Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Rusty Wallace Steps-Up And Calls For Changes

NASCAR Now faced a big issue on Wednesday when it had to address the recent drug admissions of Aaron Fike and the subsequent topic of NASCAR's seemingly out-of-date drug policy.

Fike disclosed to ESPN's Ryan McGee that his painkiller and heroin addiction had included racing when he was under the influence. The simple admission was shocking.

Taking this ESPN the Magazine story and translating it to TV meant that only one person could deliver the content. The NASCAR Now production team followed through by having Ryan McGee interviewed by host Nicole Manske at the top of the show.

McGee was outstanding in delivering the information without criticizing Fike or inserting his own opinion of the situation. He simply delivered the content from his interview of Fike and his subsequent story. McGee should be a regular visitor to this program if he continues to work the NASCAR beat for ESPN the Magazine.

NASCAR spokesman Ramsey Poston was on by phone and repeated the policy of the organization that has been in-place for many years. Manske pressed Poston on several points, but he made it clear that NASCAR is going to continue to drug test for "reasonable suspicion" only at this time.

While Brad Daugherty and Rusty Wallace appeared next to address the drug testing issue, it was Wallace who spoke-out once again. Manske got Wallace wound-up and Rusty said what many inside and outside the industry have been saying. It was time for a change.

Drawing an interesting parallel to the passing of Dale Earnhardt Sr. and the resulting emphasis on safety, Wallace suggested Fike admitting that he raced in NASCAR on heroin should also start the ball rolling on changes. He specifically mentioned random post-race testing and mentioned that his own racing company randomly drug tests employees of all types every month.

Next up was Mike Skinner, and Manske did not mince words when she asked him about his own son being arrested for drugs and if this new drug culture should result in change. Skinner was up-front as always, and said he was not opposed to all NASCAR drivers being regularly tested. As with most drivers, Skinner tried to remain positive about the sport and not allow this topic to grow.

It was Dr. Gary Wadler from the World Anti-Doping Agency who put things quietly in perspective and left NASCAR a lot to ponder. Asked specifically about heroin, Wadler said regular users may not exhibit any signs that non-heroin users would notice. Other than the often mentioned needle marks and perhaps a somewhat tired appearance, Wadler said what many already knew. Often, there is no way to tell.

If anyone on the NASCAR Now staff tried to tell Chip Ganassi in advance that he would be asked about NASCAR's drug policy, Ganassi must not have answered the phone. After a couple of brief questions about why several of his NASCAR teams were running poorly, Manske asked Ganassi point blank "how would you like to see NASCAR do its drug testing?"

For the first time in perhaps decades, Chip Ganassi was speechless. Telling Manske that she caught him off-guard, Ganassi opted-out and toed the party line. He did add that that NASCAR should do what every other (professional) sport is doing in terms of testing.

In thirty minutes, Manske and NASCAR Now had the original reporter that broke the story, a NASCAR spokesman, two ESPN NASCAR analysts, a current driver who raced with Fike, a top drug testing authority and a multi-series car owner.

This is exactly the type of content and the style of delivery that NASCAR fans have been asking for in this TV series. Manske can now ask the hard questions without being rude, and has a good sense of when enough is enough. In this program, she never let-up and kept the intensity and the drug testing theme going for the entire thirty minutes.

This show was a good response to an important story in a timely fashion. It focused on information and did not promote hype or speculation. The continuing maturity of the personnel involved in NASCAR Now both in-front of and behind the camera where news priorities and story content are concerned has been fun to watch this season.

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Anonymous said...

Although your interpretations of what Rusty and the doctor meant with their words may be different than mine, I think we can agree that this was a great addition of NASCAR Now. The high profile guests make it interesting to watch and I must say Manske is doing a great job with her interviews.


Lou, Kingston,NY said...

Ms Manske for the second nignt in a row asked the approiate questions. Gotta love the Rusty Wallace interview. He got right to the point, BRAVO

Anonymous said...

