The Frontstretch: What Does Under the Influence REALLY Mean? by Mike Neff -- Thursday August 17, 2006

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What Does Under the Influence REALLY Mean?

Full Throttle · Mike Neff · Thursday August 17, 2006


Public records can reveal quite a bit of information if you know where to look. This week there were documents filed in the court case between Shane Hmiel and his former team, Braun Racing. In those documents we finally read the answers that so many of us have been asking since the failed drug tests that put Hmiel on the NASCAR blacklist starting in 2003. The court filing reveals that Shane tested positive for marijuana in 2003 and for marijuana and cocaine in 2005. There is no mention of the substances involved in the 2006 test that led to his lifetime ban from the sport.

The reason for the case is that Hmiel is seeking the pay that he earned by driving for Braun before he was banned from the sport. Hmiel believes he is owed $135,513 for the races he drove in 2005 and another $135,513 for bad faith dealings by Braun. Braun counters by saying that Hmiel signed his contract knowing that he had a drug habit which violated the terms of his contract. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

It would appear the crux of the case would be whether Hmiel was under the influence while he was operating the race car for Braun. Hmiel contends that he never did drugs while racing or preparing to race. However, he does admit that the drugs would have been in his system while he was racing the car. So does that constitute being under the influence? It is an interesting concept, however it would seem that any trace of the drugs would have some sort of impact on a driver's faculties and their general ability to pilot a race car.

If you know the history of NASCAR, it started with the running of moonshine in the 40's and 50's. There are stories about the good old days when drivers would come to Daytona for Speedweeks with a truck full of moonshine, rent out an entire floor of a hotel, and party the entire time they were in town. Certainly there were instances where drivers hit the track with a hangover that would kill an elephant. There are probably instances in very recent history where a driver has won a Busch series race and imbibed enough the night before the Cup race to cause them to be feeling the lingering effects during the Cup race.

So the question becomes, what constitutes being under the influence. If a driver can still go out and compete with the best stock car drivers in the world, and bring his car home in one piece, does it matter that there are still trace amounts of alcohol or drugs in their system? If a drug user abstains during the race weekend, are they still feeling the effects? Could their body go through withdrawals that could equally impair their abilities? It probably depends on the individual, but no matter what, it isn't a smart thing to do.

Shane Hmiel was a very promising driver who came from a racing family. His dad was an integral part of Roush Racing in his early years. He continues to work in the sport for DEI. Hmiel was given multiple opportunities, not only because of his name, but because he was a genuinely good driver. A friend of mine who used to race with him at Concord Motorsports Park said that you could count on Hmiel for one of two outcomes every week. He either came home with the trophy, or he brought it back on the rollback. Unfortunately, that is also how Shane lived his life. He lived his life with reckless abandon and it ended up ending his opportunities to drive, not only in NASCAR's upper echelon, but in any NASCAR sanctioned event anywhere.

Hmiel is still satisfying his need for speed by racing in some lesser circuits around the Southeast. Unfortunately, that is the only dream he can now have. There is no opportunity for him to move up into Trucks or Busch. He can't even run in a NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series event. Let's hope that he is getting his personal life together so that he is at least able to have a long and happy life doing whatever he chooses to do.

NASCAR has a drug testing policy for a reason. It ensures the safety of the participants in the sport whether they be crew members, drivers, officials or safety workers. Hmiel has been suspended for life, but he did drive a race car for several races in 2005. Does he deserve to be paid whether he was under some kind of influence or not? We'll have to see what the judge thinks.

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08/18/2006 03:06 AM

Good article Mike.

Because there is no easy way to know if or how much a substance classified as a “drug” affects each individual—positively or negitively, there can be no allowable limit. Same for alcohol.

I often read or hear about the safety issue involved with drug use, but I wonder if that is really the big issue?

It makes little sense to injest anything that would hinder performance. However, it WOULD make sense to injest something that would enhance performance.

Anything that artifically enhances performance would also be cheating, IMO. There ARE drugs which WILL enhance performance, but not necessarily cause a driver to be less safe. It is possible that a driver using a drug could actually be a safer driver as a result of quicker reaction times and a heightened sense or awareness, which would create an unfair advantage over drivers who do not use a drug.

I think the unfair advantage outweighs the potentially dangerous arguement. Although the continued use of performance enhancing drugs could have dangerous results.

Some drugs pass through the system quickly while others can be detected for months afterward. Not likely still under the influence—but detectable.

But, when one is involved in a sport like NASCAR, discipline is expected and rules are to be followed. If the rules said do not drink milk—a driver should not drink milk. Period.
Breaking of drug rules could indicate a charector flaw—unable to do without drugs indicates addiction. Not good.

There is also the follow the leader effect. One driver uses drugs to enhance performance and another might do the same to be equal. If we have 43 drug users running around at 200 mph,...........will Brian still call Stock Car Racing “entertainment”?

08/18/2006 03:15 AM

Whether he was under the influence or not isn’t germain to his lawsuit.

I have little doubt drivers contracts contain a morals clause. If his had one his legal stunt will be tossed out quicker than a #8 fan can throw a bottle at a winning #24.

M. B. Voelker
08/18/2006 08:23 AM

When you get right down to it, what Shane took and when is completely irrelevant.

Drugs are 100% unacceptable 100% of the time.

I’d like nothing better than to see Braun win a suit against Shane Hmiel for fraud. Because in claiming to be clean when he knew he wasn’t he not only destroyed his own life but cost the Braun team their sponsor and the race winnings that Shane would have delivered if he’d actually been clean and sober. That team has not yet truly recovered from the damage done.

Jeff Gray
08/18/2006 10:26 AM

Good story. Even after getting a second chance… twice to get help. If it were not for Shane doing drugs, he would have his pick of Cup teams about now and millions. That being said, Shane did drive those races and should be paid. Him being fired and banned from Nascar for life are bad enough.

Bubba S.
08/18/2006 01:49 PM

I think its a crock of crap to suspend the man for life it would be different if he was on the track and high but just because it was in his system, I mean come on suppose you were at a party and people were getting high around you and you breathed in fumes and you failed a drug test? Should you be canned for life from doing what you do for a living?? I have been a Nascar fan for 20+years but Im tired of the glamour its not about racing anymore its about the glamour boys and Mike Helton being a puppet I think it SUCKS NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!

08/18/2006 02:03 PM

Y’know Bubba, I could suppose he was at a party once and accidentally inhaled some fumes and failed a test. However, I don’t believe you can inhale cocaine fumes. I also don’t think you could be dumb enough to accidentally inhale some fumes the day before three random drug tests. The odds of that are simply astronimical.

Where there is smoke there is fire. If you accidentally fail a drug test because of the people you are hanging around, it is in your best interest to change your crowd before you lose your job for life.

08/18/2006 11:09 PM

I agree with NASCAR on their handling of drug use by race participants. They can’t afford to have those problems that have plagued other professional sports.

Shane Hmiel does have talent, but he also seems to have a drug addiction. He was given two chances and blew both of them. Sorry, but my “Give A Damn” supply just ran out.

There are literally hundreds of talented kids without drug problems that are racing every week-end throughout the country that will never have even one of the opportunities that Shane carelessly tossed away. Perhaps its time for him to be a man and accept responsibility for his own actions.

M. B. Voelker
08/21/2006 09:31 AM

Bubba, if your livelihood requires being clean of drugs and you know that you’re going to be tested to make sure of it then you have no business being at such a party in the first place and should have left immediately.

Choices have consequences.


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