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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