"great addition of NASCAR Now."

sorry, I meant "edition".


Tracy said...

Rusty Wallace - you go, man!

I was a bit annoyed that Manske kept asking "would you be afraid to drive with Fike in the field?" This wasn't about Fike. This was about all the other drivers who won't be tested regularly. I think it was Skinner who said Fike, if he ever drove again, would be watched like a hawk (to paraphrase).

Clearly, it's the other non-tested drivers and pit crew members who are the issue.

Good line-up. Basically, a good show.

Newracefan said...

I thought this new information was handles professionally and without sensationalism. Nicole did an excellent job and asked many of the questions I was also asking. I will continue to watch NN to see how this mess plays out. I'm also interested to hear what the Speed and Fox guys will say about Fike's statements

Anonymous said...

Excellent and quick response by NASCAR Now to focus on this issue from all sides. That's what a NASCAR news program is all about. Having Ryan McGee on was great.

But I was very puzzled that Nicole - three separate times to three separate people - asked if Aaron Fike should be allowed to come back to NASCAR. It seemed to be her main focus today, which was strange because that was not the focus of the article. The focus was that he slipped under the radar of NASCAR's drug policy and wants people to know that something like that could happen again.

It made me wonder if Nicole read the two articles on the site. Coming back to NASCAR anytime in the near future appears to be very low on Aaron's priority list and he also appears to realize that he may never get back into NASCAR. He said if he doesn't get back in but helped by being one of the guys to get drugs out of NASCAR then that would be OK.

Rusty seemed to think it falls more in the hands of the team owners to test rather than NASCAR. While it's fine for team owners to test, I think NASCAR could do random testing of all its personnel and contractors (drivers) like other sports.

Also thought the expert didn't sound very expert and like he hadn't read up on Fike or the effects of narcotics on racing before the interview. And he commends NASCAR for their policy just because they've had a drug policy since 1988? Who cares if they've had it for 20 years if it's outdated?

I would have much preferred to hear from someone with MLB steroids testing experience, the person who is implementing the PGA testing since that's new and they were initially reluctant, or the
professor quoted in the ESPN article.

Finally, it always puzzles me when people say that something is too expensive for NASCAR. Mike Skinner noted he wasn't opposed to testing but that testing some drivers every week could be expensive.

Every single member of the France family with a public role in NASCAR - Jim, Brian, Lesa - is either a billionaire (Jim) or almost a billionaire (Brian, Lesa). It seems to me that ISC should be able to afford a traveling medical team and drug testing, and they should share the cost of installing SAFER barriers around *all* walls with the other track owners.

NASCAR can afford a lot of things that they don't want to implement.(ISC revenue and profits were up first quarter, by the way.)

But even if I didn't agree with everyone, at least they were in front of me on TV to disagree with and the topic wasn't being glossed over. Couldn't ask more of NASCAR Now than that.

SophiaZ123 said...

I find it hard to believe that EXPENSE is a factor. Hello, you can go to a drugstore and buy a urine kit to test your own children.

Many years ago I worked for an esteemed doctor/surgeon who went into rehab for FOUR MONTHS ( minumum time back then for doctors) and he had to get tested randomly a couple times a month. I would get a call from a person who would simply give me a code "tell Dr. so and so Today's the day". He peed in a cup, gave it to the nurse and it was shipped off and checked.

Expensive? Well, compared to what...his livliehood and getting back his reputation to his family (his pts loved him and it never interferred with surgery) so I am so over NASCAR whining about the cost? I also agree the "expert" seemed out of touch with the specificities since I said elsewhere here that Dale Jr himself said NASCAR did not have an official drug policy..wish I could find that Mike Wallace interview on youtube.

Anyway, aside from the fact Nicole asked a few times about Fike returning, I gotta say I prefer her to Ryan Burr. She is more than eye candy.

This from somebody that was less then kind of her work on another station, once upon a time . . .


