Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hunter's TV Comments Needed A Response

It was Nicole Manske hosting the Saturday edition of NASCAR Now with Lead Reporter Marty Smith on-site in Richmond. In the program, Manske introduced a "soundbite" from NASCAR VP of Public Relations Jim Hunter.

This very nice man has been the face of NASCAR for some time now. His dedication and knowledge of the sport is second to none. His control and influence over the traveling NASCAR media is legendary. As you may remember from the Tony Stewart "phantom punch" of Kurt Busch at Daytona, what Hunter says travels around the world on TV, radio and the Internet.

That is exactly the reason that NASCAR Now owed it to the viewers to present an expert's response to Hunter's Saturday comments. Right now, there are few topics on the NASCAR stove that are hotter than developing a drug testing policy for the sport.

Below is Hunter's comment on NASCAR Now in its entirety:

"Our Chairman Brian France put together a little inside group to really explore our current (drug) policy, which we think is very good. In lieu of things that have happened, as you are well aware of, I think it's important for us (NASCAR) to really look at it and if there is a way we can improve it...including random testing, getting all of our team owners to test everybody as well. Sort of getting everybody on the same page and figure out a way to eliminate the perception that there are any illegal substances in NASCAR racing. Because, we don't feel there are," said Hunter.

This was a combination of several different thoughts and ideas mixed together in one statement. NASCAR is now at least considering random drug testing or requiring employee drug testing to be implemented by the teams. It is clear that the Aaron Fike story by ESPN's Ryan McGee and the strong reaction by the Cup drivers set NASCAR on its ear.

The problem was that Hunter ended his statement by saying exactly why NASCAR might be open to a new drug policy. Why they "might" be open to it.

It was not to help those with drug or alcohol problems. It was not to safeguard the drivers, pit crew members or officials. It was to "eliminate the perception" that there were problems in the sport.

As Mr. Hunter clearly said, he and the NASCAR executives continue to believe that there is no one in the sport with an addiction issue.

Marty Smith was in the position of following this strong statement from Hunter. Smith said this issue "took NASCAR aback." While Smith suggested that NASCAR may even add a "drug czar" like other professional sports, he was unable to speak to the reality of the issue.

If this had been SportsCenter, First Report or ESPNEWS there would have been more to the story. What this program lacked was an independent voice that could address the drug issue from a professional standpoint.

It would have been mandatory if this had been the NFL or the NBA to have someone address the statement from a high-ranking official that the main reason to implement a drug policy was to clear-up "the perception" that there is a problem.

Across the nation, NASCAR fans are very used to being drug tested in the workplace. Those tests are more regular and more intense for jobs that require skilled labor and have a higher risk of injury or death if done impaired.

To suddenly be made aware that NASCAR's drug policy consists mainly of "somebody deciding that somebody else is not acting right" and reporting it to NASCAR was a shock to many Americans. Perhaps, Hunter's assertion that the primary reason for considering changes in the policy was simply to "prove" that the entire sport is clean was just as shocking.

Should NASCAR Now decide to follow-up on this issue, they need to bring the same attention to NASCAR that ESPN would pay to the other major sports leagues. Walking away from Hunter's statement without putting it into perspective left a major NASCAR story unfinished and incomplete.

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Lou,Kingston,NY said...

I can see it now for 2009. You must now include in you presentation of your car for inspection a list of all personnel that have been tested. If not you as the car owner will be found in violation of rule 12-4, (actions detrimental to stock car racing)of the NASCAR rule book. lol. Rule 12-4 seem like it is the whole book, just keep adding to the rule.

Lou,Kingston,NY said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lou,Kingston,NY said...

On a serious note, I think it is Rule 12-4-E. Violation of the NASCAR Substance Abuse Policy. Not sure though.

red said...

so, hunter's saying that nascar needs to review the somewhat casual approach they've been taking to substance abuse not b/c having a driver on heroin while racing is a significant safety issue but b/c nascar wants to eliminate the perception that there's a problem? it's quite orwellian, actually: don't admit to a problem, per se. admit to a perception issue.

uhhh, nascar? anyone every mention to you guys that perception IS reality? and you have one big old nasty reality that needs to be addressed.

sounds like they want to throw the burden of testing on to the teams and thereby remain above the fray. problem is they have drivers saying that there is a serious problem and that nascar needs to do something about it. that, to me, is a significant difference between our sport and the others mentioned: our athletes are ASKING to be tested.

i like jim hunter, i really do. i often think he's in a no-win situation. but to use a phrase like "putting together a LITTLE, INSIDE group . . . " (emphasis is mine) tells me a great deal about how predetermined the result is likely to be. especially when one reads that last sentence of "because we don't feel there are (illegal substances in nascar)." sure sounds like someone's already reached a conclusion, doncha think?

tom in dayton said...

Lou in Kingston:
You are correct. In the 2008 rule book, Rule 12-4-E addresses drugs & alcohol. I'd like to see it modified such that, if a driver is under care and is prescribed certain medications, NASCAR, at its defined statutes, could decide, race-to-race, whether the driver could compete in the event at hand.
Otherwise, it's clear. Use 'em and screw yourself - one strike amd you're probably out...

red said...

hey tom in dayton? surely you're not letting it slip that you may, in fact, possess one of the mythical nascar rulebooks your very self, are you?!? that thing is the stuff of legends and is right up there with secret handshakes and initiation rites . . .

Anonymous said...

All they need to do is test everybody ... Start during speedweeks ... Test them once a month, but make it a random date so that they have no chance to "prepare" for the test ...

Using the Mass Spectrometer testing method will allow NASCAR & the team owners to see exactly what any one person has in their system (whether it be illegal or legal) ... Don't just limit the tests to a urinalysis ... Do the blood test as well as the hair test (plucked & cut samples) ...

There have been numerous times over the past 8 seasons where I seriously wondered IF certain people were on drugs whilst running at the track (practicing / qualifying / racing) ...

Anonymous said...

Nice story

Todd Diroberto

Anonymous said...