NASCAR had targeted Richmond, requesting that Tennant establish a substance-abuse policy with Richmond in mind. “A series of drug tests and falsely reported positive results shortly before the 1988 Daytona 500 kept Richmond from driving in what was to have been his last big race. . .”, the report said. While neither Tennant nor NASCAR supplied an official response at the time, NASCAR did confirm that they were seeking to replace Tennant

05/14/2009 12:24 PM

FOLLOW THE MONEY! With Claritin being the rumoured OTC drug that caused Mayfield’s failed test, NA$CRAP WILL NEVER ADMIT that it was. With Claritin being a NA$CRAP $pon$er, NA$CRAP will do everything it can to protect those $pon$orShip $$$. Carl Edwards will be permitted to continue using Claritin Clear to remain ALERT and FOCUSED ON and OFF THE RACETRACK. Checkout This whole thing SMELLS big time. Mayfield should get the best lawyer available and force the issue. Can you say “Out of court settlement”?

Bill B
05/14/2009 12:34 PM

We all know how heavy handed NASCAR can be. Without publicly posting the list of drugs and the specific findings of any failed tests, they can, as they always like to, play god. Let’s say a driver starts trying to form a union, which we all know NASCAR vehemently opposes, how easy would it be to suspend a driver for a bogus drug test failure.

We have all seen in the past that if a person bucks NASCAR’s will, they can easily be blacklisted from the sport. To me the way this drug testing is set up just gives NASCAR another way to keep everyone under their thumb.I believe testing is necessary but I am suspicious of NASCAR even when everything is spelled out on paper. To me this is just another tool they have to control their monopoly.

Bill B
05/14/2009 12:41 PM

One other point. People say get a lawyer and take them to court and that is a legitimate recourse however, a driver could watch years of their career go by while the case meandered it’s way through the legal process. In the end the driver may win but so what, they’ve lost their career in the meantime.

Kathy K
05/14/2009 02:05 PM

Good article Matt! I agre Bill B. A lawsuit would be a last resort for Mayfield as it would be a certain end to his career.

05/14/2009 02:26 PM

M.B. , using a quote from Kenny Wallace to bolster your claim , shows you’re stretching pretty far out there to make your case .Kenny Wallace ??? OMG .
Nascar most certainly would , and for that matter have , publicly humiliate a competitor if it benefited them .
And if the Tim Richmond episode says anything about Nascar and the “ doctors “ they hire , it says that Nascar obviously can’t be trusted to give truthfull information if a lie serves better . And that means every drivers’ career hangs on whether they have offended , or stood up to Nascar .
And no one , not even private business has the right to accuse without proof . The law is real clear on thar subject .

05/14/2009 04:30 PM

All NASCAR has to say is it wasn’t pseudoephedrine sulfate which is the active ingredient in Claritan-D, the supposed OTC drug used. They said it wasn’t alcohol so they could say it wasn’t pseudoephedrine sulfate (legally speaking). If it’s not this OTC that pumps so much money into NASCAR, then just say it and get over all of the speculation. If it is, that’s why you don’t here word one from NASCAR.

05/14/2009 05:08 PM

now now matt…..back when tim was sick, a standard of care was still being established for dealing with hiv positive individuals. i know cause my brother is Lt with fire dept and back in the 80’s he was exposed to the virus. they were only required to single glove. he slipped person od’ing threw up, my bro had abrasion on his hand from slipping, and then 6 mos of antiviral cocktails and mental stress of having been exposed, plus the exposure to his family.

all i know is i take an incredible amount of med for allergies and asthma. if for some reason i take claritin, i stop taking my prescribed allergy medication as it would be way too much crap in my system. only time i take clartin d is when my ears are so plugged my 180 mg of allegra can’t handle it. i vividly remember days in the 70’s of taking 3-4 cold tablets on a friday night to beat the cold out of me. boy was i foggy and buzzed for a few days. now, if i don’t have a script, i don’t use it. even have to watch vitamins and supplements too. and for those “energy” drinks…well anyone with any moderate blood pressure fluctuations, that will send you into hyper city. i don’t know how these kids chug red bull morning noon and night. just a sip of rooster booster one day, and it was diluted in ice, had me shaking for 12 hrs. and i always said that kenny wallace used a bit too much stacker 2/3 when they were his sponsor. i often wonder about stephen wallace.

we all know na$car will do whatever they want to do. it’s their game, if you don’t like the changing and interpretation of the rules, take your car and go somewhere else, and good luck as they’re the big money monopoly.

05/14/2009 09:16 PM

TO: “sobrairk”

A VERY, VERY, BIG THANK YOU for your wonderful writing on how this idiot organization called NA$CRAP has handled these situations in the past!

We could not believe them in the past, we should not believe them now! In fact the credibility of NA$CRAP has deteriorated dramatically in the past years!

How sad this is!

What once was a Sunday of joy and excitement, has turned into a Sunday of comedy’s, and (probably) now lies once again.

Again a big thanks for a job well done!

05/14/2009 11:14 PM

It must be nice to have all the answers all the time. But for all us unenlightened goof offs who don’t know our tail from a hole in the ground, right on Matt. This sight is about provoking thought, not abusing someone, other than France and Co., and is not scientific by any means. We are not lawyers, we are working people who until recently enjoyed racing as a pasttime. As for Tim Richmond, he has been dead for over 20 years, please, for the Love of God, let him rest in peace. I very seriously doubt Mayfield had Claratin in his system, but if he did, we will never know. NISNADS is not about to mess with a sponsor, unless it somehow competes with Sprint or whatever its current weekly branding is.

If you read some of these people, we should all drink the Kool-Aid, love Kyle Busch, and give Brian France a big old sloppy Kiss. I will do all but three of those things.

05/17/2009 12:51 PM

Tim Richmond is very relevant because he was the main reason NASCAR is getting questioned on the Mayfield issue in my opinion. Same family just the third generation. NASCAR blew its credibility in the Richmond fiasco and I think the media and fans have every right to ask questions of NASCAR and seeing as how “the fans” are so important to NASCAR or more like the fans money is important. NASCAR has to be more open on this issue. I don’t like France’s statement that if we put out a list of drugs then there’s no latitude. Um, jackass, this is not your rulebook, it’s a list of banned substances. You better make damned sure someone is without a shadow of a doubt positive or you just killed a guy’s career unjustly… again.

Also, Dr. Black just needs to quit talking. The more he says the more credibility he loses. I guess he has the only drug lab in the entire world that has never made an error on a test. How this lab in Tennessee has so much more sophistication than labs in France (Tour de France) England (Premier League) Switzerland (Olympics) or Japan is beyond me.

But drivers are “independent contractors” so in effect NASCAR can and does what the hell it wants.

Robert Eastman
05/17/2009 10:26 PM

Pot is now a prescription drug… in California. Maybe Jeremy will petition NASCAR to let him drive at Auto Club Speedway and Sonoma since he would be legal in that state… if that’s his drug of choice. Haha!
No one , not even NASCAR, can keep Mayfield from revealing to the media/public, the drugs he’s taking. NASCAR could then refute or confirm his statement. He could challenge them to make public their findings. If he is innocently mixing legal prescription medication with OTC, the fans will definitely support him. As it stands now, everyone concerned is just playing games. Jeremy, help yourself by being honest/open or if your embarrassed, get with their program and SHUT-UP!