Vince said...

I thought this was a very, very good show. But did have some weaknesses. Nicole asked for the most part good, to the point questions on this important issue. I'd never seen or heard of Mr. McGee, but I thought he did a good job of being objective and answering Nicole's questions.

Brad as usual, toed the Nascar company line with his responses. Rusty on the other hand was great. Nascar has been notorious over the years for having the "head in the sand" syndrome. Bravo to Rusty for saying that maybe Nascar should be proactive and start randomly testing drivers and crewmen every week. What is Nascar waiting for? A driver to cause a wreck that kills himself or other drivers, crewmen or even spectators? How about being proactive and having random testing of drivers and crew members every race weekend? Most jobs now days you are subject to drug testing to get hired. Nascar's policy may have been fine in the 80's, but it's naive of them to think they can spot a driver or crew member on drugs and take care of the problem as the need arrises.

I don't know who that medical expert (or whatever he was) at the end of the show was, but he didn't have a clue in my opinion. He was mentioning needle tracks as a clue as to some one doing heroin. Guess he's never heard of snorting it?!

I did think Nicole mentioning Mike Skinner's son having a drug issue was a bit of a low blow. But Mike handled her rather insensitive question well. I do not agree with Mike's statement about it being too expensive for Nascar to test all drivers and crew members at the start of the season or randomly during the year. If anybody can afford to do the testing, Nascar can.


Ritchie said...

Tonight's show was exactly what I want from a NASCAR themed show. A great host, refrencing a group of experts, to try and draw a conclusion out of a tough issue facing NASCAR.

They actually had the head of the World Anti-Doping agency on the show! This guest alone signified how important NASCAR Now took this issue. Can you imagine a SPEED program even thinking about asking the organization that tests Olympic atheletes to come on a show to discuss NASCAR'S drug testing policy?

Great job ESPN, and thank you for taking NASCAR seriously.

Newracefan said...

Properly done drug screen with chain of custody confirmation and testing for multiple drugs especially for long term use (usually hair) is very expensive. Now I am not saying Nascar can't afford it but it could be problematic for the lower series. The expert gave the usual answer provided by someone in the medical field. Every situation is different and without all the facts I really can not say, Nicole tried but she really did not have enough info to give him- daily use but how often each day, dose (that ones a little tough it's not exactly a pharmacy provided medication, concentration differs with each batch) the only answer she had was use for 8 months but but how much use. Also think of it like this you had a glass of wine at lunch it's now 8pm are you capable of driving home- perhaps Aaron used that morning the "high" was gone but he still would have been positive on a drug screen. Many of our exposure to heroin users is thru TV which tends to show the extreme, unfortunatly there are many highly functioning addicts out there that no one would ever suspect. It's still wrong, dangerous and should be prevented from happening.

SophiaZ123 said...

I know of one young woman to hide the needle marks, shot up behind her knees, I do not know how she did that since a tourniquet is involved and she was a little chubby and not double jointed.

People can be so sharp and savvy and 'great actors' the average person would never guess somebody is using ANY DRUG and yes, that means heroin. I even remember 30 years ago a guy working as a drug counselor at a rehab was counseling patients for MONTHS and admitted he was using.

so if NASCAR or anybody thinks they can tell by lookin' or behavior. they are way out of touch.

Also, I did want to mention that I also wondered about Nicole's mentioning Skinner's son and his arrest. Did Skinner know that was coming or was he blindsided? He was unflappable so I hope he was given a heads up.

Otherwise, I also have to agree with whomever posted that could be seen as a low blow to Mike.


Anonymous said...

None of the other big NASCAR websites are touching this story, except Yahoo Sports has a new column up now. Usually new stories for tomorrow are on the sites by now. Other than Sporting News and now Yahoo, the "majors" are all completely ignoring it. Bizarre. I think that means this drug testing discussion will die out quickly on SPEED and FOX tomorrow through Saturday.

