NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Voices from the Heartland: Despite Claims & Regardless of Guilt, NASCAR’s Drug Policy Fails

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this article, I want to apologize to my readers for some headaches that it may induce. You see, I am going to be including quotes from NASCAR CEO Brian France. In case you have not experienced these before, I would advise you read the following far away from any loaded firearms, sharp objects or anything else within reach that may be used to inflict serious bodily harm upon yourself. You will see what I mean in a moment.

As we all know, one of the major NASCAR news items these past few weeks has been the suspension of Jeremy Mayfield for “serious violations” of NASCAR’s drug policy. Well, this article is not about whether Mayfield is in fact guilty or innocent – nor is it about the merits of Jeremy’s lawsuit against NASCAR. It’s not even about the merits of NASCAR’s countersuit of Mayfield.

No, this article is about where the policy itself falls apart from square one.

On the one side, you have a professional marketing man who has procured billions of dollars in profit for his family’s business… a business which he has now inherited control over and one to which – depending on his mood – he likes to assert is either a major sport or a “show”/entertainment.

That man, of course, is Brian France.

On the other side of this argument, though, is one Dr. Gary Wadler. Dr. Wadler currently serves as the Chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) Prohibited List and Methods Sub-Committee, as well as an ex-officio member of WADA’s Health, Medicine, and Research Committee. Additionally, he has served as a Medical Advisor to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, a Trustee of the Board of the American College of Sports Medicine, and of the Women’s Sports Foundation. For his groundbreaking work in the field of drug abuse in sports, Dr Wadler received the International Olympic Committee’s President’s Prize in 1993. In 2007, he was selected by the Institute for International Sport as “One of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America” and serves as Chairman of the Communications and Information Committee of the American College of Sports Medicine.

In addition to all that fancy sports stuff, Wadler is Chairman of the American Ballet Theatre’s Medical Advisory Board, where he oversees the development of medical guidelines for the healthy and sound training of dancers in the United States – so that should cover any questions about his qualifications in the “show” or entertainment department!

At the heart of the matter here is the toughness and effectiveness of NASCAR’s drug policy – a policy which is strictly made up and changed at the whim of, when it comes down to it, one man… France. Most other professional sports, including Formula 1 racing, adhere to the guidelines set forth by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) instead.

During a recent “State of the Sport” press conference, it was expressed to France that many, if not all of the competitors in NASCAR, were nervous and even confused about the clarity of the current drug policy.

“Yeah, let me take that head on because, number one, we have had in terms of punishment, if you should test positively for a banned substance, depending on what it is, we’ve always had the toughest enforcement in sports. We’re testing more often as a result of the industry, frankly, wanting us to. So we made an already tough policy much more difficult,” said France.

Yet, despite being such a “tough” policy, one of the major problems drivers were having was the lack of a certain “list” of banned substances; or, if there is a list, just what exactly was on it.

“Actually, we do have a list,” France corrected the assembled media that day. “It’s a broad list. The drivers, it depends on which one, are happy to look at that list. We show it to them. We certainly will consider discussing that list with the media, as well. What we’re talking about now is the many different substances that are tested. There are many. What is important to note about our list which we have, or any other list, we don’t want to make it selective either. It’s not exclusive to that list. There are things in the scientific world that are changing all the time. Our laboratory would have a list and would have an expanding list, and it wouldn’t be subject to just that list.”

Whoa! Back up the cart a minute! It depends on which driver you are if NASCAR decides to let you see the list or not? Can Jeff Gordon see the list but, say, Mayfield would be denied? And what about the ambiguity of “we don’t want to make it selective either. It’s not exclusive to that list. There are things in the scientific world that are changing all the time. Our laboratory would have a list and would have an expanding list, and it wouldn’t be subject to just that list?” That leaves the door pretty wide open. In short, Brian is saying that NASCAR can pretty much determine at any time what is on “this week’s” list! Ah yes, “the list,” firmly written in pencil!

However, our world renowned sports doctor, Dr. Wadler is a little more critical and to the point.

“My understanding is that there is no published list of specific substances,” he said of NASCAR’s drug policy. “And I don’t know how a driver would be allowed to take this, that, or the other thing, be it Adderall or whatever. It’s a very unusual program, in contrast to Formula 1, which is under the rubric of the World Anti-Doping Code and follows the list of the WADA.”

“I happen to chair the committee that draws up that list, so I know the subject well, and it’s a very detailed process that we go through. Apparently, it is all in the hands of one person in NASCAR.”

When asked how well he thought NASCAR’s policy worked, Dr. Wadler’s conclusions were quite specific.

“I have been known to be critical of our professional sports in the United States and this is way, way behind those,” he continued. “To me, this is woefully lacking in all the details which are necessary to have a meaningful policy. At the heart of it, the root of all of it is what drugs are banned. If you can’t answer that question, it is a non-starter.”

OK, so whom do you think is more qualified when it comes to knowing what they are talking about concerning drug policy – the marketing man who has made billions from this sport, or the chair of the committee list maker of prohibited drugs as set forth by the WADA?

NASCAR and Brian France like to talk about the global acceptance of stock car racing, and we now have drivers from other forms of motorsports giving it a try all the time. So, isn’t it about time Brian France gave up the power trip and perhaps sought help in legitimizing his own program?

Stay off the wall (and Brian’s many, and all-inclusive lists, whatever they may be this week!),

Jeff Meyer

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