Following the September 8th Busch Series race at Richmond International Raceway, driver Kevin Grubb refused a random drug test request, resulting in a suspension for an indefinite period of time by NASCAR. In doing so, the 28-year old Mechanicsville, Va. native may have effectively ended his career as a stock car driver within the sanctioning body, despite the controversy surrounding his latest suspension. Unfortunately for Grubb, it’s a career NASCAR had every right to grind to a halt, with a drug policy they’re obligated to enforce, no matter what type of extenuating circumstances may exist.
Before his latest, greatest brush with the NASCAR drug policy, Grubb had previously been suspended in March of 2004 for failing a NASCAR mandated drug test, and had just competed in his fifth Busch race after finally being reinstated by NASCAR earlier this summer. The driver, as part of his reinstatement agreement, had participated in a drug rehabilitation program with random drug testing during his period of suspension, and was required to submit to continued random drug testing at times and places of NASCAR’s choosing following his reinstatement.
After wrecking out of the race on lap 1 at Richmond, Grubb was transported to the track’s infield care center for a cursory medical evaluation, and upon the completion of that examination was requested by NASCAR officials to submit to a drug test… a test he simply refused. NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said, “He did not give any reason Friday night, he just refused twice to submit to a test and part of his reinstatement was that he would agree.” Hunter continued, “Our medical liaisons have experience and know what they are doing, and they explained the consequences to him several times (to no avail).”
Based on those comments, it seems we have a simple open and shut case, right? One would think so. However, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Grubb claims to have no memory of refusing to submit to a drug test after his crash. Grubb is quoted by the Richmond, Va. newspaper as saying, “I don’t remember most of being at the track. I had people pulling me in 20 different directions. I ended up leaving from what I understand.” Grubb further reported that when he woke up Sunday morning, he couldn’t remember what day it was and felt terrible, so he went to a hospital and was then diagnosed with a concussion.
Grubb theorizes on his reason for refusing the mandatory testing by stating to the Times-Dispatch, “I’m guessing that explains me acting crazy at the track. I didn’t know what was going on.” At the time of the interview, Grubb also expressed his willingness to be tested immediately.
Though this explanation by the driver might seem by some to be both farfetched and a desperate attempt on his part to salvage his career and circumvent the clearly stated terms of his reinstatement, it is a plausible explanation of why he might have chosen to not submit to the required test. Even though Grubb had received a medical checkup following his wreck it is not improbable, or for that matter particularly rare, for a concussion to go undetected by medical examiners immediately following a traumatic event such as a wreck. As explained to this reporter, it is possible for a patient to have such a release of adrenaline after such an event that it could serve to mask symptoms of a concussion. In instances where such symptoms are detected, NASCAR routinely transports drivers to a medical facility for further and more comprehensive medical care; in this case, they did not, but that doesn’t mean their doctors are always perfect.
Now, NASCAR traditionally is very cautious in divulging specifics of cases involving medical and substance abuse monitoring as it relates to individuals involved since such information is not only personal, but in most cases governed by confidentiality laws. Racing fans as well as writers will never be fully informed by the sanctioning organization of all information surrounding NASCAR’s decision to again suspend Grubb, or what, if any, criteria that will be negotiated between them and the driver which would allow for reinstatement at some future date. Based on what is known to have transpired, though, NASCAR should err on the side of safety and stand by its decision to not allow Grubb to race. Although it would be unfortunate if Grubb’s explanation as to why he refused the test is entirely truthful, how would anyone ever know for sure? It’s admirable that Grubb later offered to submit to testing, but such testing would not necessarily mirror a September 8th test, had permission been granted by Grubb in the first place. Truly, what Grubb is asking for is another chance, and NASCAR can’t accommodate him… for the stakes are too high.
At present, the NASCAR substance abuse testing policy is seen as the most unobtrusive and most lenient of all major sports in this country, as the organization only requires testing to be performed when there is cause for “reasonable suspicion.” That’s completely unlike the more aggressive “mandatory random drug testing” policy that has been implemented by the major league stick-and-ball sports, wherein participants in those professional organizations are randomly tested without prior notification or any allegations of wrongdoing.
In fact, legendary NFL three-time Super Bowl winning head coach and three-time NASCAR Cup Series championship team owner Joe Gibbs believes that stock car racing would better serve its participants by adopting a mandatory testing policy. “I thought the (NFL) rules were the only way you have a chance to help somebody, and the only way to keep them from having a problem is through random drug testing,” Gibbs says. “That’s it. That’s what the NFL did. You could have a drug test two weeks in a row or you could miss for six, seven or eight weeks. But the thought, especially for young athletes, is that the practice is random, and I run the chance of losing my career. I think it’s the right thing to do, especially if you’re driving racecars.”
However, NASCAR believes that their policy, which governs all drivers, mechanics, team members and officials participating in the Craftsman Truck Series, Busch Series, and Nextel Cup does serve to discourage substance abuse. The official policy, adopted and largely unchanged since 1988, encourages “whistle blowing” by other competitors when there is suspicion of drug use in the garage area, as well as observation by NASCAR officials trained in the detection of suspicious behavior. Due to the close proximity and familiarity that officials have with drivers and teams, it is believed that an individual violating the drug policy would be identified in a timely manner without need for mandatory testing. Furthermore, many race teams have, as a condition of their employment, drug screening policies that their drivers and crew members are subject to, in addition to that of NASCAR’s.
As a result of all this, you have a reasonable, practical, and humanistic policy that the privately owned organization has adopted. Though some might assume that the sanctioning organization chooses not to implement a mandatory testing policy because they don’t really want to know how far-reaching drug use might be in the three racing series, it is important to understand that in some ways, mandatory testing would be the easy way out for NASCAR. Many companies have adopted a mandatory testing policy, as well as a zero tolerance stance. When empoloyees are found through random testing to have an illegal substance in their system, their employment is effectively terminated, many times with very little hope of ever regaining their jobs. Legally, random drug testing is the easiest policy to defend, wherein no one is singled out for testing and there is little risk of being sued for forms of harassment or defamation should an individual tested return a “clean” result.
Certainly, a zero tolerance policy would be justifiable. It could be easily argued that in a sport where drivers are engaged in door-to-door competition in 3,400 pound racecars running at speeds of 200 mph, there is no room for anyone that has proven to have a tendency to use substances that could impair judgment and reflexes. Still, NASCAR gives people second chances, as three times they have allowed drivers opportunities for reinstatement in the past five years. Unfortunately, in all three instances, the drivers have failed, in the end, to comply, with each non-compliance bringing with it negative publicity to the sport. In 2003, Craftsman Truck Series driver Brian Rose was suspended for failing to report to a NASCAR-mandated testing facility, and instead reported to one of his choosing. Rose was later arrested on, among other violations, drug possession. Also in 2003, Busch driver Shane Hmiel was suspended for failing a drug test on the basis of reasonable suspicion and was reinstated after fulfilling NASCAR’s counseling and random testing requirements during his period of suspension. Subsequent to resuming his career in February of 2004, Hmiel was once more suspended in June of 2005 for failing a drug test yet another time, and is presently suspended from competing in any NASCAR-sanctioned events.
We will never know with any degree of certainty what Grubb’s mental state was the night he refused to submit to the drug test, but no matter the real truth, NASCAR simply cannot allow him to compete at this time. Perhaps, after an even more intense and regimented set of requirements for reinstatement have been met, Grubb can be given the third chance he seeks to resume his career. But for now, there is simply doubt; and doubt is not acceptable when the safety of 42 other drivers need to be considered.