I enjoyed NASCAR Now which is unusual -the Tues-Friday shows can be bland while Sunday and Monday are often very good (except for this week, both were mediocre). They really took some time to dig into one topic which was good.

Re: The expense of drug testing.

NASCAR has some land in Staten Island that they bought for a NY area track; the track deal fell through, as did a deal last year to resell that land to another company. If they do find a buyer for the land, they may still get the same resell price the buyer was going to pay, of about 100 million dollars. It shouldn't be a problem to take 5-10 million of that to get a solid testing program going. It's a matter of NASCAR wanting to do it.

Julie said...

wjpwsufaI just hope that anyone who has this problem will get the hel that they need and Nascar will look into changing its policy on testing, these men and women race cars at sometimes 200 miles and hour and ect... lets help them and push for a change in the policy.

red said...

left my comments about this on earlier thread but some additional thoughts.

1. expense: i'm having trouble with this one. yes, skinner is correct: it's expensive. and we all know that nascar hasn't exactly always done what's right and used the "it's expensive" line (see 'nascar should be mandating safer walls along inside and outside walls at all tracks') but, we're talking about racing here: high speeds, close contact, small errors in judgement leading to gigantic wrecks. we're talking the lives of other drivers, possibly pit crews and spectators. as wallace noted: nascar has a tendency to respond only when it gets bad. i would hope this is as bad as it needs to become.

2. lack of media coverage aside from espn. this is my real concern here. all racing media-- regardless of series -- should be all over this story. it should not be allowed to fade from sight b/c the consequences of nascar continuing what they're doing are enormous. this is a case where the media folks should be asking the same someone at nascar each and every week "where are you on a new drug testing policy?"

3. prefacing the question to skinner by referencing his son: i'm really ok with that one. first of all, if you don't know the story, you would have wondered "why skinner? why is he talking about this?" and if you do know the skinner situation, then you understand how skinner hasn't been about hiding from his son's problem and has been open about it. he must have known the topic of the interview and he was certainly smooth in his answer. he also added information and i give him -- and manske! -- and "attaboy!" for that.

4. manske asking about driving w/fike: i think that's a question we're all wanting to hear answered. these guys are the only ones who can answer that question for us, as fans. it's a valid question and each person was answering it was hearing it for the first time from her. the repititon came b/c we were hearing all the interviews strung together.

5. the dr was useless for me: clearly, limited knowledge of racing (if any) and his answers certainly did not jibe with my personal experience.

Lisa Hogan said...

I usually only watch this show on Monday evenings. After your column, JD, I decided to tune in last night.

Unless things have changed, Burr and Manske have the same script writer. Manske just does a better job of reading the script.

I applaud Rusty for having the drug testing policy in place at his shop. I don’t have the numbers; but, a lot of teams have their own testing policy. Some sponsors also have their own demands in that area.

Richard in N.C. said...

i was impressed by the show and it changed my mind. I now believe that NASCAR does need a more proactive testing program. One thing that did really impress me was that Nicole asked Chip G. a question he did not expect - he had not been advised in advance what he might be asked. Good job ESPN. Overall I thought Nicole handled the subject well.

SophiaZ123 said...

I WISH they would STOP MESSING with NN times, I got ready to watch it at 5.50 ONLY to realize it came on at 5.30. WHY NOT THE SAME TIME EACH DAY???????????

SophiaZ123 said...

Anybody see jayski's link that many drivers are upset with NASCAR drug policy. In 10 years Harvick and Stewart say they have NEVER been checked?? Kahne says he was suspcious of Fike. Harvick talked to NASCAR before but said it fell on deaf ears. These guys have too reason to be upset.

Man, TPTB at NASCAR are living in the dark ages.

Yep, they are REACTIVE than proactive and some think that is ok. Sadly it took several deaths, and THEN Dale Sr before they instituted a boatload of safety changes.

Sad, sad, sad. NASCAR needs to learn you can NOT judge a book by it's cover.